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E3: Microsoft Wants You to Use What You've Got

| 5 Jun 2012 00:06
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Between the Halo and the Black Ops, Microsoft extolled the virtues of tech you already own.

E3 press conferences are usually about encouraging you to mentally start socking away money to fund your purchase of the Next Big Tech Thing, but this year, Microsoft wanted to keep your wallet in your pocket. There were games on display during the Microsoft press conference, which opened E3 on Monday morning, and no-one at the company would mind if you found yourself drooling over snapping up Halo 4, Gears of War: Judgment, Splinter Cell: Blacklist or even South Park: The Stick of Truth as soon as they hit stores. But the message of the press event was pretty clear - the next year will be about getting the most out of the equipment you already own.

The push started, as it has the past several years, by putting Kinect front and center, but this year it was voice commands that were on display. Joe Montana came out to awkwardly showcase the ability to shout plays like a real quarterback in Madden NFL 14, while fans of the more global version of football will be able to perform similar feats (or perhaps feets) in FIFA 13. The voice command that perhaps got people thinking a bit more seriously about Kinect came during the demo for Splinter Cell: Blacklst, when the player whispered "Hey, you" at Kinect, attracting a guard's attention, luring him into striking distance. It sets up plenty of opportunity for griefing - I can't honestly say that I could resist the urge to shout "Hey, buddy! Nice pants!" while my colleague was trying to sneak up on someone - but the potential the mechanic has for increasing the tension of spy games is intriguing.

The press conference came to a bit of a grinding halt when Microsoft began to crow about SmartGlass, which will allow your smartphone, tablet, and 360 to interact with each other in a variety of ways - none of which seemed to win over the crowd. You can begin watching a movie on your tablet, then continue watching on your TV. You could get information about characters in Game of Thrones while you watched the latest episode. You could use your smartphone like a remote. Perhaps the announcement would've carried a bit more weight were these not things you can do, in one fashion or another, already through a variety of apps. Internet Explorer will soon be available on Xbox 360, and you can use SmartGlass to make browsing it more easily, should you want to use Internet Explorer for something.

Microsoft is clearly pushing to make good on its long-standing threat to make the 360 the centerpiece of your living room by adding four new video partners: Nickelodeon, Paramount Movies, Machinima, and Univision. As more and more households ditch cable in favor of services like Hulu and On Demand, Microsoft's decision to add more TV content to its offerings makes perfect sense. Making the switch away from your cable or satellite provider becomes a lot easier if you can get the same content on the Xbox you already have for gaming. Microsoft will be seriously beefing up the sports programming on the 360 as well, including more live content from ESPN, NBA, NHL, and Monday Night Football.

The voice commands come back to emphasize the 360's usefulness as a TV; you'll be able to search by genre by saying something like "Xbox: Sci Fi" or find a specific show or movie by requesting it by name. I can't wait to find out what results it produces if I ask for "Xbox: Something That Doesn't Suck" or "Xbox: A Romantic Comedy That Won't Make Me Vomit."

Of course, there were plenty of games on display, too, because Microsoft wants you to be happy with what you've already got, instead of ardently wishing for the next iteration of Xbox. Halo 4 offers a new threat - the AI "forerunners" - and has Master Chief racing to react a downed ship, the Infinity, which was commissioned not as a vessel of war, but of peace. The most chilling line of the trailer came from Cortana, who blithely observed that AI like her degrades after about 7 years, and she was created 8 years ago.

We didn't get to see much about Gears of War: Judgment or South Park: The Stick of Truth, but both trailers had definite appeal. The former was flashy and cocky, with lots of bang-bang action and flames, while the latter ... well, it was South Park. Cartman was wearing a wizard hat, and you're cast as the new kid in town, trying to become the fifth member of the South Park crew. The boys' outfits were pretty clearly RPG-inspired, but guests Trey Parker and Matt Stone had very little to say about the game itself.

The titular Blacklist in Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an ultimatum from terrorists; get out of our countries, or we'll commit an escalating series of attacks against U.S. interests. Rather than negotiate with terrorists, we send in Sam Fisher, who seems a bit angrier and more brutal than he has in past outings. Maybe he doesn't like being in the desert. Too dry.

We got to see more of Tomb Raider, which put Lara in even more perilous circumstances, including a drop through the canopy of an airplane, a firefight with armed thugs, and several trips down ziplines. She's more skilled in this trailer than we've seen previously, picking off enemies with a makeshift bow and arrow, but she's also less agile, tripping on roots and slamming into tree branches. I'm looking forward to finding out more when I see the game later this week.

Resident Evil 6 looks to be an exercise in zombie harassment. There were many times in the demo that Leon could've easily sidestepped a zombie who apparently was content to just stand around admiring the scenery, but instead he went out of his way to attack. In one case, he slammed the zombie's head into a bus so that it splatted like a rotten pumpkin, in another he knifed it in the jaw. The emphasis on up close and personal combat is somewhat interesting, but whether or not this will really feel like a fresh take on Resident Evil remains to be seen.

Forza: Horizon looked gorgeous, as did Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and helped Microsoft really drive its message home: Keep your 360. It's got plenty of life left in it.

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See all our coverage directly from the E3 2012 show floor.

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