As the Microsoft press conference opened, we were treated to a look at the single-player campaign for this fall’s Halo 4. As one may have expected, it looked much the same as its predecessors: graphical updates were minor, a few aesthetic changes were added, and a single new weapon made an appearance. Put simply, it looked like a Halo game, which has never been a bad thing.
Following this fairly predictable opener, Don Mattrick stepped onto the stage, and announced this to be the ‘biggest year for blockbuster games in Xbox history.’ If anything can get you excited before a keynote, that would be it. Oddly, though, it was a look at the campaign of Splinter Cell: Blacklist that we were treated to next. Not an exclusive, but a game that is definitely closely associated with the Xbox, so its presence near the opening of the conference was understandable. Blacklist seemed to be continuing the theme that Ubisoft established with 2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, which may be good or bad, depending on your feelings toward that title.
Following Blacklist, any real look at gameplay was thrown out the door. Kinect support for FIFA and Madden ’13 was heavily detailed next, and NFL Hall-of-Famer Joe Montana made his way to the stage to demonstrate how the voice commands would work in Madden, but they were brief, specific showings, and the core gameplay of sports titles does not vary much from year to year. Things were about to get even less informative, though, as next it was three quick trailers we were treated to: Gears of War: Judgement, Forza Horizon, and Fable: The Journey (which, despite all claims, still looks suspiciously like it’s on rails), were shown next. Very little was shown in these trailers, but we had (or so we thought), an entire keynote for more details to be announced. It wasn’t the greatest opening to a press conference, but the early signs were good.
Unfortunately, after that, a few brief glimpses of some upcoming XBLA titles were pretty much the only other Xbox 360 exclusive titles we would see. Ascend: New Gods, Lococycle and Matter were each given trailers just as brief and uninformative as Gears, Forza, and Fable. Wreckateer, another XBLA title, was given a demo. It was about three minutes long, and featured what amounted to little more than a Kinect-controlled Angry Birds that had you flinging rocks at castles, but it was a demo, nonetheless.
The last Xbox title we would see was Dance Central 3, and that was really just an announcement followed by a performance by Usher. Yeah, you read that right. By that time, those of us watching the press conference were pretty much through with it. In a keynote that lasted about an hour-and-a-half, maybe 30 minutes (and even that is pretty generous), was devoted to upcoming games. Of these, Halo 4 was the only Xbox exclusive that was given a demo, if you don’t count the paltry showing that was Wreckateer, which no one probably will.
Highlights of the conference? South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker came out onto the stage to talk a bit about South Park: The Stick of Truth, the upcoming RPG from THQ. Again, they took the stage for about 5 minutes, and that, plus a quick trailer, was all that we heard of the game. No gameplay, no real new details. Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 6 were both demoed, and both looked really good, but they weren’t Microsoft exclusives. Anyone else sensing a theme, here? The most egregious example of this was Microsoft’s closer: a demo of the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II. That’s right – not only did Microsoft not close with an exclusive title, but they closed with a title that releases every year in November like clockwork. Incidentally, this demo of a multiplatform title also enjoyed more screen time than any of Microsoft’s actual exclusive titles had.
Let me break it down for you. When Microsoft says that this will be the ‘biggest year for blockbuster games in Xbox history,’ you would be forgiven for thinking that what they mean is blockbuster titles exclusively for the Xbox. In reality, what they mean is that there are quite a few multiplatform blockbusters on the way, and – because Xbox is currently the best selling console worldwide – a large chunk of these titles will sell on Xbox. Yes, new Halo, Gears, Fable (if you still have faith in the series) and Forza are exciting, but it isn’t the stellar lineup that one would expect after hearing the phrase ‘biggest year.’
If you’re not into games, then perhaps you were a little less disappointed with the Microsoft keynote, but for those of us who went in expecting to see some new titles – or at the very least new details – announced, this definitely isn’t the start to E3 that we wanted.