E3, FeaturesJoel Szerlip

E3 2012: Grading the Big 3 - Microsoft

E3, FeaturesJoel Szerlip
E3 2012: Grading the Big 3 - Microsoft

E3 is now underway and the first of the big three to take the stage was Microsoft. In a year where everything seems to be going Microsoft's way on the gaming front do they have what it takes to make the grade from our editors?

I’ve never really had big wow moment since I have started watching E3 and Microsoft really kept that trend going for me this year. There are always game demos that interest me and impress me but overall the last few years of press conferences have been pretty predictable. As with most press conferences we get our open of a big anticipated game or some exclusive, which in this case was Halo 4. Now I’ve never been a big fan of the Halo franchise but I will say the Halo 4 demo definitely got my interest and made me think I may finally be able to enjoy a Halo game. It’s hard to tell how it will feel until I can really get my hands on it but the less of the Covenant and Flood that you can give me the better.

I’ve been sold on Tomb Raider since its announcement a couple years ago but finally seeing some action in that game really solidified a future purchase for me. It looks like the perfect combination of gameplay I was looking for from that game and the animations and graphics really impressed me. Now my biggest interest from the Microsoft conference is actually Splinter Cell Blacklist. I loved Splinter Cell Conviction and pretty much hated all the other Splinter Cell games but Blacklist seems to bring back all that made Conviction great and makes it all better. And you know what the loss of Michael Ironside actually doesn’t bother me too much as long as the game is great. Overall it was a pretty by the numbers conference with a lot of focus on the media side of the 360 which isn’t surprising since the next console will most likely be very media heavy. I only hope some of the other press conferences can push the boundaries a little.

By Jeremey MeyerGrade: C+

By now, I can almost plot the momentum of a Microsoft press conference. They open strong with an awesome, highly-anticipated game, show some sweet new stuff, and then kill momentum with EA and usability stuff. Then they bring it back and end strong on something big again. The problem is, despite showing some great demos and even announcing a couple of new things, most people let the usability stuff kill their mood and do nothing but look down on the conference later, which is a real shame- because this was a pretty good conference.

Yes, I know it was, for the most part, known quantities, but they’re great looking and highly polished, and we can tell we’re already going to be enjoying the games when they come out. These games look great, and they chose them well. The biggest surprise, though, was SmartGlass, which seems like they basically saw the WiiU and said “we don’t need a new console! We can already do that!” By not just having the tablet be the controller, though, it might get bulky and weird having a controller AND a tablet for playing the game, but it does promise me that developers will likely be more open to the idea of 2 screen console gaming since 2 consoles now support it. So strong demos, interesting announcements, and our first trailer for the new Gears (side note- of course there was no demo. It’s a Halo year), so I’m going to say this was a pretty good conference. It didn’t even have as much awkward banter as usual! And I say that was a pretty solid, if somewhat flawed, show.

By Hiram MojicaGrade: B+

Microsofts press conference was the definition of a mixed bag. It started off so strongly showing a good five to ten minutes of Halo 4. They had a great showing from 3rd party developers such as Ubisoft with Splinter Cell, Crystal Dynamics and Tomb Raider as well as Activision showing Call of Duty Black Ops. One of the biggest surprises came from the usability section however. Internet Explorer will be coming to the Xbox. Thats right, internet browsing on the Xbox 360. As Tycus Findlay would say, “hell, its about time.”

Microsoft Xbox 360 E3 2012 Press Conference
Microsoft Xbox 360 E3 2012 Press Conference

The problem with the Microsoft’s conference though, was that a good chunk of the conference was taken up with usability improvements and entertainment packages (which don’t interest me in the slightest, seeing as how I won’t get most of them here in the UK). All of this is a necessary evil, as the more the Xbox does, the better, it just feels like house keeping to some degree. It is a shame that the conference was brought to an irritating stop, when things were starting to get good again by Usher’s laughable performance, personified by a friend (and fan) texting me halfway through his performance to complain about the segment. Overall Microsoft’s show was mediocre at best, improved only by a decent selection of decent looking third party games.

By Alexander CattellGrade: C+

As is tradition, Microsoft was the first of the Big Three to step up and show off what they’ve got to offer us this Fall and beyond. While there were a few surprises on hand, a lot of the games covered were titles that had already been announced. The biggest game of the presentation, by far, was 343 Studio’s upcoming Halo 4, which finds Master Chief fighting a different and deadlier enemy. Highlights include some pretty cool weapon animations, a new AI based foe and a playthrough of a level set in the jungle. The single player campaign was the focus, so there was no on screen footage of multiplayer. Additional triple AAA titles got their moment as on stage demos for Splinter Cell Blacklist, Resident Evil 6 and Tomb Raider made these properties look exciting (especially Tomb Raider). Strangely, Gears of War: Judgement did not get a live demo, but instead got lumped together in a promo video with Forza: Horizon and Fable: The Journey.

Things took a turn for the uninteresting when some of the marketing suits came out to talk up non-gaming features coming to Xbox Live such as Xbox Music, a fitness program for Kinect by Nike and enhanced Bing features (which seems like something they’ve already shown off). What raised an eyebrow  was Microsoft stealing Nintendo’s thunder with Xbox SmartGlass. Although Nintendo is designing a Wii U tablet that will grant additional gameplay and tv control features, Microsoft one upped them by making the feature available on tablets and phones. Microsoft pushed the SmartGlass’ features as being useful for watching movies and television shows and quickly pointed out its applications for games, such as Madden and Halo 4. It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft intends to keep the momentum going with SmartGlass and how this will impact Nintendo.

Overall, Microsoft put on a decent show. It was a no brainer that they propped up Halo and Call of Duty, two franchises that Microsoft seems to greatly care about. The titles, though, didn’t really wow me largely because they were games previously announced. Splinter Cell was the only real surprise, even though I haven’t played any of the games outside of the first one. The only thing I will take away from Microsoft’s Media Briefing was the appearance of Trey Parker and Matt Stone who came on stage to promote South Park: The Stick of Truth. Not only did the teaser trailer flawlessly depicted the elements that make the show funny, but Matt earned a laugh at Microsoft’s expense. I’ll also point out that Matt and Trey had the best stage presence of the whole show. Yes, even more than the radical Wrecketeer lady. By Allen Kesinger Grade: C

Many gamers are probably disappointed at the lack of details on the next Xbox – but this generation has plenty of life in it, and Microsoft showcased that life in their E3 show.

The demos for Splinter Cell, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, and Black Ops 2 were fantastic. While those will all be multiplatform, each will have exclusive features or timed exclusivity on Xbox. Just getting them shown at their show (not Sony’s) is a win for Microsoft. The Halo 4 demo looked great, the campaign channels a Metroid Prime or Crysis vibe. It's great to see a new Gears on the way too, many of us feared we'd be waiting until next gen for more Epic. As a fan of arcade racers, the announcement of Forza: Horizon has me extremely excited. Forza has become the top franchise in racing (by critics, at least) - bringing that level of quality to arcade racers is a big deal.

Fable: The Journey and Dance Central 3 will probably be the best Kinect-only games on the market when they release, which shows progress. The Kinect additions for Madden, Splinter Cell, etc. weren't game changers - but we were promised that over time most core games would use Kinect for at least small things, and Microsoft is making good on the promise (Skyrim anyone?).

The more surprising announcement, Xbox Smart-Glass, could join Kinect and Live as one of Microsoft's widely-integrated features. They proved they could do it with Live this generation, they are in the process of proving it with Kinect, and I expect they will do the same with Smart-Glass. The fact that we don't need to buy any new hardware is a huge plus - all upside with that one.

More upside with the new ESPN deals – which are great for us sports fans. The browser is a welcome addition, and I agree with Microsoft - it's ungainly on a controller, so I like the integration with Kinect and my phone. I’m also glad to see Zune disappearing, to be replaced with Xbox Music. I could care less about Nike, but Kinect will continue to steal the workout crowd from Wii.

In the end, this was about the current top-dog working to extend its lead. Microsoft has the edge on multiplatforms and entertainment apps, has good first-party games, and they made an attempt to undercut the Wii U. A great show, if somewhat predictable.

By Scott KiefferGrade: A-

Splinter Cell. That’s all I have to say. Despite having predicted Splinter Cell’s unveiling, I was still surprised that this was shown off. And at the Microsoft conference to boot. Part of me was expecting not to see another Splinter Cell until the next set of consoles. Lucky, I was wrong and my wish was fulfilled. We’re getting our next, Splinter Cell Blacklist, in 2013. So E3 can end now. Don’t care about anything else. Let’s move on.

Okay, not really. There were several other games on display at the conference. Almost all of them we already knew about, but that didn’t some of them from impressing. Halo 4 looks cool and is the best-looking game in the series by far. Halo is not usually a graphical powerhouse but this looks good. Really good. Other obvious titles were there, Call of Duty BLOPS 2, Fable: The Journey, Dance Central 3, Gears of War Judgment and Forza Horizon.  Mostly know commodities, as per use, but there were three new IPs announced. Matter, Ascend: New Gods and LocoCycle. LocoCycle being the newest title from Twisted Pixel, the makers of ‘Splosion Man and The Gunstringer. Color me excited.

As expected, Microsoft focused a fair amount on “entertainment” and in that announced SmartGlass, a tablet and smartphone app that will supposedly provide touchscreen controls for the 360 as well as provide additional information on certain segments of movies and games. Like many of Microsoft tech idea, it seems like it could be neat. Like many of Microsoft tech ideas, it doesn’t seem that useful or like it will be taken advantage of. But I’m still slightly optimistic.

Overall, I think Microsoft handled E3 better this year than the last and there were no circuses like in 2010. Still, there were no major surprises something they could at least try for. Microsoft seems to simply be treading water at this point, which while that doesn’t mean they are in decline, it does make their conference less interesting to watch. But then was Splinter Cell demoed so…

By Jonathan Miley Grade: B

Microsoft did exactly what they are entitled to do at the end of a long console cycle: sit and gloat on their wealth of proven technology and software IP. However, there were a few interesting glimpses at far off games, and gameplay footage for the holidays that kept the show interesting. Halo 4 looks fantastic in motion. As someone who was getting burnt out on shooting the same Covenant enemies over and over again for the past decade, I really appreciate the fresh design approach that 343 industries is taking with the new trilogy.

Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, and Splinter Cell: Blacklist were the highlights of the third party lineup, with gameplay demos that looked impressive and whetted appetites for the holiday and 2013 release calendar.

Microsoft spent a lot of time emphasizing their multimedia offerings as well as SmartGlass which, without tooting my own horn, is what I predicted they would do.

Some gamers will cry foul on this, but E3 hasn’t been solely about the games for a while, especially when you have your own hardware to pimp out.

The numbers say that multimedia content is more popular than gaming on Xbox Live, and that lots of tablet owners use their devices while watching/playing something else on the big screen.

SmartGlass, if it gains enough traction among developers, has the opportunity to enhance gaming experiences on the Xbox 360 in really cool new ways. I have had my iPad on my lap while playing games before. If SmartGlass enhances that experience and ties it in to Xbox Live’s already stellar social offerings, then it’s icing on the cake.

The writing was on the wall for this to happen. Microsoft went on record saying they weren’t going to talk about the next Xbox, and the holiday lineup was largely a known quantity already. Microsoft’s press event may have lacked a huge surprise or blowout spectacle, but it certainly didn’t show a company struggling to innovate with their hardware, or incapable of bringing marquee titles for the holiday season.

By Nick Kummert Grade: B+

I feel like Microsoft didn’t really have anywhere to run this year. With their next-gen tech, known colloquially as Project Durango, clearly not in any state to be shown off yet, they just didn’t have enough to make up for it. There were just two high notes of the entire conference for me - Halo 4 and Tomb Raider. Those two games are looking really polished, and even though I’m incredibly cynical when it comes to Microsoft beating the Halo horse, its style impressed me.

Other than those games, though, it was a dire affair. Perhaps even on a par with last year’s Kinect-powered flatline. I wasn’t a fan of Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Blacklist only looks to exemplify everything I hated about it. The rest of the conference felt distinctly like Microsoft were treading water. Nike fitness games and Internet Explorer had far too much time devoted to them, and although SmartGlass sounds futuristic at first, in truth this sort of technology is far from new and looks to be more of an add-on than a necessary bit of next-gen tech. The one mercy we have to take from this is that Microsoft truly have nowhere to go except up, now. Next year we must surely expect next generation reveals or else Microsoft will find their user base flocking to any competitors who got out of the gate quicker.

By Ashley GRADE: D+

Well as you can see our editors are mixed on their feelings on Microsoft's showing. Check back throughout the week to see our editors thoughts when we grade both Sony and Nintendo's conferences.

The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.