For the fourth year in a row, we're comparing E3 hype to gaming reality. On Tuesday, we looked at Sony. Yesterday, we investigated Nintendo. Today, we wrap up with a look at Microsoft's E3 2011 promises.
Last year, Microsoft may as well have called their press presentation the Kinect Hour. While the Xbox 360 itself is aging and rumors about its inevitable successor continue to circulate, Microsoft featured no new hardware announcements last year (and looks unlikely to do so this year either).
Instead, Microsoft sang the praises of the Kinect and all the ways in which its motion tracking and voice recognition capabilities work with both their games and with streaming media and other entertainment. So between motion sensing and a few big game announcements, how have the last twelve months of reality stacked up against Microsoft's promises?
Let's take a look.
The Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
The Promise: Available November 8.
The Verdict: Promise kept. In rather spectacular, record-breaking fashion.
The Game: Dance Central 2
The Promise: All Dance Central songs can be imported into Dance Central 2, new features (simultaneous multiplayer dancing, voice control, a campaign mode) and more than 100 total songs available at launch.
The Verdict: Promises kept. Owners of the original game were indeed able to import their songs into the new game when it launched in October.
The Game: Fable: The Journey
The Promise: A new Fable game, featuring full Kinect support, due in 2012.
The Verdict: Pending. 2012 has six months left to go, and no more specific time-frame was given. The latest public update we've had were some screenshots in March.
The Game: EA Sports lineup
The Promise: "Four EA Sports titles will feature Kinect support in 2012." Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Madden, FIFA, and "one more that we'll announce later."
The Verdict: Mixed. The Kinect support is rolling in on the 2013 editions of the sports franchises, and didn't hit last fall's 2012 releases (which came out in 2011). Tiger Woods 13 had Kinect support, FIFA 13 is promised to but FIFA 12 didn't; Madden 13, like FIFA, promises Kinect support in Madden 13 but missed it in Madden 12. And that fourth game? We still don't know what it is.
The Game: Forza Motorsport 4
The Promise: Racing game to feature Kinect integration, all sorts of multiplayer features, monthly expansions, and a Top Gear tie-in. Release date October 11, 2011.
The Verdict: Promises kept. The game launched on October 11 and was well-received. They have indeed continued to add monthly DLC as promised.
The Game: Gears of War 3
The Promise: Very little was actually said on stage, as Cliff Bleszinski and Ice-T instead picked up controllers and played through a demo. Bleszinski reiterated that Gears is an Xbox exclusive, and Ice-T promised that he and his band were going to make a song about Horde mode.
The Verdict: Promise kept. There is indeed a song, and Gears of War 3 launched last September.
The Game: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
The Promise: Kinect support for a weapon modification system called "Gunsmith," in which players use gesture and voice commands to create "over twenty million unique weapons."
The Verdict: Promise kept. The console version of Future Soldier was released last week, with the promised gunsmithery included for Xbox.
The Game: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
The Promise: A fully HD remastered version of the original Halo, with its multiplayer functionality enhanced for modern Xbox Live, to be released on November 15, 2011.
The Verdict: Promises kept. The game launched in November with the promised features included, though not all features were well-received.
The Game: Halo 4
The Promise: Surprise! A new Halo trilogy is landing for the Xbox, beginning with Halo 4 in Holiday 2012.
The Verdict: Pending. Holiday 2012 is still five or six months off, but Microsoft did narrow the target down to November 6 and seems to be on track to hit it.
The Game: Kinect Disneyland Adventures
The Promise: An interactive, family-friendly romp through a faithfully re-created virtual Disneyland. Available holiday 2011.
The Verdict: Promises kept. The game released on November 15 and, to the surprise of many, didn't suck.
The Game: Kinect Sports Season Two
The Promise: Adding new gestures and new sports, including skiing and tennis; available "this holiday."
The Verdict: Promise kept. The game came out in October, with the promised sports added.
The Game: Kinect Star Wars
The Promise: You get to be a Jedi! Relive the adventures of six Star Wars films in a full-body, Kinect-dependent way. No release date given.
The Verdict: Promises kept. More or less. The game came out in April, but was terrible. It did give the world an excellent *.gif of Lando Calrissian's dancing, though.
The Game: Minecraft
The Promise: To be released "this year" and "this winter," meaning late 2011, with Kinect support. For consoles, an Xbox exclusive.
The Verdict: Mixed. Minecraft did launch on Xbox Live with a number of console-specific features, but missed both Kinect support and 2011 entirely, landing instead only a few weeks ago, with Kinect updates yet to come.
The Game: Ryse
The Promise: A Kinect-focused combat-heavy game set in ancient Rome.
The Verdict: Completely unknown. There was no release date promised, so no promise can be officially broken, but the title has been virtually unheard of in the past year. Rumors circulated at the end of 2011 that Ryse was slipping to the next console generation, but more recently developer Crytek has insisted that the game is on track.
The Game: Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
The Promise: An interactive storybook adventure that young children (Sesame Street's pre-school audience) and their parents could play together, using Kinect motion tracking and voice recognition. Due fall 2011.
The Verdict: Promises kept. The game came out in October and was apparently as adorable as promised.
The Game: Tomb Raider
The Promise: Developer Crystal Dynamics showed a live demo of their Lara Croft origin story and announced a fall, 2012 launch.
The Promise: Mixed. The game is still in progress, so content promises are pending, but its release date was kicked to Q1 2013 (along with what feels like half of the holiday 2012 line-up) recently. We're expected to see more about it at this year's E3.
The Feature: Bing for Xbox Live
The Promise: Xbox dashboard to add Bing search, supported by Kinect, so that you can tell your living room, "Xbox Bing [something]," and it'll give you all the games, movies, music, and so on it can find related to that topic.
The Verdict: Promise kept. The feature is there. Although in my experience, Bing isn't quite as good at picking up your voice as you might like it to be. ("Zombies" and "cupcakes" are not the same thing.)
The Feature: Content and Entertainment Partnerships
The Promise: Microsoft really, really wants your Xbox to be about the only thing you ever use your TV for. They promised to increase the number of partnerships for media delivery by a factor of ten, to add "live television," and to work with YouTube in the US, Canal+ in France, Foxtel in Australia, and Sky in the UK.
The Verdict: Promises kept. Streaming video through the Xbox has continued to increase through the past 12 months.
The Feature: Kinect support for the Xbox dashboard and Xbox Live
The Promise: Sit in a chair and talk to your television in order to start games, find features, and so on.
The Verdict: Promise kept. Though as with Bing, in practice the Kinect doesn't always like all voices equally.
The Feature: Kinect Fun Labs
The Promise: "Available today," Kinect Fun Labs is a playground for all manner of Kinect features that may or may not have any actual applications in games or apps as of yet, like finger-tracking or people-scanning.
The Verdict: Promise kept. Fun Labs was indeed added to Xbox Live on the day it was announced, and features like the facial scanning appear to be making their way into games now.
The Feature: UFC on Xbox Live
The Promise: Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view matches streaming in HD, along with fight archives and online features like fighter statistics, match prediction, and so on. Due holiday 2011.
The Verdict: Promise kept. UFC on Xbox Live launched in December.
So on the whole, not a bad showing for Microsoft. But when you don't announce very much—and last year at E3, they didn't—it's not as hard to keep to your word. An absolutely huge percentage of Microsoft's stage time last year was spent on Kinect features, Kinect games, and Kinect upgrades for Xbox software or existing franchises. The Halo 4 announcement dropped in at the very end, after they thanked everyone for coming.
This year, we know we can look forward to a new Gears of War. What other big announcements are coming? We'll find out next week.