Microsoft Game Studios
It sucks to lead off.
Doesn't matter if you're in the box facing Tim Lincecum, standing on the podium facing the American Idol judges -- dude, Steven Tyler looks scary that close up -- or delivering a keynote presentation at a major gaming trade show while your newest gaming rival happens to be staging a presentation about iCloud computing right across the street. Expectations are harder to meet, the critics' knives are sharp and fresh, and you have no bar to knock down.
So we'll cut Microsoft a little slack, particularly given that they're the only one of the big three console companies to come into the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo without a new platform to hawk. At the end of the day, it's supposed to be about the games. And in Microsoft's case, the (hopefully functional) evolution of the motion controller Kinect.
Earlier today at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Microsoft was the first of the big three to show its stuff at E3. It began its green-hued presentation -- too bad Ryan Reynolds wasn't around to make a spandex cameo -- with a sequence we hadn't seen from a game we've seen plenty of in the last several weeks, thanks to some leaked footage that sent Activision's marketing campaign into scramble-overdrive. That'd be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
As the presentation progressed, it quickly became a veritable Old Country Buffet of sharp-looking game footage, nearly all of it mirroring the sequel and franchise-happy state of the industry. Modern Warfare 3 was followed by a reboot of Tomb Raider, Gears of War 3, more Ghost Recon and yes, finally, Halo 4 . Although the announcement that the Spartan forces are coming back for a second trilogy is a) not exactly a surprise, given how many Xbox and Xbox 360 units the first trilogy helped move, and b) not exactly timely, as we won't see the glare of Master Chief's visor until holiday 2012. Bonus points for a dramatic trailer, anyway. Someone want to tell GameStop to cue up the countdown clock?
It looks as though we'll finally be able to do something more with Kinect than just nail the moves to Rihanna's "Disturbia" -- although now two of us will be able to do it at the same time when Dance Central 2 debuts later this year. It starts with voice recognition, which could prove to be an awesome addition to Microsoft's motion-happy peripheral -- provided it works better than this year's disastrous hand-motion-navigation through the Netflix menus. Being able to bark out a command to fire up your light saber, deliver dialogue in Mass Effect 3 or call a play in the football minigame in Kinect Sports 2 sounds beyond awesome, but I'm reserving judgment for now.
The arsenal of Kinect moves also expands dramatically: We'll be able to cast spells in a Fable game, construct and upgrade guns (Ghost Recon Future Soldier), slash and bash centurions in Ancient Rome (Ryse) and, finally, wield light sabers in a Star Wars game. Judging by what went down on stage, the motion control on that Star Wars game is about as laggy as the buffer-botched Dwyane Wade dunk on those ubiquitous T-Mobile commercials. Hope you can use the Force to tighten things up before the holiday season.
Casual gamers -- not that any of them are likely to be tuned in to an E3 presentation -- had to be thrilled by what Microsoft is rolling out in the coming year. YouTube and Minecraft on the 360. Kinect apps that let you scan your stuffed animals into on-screen avatar toys and draw stuff on the screen. A virtual tour of Disney World. A Sesame Street-themed Kinect game called Once Upon a Monster. Microsoft promised us they'd be courting this demographic last year next year. In other words, hardcore nation is free to be annoyed, but shouldn't be surprised.