June 4, 2012, 9:30 AM
Galen Center, University of Southern California
The Xbox press conference kicked off with a live-action Halo 4 trailer. We see the UNSC starship Infinity getting beat to crap by a weird energy beam. Cut to a planet with Master Chief on the surface. As the Infinity crashes overhead, Master Chief and Cortana take off in pursuit.
At this point, we see live gameplay. First impression is "wow." The engine driving Halo 4 is noticeably improved over Halo: Reach. Master Chief is sharp and detailed, while the environment is bright and vibrant. Seeing it displayed on a massive screen is impressive, as there weren't any visible rough edges. Graphics effects abounded, with lush lighting and highlights making the world look alive. After fighting through a short jungle sequence, the live game demo was over and it went into a montage of Halo 4 images before Don Mattrick took the stage to announce that the Xbox 360 was currently the top-selling video game console worldwide.
With Halo 4 down, Ubisoft reps took the stage to show off Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Blacklist's story is pulled from current events, with a terrorist organization demanding that Western countries call be their military forces, lest a series of attacked be unleashed.
We saw a demo which started with Sam taking out a couple of terrorists in bullet time. He then snuck around the terror camp using his surveillance toys. One of the most visual ones was a sort of real time x-ray vision that turned the entire screen black and white. Sam then climbed a wall and eliminated an enemy while hanging. All in all, it was a good looking demo, but really nothing we haven't seen before.
After Splinter Cell, Andrew Wilson from EA took the stage to show off FIFA 13 and Madden 13. Both have Kinect support. The feature that Wilson wanted to show off for FIFA 13? The fact that the game will give you a yellow card if you swear at a ref. It's amusing, but what was really telling was the simple fact that EA chose to highlight FIFA over Madden.
To make the Madden presentation happen, Wilson brought out Joe Montana to demonstrate the quarterback controls. Montana was able to call plays in real time. If this works in real life (and not just in a scripted demo), it has the potential to make sports games a lot more realistic.
We took a short break to view trailers for Gears of War Judgment (there is an extended trailer on the Gears site) as well as Forza Horizon. There was no gameplay, but rest assured, Forza Horizon is heavy on tuner culture, with plenty of heavy beats accompanying the soundtrack.
Oddly, there was no gameplay after the trailers. Instead, Microsoft switched over to its dashboard programming. First, they highlighted the new voice search features (Mexican Spanish is fully integrated) and the ability to search for movies by category in your favorite apps. Among the new channel apps coming to Xbox 360 are Machinima.com and Univision.
Sports fans are going to find themselves at home with Xbox, as all the major sports will now have their own apps. The ESPN app is also expanding, with full 24/7 coverage of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPNU.
Microsoft is (once again) messing with their music store. The new offering is called Xbox Music and will be available over Xbox and Windows 8 PCs. While this might be cool, it might also be the most useless announcement of the morning. Really Microsoft, we get that you'd love to have a piece of iTunes, but it might be easier to stick with one thing, rather than relaunching your music store every few years. New doesn't always mean better.
Shifting gears, Microsoft switched to Kinect coverage with a representative from Nike taking the stage to announce that Nike+ is coming to Kinect with Nike+ Kinect Training. Our first reaction to this is one of wonderment, especially given the number of workout games on Kinect, but the one thing those other games don't have is integration. Nike+ Kinect Training promises to act as a central hub with all of your Nike+ devices. As a single product, it will likely be decent, but for someone who has already bought into the Nike+ system, it may an ideal workout hub.
Marc Whitten, head of Xbox Live, came on stage to announce Xbox SmartGlass. It's official for Android, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone and Windows 8. The concept behind SmartGlass is twofold. One, it allows for seamless screen switching (pause a movie on one screen and pick it up on another). The other is to allow for any SmartGlass device to act as a "second screen" controller for games. Think WiiU, except you don't need a specific controller to do it. Any tablet or smartphone will do the job. We didn't see any actual game demos, but Microsoft did show a "concept demo" from Madden and Halo 4 using SmartGlass.
In conjunction with the SmartGlass announce, Microsoft also demoed Internet Explorer for Xbox 360. IE is Kinect enabled, which Microsoft showed off with a Prometheus trailer, but more impressive was the SmartGlass integration. When using IE with SmartGlass, you can use your smartphone or tablet as a real-time pointer for IE on Xbox. To navigate a Web page, you simply tap with your finger. Pinch and zoom is also supported. It's just like browsing on a PC. No crappy controller interface needed. SmartGlass and IE are both scheduled for a Fall 2012 release (likely just before the November WiiU launch).
After taking a break with the Web, it was time to ramp up the action with a hot chick, namely Lara Croft. Two gentlemen from Crystal Dynamics took the stage to show off a real-time gameplay demo of the latest Tomb Raider. It was an action sequence from later in the game that started with Croft running through a jungle before falling into a river. Getting beat by the currents, she was carried over a waterfall and into mid-air. Croft then pulled a parachute before hitting the ground with a rough landing. Aside from getting completely beaten up, the most impressive part of the demo wasn't the graphics (they are great) but the fact that Croft looks normal. The character model is built like an athletic, but real, woman. The double-D Lara of the past is no more. The demo wrapped with an announce that the first piece of DLC for the new Tomb Raider will be Xbox 360 exclusive.
Trailers for three new exclusive games were up next: Ascend: New Gods, LocoCycle and Matter. All were simply trailers, which didn't show off much. Matter is from Gore Verbinski, director of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. No idea what the game is about, but the trailer looked like two Portal guns decided to make love and fight off a bunch of enemies. Yeah, it's weird, and it's for Kinect.
Capcom slid up onto the stage with a real-time Resident Evil 6 demo. Anyone who bought Dragon's Dogma already has a playable demo on their console, but for those who haven't yet gone hands-on, the demo at the Xbox press conference was designed to highlight the action of the game. Gone is the slow pace of prior Resident Evil titles, replaced with plenty of fast action. Based on this demo segment, Quick Time Events (QTEs) are still common, but they appear to be used as reaction shots rather than key gameplay elements.
After fighting through the city, our heroes attempt to escape in a chopper. It followed what was perhaps the most ludicrous path through a city ever, crashing through multiple buildings and bouncing off a train before dropping our heroes down a shaft into the center of a large group of zombies. Fade out to the Resident Evil 6 logo.
Continuing the trend of big game, little game, Microsoft brought out Alex Ruiz of Xbox Live to demo Wreckateer. A Kinect exclusive, Wreckateer appears inspired by old-school "destroy the castle" video games. You use a ballista to damage opposing castles, using the Kinect to control the aim and power of each shot.
On to something a bit more serious, Matt Stone and Trey Parker hit the stage to announce South Park: The Stick of Truth. Hitting Xbox 360 in March 2013, the Stick of Truth casts the player as a new kid on the block who's trying to make friends with Cartman and crew.
"And now is the time on Sprockets when we DANCE!" That's what the Xbox event planner must have been thinking when designing the Dance Central 3 announce segment. It started with a simple video, but quickly got the crowd off its feet when Usher took the stage to perform live. Why Usher? Because he is choreographing two routines for Dance Central 3.
Closing out the press conference was Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Before the demo even started, Microsoft confirmed that the long standing "on Xbox first" agreement that applies to all Call of Duty DLC would continue with Black Ops II.
The demo starts with the team in an armored personnel carrier. Driving down a freeway toward a city, the carrier is attacked. Missiles and RPGs are exploding everywhere as gunfire rains down from above. The player abandoned the vehicle and climbed into what looked like an AA gun. Shot off a few rounds before being told to get out. Jumping out of the gun, he looked up just in time to see a plane crash right into it. A friendly VTOL evacuated some VIPs, while your team pushed farther ahead.
The player took up a sniping position with an X-ray vision-equipped scope to provide cover fire and eliminated a few baddies before the demo skipped ahead. Now the player was in the thick of it, fighting through a destroyed shopping center. The shopping center map highlighted plenty of close-quarters action, along with natural cover. Moving back outside, the team took to the streets, fighting among burned-out cars until a skyscraper literally fell down in front of them.
Stunned from the impact blast, the team got to its feet amongst the dust and the player jumped into a VTOL. Here the gameplay switched to an escort mission, with the player being responsible for ensuring that the vehicle convoy survived. Quick switch to some air-to-air combat, and the demo was over. A screen highlighting the November 13, 2012 release of Black Ops II closed out the Xbox press conference.
Looking back at all of the announcements, the games were impressive, but the announcement with real potential is the SmartGlass. In developing this and ensuring that the client is platform-agnostic, Microsoft may have just gotten ahead of the pack. After all, why buy a system that needs a proprietary controller, when the Xbox 360 will let you use the technology you already own to get the second screen display? We're calling it now: SmartGlass may have been a simple announce in the middle of the press conference, but this is the killer app that's going to drive the Xbox hype this fall.
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