Nintendo is on the eve of announcing a release date for its new WiiU, revealed last year, and the speculation about the PS4 or Xbox 720 has reached boiling point. Luckily the signs that this generation wasn’t just a giant waste of time are there in the form of Nintendo‘s ‘Pro Controller’, which looks suspiciously like an Xbox 360 pad. Before all that excitement of shiny new things though, we need to be entertained in the meantime – so what’s left for 360 players?
A cynic would say we are at the bottom of the barrel, scraping together sequels to drag out the life of a console which is past its sell-by date. Ever the optimist however (hmm…) I thought I would take some time to contemplate before dismissing this year’s E3 offering as disappointing and think about what it means as we creep ever closer to the next generation.
Microsoft‘s conference this year wasn’t surprising, it wasn’t unexpected, what it was was logical. What makes the Xbox an effective games console is that it’s no longer just a games console, it has diversified into the multi-media hub which MS always envisioned.
The harsh reaction to the latest changes to the dashboard earlier this year gave a pretty clear message from those who would happily call themselves ‘gamers’ however, so it remains a fine line MS must tread to keep everyone happy – from the hardcore Halo fans who dress up as John 117 on the weekends to the working mums who just jump onto Your Shape for 15 minutes every Tuesday morning after Loose Women.
To address these concerns, MS‘s E3 conference began by taking things back to the console’s roots, with a new instalment in their flagship franchise. In the hands of a new developer, 343 Industries, the game offers a fresh breath of life into a series which began at the original Xbox‘s inception back in 2001. There are new enemies, new weapons, new locations, but still the familiar touches which make the series what it is, including its protagonist Master Chief (who is John 117, if you were scratching your head earlier).
Next to be flaunted were (among others) a new Splinter Cell title subbed ‘Blacklist’, which seemed to throw away even more stealth than its predecessor, Tomb Raider, which still featured Lara Croft making odd sexual noises and a new Gears of War (Judgment – missing an ‘e’), this time with Damon Baird in the spotlight. Plus there were three blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Xbox exclusives, but very little was revealed about them other than the names: Ascend: New Gods, LocoCycle and Matter.
In terms of numbers of games at least, things were going well, and the 360 has always been at home with action-heavy gun-dominated titles like Gears and Halo. “…but what about innovation?!” I hear you cry.
Xbox Smartglass, technology which allows you to use the smartphones and tablets you already own to control your 360, was undoubtedly the biggest innovation. While convergence of technology is nothing new, utilising products consumers already own is a masterstroke. The only problem is what about the people without these add-ons, are they going to get left behind as a brave new world comes along to slide its shimmering glass surface across their face?
With another console not a million miles away, this is software which will make the jump, and in many ways ease the transition between today’s gaming world and tomorrow’s. There are undoubtedly tons of things which can be done with touchscreens, but like the possibilities presented by Kinect, it will take a long time for them to be used effectively, and most importantly to enhance the experience rather than intrude on it.
After a few more services, including the shrug-worthy Xbox Music and marginally more interesting film and TV deals, featuring copious amounts of American sports which all have their own acronyms, it was time for more games.
Resident Evil 6 looked the part, albeit with plenty of potential to stray down the path away from its roots, something so commonly picked up on these days that it practically becomes a given. There was also a good show from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who notably mocked Smartglass‘ drive for interconnectivity, and surprisingly the pair proved to be the more civilised and fitting ‘celebrity’ guest appearances compared to the shocking performance from Usher in conjunction with the inevitable Just Dance 3. Jaws across the auditorium must have been on the floor for all the wrong reasons.
The grand finale was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which was the least surprising sequel of the day, but the footage shown was undeniably impressive, causing those who had sworn of ‘COD’ for life to sheepishly reconsider.
The surprise of the week really came from Ubisoft‘s conference in the form of the gritty criminal underworld of the Watch Dogs, an original IP which nods to both Deus Ex and Grand Theft Auto IV. Grand masters of GTA themselves, Rockstar Games, were dutifully absent as usual, and no more was heard about the upcoming GTAV.
In all it was a business-sound case from MS, with enough games in the mix (predictable but present) to keep gamers occupied which they put the final touches on their new platform, sure to be revealed this time next year. The amount of services may seem dizzying, but with so many new partnerships and deals announced, it’s a safe bet the 360 will be around for a few years yet, even after its successor is released.
Now all we have to do is wait…in the meantime, have a listen to what industry veteran and passing colleague of This Is Entertainment Jon Hicks (@MrJonty) from Official Xbox Magazine, has to say about it all – and happy gaming.
James Michael Parry
pictures courtesy: gotgame.com, archetypegamer.com, openthefridge.net, monstervine.com