After a more than impressive and exciting year for Microsoft in 2009, this years LA conference sadly turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. You would have thought because this is the Xbox’s 10th birthday, they would have thrown a bit of a bigger bash for it. I mean, where was the cake?
Before I even begin to talk about the conference, let’s just confirm the new name of Project Natal which was revealed to the press on Sunday morning. Kinect is the name we will now be using for Microsoft’s new motion sensor peripheral. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but there is no doubt that someone out there will think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
Everything started off so well with a stunning live demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops shown to a room of salivating video game journalists. Nothing much was said about the game, but Microsoft have always claimed to be all about ‘Show and not tell’ which is a good thing, and nothing much really needed to be said after a demo full to the brim with adrenaline pumping action.
If you watched or read anything about last years conference, you will remember that Hideo Kojima made a massive appearance to promote the Metal Gear Solid franchise coming to Xbox 360 for the first time. This year, he’s back again to promote MGS Rising which was shown last year featuring Raiden as the playable character, but this year he comes with in-game footage and further trailers. MGS Rising looks to be the ultimate destruction game. Playing as Raiden it appears that not only can you sever your enemies’ limbs with super speedy sword moves, but you can wreak havoc on the scenery too, destroying pillars in order to crush enemies being just one of the moves shown.
Then we move onto Gears of War 3 which was shown as a live demo to the audience with 4 player multiplayer. Boasting the latest unreal engine technology, the transition between game play and cut scene was seamless, putting you straight into the action without a moment’s pause. Of course there are some brand new enemies to experience, and a new mode called Beast was announced right at the end, but no details on that yet.
Peter Molyneux made a brief and slightly disappointing appearance. It was obvious that he was going to show up to promote Fable 3, but everyone was expecting a bit more than just a new trailer for the game. What happened to using Kinect to control the Kingdom of Albion? There wasn’t even a slither of a mention about that before he vanished from the stage to make room for Crytek to talk about their new partnership with Microsoft on brand new game Codename: Kingdoms.
Halo was naturally a huge topic of conversation with Halo Reach scheduled for release in September. We caught our first glimpse of the Reach campaign which looked like more of the same from the Halo universe, but don’t take that as a bad thing. With the original Xbox live gone and no way to play Halo 1&2 online anymore, perhaps Halo Reach can fill the void.
Then everything started to go a little bit Kinect-centric. Now, we all knew that this was going to happen. We knew that we were going to be seeing a lot of Natal/Kinect at this years show, but I think most were hoping for a few more demos of how the peripheral was going to work for the more hardcore gamers.
Kinect claims to ‘bring the living room to life’ and uses not only motion control, but voice recognition. Some of the titles revealed for Kinect included Kinectimals, an animal simulation game for younger children and big kids to play around with their own virtual fluffy animals on-screen. This looked to be a little bit like Milo shown last year in its interaction possibilities. Then of course there was Kinect Sports which showed us lots of little Xbox Avatars playing Football, Ten Pin Bowling, High Jump, Boxing and Volleyball. A lot of people have said this is just a new version of Wii Sports, but it appears to be something more than that.
Next we saw Kinect Joyride which puts you behind an imaginary wheel and in control of your Avatars very own racing car. This looked kind of like a hands free version of ModNation racers, and incredibly fun to play. The final Kinect exclusive was Kinect Adventures. This looked a bit odd. Adventures sends you water rafting, cloud surfing, and on all sorts of other weird activities to enjoy on a quiet night in with friends.
The only games they showed that utilised Kinect in a non-party game fashion were a shiny new Star Wars game, and a new Forza Motorsport for all the racing fans. Whilst the Star Wars game looked very impressive, I wasn’t too sure about the Forza game. I suppose I could say the same for Kinect Joyride, but it just strikes me as slightly underwhelming to have no steering wheel in a racing game.
Another feature that Kinect boasted was worldwide video chat, with something a little extra. We know that Xbox are already teamed up with Zune to provide movies and entertainment on your Xbox, and what better way to enjoy these than with a friend? Yes, during video chat you can put your favourite movie on and watch it together, even if your friend is halfway across the world.
Sports fans, don’t fear, there is something for you in this. Microsoft has now teamed up with ESPN to bring all the latest sports straight to your living room. Previous games, live games, news, it’s all there. This new application will also fully utilise Kinect and the video chat capabilities.
The best thing about Kinect? There really is no need for a controller. Even when watching movies or TV, a simple wave of your hand can pause, play or rewind. Signing in is even easier too with voice recognition. Kinect will recognise your voice and associate it with your gamer tag, allowing for easy access to your friends, games and applications.
Last but not least, what motion control friendly console would be without its very own dancing and fitness games? It was bound to happen at some point. Your Shape claims to be fitness evolved. With its ability to recognise your entire body, clothing and all, it was definitely an impressive sight. A definite improvement upon Nintendo’s Wii Fit, Your Shape provides you with a personal trainer and a whole host of cardio workouts.
Then we have Dance Central. Now this looks very good. The selling point of this to me is the claim to have genuine choreography available, and the game even teaches you how to dance. Most dance games will simply throw you into the mix without even a seconds thought for your own abilities, but Dance Central wants to provide for everyone, even those of us with two left feet. With some alternative song choices, this looks set to be a huge hit amongst the party game lovers.
And the final surprise from Microsoft, which was sadly a rumour that had already been going around the internet for quite some time now, was the announcement of the new Xbox 360 Slim. The perks of this new sleeker model include a 250GB HDD, built-in Wi-Fi and also a quieter fan. How much is it going to cost I hear you shout? £200 is my answer to that. Yes, just £200, and it is available right now. For those of us in Europe and the UK we will have to wait a month for this sexy new piece of kit to grace our shores, but pre orders are already available on most sites.