E3 2012: Diary of a PS3 Gamer at Microsoft’s Show
Here I am now, entertain us…
by Nicholas Capozzoli
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
I come to the event having been console exclusive to PS3 for years. I wanted to see if Microsoft could take me, grab me by the throat at their live presentation, and convert me to their cause.
Did they succeed?
Members of the media, ourselves included, began arriving well before the show’s scheduled 9:00 am start time to stake out a place in line.
After an hour or so filled with light banter, we were welcomed into a dark theater space cut with strands of light in the Xbox’s trademark green hue.
A booming start
We were treated to shots of a colossal space cruiser and the golden-visored protagonist, both of which struck me as quintessentially Halo-esque.
Then suddenly there was also a giant floating orb, and orange creatures who can teleport, and I was left wondering what on earth’s been going on in Master Chief‘s universe while I’ve been off playing Uncharted.
Things seem to have taken a turn for a decidedly odder brand of sci-fi.
Some of the new enemies seem rather like the alien race from Borderlands to me. I’ve also heard them compared to creatures from Metroid Prime, as well, marking the beginning of a trend of games looking a bit like other games which really colored the presentation.
The environment shown was none too remarkable, a nondescript jungle with clear pathways inexplicably carved through it. We’ve all seen that before.
Ditto for the gameplay shown, which should surprise exactly no one.
I can say that the particle effects looked stunning, however, as did the lighting system. Next to me, our 2IC, who is markedly more in touch with the series, fidgeted with excitement throughout.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist got the next draw, and its slick new “killing in motion” feature drew a few oohs and aahs.
To use it, Sam Fisher “tags” a series of enemies (doing so marked them with red and white chevrons, which I’m guessing correspond with lethal and non-lethal attacks, respectively). Sam then executes a series of moves to eliminate said enemies, complete with acrobatics and some slow-motion flourish.
I couldn’t help but be impressed by the action, but I do worry that the feature will make combat in the game a bit too effortless. I like my Splinter Cell tactical and clandestine, so hopefully such run & gun elements will be handled judiciously.
Fisher also channeled his inner Nathan Drake, spending a good portion of the demo climbing cliffs and pulling enemies over railings. In the latter’s case the demonstrator used voice input (“Better with Kinect” after all…) to draw the enemy in for the maneuver.
Next came Madden, wherein Joe Montana received the dubious honor of being E3 2012′s first awkward celebrity cameo, as well as the medium through which we witnessed the presentation’s worst application of Kinect features in a game (though it had quite a bit of competition).
I’m okay with the idea of calling plays through voice commands in order to mimic the effect of a quarterback shouting out signals. Sure. But I don’t see how calling out individual players’ names and plays verbatim (“Crabtree, streak!”) enhances realism.
The Kinect-only Fable: The Journey came next, and gave us a trailer showing what The Lord of the Rings would look like if it joined forces with House of the Dead.
I think it’s fair to say that the game has made strides since our first look at it, but that as a brand, Fable has probably regressed here.
Gears of Never-ending War
The shooter’s trailer went by in a bit of a blur of testosterone and adrenaline. I remember hulking, neckless soldiers, a remix of A Perfect Circle‘s “Pet”, and fire. So much fire.
Nice to see that new developers People Can Fly have decided to embrace the “bro” aspects of the franchise, I suppose, but there wasn’t much shown to inspire my interest just yet. Thus one was more of a teaser in the truest sense of the word, rather than a true look at the game. Tough to say more.
Forza‘s subsequent trailer was most notable for allowing hundreds of attendees to tweet with delighted irony about E3′s first dubstep occurring 27 minutes into the show. For its part, the game looked gorgeous, but nothing was shown that makes the title stand out from its peers in the genre.
I’m of the mind that there’s nothing wrong with that in principle, provided that the content in their stead is compelling.
Unfortunately, most of what was shown didn’t interest me. Nor most of the crowd, based on the tepid reaction to almost the entirety of the material.
The addition of Xbox music, NBA and NHL coverage, live ESPN, Bing, and Spanish language support, while welcome news, isn’t going to light a fire under anyone. It didn’t help that these announcements were light on features and descriptions, and heavy on B-roll of people having fun.
Ditto for Nike and their Nike+ fitness program, which was composed primarily of rhetoric and concept shots of infographics floating over actors.
Nike’s fluff narrative didn’t jive with the few glimpses of the software, which seems to amount to the same motion-controlled fitness stuff that we’re all rather familiar with.
The announcement of Xbox “SmartGlass” was a bit more interesting, as it seemed to be in direct response to the Wii U’s tablet controller. Microsoft’s take envisions integration of the smartphone and tablet into the console multimedia experience.
As example of this, we saw a smartphone controlling the Xbox web browser, tablet alerts that allow one to remotely join a party or game in Halo, supplemental information about games and movies on the tablet (think “Pop-up-Video”), custom play designing on the tablet for Madden.
The first two strike me as ideas with a future. I can’t see anyone but the most ardent fan fiction writers running from their game to their tablet to look up the floor plan of the spaceship that they just destroyed in Halo, though, and the Madden concept was just grasping at straws.
Nintendo’s great success with the Wii had them each frantically scrambling to get into the motion control market, and now it seems that Microsoft already fears the Wii U.
They could be in trouble if they spend more effort trying to react to Nintendo’s moves than in trying to innovate their own way. Nintendo seems like it’s dictating the terms of the battle right now.
Banking on the ubiquity of tablets and phones is the smart long term play (it’s also the reason that I worry for the Wii U). I can see some potential for interaction between them and consoles. I just hope that Microsoft doesn’t waste resources cramming such features in where they aren’t needed.
After that, it was back to the video games to close things out. First came the rebooted Tomb Raider, which showcased the game’s grittier look and feel.
Mostly, this amounted to Lara Croft taking the beating of her life: falling of cliffs and caroming off of various portions of the environment face-first.
While the game certainly looked pretty, I can’t say that the gameplay impressed much. Cover-based shooter mechanics won’t help Tomb Raider stand out from the pack. And all of the goodwill earned from gritty aesthetics and a humanized Lara are lost the moment she goes on the same genocidal path of destruction that’s seen Nathan Drake drive pirates to the brink of extinction.
The Xbox will also have timed exclusivity on Tomb Raider’s DLC, which should come as good news to no one except Microsoft employees.
COD: Modern Zombies
Capcom also debuted some new Resident Evil 6 gameplay. I’m still sorting out my thoughts on the demonstration, personally. I’ve been holding onto the hope that Leon’s third of the game will really emphasize the classic ‘survival’ feel of the old games.
On one hand, we saw a lot of the clumsy, plodding zombies that seem to be a throwback to the series’ horror roots.
On the other hand, Leon roundhouse kicked most of those zombies in the face. Then he outran a ludicrously oversized explosion and crashed a helicopter in the span of about 30 seconds. Resident Evil may have finally become Call of Duty: Modern Zombies with this one…still not sure.
On that note, it’s going to be awkward when Call of Duty‘s zombie mode becomes so robust that the two games are competing for the same demographic, methinks.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, actually might have had the most well-received presentation of the lot, making fun of Microsoft’s cross-device strategy (“…controlled by your tablet, which you control from the oven, which you control from inside your refrigerator.”).
They also debuted the Xbox exclusive “South Park and the Stick of Truth“. While it was tough to gauge what state the game is in from their brief presentation, I think it’s safe to say that the South Park brand humor is alive and well in it, and the developers purport to have captured the series’ low-tech aesthetic.
One impromptu Usher concert later (for Dance Central 3), and we came to the briefing’s closer, which turned out, rather anti-climatically, to be Black Ops 2.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next guy to order my own personal Ramirez-bot to “Defend the Burgertown!!” but it would have been nice to see a surprise announcement here.
What was shown seemed just about as linear as previous entries to the series, for better or worse (myself, I don’t view it as a problem).
There was a portion where two options for progression presented themselves (“snipe” or “rappel”), but this seemed more like two parallel, but equally scripted paths, rather than truly open-ended gameplay.
Nor do I make much of the game’s near-future setting thus far. I don’t see the practical difference between enemies commandeering our unmanned weapons to bombard our cities, and enemies using their own weapons to bombard our cities, personally.
Either way, the end result is the same chaotic-looking war scene; the Black Ops 2 gameplay shown seemed remarkably similar to the Russian attack on Manhattan in Modern Warfare 3.
The changes may be superficial, but sometimes a new coat of paint is all that’s needed if the engine still runs smooth.
Of course, there was also the announcement of timed Xbox exclusivity for DLC again to put a damper on the proceedings.
360: Where’s the beef?
There were certainly interesting technical items to pull from the presentation, and games like Halo and Call of Duty have too much behind them to do anything but look impressive.
Splinter Cell and Tomb Raider look to be shaping up very well, too. But the sense of familiarity hung over the proceedings like a pall, and many of the new titles only reinforced that impression.
Nothing Microsoft showed really pushed the envelope and there were few exciting new exclusives.
What we saw will serve, but I think they’ve left the door open for someone else to steal the show.
©2012 Nicholas Capozzoli
Filed under: 3rd Party Games, E3 2012, Events, Game Impressions, Game Industry News, Hardware News, Industry News, Microsoft Games, New Game Information, New Xbox 360 Games, Press Release, Racing, Software News & Updates, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 3rd Party Games, Xbox 360 Game Previews, Xbox 360 News, Xbox 3rd party exclusives Tagged: | Black Ops 2, Dance Central 3, e3 2012, Fable The Journey, Forza, Galen Center, Gears of War Judgement, Halo 4, Kinect, Los Angeles, Madden, Master Chief, Microsoft, Nike Kinect Training, Resident Evil 6, Sam Fisher, South Park: Stick of Truth, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, The Journey, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Tomb Raider, Xbox, Xbox SmartGlass