E3: Microsoft Conference - Kinect, Halo 4, New Interface, Ryse, Fable: The Journey, Minecraft

By Matt Bailey

As we expected there was a heavy focus on Xbox Kinect at Microsoft's E3 conference. And with so little shown since the device launched last November, despite the hugely impressive uptake, they had to come out big. It's fair to say that to some extent they delivered, offering up a whole variety of titles for different audiences, though it's too early to say if any of them will satisfy the 'hardcore' audience.

Doing their best to go after the doubters was the reveal of Kinect support in a variety of mainstream games, including a cool - but gimmicky - weapon customisation in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, and voice interaction and commands in Mass Effect 3. Crytek have joined in the motion control adventure with a brand new action title called Ryse, a brawler set in the Roman era. Looks exciting. The surprise reveal of Minecraft for the Xbox 360, complete with Kinect, was a complete surprise, and another chance for Microsoft to broaden the appeal of the device.

On the first party side, head-tracking and voice commands via Kinect will also play a part in Forza 4, and there's a brand-new first-person Fable spin-off called The Journey that was demoed only with Kinect. Whether it will support a controller at all remains to be seen.

For the whole family there's the follow-up to Kinect Sports, a Disneyland-themed party game, Sesame Street and Dance Central 2. Kinect Star Wars looked a bit disappointing - visually it looked like a nice blend of the six films, but the gameplay looked a bit ropey. More impressive was Kinect Fun Labs, a collection of Kinect-enable mini-games and tools that were created alongside indie developers using the PC tools. It looked like fun, but the reason it caught our interest was that it was completely free and available on Xbox Live today.

Not everything was Kinect-focused with some on-stage demos of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Gears of War 3, but there was also the reveal of two new Halo games. Halo 4 steals the limelight, but details are thin on the ground at the moment; there was a trailer featuring Master Chief and the game is coming out at the end of next year. It won't be Bungie behind it - they're busy working with Activision now - but 343 Industries, and it will be the first game in a new trilogy. We do, however, have more details of Halo: Anniversary Edition, an HD remake of the original 10 year old game. It will update the campaign, bring online co-op, and bring back a collection of old maps for online multiplayer thanks to the Halo Reach engine.

Away from the games, Microsoft also showed off a new Kinect enabled interface to bring together their music, moves and games services. There's new live TV streaming services coming along, and we're waiting to hear the UK details. However, we will be getting the new YouTube streaming, and there's also the addition of Bing to the mix, so you can search all these new services as well as your games library and the Marketplace. And of course, you can do that via voice commands with Kinect.

Overall Microsoft had a lot to offer a wide variety of people. It was a packed press conference, with a few surprises, but mostly fleshing out the details of things we were expecting to see. It looks like another good year for Microsoft, but they're still going to struggle for attention compared to the new hardware offerings from Sony and Nintendo.

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