Microsoft has concluded its annual E3 media briefing, with the focus again squarely on its motion sensing Kinect peripheral. Here are the highlights from the presentation and the handful of press releases that followed.
In a move certain to please its most dedicated followers, Microsoft has unveiled not one, but two Halo themed titles. The first is a remake of Bungie’s decade old launch title Halo: Combat Evolved. Considered an important milestone in the evolution of console shooters, the game will now offer updated graphics and online cooperative play. In terms of adversarial multiplayer, the new game will include only seven of the 13 maps from the 2001 original. Playable directly from the disc, these cross-compatible maps will also be incorporated into Halo: Reach playlists. Look for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in November 2011.
Microsoft also revealed that 343 Industries is working on Halo 4. While recent instalments in the series such as Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach have introduced fresh protagonists, this 2012 release will restore the enigmatic Master Chief to centre stage. Promoted as the first chapter in a new trilogy, the game will also see the return of fan favourite holographic handler Cortana. It remains to be seen whether established alien species such as the Covenant and the Flood will be replaced by a new threat. With series creator Bungie no longer at the helm, Halo 4 represents a big test for the franchise.
New properties were hard to come by during Microsoft’s presentation, so much so that they were forced to pluck a game from last year’s show in order satiate those looking for something vaguely original. The game formerly known as Project: Kingdoms has re-emerged as Ryse, a Kinect controlled combat game set during the dying days of the Roman Empire. Microsoft’s gesture based peripheral has proven divisive, particularly amongst the hardcore, so it will be interesting to see how many people sign up to pierce, slice and bludgeon their opponents to death. Ryse is in development at Crytek. A release date is yet to be announced.
While the most recent chapter in the Fable series endured a frosty reception from critics, Lionhead Studios appears determined to press ahead with its offbeat fantasy franchise. Judging from the brief teaser shown at the press conference, Fable: The Journey appears to be an on rails experience in which players use Kinect to unleash a variety of gesture based spells. The action takes place five years after the events of Fable III. A release window is yet to be announced for what shapes as an experimental spin-off rather than a true fourth instalment in the series.
Microsoft also confirmed that a handful of blockbuster sequels will allow users to take advantage of Kinect features while continuing to use a traditional controller. Due in spring 2011, high speed racing sim Forza Motorsport 4 will incorporate head tracking. Series creator Turn 10 will again be entrusted with development duties and the game will be support Microsoft’s newly announced wireless racing wheel. Meanwhile, rabidly anticipated RPG Mass Effect 3 will enable players to issue commands and participate in conversations with NPCs using their own voices. If the impressive onstage demonstration is any guide, this could well be a transformative feature. The concluding chapter in the epic sci-fi saga is scheduled for release in March 2012. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will include a gun creation mode that supports the tech. Ubisoft’s military shooter is due for release in 2012.
While the aforementioned titles treat motion control as an optional extra, Microsoft also rolled out a series of titles that employ the device exclusively. Heading up the list are Dance Central 2 and Kinect Sports: Season 2, both follow ups to Kinect launch titles. The former will boast tracks from the likes of Usher, Rihanna and (horror of horrors) Montell Jordan, while the latter will offer up new sports like that most athletic of pursuits, darts. The game, in development at Big Park, also features gridiron and golf. The golf demo is worth watching if only to witness producer Nicole Makila reacting with unrestrained glee upon sinking a 10 foot putt.
The revelation that PC hit Minecraft will be coming to Xbox 360 represented perhaps the biggest surprise of Microsoft’s presentation. Mojang’s indie phenomenon, the original version of which is still technically in beta, will feature Kinect controls and some form of compatibility with the PC version of the game. It will be interesting to see if the Xbox Live user base take to the user generated phenomenon to the degree that the PC community has over the past two years.
A range of previously announced titles were also showcased throughout the event, including Gears of War 3, Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, with the latter game looking particularly sharp despite a controller malfunction seconds into the demonstration. The latest title from Infinity Ward will see players infiltrate New York Harbour in scuba diving gear, before boarding an enemy sub, taking out its crew and fleeing in a speedboat.
Finally, Microsoft has announced the XBLA titles to be featured in this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion (Winter of Arcade for the antipodeans amongst us). The line-up will include visually arresting indie shoot ‘em up Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, along with promising god game From Dust, strategy sequel Toy Soldiers: Cold War, colourful old school RPG Bastion and Australian made iPhone spinoff Kinect Fruit Ninja. Though the order of release remains unclear, the first of the games will be issued on Wednesday 20 July, with the remaining four to follow at weekly intervals.
Happy to see another Halo? Frustrated by the focus on Kinect? Let us know what you think of Microsoft’s offerings at this year’s show.