E3: Microsoft takes the Mickey with Kinect

“There’s plenty of life left in the Xbox 360” said Microsoft last week. What they forgot to add is that you’re going to need a Kinect to squeeze that extra milage out of it. Just about every game shown during their E3 conference uses the device in someway from head-tracking in Forza Motorsport 4 (queue impending whiplash claims) to voice controls in EA’s Mass Effect 3. “Wrex, I choose you!”

EA also confirmed that Madden, FIFA, Tiger Woods and The Sims 3: Pets will feature Kinect support. Broken lamp-shades and jealous pooches ahoy.

But let’s rewind first. Microsoft’s day kicked off with the release of a new Kinect Star Wars trailer. When shown at last year’s E3 it took the form of an unconvincing pre-rendered video that failed to impress. One year later and, well, not much has changed. The trailer shows a range of mini-games including pod racing, rancor stomping and third person adventure sections that bare a worrying resemblance to Star Wars: Obi Wan on the original Xbox. Unless those pod races feature different tracks and leagues to play through it looks like it’s going to be a very shallow package indeed.

Microsoft then dropped a clanger by leaking news of Halo 4 roughly two hours before the conference began. This news came from their own Xbox.com site, believe it or not. Halo 4 was supposed to be their big finale for their E3 conference but the leak soon put a damper on that. But worry not – there were a few surprises on show. And a few unintentionally amusing moments too.

The conference started with demos of two multi-format releases – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Tomb Raider. The first saw a group of soldiers undertaking an underwater mission – which came to an abrupt standstill when a ‘Please reconnect controller’ message appeared on the screen – while Lara’s latest managed to impress with some Uncharted 2-style vistas and an unexpected hint of survival horror. It looks fantastic, but it’s not out until Fall 2012. Modern Warfare 3 has been dated as 9th November though and according to Microsoft “all Call of Duty downloadable content will be available first on Xbox 360.”

Mass Effect 3 and Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier were then shown. The crowd cheered when Mass Effect’s Shepard pulled out a sword during the demo which also showed off the voice command system. It’s down for release on 9th March 2012. A collector’s edition will also be available containing a Dark Horse comic book, hardcover art book, soundtrack CD, lithograph, N7 patch and four exclusive guns. Likewise, Ghost Recon Future Soldier has Kinect support in the form of voice commands, body tracking and Minority Report-style menus that let you customise your own weapons. “All future titles in the Tom Clancy franchise will leverage Kinect,” says Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot.

Next, Microsoft showed off their continuing efforts to turn the Xbox 360 into an entertainment hub. YouTube is on its way and a new voice controlled Bing search service will help you look for items on the marketplace quickly. For instance, saying “Bing X-Men” will bring up a list of X-Men films, games and themes to download. Microsoft’s demonstrator pronounced Lego as ‘Lay go’, much to the amusement of those following the conference live on Twitter. “You guys aren’t going to let this lay go, are you?” we said.

Ice T then came on stage and had a go on Gears of War 3 with Cliff Bleszinski in co-op. Another mispronunciation occurred when Ice T seemingly chose to rename ‘horde mode’ to ‘whore mode’. Crytek’s Roman Kinect hack and slash Ryse was then shown followed by the heavily rumoured Halo 1 remake. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, as it’s called, is going to be a boxed retail release and not a download as some may have first thought. Online co-op play is the focus with seven multi-player maps promised. The trailer for Halo 4 meanwhile was merely a teaser but it’s the start of a new trilogy, which effectively confirms Halo 5 and Halo 6. Master Chief and Cortana are both back, but not until 2012. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is out this year though. In November, to be precise.

Forza Motorsport 4 footage looks very impressive with 16 cars on a track at once. Power by Kanye West played over the top of the video. Incidentally, THQ used the same track for their Saints Row 3 trailer.

Those that thought Fable 3 lacked visual finesse can rejoice – Fable: The Journey is powered by the Unreal 3 engine. The demo showed the Kinect being used to whip the reigns of a horse and then cast spells from a first person perspective. It’s out 2012.

From epic quests to indie games – Minecraft is coming to Xbox 360 this winter. Again, Kinect is the method of control. I really hope that you can still use a joypad.

You might not give a Donald Duck about Kinect Disneyland Adventures or Tim Schafer’s Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster but a small person in your life might do. Kinect Disneyland Adventures is being developed by Frontier. A Peter Pan flying game and an Alice in Wonderland croquet “sim” were demonstrated by two children who gave one another a fist bump after playing it. After the show they were taken back to their orphanage by a limo.

Rounding off the conference was Dance Central 2, Kinect Fun Lab (which will be a portal to homebrew content) and Kinect Sports Season 2 which is being co-developed between Rare and the guys behind Kinect Joy Ride. This time American football, baseball, darts, golf, tennis and skiing will feature. Why? Because apparently these are the sports you asked for.

Indeed, the conference did feature a few too many sequels and updates but with innovation thriving on Xbox Live Arcade – with such games The Gunstringer, Bastion, Toy Soldiers: Cold War and Kinect Fruit Ninja due – as there’s no need to feel disheartened by the lack of new IP.