LOS ANGELES – Among the major announcements at Microsoft’s E3 press conference was the reveal of the first game created by Ubisoft Toronto, Splinter Cell: Blacklist. It shared the stage with Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Gears of War: Judgment as the big games shown at the company’s glitzy presentation, which sets up its lineup for the upcoming year.
The presentation, which unofficially kicks off the gaming’s industry’s biggest conference — and will be followed by Sony Monday night and Nintendo Tuesday morning — heavily focused on games and the continuing evolution of the Xbox as an all access entertainment device.
“This past year we moved from being the no. 1 selling console in North America to the no. 1 selling in the world,” said Don Mattrick, president, interactive entertainment business, Microsoft. “Our mission is to be the only device to bring all your entertainment in one place.”
To that end, the company announced Xbox Smart Glass, a new way to connect devices including phones, TVs and tablets, allowing movement of content such as games, movies and TV shows between them.
“The problem is that your devices are not connected … but today, this is all about to change, we have a breakthrough in entertainment that’s going to change all that,” said Mark Whitten, head of Xbox Live.
Smart Glass uses Xbox’s Kinect and Xbox Live to integrate devices, and will even work with competitors, including Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
Whitten also touted how movie producers and game developers can tailor the experience, for instance, placing cast info on a movie you are watching or a game sideline app, such as a map or weapons inventory, on the extra device.
“Xbox Smart Glass works with everything you already own. It truly turns any TV into a smart TV,” said Whitten.
Smart Glass looks to be Microsoft’s more expansive answer to Nintendo’s Wii U, and seems to do a lot of things similar to the Japanese company’s new tablet-like controller.
Also announced were more than 35 new entertainment partners bringing their content to the console, including cartoon network Nickelodeon, although it is unclear how many of those channels will be available in Canada.
Sports were also a big focus, with NBA and NHL’s Game Center coming this year as well as live HD broadcast of events. Xbox is also partnering with athletic wear company Nike to create a virtual personal training program called Nike Plus Kinect, which also works with your phone to remind players of workouts.
Of the games, the Halo 4 gameplay looked amazing in a clip showing a jungle segment and along with traditional enemies, the Covenant, new artificial intelligence aliens. The new Gears of War: Judgment gives starring roles to former side characters Damon Baird and Cole Train. The new Tomb Raider was also shown, featuring a younger, grittier Lara Croft. It is a prequel that reboots the franchise and tells the origin story of the quippy globetrotting treasure hunter.
There were quick looks at new games, including Ascend: New Gods, which looked like it was an inspired by God of War with some of the giant climbing from Shadow of the Colossus, motorcycling game LocoCycle from Twisted Pixel and something called Matter from Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinksi, which looked Tron-inspired.
While last year there was a huge focus on Kinect, the company’s motion control scheme, this year there were a few mentions of voice-control capabilities in some games, such as the new Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which allows you to distract enemies by calling out to them. As well, there was also Wreckateer, a new Kinect-based game that looks inspired by Angry Birds, in that you have to destroy buildings.
There was also South Park: The Stick of Truth, where you play as the new kid in the town. The game featured a ton of the hilarity from the series, including a machine gun wielding Jesus. Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were on stage, and they couldn’t help but poke some fun at the Xbox’s new Smart Glass.
“How many times have you watched an episode of South Park and said I’d like to be able to watch this on my television, while hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet, hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator,” said Parker. “Well, we’re not going to do that.”
They talked about working to preserve the less than refined look of the series and how making the game actually made them think about the geography of their fictional town. “We could always just cut to Kyle’s house. Now we had to figure out where it actually was”
Parker and Stone were among the celebrities at the conference, which included Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Joe Montana, who demonstrated voice commands in the upcoming Madden game. Usher performed his hit single, “Scream,” as he is working on Dance Central 3.
The final game shown was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which is the odds on favourite to be the biggest selling game of the year.