I’m going to try to be as objective as possible during this post, but don’t blame me if it doesn’t entirely come off as such. I feel like someone needs to get Microsoft a dictionary. Sequels that look almost exactly like their predecessors do not amount to innovation, in spite of what the Xbox representatives that took the stage today might believe.
They started off the show with a demonstration of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. It still totally looks like Call of Duty complete with a slow-motion room breach, no real surprise there. The section Infinity Ward was showing started underwater in what looks like a flooded section of the New York subway system. It wasn’t really evident if a player was in control and how much they possessed. It seemed strangely placid for the former portion (as the player was simply swimming through this tunnel with his team), but then a submarine was boarded and plenty of firefighting in tight corridors ensued. Epitomal Call of Duty. The technology powering it looks nice enough, especially the water textures once they were above water, but I didn’t get the sense that this game was terribly different than those that came before it. I doubt that will matter for the people who are going to play this game though. Oddly, the presenters made no mention of the multiplayer–arguably the part that draws most of Call of Duty’s player base. This isn’t entirely a surprise, as I doubt that they want to stray too far from the formula that their fans love. The demo in its entirety was not terribly compelling for me–the shooting looks alright but it looks all too familiar. The game is set for release on November 8th of this year.
Next, some of the fellows from Crystal Dynamics took the stage showing off their new rendition of Tomb Raider. This actually piqued my interest. I’ve never been a huge fan of Tomb Raider or its progressively terrible iterations, but this new direction that they’re going with the series looks interesting and the tone seems pretty spot on. The demo began in medias res with a bloodied and dirty Lara Croft tied upside down. After freeing herself and dropping onto the stone floor below (which looked super painful), she proceeded to attempt to find her way out of the cave. There were dead bodied chained to the wall and what looked like ritual altars and stuff all about it. The camera moved with an uneven bob, almost simulating a shaky-cam effect (though not as frenetic) and Lara moved with a sporadic gate, suggesting she was pretty badly hurt. It had a very cool looking fire simulation as well, though that seemed purely cosmetic. The rest was a bit of environmental puzzle solving coupled with some running and platforming. I didn’t get the best sense of the actual gameplay from this little demo, but if the puzzles are designed well it might be something kind of special. In any case, it had pretty wonderful visuals.
This was basically the last game that got a reasonable amount of stage time. The myriad other ones they fired through pretty quickly. A lot of what was shown off seemed pretty weird to me.
Peter Moore talked a bit about EA Sports and Kinect integration. The games he mentioned were Madden, Fifa, Tiger Woods, and one other one yet to be disclosed. No actual gameplay or specifics about how this will work was detailed.
Then, Doctor Ray Muzyka came on to talk a bit about Kinect connectivity with Mass Effect 3. This was kind of neat, but also pretty strange to watch. Fundamentally, there seem to be two main ways that Kinect voice recognition will work for the game. Players will be able to issue squad commands by pointing the cursor to a location and saying something like “Character X go here and do this”. This seems like a logical application of the technology, but the other thing they showed off struck me as strange. Voice recognition will also tie into the conversation system, so a player can say the dialog option they want out loud in order to select it. However, as we know in Mass Effect the selectable option and what the character actually says are different. Players are supposed to be selecting the intent of what they say, rather than what they actually say. But here, players speak the former and the character speaks the latter, which came off as slightly weird. As far as actual information about the game,
Morden, Liara, and Garrus were in Dr. Ray’s party, suggesting that characters from previous stories will return as opposed to players needing to assemble (yet another) new team.
Ubisoft had some neat things to show off regarding Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. They showed a negligible amount of actual gameplay (most of the demo focused on Kinect integration), but they showed that players can completely disassemble and customize their guns to an extent that I’ve never seen before. Basically every part can be interchanged or replaced. They claimed something like 20 million unique combinations are possible in the game, but time will tell if this actually changes gameplay at all. I mean, unless you’re having guns that do crazy effects like freeze dudes or create temporal singularities, I think this level of customization will be lost to all but gun-nuts. I still appreciate that it exists though.
Marc Whitten exhibited some new non-game related television functionality for Xbox Live. They seek to make the system something of an intelligent media aggregator but neglected to really get into how it worked. They are also bringing live television to XBL, apparently with many partnerships coming down the pipeline. In addition, Youtube and Bing are coming to XBL, the latter of which will be able to scrub content providers for means to get the content you want. All of this will be voice-activatable. They also briefly mentioned that UFC fights will be airing on XBL, with some manner of augmented-reality-like interactivity. It looked like people could bet on fights for some kind of points, but again they did not delve into much detail.
Next up was Cliff Bleszinski and….Ice T (wat). They demoed Gears of War 3, which looked like…Gears of War 2. Okay I guess that’s kind of mean of me. The thing that they were fighting was some kind of massive tentacle monster the likes of which i haven’t seen in a Gears game before. It was really huge and impressively detailed, but gameplay-wise the game was a 3rd person cover-based shooter.
A trailer for Crytek’s new game, entitled Ryse, was shown with no gameplay. It looks a bit like a Kinect-gesture based brawler with an ancient Roman setting. It was a pretty neat trailer though. Cannot form an opinion yet, but conceptually it seemed cool. The Crytek guys are known for interesting technology so I believe they could make an interesting Kinect game that is also a game.
Oh, and apparently they’re remaking the original Halo because I guess people like that game
Also, Lionhead is working on…a rail shooter set in the Fable universe. This confused the hell out of me because it seemed completely antithetical to everything Fable is about. I was just wondering all throughout the demo “why is this a Fable game?” Which is unfortunate, because some of the gesture-based magic that they showed off seemed to be a pretty cool application of the technology. I just wish they had tried it with something that isn’t known for being a free roaming open world RPG. But I guess business is business and new franchises have a worse chance of selling.
There were some other Kinect-based applications and games shown off, like an experimental Kinect project repository entitled Fun Labs that Kudo Tsunoda that went live today and Tim Shaffer’s Sesame Street game (that man is one of the most charismatic I’ve ever seen. And he somehow manages to make demos with children in them NOT seem excessively creepy). Most of it seemed skewed towards a younger audience as the games fundamentally seemed to lack complexity. The conference ended with the reveal of Halo 4 which I suppose was inevitable–though no further information was given on it besides “it exists.”
Final thoughts: Disappointed. Some of the media aggregation stuff seems like it could be cool, but all of the actual games demoed lackluster at best. I think what got to me the most was the overwhelming sense of same-ness that surrounded almost all of the games shown. For these conferences, I’m never looking for any huge reveals or anything, I just want to see things that look different enough. And none of the software they showed convinced me to want to get a Kinect. Some of it seemed neat, but (in spite of what the presenters want me to think) the bits that I care about can all be achieved through a controller also. I hope that the coming months can prove me wrong on these points though.