Microsoft was expected to make a splash in their Pre-E3 press briefing today, and the Redmond-based company did not disappoint. Beyond announcing a slew of games, the company also unveiled new media content offerings on the platform and unveiled Xbox SmartGlass.
The conference started with a live action Halo 4 trailer that blended into a gameplay demo. This was the first time anyone got a solid peak at the next Halo game, which is being developed by 343 Studios (not Bungie). The game certainly looked the part, with excellent graphics for both weapons and environments, and a new heads-up display (HUD) that showed bits of Master Chief's helmet around the edges of the screen. While the games stalwart Covenant enemies are making an appearance here, the gameplay demo showcased some enemies new to the series. All in all, Halo fans are sure to line up in droves when the game launches on November 6.
Ubisoft came out on stage as well, despite having their own conference later this evening, and demoed Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Splinter Cell has been a gaming heavyweight since the first game was released on the original Xbox back in 2002. The latest entry improves upon the decent Splinter Cell: Conviction release by keeping some of the best features of that release and adding new elements as well. The game looks excellent, and the games Kinect integration is subtle, yet profound. Voice commands allow players to taunt enemies from cover, causing the enemy to come close enough to perform powerful stealth kills. While the gameplay demo seemed a bit action heavy for a Splinter Cell game, only time will tell whether the next game in the series is a step in the right direction. Splinter Cell fans can get their hands on the next game in the franchise next Spring.
Electronic Arts also came on stage, also despite having their own conference later this afternoon, and demoed FIFA 13 and Madden 13, both with Kinect integration. While no gameplay changes where demoed, the Kinect integration does add an interesting component to the game, allowing players to call out plays, formations, audibles, players and even signal calls and timeouts to the referee without ever opening a menu. Electronic Arts may detail more gameplay features later in their own conference.
Microsoft also displayed trailers for several other games, including Fable: The Journey, Gears of War Judgement, Forza Horizon and a South Park RPG. They also demoed Wreckateer, a castle smasher Kinect game that looks like a cross between Angry Birds and Castle Crashers. Crystal Dynamic demoed Tomb Raider (which is coming out next year) and Capcom demoed Resident Evil 6, which looks like another stellar addition to the survival horror juggernaut.
While Microsoft did showcase several games at this years press conference, the company's biggest announcements revolved around media and device interoperability.
Microsoft announced more than 35 new content partners (a full list can be found here
), including Paramount Movies, Nickelodeon, Machinima and Univision in the US. Microsoft also announced several new sports content partnerships including NBA GameTime with NBA League Pass Broadband and NHL GameCenter Live, expanding on the MLB.TV, UFC and ESPN3 offerings already available. Microsoft also unveiled a radical new change to the ESPN content available on the platform currently. ESPN will soon begin streaming ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3 and ESPN U 24/7 to Xbox through WatchESPN.
Microsoft also announced their new Xbox Music service, but details on the service were minimal.
In an effort to expand upon Kinect's extensive fitness capabilities, Microsoft and Nike are partnering up to provide Xbox owners with Nike+ Kinect Training, a full training system with customized training programs powered by Nike trainers.
Perhaps the biggest announcement, however, was Microsoft's Xbox SmartGlass announcement. A cross-platform (read: iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8) application that allows asynchronous multi-screen experiences with the Xbox 360. The demo on-stage showed using a Windows 8 tablet to watch a movie and then seamlessly continue watching that movie on the Xbox 360, similar to Apple's AirPlay model. However, the tablet continued showing detailed information about the movie being watched on the big screen, unlike Apple's AirPlay. The Xbox SmartGlass app also allows mobile phones to get in on the action, as SmartGlass was demoed on a Windows Phone. The smartphone makes for a great remote experience, allowing users to interface with the console using touch.
Microsoft truly demoed the capabilities of SmartGlass when they announced Internet Explorer for Xbox 360. Consumers can use their smartphone running the SmartGlass application as a remote mouse and keyboard control solution for browsing the web, bringing one of the first accesible web browsing experiences to the television.
Microsoft also detailed that it plans game developers to integrate SmartGlass into their games, showing a trailer of conceptual implementations. For example, gamers could use SmartGlass on their tablet or phone to select plays and formations in Madden or FIFA, or view unlocked lore material in Halo, or even jump right into a multiplayer match in multiplayer games, all right from a mobile device.
Microsoft ended the show with Treyarch demoing Call of Duty Black Ops 2, which is expected to hit shelves November 13.