E3 2012: Microsoft Treads Water

Am I just getting too old and jaded to get excited by new videogames, or are the games simply less impressive? In the case of Microsoft’s E3 2012 press conference, I think it’s the latter, and can’t help but feel that a lot of companies are stockpiling new franchises and real gamebreakers for the next generation of consoles.

I found it interesting that the games that opened and closed the conference — Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 — aren’t only sequels, but both being developed at studios that weren’t involved in their creation. For Halo 4, it’s no longer Bungie at the helm, but new developer 343 Industries. And of course, Black Ops 2 is being handled by Treyarch, while Infinity Ward is off cooking up their next game. 

The same could be said for the rest of the MS demo. There’s a new Gears of War game, being created by Epic subsidiary People Can Fly. There’s a new Splinter Cell game. There’s a new Dance Central game. And a new Forza. And so on. And none of these really look all that different from the games that preceded them.

A big part of the problem is that games used to make giant visual leaps from year to year. When id unveiled DOOM 3, it looked like nothing that had come before it. The Half-Life 2 demo was staggering to see in action. But graphical advancements have slowed to a point where a lot of these games all look the same, and it’s harder to produce those visually stunning demos that got everyone buzzing.  

If there was one interesting aspect to the MS press conference, it was the unveiling of the new SmartGlass technology. Basically, it’s a way to extend games to your phone or tablet, in a sense fulfilling a similar role to the new Wii U controller. You can imagine calling Madden plays from your tablet, etc, and it seems like the kind of thing that a few developers might be able to do interesting things with. 

Thankfully, Microsoft didn’t beat everyone over the head with Kinect this year. We know it exists, people are making games for it, but its presence this year was minimal. There were the usual partner announcements (Internet Explorer coming to Xbox Live), but at the end, it just felt like an off year, that we’re just biding time until Microsoft is ready to unveil a successor to the Xbox 360. 

Grade: B-