E3 2011 Countdown: Microsoft

Tick Tock, Microsoft

Videogame Christmas – or ‘E3’, to use its boring corporate moniker – begins in little under a week. It’s the time of year when we gamers can barely contain ourselves, and who could blame us? With so many games announced, demonstrated, and teased, it’s like wandering around a very large, very loud candy shop, frothing at the mouth in anticipation of some immensely tantalising interactive treats. This year’s E3 is made even more delicious and exciting by the showcasing of two new systems, the Wii’s successor console, codenamed ‘Project Café’, and Sony’s new handheld device.

But what about Microsoft? Unless we 360 gamers are on the receiving end of the biggest surprise in a long time, there looks to be no sign of a new console or handheld system; how, then, does the company intend to steal the show from its rivals?  Although immediate nemesis Sony will be doing a lot of apologising for this year’s PSN debacle, fresh hardware should be enough to distract the crowds from its more embarrassing stumbles this year; Microsoft has no such avenue. E3 2011 will be a tough sell after last year’s lacklustre performance which focused more on the company’s embryonic Kinect camera device than anything else. Microsoft will have little option but to outright wow its proponents with a new image for the ‘casual’-branded peripheral, with new firmware and new ‘hardcore’ games. Will this theoretical turnaround, with a slew of new exclusives, combine to assure that third place is not the only option?

Your Past, Your Future

A lack of exclusives seems to be Microsoft’s biggest stumbling block. Unique titles constitute the lifeblood of a console, and presently, the 360’s veins and arteries are drying somewhat. It is imperative, therefore, that E3 2011 brings forth a new flow of IPs and sequels to keep the machine well and truly upright and ready to compete with the Wii and PlayStation 3.

Who knew there were women on Sera?

But the future isn’t entirely bleak. A few gems do promise holy, monogamous matrimony to Microsoft, and for the most part, we already know a fair deal about them, Gears of War 3being the prime example. Releasing on 20 September, the third and final chapter of the cover-based shooter promises a thrilling climax to the story, with Delta Squad pushed to the brink. The game’s new multiplayer ‘Beast Mode’ will allow the player to embody various Locust minions, moving from Tickers to Berserkers as their score increases. At E3, expect a few final rounds of gameplay footage hinting to the link between Marcus Fenix’s father, Adam, and the Locust hordes, and Cliff Bleszinski to use the word ‘awesome’ or ‘badass’ more times than humanly conceivable. Hey, I sense a drinking game coming on…

Forza 4, with added drift.

Then, there’s Halo. Though Bungie is no longer in command of the series (that honour was passed to 343 Industries), pundits are confident that a new instalment in the series will be announced at the conference, on top of the rumoured HD remake of Halo: Combat Evolved pegged for release in November to commemorate the series’ tenth anniversary. What might this new title be? With no information whatsoever, speculation is rife. Halo 4 is a possibility, but an unlikely one. It would make an incredibly nifty launch title for the next Xbox console, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft intends to hold it back until then; likewise, Peter Jackson’s episodic Halo: Chronicles, an ‘interactive story’ announced way back in 2006 but cancelled in 2009, will doubtfully return from the dead, especially considering the director’s commitment to the two Hobbit films currently in production. What is more likely is a completely new Halo game unrelated to the established series, not unlike Halo: Reach.

Forza 4, the console’s return-fire answer to Gran Turismo 5, is making a guaranteed appearance at the Microsoft conference. Despite its imminent release, virtually nothing is known of it. Expect it to be one of the front-runners. Also expect an abysmally tacky car prop on stage.

Rekinecting

Don’t expect Microsoft  to keep the Kinect on the down-low. Though mostly ignored by the ‘hardcore’ community in 2010, Gates and co. have shifted over 10 million units to retailers; these units aren’t exactly gathering dust on shelves either, thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign taking all the right cues from Nintendo’s family friendly image.

Acutely aware that Kinectimals and Kinect Adventures aren’t everyone’s cup of controller-free tea, Microsoft appear to be making great strides towards a more hardcore library of Kinect titles and updated firmware to go with it. As a result, many games – like the recently announced Ghost Recon Online and Forza 4 – are offering ‘Kinect support’, though how the camera will be used has not been disclosed. In the meantime, we’ve got several exciting Kinect titles to look forward to, bringing us back into innovative Project Natal territory and far, far away from a world of uninspired minigames.

Ah, we meet again Codename: Kingdoms, if that is your real name...

Crytek’s Codename: Kingdoms is perhaps the most intriguing Kinect title of all. Announced at E3 2010, it has since completely slipped off the radar, but the last we heard, it was all about first-person sword-fighting as a gladiator of sorts, and that, frankly, sounds too cool for words. That is, if it works: most normal games struggle to model sword swishing accurately; motion-capture hand waving might be even more difficult to translate. Sega’s Rise of Nightmares looks to bring a gory dose of survival-horror to the Kinect – rated ‘M for Mature’, I might add – allowing players to eviscerate and dismember all manner of disturbing beasties in an effort to rescue the protagonist’s lady friend from a mad professor.  There’s also a rumoured Halo Kinect (which, if true, could bring the number of Halo titles at E3 2011 to three) and a Gears of War Kinect, presumably both on-rails. We should all clasp our hands in prayer to the great gaming gods that be and hope that Star Wars Kinect has improved; at last year’s E3, a game that has the potential to be the lightsaber duelling game we’ve all dreamed of looked boring, ugly and downright lacking.

And hey, maybe Peter Molyneux’s prototypical Milo and Kate will make an appearance? That, to me, would signify a return to form and a healthy future for the Kinect device, fulfilling the promises of true creativity and innovation made when the camera was first announced in 2009.

Enemy Share Package

Modern Warfare 3 promises a frantic endgame.

Then, there’s the rest. Though we will undoubtedly be surprised with new exclusives and Kinect titles, most of the 360’s punch for 2011 and perhaps 2012 will lie in its multiplatform games shared with other systems.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the obvious big one. The series’ mind-bogglingly large fanbase will assure it has the biggest coverage. Expect playable demos, more gameplay footage, a multiplayer demonstration, and information on the enigmatic Call of Duty: Elite, an online multiplayer feature integrated with the game allowing new features like groups, video sharing, and competitive leaderboards, all funded by a monthly subscription of an undetermined amount. Activision had previously denied intentions to monetise any aspect of the series, but in the wake of this U-turn, gamers have been assured that normal competitive matches will still be free.

Other smash hitters include the final chapter of the sci-fi epic Mass Effect 3; long-awaited dragon-slaying RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; the highly serious Batman: Arkham City; the explosive and, so far, rather seismic Battlefield 3; the intriguing survival-oriented Tomb Raider total reboot; Konami’s “lightning-bolt action” Metal Gear Solid: Rising; dark, turn-based sequel Final Fantasy XIII-2; dogfighting, door-gunning Ace Combat: Assault Horizon; the alien-hunting Prey 2; the zombierific Dead Island; and the introspective, thoughtful (with guns and elbow-blades) Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Lara Croft actually looks like a human now.

Mass Effect 3, Skyrim, Tomb Raider, FFXIII-2, and Arkham City will undoubtedly receive their first full gameplay demonstrations, whilst Battlefield 3 developers DICE will presumably put all fears that they have neglected multiplayer to rest and show off some impressive jet fighter dogfights and frantic, teabagging firefights. Well, maybe not the teabagging part. Regardless, time will tell if the taint of perks and killstreaks has reached one of the online community’s most cherished game series.

The Final Countdown

So, folks, there you have it. Though we probably won’t be seeing any new hardware from Microsoft this year, the range of exclusives is enough to get excited about. With Gears of War 3 and Forza 4 due in September, a Halo title (or three) inbound for 2011 and beyond, plus a myriad of genuinely intriguing Kinect titles, the 360 mightn’t hold up so badly after all. Combine these unique titles to a sturdy library of multiplatform games like Modern Warfare 3, Mass Effect 3, The Elder Scrolls V, and many, many more and we have a win-win situation for producers and gamers alike.

Facts aside and fantasy very much to the fore, Microsoft just may have something top secret waiting to be unveiled.

Despite all the anticipation and speculation, time will ultimately tell all. We don’t have long to wait. Microsoft’s conference begins at 10am PST on Monday, 6 June. Be there (in spirit) or be forever RROD’d.

Share Your Thoughts: What 360 games and features are you most looking forward to at this year’s E3? What do you think will be announced?


Comments
3 Responses to “E3 2011 Countdown: Microsoft”
  1. minikramer says:

    Every year, the same old shit criticisms you “Journalists” have of Microsoft. Lack of Exclusives, yet they continue to move ahead, push forward and dominate sales of late.

    • I didn’t say otherwise; in fact, as you probably didn’t read, my outlook for MS at this year’s E3 is very positive, especially after last year’s event. I am fully aware that Microsoft is a chart topper and will continue to be as long as quality games and services are provided.

      However, the 360 does lack exclusives, and that cannot be denied, regardless of how well it is selling. The Wii and PS3 clearly best the Xbox in this department. As gamers, we should leave retail figures to the executives, and concentrate more on exclusive IPs and sequels: innovation and creativity is ultimately what should matter to us, as it is a system’s unique library that makes it attractive.

      • Amisha Smith says:

        Well said, Mr. Burrowes. Also, kudos on your response, as the post you were replying to was worded in a less than classy and mature way. I, myself, prefer the 360 over the PS3 (and the PC over both). But PS3 and Wii both have a noticably higher amount of exclusives than the 360. It’s time Microsoft thought about getting some creativity on board in their games library.

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