You've got to love Microsoft sometimes, they do like to try and get in ahead of the competition. Much like how they started the current generation of consoles early by releasing the Xbox 360 before any of their competitors, they are now trying to start Christmas early as well.
At a fancy art gallery in one of London's more upscale districts, Microsoft's Christmas Showcase - complete with Santa hats and gingerbread men - was showing off a range of titles and hardware that the company would be rolling with come the winter season. Most of it was stuff from E3, but we had a look around all the same and have brought you some highlights:
Age of Empires: Online
Nothing actually new here to see, although they were running it on a rather spiffy looking laptop with some new gaming peripherals. It's telling that the 'PC' stuff was really just one guy in a corner, surrounded by Kinect and Console products. Despite Microsoft's (re)commitment to the platform, we've yet to see them properly live up to that promise.
Forza Motorsport 4FORZA 4 is looking pretty yummy, and the Kinect integration is coming the form of head tracking and voice control.
For Community/Online, the devs have enhanced the multiplayer experience to make it more fun – so you now have up to 16 player races, they've introduced a 'Rivals' mode so you can challenge your friends individually, and on the social side of things there's the Car Club, which will allow people to come together and share their cars and experiences.
Gears of War 3
For example, you can now build defences at certain points on the map to help you survive the waves of locust. These can range from stationary turrets, to decoys, sentry guns, even traps on the floor to slow your enemy down. These static defences are purchased using money that you earn during a round, and the amount of money you earn is based on how well you perform in a round. They've also included boss waves, which happen every 10 rounds. Along with the usual waves of enemies, boss waves included super-hard monsters, such as berserkers or brumaks. These boss waves are randomised as well so you never know what you're going to get.
From Dust – Ubisoft's free form creation game is still looking as good as- wait. It wasn't actually there. Who wrote this list?
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Again, it was the E3 demo, but it was good to look at it up close. Engine looks slightly improved, and watching how the combat works in this game is looking interesting as well. This one is going to be about the story, rather than the gameplay, as it's the final Ezio instalment. They were also showing that awesome trailer, which won the Joe Robinson Best Trailer of E3 Award 2011.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
This was just the gunsmith mode that was first introduced at E3. It's neat, don't get us wrong - a wonderful tech demo for the Kinect in general. But, the mode reminds us a little bit of Armoured Core's customization elements, where there was just so many parts it all became rather meaningless as there was no real way of telling the advantage of one part over another in practice. Also, rumours suggest that the Gun Smith mode doesn't' actually cross over with the main gameplay, it's just something fun to fiddle with. We'll get back to you on that.
Rise of Nightmares
This is a Kinect title from SEGA, and it's from the creators of the House of the Dead franchise. We were shown a short, saw/hostel like demo where a guy has to fight his way through a dungeon filled with zombies, whilst everyone around him dies in very inventive and gruesome ways. The Kinect controls involve a combination of using the position of your feet to move, and your hands for attacks, so it's not an 'on rails' game like the HOTD franchise. Seems interesting, although the nature of motions controls means that the enemies seem awfully slow and dumb.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
Probably the highlight of the entire day. Microsoft were very nice and treated us all too... a video. The E3 video, to be precise. Ah well, we know how it ends, to be honest the only thing we want in from this game is to be placed into our hands. Like, right now. Screw Nov. 15th.
Kinect Fun Labs, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Kinect Sports: Season 2 and Sesame Street: Once upon a monster
Sorry to lump these all together, but there's not a lot to talk about here. Suffice to say, they are all looking pretty polished, and even interesting in their own unique ways. Fun Labs is starting to introduce some of the Kinect functionality that was originally promised, and is a good bridge between home-brew Kinect-hacks and official software. Kinect Sports: Season 2 is bigger and better, as expected, and Kinect Disneyland Adventures is an interesting open world experience that could actually do a good job at introducing kids to a very deep, core gaming genre. Sesame Street is more fun for someone my age than it really should be, and I'd be surprised if any of these don't do well come launch.
Kinect Star Wars
Ok, we have to be on honest here: This isn't looking that great. It's on the rails, the action is a bit clunky and awkward... and whoever thought voice-activated lightsabers were a good idea deserves to be shot. But then, this game probably isn't being made for someone like me, given the Kinect's main audience. Who knows, maybe the kids will love it, but just don't expect anyone else to.
And there you have it. Nothing really new or surprising there today – in all honesty this was a showcase for the normal people, not the games press, but it was good to catch up with some of the stuff we'd missed out on at E3, and we'll be sure to give you more in-depth coverage of some of these titles as soon as we get our hands on some code.