Microsoft only has one console to push at this year’s E3. They’ve already promised that they won’t show new hardware, at least publicly – developers already have it, according to rumours. They might make minor allusions to how their Windows Phone platform is doing and how it ties in with Live and they might touch on Live as it features in Windows 8 but the Xbox brand is still the exciting part of Microsoft and it will account for almost all of their 90 minute presentation on Monday evening.
So, they have explicitly stated that they won’t be showing new hardware. We don’t know of many new and exclusive games on the platform either but it’s worth taking a quick run down what just might crop up.
Master Chief is Microsoft's hero, in more ways than one.
High on the list of things that need to be shown, and shown well, is Fable: The Journey. Last year’s teaser trailer was disappointing, even for Peter Molyneux who was the head of Lionhead at the time. This is the enthusiastic game designer’s last Lionhead project now he’s off to pastures new so it would be a nice touch to get him back on stage to throw some of that trademark enthusiasm over this year’s showing. It’s hard to say if the Fable universe will translate well as a first person action game controlled with Kinect but Microsoft’s E3 presentation will have to answer that question or risk any remaining excitement ebbing away entirely.
Halo 4 is due out in time for Christmas and that’s sure to get a bit of a blow out on stage. It’s the biggest exclusive franchise in gaming and it’s the only thing that comes close to denting Call of Duty’s near monopoly of online console gaming. Microsoft will make a big deal out of it, probably including plenty of gameplay footage and multiplayer details. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we’ll also see something about how they’re getting Kinect technology into their biggest franchise. In the relentless push for ever more Kinect adoption, pinning a shooting range mode or an interactive Halo museum into the Halo 4 release would surely increase sales for the sensor, even though most traditional fans will balk at the idea. Nothing is assured or even hinted but it wouldn’t be a shock.
Their other tentpole game for the end of this year is Forza Horizon. This is a slightly more casual take on the Forza franchise, featuring less simulation and – if the cover art is anything to judge by – more of a festival feel to Turn 10’s top quality racing series. We’ll surely see a decent trailer, possibly even some of the expert handling and stunt driving that appeared in previous Forza promotions. There’s also a possibility that they’ll show off the community side of the game and – spot the recurring theme – how they’re going to justify putting a purple Kinect tab on the cover when it hits store shelves.
Microsoft’s 2011 Kinect highlights.
Those are the big games we know about but can we hope for some surprises too? Well, Alan Wake 2 must be on the way and Microsoft’s close relationship with Remedy might just secure that as a reveal teaser trailer. Rockstar has said, as usual, they won’t be doing anything big at E3 but Max Payne 3 is forefront of people’s minds and an exclusivity period on future expansions sits firmly within Microsoft’s modus operandi. We’re also aching for news about GTA V, of course, but that’s probably too much of a show stealer for Microsoft to land it on their stage. Bully 2 has been mooted though, that’s not completely far fetched but it is highly unlikely.
Ubisoft might allow the rumoured news of Splinter Cell 6 to slip over onto the Microsoft stage though. Conviction was a Microsoft exclusive so there’s history between these two but we would hope that the series is going back to all platforms and Sony’s recent promotions for the back catalogue would seem to suggest as much. Perhaps Ubisoft will let it appear first with Microsoft before the big unveil at their own conference later in the day?
Bungie are no longer tied to Microsoft but they obviously have a very close relationship so there’s a possibility that they might just premiere their first teaser for Destiny. This first post-Halo project for the studio is eventually intended to go multi platform but recent court documents released around the Activision legal battles have revealed that the first instalment is likely to be an Xbox 360 exclusive and out next year. Possibly too early for a teaser but the cat is already out of the bag so why not?
Rumours abound of a new Splinter Cell, could Microsoft get the announcement on their stage?
Games aside, though, Microsoft will spend some time talking about media partnerships. Their streaming services have really taken off in the past twelve months and are now used more on the console than games are. This might lead into the quietly rumoured disc-less Xbox 360 that has been whispered about occasionally. Initially, that seems like a shocking prospect but given the efforts put into getting more onto their Games on Demand service, and the high number and quality level of XBLA titles that are available, it might not be so far fetched. It could even be linked with a similar scheme to the recently announced $99 subscription-based Xbox 360 they’re selling from limited stores in the US.
Expect partnership announcements, possibly with other sports leagues like the NBA and NHL (we can hope…) and with entertainment distributors. They dumped Inside Xbox on both sides of the Atlantic so hopefully they’re going to show us what they’re replacing it with and hopefully it will be more substantial than running IGN’s videos or GameTrailers’ 360 channel.