A Kinecting Feeling

Actual palm trees, not plastic ones

It was lovely and sunny in LA; who’d have thought it? Standing in line outside the Galen Centre in downtown LA, we await the Microsoft conference of E3 2011. The sunny weather coupled with the amusement of playing Spot The Portal 2 Bus ensured that time more or less flew past and, sooner rather than later, we were seated among a sea of green and purple.

Music pumping, and the avatars of those in attendance floating around on the enormous screen setup helped build the anticipation levels and, on the stroke of 9:30 am, the lights faded and the familiar rat-a-tat-tat of Call of Duty began to envelop the auditorium.

Modern Warfare 3 is very much your standard Modern Warfare game, complete with over the top atmospheric sequences that seemingly follow you everywhere you go. The slow motion portion of the demo looked rather exceptional but, again, it’s the cinematic experience brought by the series brings that really draws your attention. It’s something that is perhaps taken for granted and, while it is just another shooter to many, there is no doubting that Infinity Ward are exceptionally talented at what they do.

One of the titles that really impressed me was the new Tomb Raider reboot and, while I do have some reservations over the amount of quick time events that were on display, there’s no debating that Lara Croft hasn’t looked this good for so long. Enter the dirty, heavy breathing, grime-covered Ms Croft; a Lara that is battered, bruised and in a whole world of hurt. Tomb Raider has had a load of reboots over the years but this may just be the one that brings the franchise back into the mainstream as you can’t help but be impressed with the new direction the team at Crystal Dynamics have taken. It’s as if they’ve given her a boob reduction but gone down the road of hardcore S&M, it’s brilliant.

Next to take the stage was Bioware with Mass Effect 3; you may have heard of it. The big news now though, is that Kinect will indeed play a role in the final instalment in the Mass Effect story, perhaps providing Microsoft with that little bit of leverage it needs to put Kinect into the hands of its core audience. There will likely always be the inherent fear that a game could become too reliant on Kinect, that you may end up waving your hands around just that little bit too much. It’s perhaps the biggest barrier Microsoft will face in its efforts in to convince core gamers that Kinect should be something that they pay attention too.

Arm flapping is so last year.

Utilising voice commands, you’ll be able to take control of your Commander Shepard allowing for easy selection of dialogue as well as the ability to give orders to your team such as attack and move up. It was at this point that Lee and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously mouthed the words “fucking awesome”.

This is what Kinect can give to the mainstream audience and from early evidence it’s something that looks extremely impressive, so I certainly can’t wait to see more of the feature.

The Kinect love-in continued as Ghost Recon was touted, with very cool Minority Report style feature that allowed you to pull apart and customise your weapon with nothing but your hands. It definitely had that cool feeling about it but, apart from that the hands free shooting, looked very much like your generic Kinect title, i.e. you’ll look like a complete arse when playing it. The air of excitement was still present but, with so much Kinect talk going on, one did fear that the conference may start going down that route. Things were good though and the announcement came that YouTube, along with a number of other services which, at a guess, we won’t be able to get in the UK (like UFC) or we’ll simply never use (like Bing) was coming to Xbox Live. What I wanted was games; it was time to call out the big guns.

Black Sabbath started playing and the golden boy of gaming, Cliffy B, trotted out to the stage to present Gears of War 3, although by now I’m beginning to wonder just how big the game is as I’ve seemingly seen a metric ton of it already. Oh wait, he’ll have a co-op partner. It’s Ice T, who was apparently a rapper at some point in time; he didn’t go into any free style breakdowns though, sadly.

Enjoys the bromance action

Gears itself looked as good as it has the last fifty times I’ve seen it, with the wonder team of Cliffy-B and Ice-T shooting the shit out of a giant beast that was attacking a boat and in true super hero fashion, ultimately saving the day. If the excitement of that was proving too difficult to contain, then the proclamation that Ice-T is reuniting with some of his rapper buddies to record a Gears 3 inspired song will surely cause a reaction amongst your hormone levels. Word.

The words Crytek appearing on the screen promise so much hope but, sadly, I’m left disappointed as new game Ryse gets the crown of Kinect Game That Hardly Anyone In The Audience Actually Cares About. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game but it’s just, well, average looking. Waving your arms around as you stab and headbutt Romans is all well and good but I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed.

Some melodramatic choir style chanting can only mean one thing – it’s time for Halo. The much rumoured and long awaited (by someone I presume?) remake of the first Halo is here, and they’ve decided to call it Anniversary apparently. I’m all for HD remakes, another console manufacturer does them very well, but there was just something about Halo Anniversary that didn’t sit right. Ten years on and the graphics on the original look awful compared to today’s standards which is, of course, to be expected. Sadly, the remade version didn’t exactly look awe inspiring, even to the point where it fails to match its counterpart Reach on a graphical scale. Fans of Halo will no doubt be pleased with the fact they’ll be able to start the fight, yet again, but from a technical stand point I was left feeling rather unimpressed. With any luck the game will be on the show floor in the coming days and there’ll be a chance to take a closer look, hopefully removing any doubts cast upon it.

Microsoft was on a roll with their big name exclusives, and next up was the next instalment of the Forza series, creatively named Forza 4. It has cars, it looks gorgeous, the Top Gear track is present and, of course, there’s a bit of Kinect support in there to boot. I’m not sure, but if there’s a market for people who like to pretend they’re dogging then Forza will be their game of choice; the cars look that damn good – beautiful.

Dogging perfection

On a bit of a high now; some good games shown and even Kinect was interesting but then the Russian roulette of conferencing emerged… take centre stage, Mr Molyneux. Another Fable it looks like it’s on rails and you’ve guessed it, a Kinect title. It’s very much a Fable game from the characters to the voice acting to the world of Albion but it just looks, as it sounds basically, a Kinect title on rails. This isn’t the Albion that I want to explore and, more alarmingly, it all but squashes any hope that we’ll be seeing anything other than Fable from Lionhead, for the foreseeable future at least.

Here's what you could have won

As the majority of my gaming gets conducted on a PC, the next announcement was on a level with biting into a Kit Kat only to realise it’s nothing but chocolate and void of biscuit. It’s not impossible but it’s still pretty mind blowing – Minecraft will be heading to Xbox Live. There was no appearance by Notch (sadly) and the trailer lasted mere seconds but there was something of a sense of irony in it that a company for whom it has been notoriously hard for indie developers to work with was now supporting one of the hottest Indie titles ever. Hardly a whimper from the crowd. Disgusting.

There was definitely a motion controlled theme for Microsoft this year as further showings of Disney Land, Sesame Street and Star Wars proved. To be fair, none of the games looked that bad and all will likely hit their target audiences, but by now there was certainly an air of “not again” descending upon the crowd. Perhaps Kudo Tsunoda can lighten the mood. He’s a brave man, what with the sunglasses and cardigan combo he was rocking, but he’s not here to talk fashion (thankfully), and instead introduces Kinect Fun Labs.

Going on to mention how, with the use of the SDK, lots of cool stuff has been made with Kinect (go team PC!) such as the avatar creator, which looked brilliant and one of the best things I saw all day. Further additions to Fun Labs were detailed and it’s apparently live today. I’ve not had the chance to check yet but one can presume it’s not been tucked away in the corner where nobody can find it as it does look rather good and definitely something to at least have a play around with once or twice to see what the fuss is about. In a rather turnabout series of events, a Kinect title was unveiled, much to the shock horror of the audience. Kinect Sports series 2. It does exactly what it says on the tin and it’ll likely sell millions.

Guess who's back, back again

The conference winds down with your generic corporate speech and… that’s a wrap. Oh wait, there’s more. A brand new trilogy! It’s Halo 4 and Chief and Cortana are in deep trouble. I’m not a Halo fan, so couldn’t really care either way, but it all looks rather generic and very much like you’d expect any Halo trailer to look like. So that takes the tally of Halo games to come out up to four? There’s surely only so much Halo one person can take.

Microsoft have played their cards and I’m left with mixed emotions. On one hand there was some really interesting Kinect stuff but, on the other, there was likely just a bit too much of it on display. Exchanging initial thoughts with the rest of the team indicated that, while Lorna was not amused, Lee being the token Halo and Mass Effect fan boy was rather excited and Mark was left wondering how to take one of the cinema screens home with him.

Next stop, Electronic Arts.

Last five articles by Ben



  1. Edward Edward says:

    You basically wrote my feelings down in an article :P
    In all seriousness, expertly done, and I completely agree with a good deal of your sentiments.
    Tomb Raider was probably going to be my highlight until it was a bit too QTE heavy and she talked to herself too much, but other than that I think it’d have to go to Mass Effect 3.
    Hopefully all that voice communication will work with a headset though. :D

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    I actually really liked the look of Ryse until it turned out to be Kinect oriented. As a regular game, the setting is fantastic and the action looked downright nasty. One to keep an eye on anyway. Tomb Raider did look good… let’s just hope that the QTEs are kept to a minimum.

  3. Samuel Samuel says:

    So long as the Kinect option remains optional, Mass Effect 3, GRAW3 and Forza 4 will all pretty much be making it into my collection. But a Kinect simply won’t be, and that’s my final word on it.

  4. Richie rich says:

    Mass Effect 3 looked painfully dumbed down. Kinect or not, I don’t want it to be a Gears clone. :(

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