E3 2010: Our reactions to the Microsoft Press Conference

Charlie Barratt, GamesRadar US

Above: So excited, we forgot towax lyricalabout Halo Reach while the camera was rolling. Just pretend we said it looked good too.

Last night, Microsoft asked me to stand in a crowded line, surrounded by half-naked, gyrating jungle man-beasts, then forced me to drape glowing jellyfish curtains across my shoulders and worship an asteroid-sized Xbox logo as an army of elephants, gorillas and grinning multi-cultural child actors, ripped straight out of a Wii Lifestyle photo or Target commercial, danced around me in a carefully choreographed, Gwen Stefani-scored orgy.

And that was the fun part! Seeing the actual games at Kinect's debut was scarier, as nearly all of them seemed designed for an extremely casual crowd. Yoga? Kart racing? Virtual tiger petting? Was Microsoft abandoning me, the hardcore gamer, just as Nintendo did a few years ago?

Thankfully, no. Not quite, anyway. The first half of this morning's press conference felt like one massive apology for the night before – within a half-hour of the theater lights dimming, we'd already seen gameplay footage of Gears 3, Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Fable III and Metal Gear Solid: Rising, as well as the tease for a new Crytek-developed, 360 exclusive (currently) called Codename Kingdoms.

Better yet, nearly all of these games look great. The upgrades to Gears 3 were the most impressive, with four co-op players racing through a brighter, foliage-filled environment, past skyscraper-sized Locust stalks, dodging Lambent Berserkers with tentacles for mouths and barely escaping their own ground-shredding Hammer of Dawn blast. But I also loved the sheer scale of Halo: Reach, with the Spartan Noble team transitioning from a vast battle across the surface of Reach to an outer space dogfight – using new controllable ships – in the course of a single level.

I'm not much of a Metal Gear Solid fan, but Rising has me excited, too. The less stealthy, more action-oriented gameplay seems to focus solely on cutting enemies – and everything else around you – into itsy bitsy pieces with Raiden's sword. Imagine Dead Space's dismemberment with extra finesse, style and slicing angles.

Fable III? The story of revolution and brother-versus-brother sounds interesting… I'm still waiting, however, to hear how (or if) Kinect will be incorporated. Call of Duty? The helicopter and tunnel setpieces were fast, epic and intense… though I still notice Treyarch mimicking Infinity Ward's ideas a bit too much. And Codename Kingdoms? I have no idea what the game is yet, so no real opinion yet. I guess Far Cry or Crysis set in Roman gladiator days could be awesome, but that mysteriously vague title implies something even grander.

So the Microsoft conference contained plenty of hardcore gaming meat… but remember when I said "first half"? Guess what the second half was all about.

Yeah… Lots and lots of Kinect. Another child was brought out to pet another tiger. Some woman from Ubisoft did yoga for what felt like an hour, and some Harmonix employee danced for what felt like a second hour.

In the midst of potential despair, however, were comforting glimmers of hope. The kid was able to hide behind a couch, and when the tiger cub couldn't see her anymore, he started pawing at the screen and looking around the room. That's neat. The yoga lady took her jacket off, and her virtual representation on screen took an exact replica of her jacket off as well. That's neat. The experienced clubber gave way to a nerdier, novice dancer, who claimed Harmonix's Dance Central had taught him how to move. No snark necessary – that's neat.

Yes, I'm still scared for the motion-controlled future of gaming, and still dreading what kind of Nintendo nonsense Microsoft will devolve into, but this press conference made clear that the console manufacturer will continue to deliver plenty of real titles for real gamers. And that Kinect has the power – with the right creativity from the right developers – to actually interest us as well.

Oh yeah, and there's a new 360 – available today. I love the new size, the new look and the new specs, but if I didn't know one was already being shipped to GamesRadar's offices, I'd be kinda pissed that I already bought a 360 Elite and that I'm now expected to pay $300 more for "whisper" quietness. Package it with Kinect, though, and you might have yourself an industry-shifting bargain.

Jun 14, 2010