I watched the Microsoft, EA and Ubisoft press conferences on Monday.
Microsoft started out fairly boringly. Halo 4, which is a terrible idea (but a guaranteed sell), received a somewhat underwhelming gameplay demo introducing some aliens which are bascially the Lambent from Gears of War 3. Yes indeed, games are now not only copying Gears’ cover-based gameplay but the most annoying of its enemies as well. At least the characters in Halo 4 seemed puzzled as to what the new species really were, as opposed to Gears 3 where I felt like I had shown up an hour late and hadn’t been told about the time the planet got infested with glowing, exploding creatures.
Of course, Microsoft also had to show off Kinect once again, and once again I sighed at the pointlessness of the device. This year, they focused especially on controlling the Xbox with your voice. “Xbox, action” brings you to a list of action movies, which is alright, I guess, but why you wouldn’t just use your gamepad for that is beyond my understanding. This is generally the problem with a lot of the forced applications of Kinect: I could use it, but why would I? It reminds me of the Mass Effect 3 voice command system, where you could speak to activate conversation options. It promised to make the game more immersive by allowing you to speak directly to the NPCs, but the problem was that Shepard would still speak his line as if you had just pressed a button, completely destroying the supposed immersion.
Microsoft also introduced Internet Explorer for Xbox, which is a nice (and 5 years late) addition now that the Xbox tries to become a proper media center. The presenter raised some genuinely valid points, namely that remotes and gamepads aren’t ideal interfaces for web browsing, which I agree with completely. Trying to navigate the web on a tv or console is often slower than simply turning on your PC and using that instead. So far, so good. Their solution? Smartphone connectivity and Kinect voice commands! Outstanding. I’d rather connect a real keyboard than fiddle with my smartphone’s virtual one. I’d also love to see someone try to reach the website of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch with Kinect voice recognition.
EA’s conference was also kind of inane. They did, however, focus on the actual games rather than gimmicks like Kinect. Dead Space 3 was played on stage, whose environments looked more like Lost Planet than Dead Space. I commend Visceral Games for trying to mix things up, but I’m not sure snowy cliffs are the best way to go. It will also introduce a co-op mode, which sounds promising, if not the least scary. Horror games lose a lot of the horror when you’re two players being silly and fucking around.
- Need For Speed: Most Wanted, then, which shares its title with another NFS games released in 2005. It really reminded me the most of Burnout, which makes sense as the developers are Criterion Games, the very studio behind the Burnout series.
- DICE announced Battlefield 3: Premium, a large map pack with a price tag close to an entire game. Great.
- Medal of Honor: Warfighter was played on stage. It unsurprisingly looks very much like Call of Duty and Battlefield, without much more to say. The demo did feature a pretty cool door-breaching mechanic in which you can select numerous ways of breaching the door.
- The new SimCity game looked kind of interesting. I’ve never played a Sim-anything before, but I’ll probably keep an eye on this one.
Ubisoft’s conference was arguably the most interesting, announcing Watch Dogs, an open world action/stealth/hacking game about a future where entire cities and data about their inhabitants are monitored and controlled by single network of computers, which the protagonist has gained what I imagine is unrestricted access to. They might want to reconsider their architecture for a second. The game did however look very promising. I hope it’ll turn out as great as it looked.
Ubisoft also had a gameplay demo of Assassin’s Creed 3, showing their new free-running engine and murdering techniques. It resembled previous ACs, but did indeed seem to have a lot more “flow” to it. Killing people can now be done easily while running and navigating tree tops is supposedly very simple. I’m still somewhat cautious of the environment featuring a lot of woods and open fields, as the cities of previous games were a key point in maintaining my interest for exploration and free-running, but the demo left a positive impression.
One problem I had with the Ubisoft conference itself was its hosts. Aisha Tyler and Toby Turner were awkward at best and “oh fucking hell kill me right now” at worst. At several points during the conference, I felt like turning off the tv just to avoid being embarassed on behalf of the two hosts, which is definitely not a point in the show’s favor. At least they still didn’t beat Konami’s awkwardness from 2010.