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"I kind of miss the days when games were judged on their game-playing merit alone. I'm a little concerned about how far we (the game industry) are into the licensed four-page-ad marketing blitz era these days, which may be a natural evolution of the industry. But I'm always worried when we put more emphasis on glitz and production values than on the game. That's a trend that looks good for a while until you realize there's no game industry any more. If we don't have gameplay, we can't really compete with other forms of entertainment because we can't do graphics as good as the movie industry and we can't make sounds as well as the recording industry. All we can do that's special to us is be interactive. So we have to hang on to that and make sure we do a good job." - Sid Meier

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Those who find themselves drawn closer to the Saturday Night Live rendition of Celebrity Jeopardy, replete with the surly visages of Sean Connery and Burt Reynolds, than Trivial Pursuit will, odds are, have played Jellyvision’s You Don’t Know Jack at one time or another.

The churlish demeanor of the shows host, Cookie, cynically belittling contestants who botch a question complete with the presentation of said trivia is inimitable in that the experience goes out of its way to punch the player in the mouth with humor – yet makes it feel as natural as failing out of community college – except twice as fun.

While the game recently found releases on multiple platforms, heralding a return for the long-dormant franchise, it seems to be a relatively tenuous return to glory. There’s a lot to gain from coming out strong, and even more that could be lost should the offering end up floundering.

You Don't Know Jack HD (iPad)
Developer: Jellyvision
Publisher: THQ
Released: April 14, 2011
MSRP: $4.99

Without a doubt, faced with competitors who have been available on the App Store, Jellyvision has successfully come out swinging. Harkening back to their classic one-time PC-only franchise, the game is now presented in a format that is fun, yet conveniently attuned for the iPad-wielding Bourgeoisie to understand, navigate and derive a significant amount of enjoyment out of beyond what a retarded puppy chasing its tail never-ending circles must experience. But for a game that was once confined to PC, an exceptional translation has been made to the tablet device with very little lost in the transitional process.

Arriving initially on iTunes with nary more than 20 episodes of play, comprising 10 questions each and a Jack Attack to close out each installment, one would assume that astute players would be able to devour everything Jellyvision proffered within the span of a lonely, masturbatory-devoid afternoon, but this is a bit far from the truth. This isn’t simply a port for the sake of garnering a few fans that happen to carry an Apple device.You Don’t Know Jack caters to fans who will remember the series from its onset or those looking for something to pull them away from Qrank or just compliment their daily trivial urges.

After all, it’s rare that a game is capable of eschewing the ills that come with attempting to inject so much comedy into its overall design, but YDKJ does this with fluid precision. More often than not, players will catch themselves chuckling or outright laughing, which is usually the result of the game’s host in one way or another. But it’s refreshing to see something out of the trivia genre that doesn’t feel dry and hokey, but instead revels in it’s off-the-wall demeanor.

While absent from the App is what anyone would call real and conducive multiplayer, which is disappointing given the series’ history for doing this so well, the players aren’t totally out of options. Cooperative play in the form of two huddling around a single tablet, answering questions together is one option. Alternatively, gamers prescribing to the “sharing is caring” school of thought can hand the iPad back and forth. But, this really doesn’t go the lengths to satiate that competitive trivia-answering urge that You Don’t Know Jack is so famous in both cult and pop culture for bringing out in people – leaving many with no other choice but to play with themselves – so it’s definitely a feature that would undoubtedly be valued down the line.

Additionally, whereas those 20 initial episodes can become done and over with given enough time, it was certainly welcome to know that Jellyvision would be updating YDKJ at consistent intervals with supplementary content. As of this writing two more episodes had been added and felt like complete accompaniments – not just tacked on to humor the game’s audience. Jellyvision has set out to really support the game post-release and it’s really showing.

Now if only they’d do the same with Headrush.

Score: 8/10
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While we could all argue between the righteousness and asshatery of what LulzSec, an off-shooting branch of Anonymous, has been up to lately, I think if there is one lesson to take away from recent events is that we should all be very, very careful about how we secure our stuff online.

Now, I'm not saying go all Boris, a la Golden Eye, but what I am saying is that personal security is more often than not the first, last and only line of defense you have against having your information visible for the entirety of the Internet to see - in plaintext. For those of you who may have had your information leaked by LulzSec, obviously change all your password immediately. For those of you who haven't, same thing and avoid the whole "Password" or "12345" business. It's just not good cricket.

In the meantime, if you want to check - go here, do a ctrl+F and pop in your details. The good/bad news will become apparent pretty quickly.

via [Reddit]

First-Person Shooters have a distinct, formulaic presentation that their genre has been perpetuating since the first sprites were slaughtered in titles like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Since then, as all things usually do, FPS games slowly evolved, branching off to find their particular niches and the bases of fan to subscribe to their particular brand of violence. Be it mindlessly shooting everything in sight, endless customization, risk and rewards for closely following team-based mission objectives or filling a particular role in a squad better than anyone else – there is still something for everyone who wants to play an FPS.

Releasing at relatively the same time, both Section 8: Prejudice and Brink have had their fair share of love and hate from FPS fans as well as the wider community of gamers. But while both are summarily different in what they offer, they both appeal to their respective cliques in a very well-thought out manner. The only question that has realistically risen to the surface during the hours of gameplay is: What about either would appeal most to any prospective shooter player?

That can be a dicey question.

Brink (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: May 9, 2011
MSRP: $49.99

Section 8: Prejudice (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: TimeGate Studios
Released: May 4, 2011
MSRP: $14.99

Both S8: Prejudice and Brink prove that that the FPS has by no means reached a development plateau and that the genre still has quite a bit of life left in it. This is because, at times, even the smallest additions can have drastic evolutionary effects on the overall sum of the initial design as envisioned by the developer.

What made the original Section 8 so much fun was that it drew as closed to the novelized version of Starship Troopers, at least in regards to human technology, as I imagined any game dev would ever be able to approach. Dropping out of the sky in armor and avoiding anti-air fire was prospectively one of the coolest game mechanics to resurface since parachuting into multiplayer combat was initially done. Ultimately though, the game served as more of a teasing prospect of things to come, leaving my geekiest notions wondering what the hell had happened.

Tightening up the entire experience, complete with a more concisely enjoyable campaign and excellent multiplayer, Section 8: Prejudice proves that a full-fledged, disc-based release isn’t necessarily the course of action a developer needs to take to get their pet project into the hands of the gaming masses. Releasing via the Playstation Network, Xbox Live and Steam, it was able to reach the maximum amount of potential players in the most limited amount of time and for all intents, it worked out.

Narrative aside, the gameplay solidly offers FPS fanatics and sci-fi aficionado identical experiences, the ability to almost infinitely customize their characters before setting to kick ass. And while the campaign is a good introduction for most new to the franchise, multiplayer is definitely going to be what keeps gamers coming back for more.

Replete with all the weapons, equipment and gear to keep you consistently trying something new, one would argue that such a level of customizability increases the odds of a broken, unbalanced multiplayer experience – but this never seemed to surface. The changes, ranging from increasing sprinting speed, shield power, reinforcing armor or weapon damage all offer players the ability to suit their in-game armament to their particular style of play. Serving to tie the experience together, it was fascinating to see how the changes were more than aesthetic or something to make the player feel warm and fuzzy inside, but allow the player to bend their particular character to their playing style as opposed to the game forcing the player to adapt to how it wants you to play.

Beyond this, the game modes outside of the campaign, which included such standards as Deathmatch is really where the game is going to continue shining for players who continue to find themselves attracted to the particular niche that S8: Prejudice appeals. Assault, which was additional content unlocked over the course of play by gamers working together and accumulating kills collectively across PSN, XBLA and Steam.

Speaking of working together, let’s talk about Brink for a few minutes. Despite concerns that the game shipped broken, which in all honesty it did, following a brief update it became a non-issue, finally allowing players to enjoy the damn game. Upon beginning the game, following a somewhat grandiose explanation of why you should care about the Ark and the battle around it, you are asked to pick a side: Rebels or Security Forces.

Ever having a subtle love for order, it was an easy choice to pick Security Forces. I customized the bullet sponge that’d be heading out on missions, checked the controls and jumped in. The campaign had a bit more flavor to it than S8: Prejudice, but only subtly so.

Between both games, the gratuitous use of bots in the campaign – allied or opposing – is blatantly essential to the design philosophies of both titles at the very basic level. Regardless of how ‘life-like’ a particular AI can act, a buzz-phrase since before shooters like Perfect Dark, they still aren’t a match for living, breathing and ultimately vilely creative humans who can outthink, and out-kill, any opposition in their path. Sure, bots are good stand-ins, but it really only serves to create the illusion of a full-game while making the player feel significantly less Forever Alone.

Not that this is either a bad or good thing, but while both games use AI-controlled bots amidst the campaign to create a convincing environment of play, it is beating-off-in-the-player’s-face obvious in Brink. Where Section 8: Prejudice has a more standard FPS campaign feel to it – giving the player the feeling of being a hero with an ally or two in tow – Brink sets out to make gamers feel like one of fifteen other ‘real players’ in an enclosed space, akin to a genuine multiplayer match, which only serves to highlight the glaring issue. Perhaps an unnecessary amount of griping, but for someone who frequently favors single over multiplayer, it is a true-to-life problem.

Purely aesthetic customization aside, the gameplay feels relatively solid when compared to other titles in the FPS crowd, but it fails to distinguish itself to be a standout must-have. The weapons have a decided level of purpose, each killing the enemy as one would imagine it would, but the real glowing part of the experience was the objectives.

Lately, shooters such as Black Ops, have encouraged team-based players to go lone wolf, garnering kills in exchange for screwing over teammates who set out to accomplish objectives. While there are times when straight-up Deathmatch is all too appropriate to getting the full out value, objectives – encourage teams to operate cooperatively towards a higher goal than individual players would otherwise be able to achieve alone – is an appreciable, and almost outright laudable, endeavor on the parts of developers.

Nevertheless, this seems to fall flat on its face, breaking its nose and chipping its teeth when a single human attempts to achieve a fulfilling team-experience amidst Brinks bots. Again, this doesn’t make the game bad, just a soulless purchase for any gamer who lacks the wherewithal desire to play a game online. And that, at the end of the day, is a true disappointment for such an otherwise conceptually interesting game.

Are either of the games fun – yes, but for very different reasons. Where Section 8: Prejudice allows for a full-on all-around amount of enjoyment – single or multiplayer – Brink is a bit of a one trick pony. If you’re looking for something on the cheap that offers a satisfying single or multiplayer experience, then Section 8 will definitely keep FPS fans who’ve tired of Halo and Black Ops busy for sometime to come. However, if you’re looking for something to replace Counter-Strike in terms of exceptional PC multiplayer gaming, Brink tries, but doesn’t come close – but it does offer a welcome change of pace for online gamers.

Brink: 7/10
Section 8: Prejudice: 8.5/10
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Once in a long while, there comes a game for an otherwise obtuse device that proves it capable of appealing to a community many would have initially suspected it was incapable of performing said task. For the iPad, titles like World of Goo and Infinity Blade have, without actively seeking to do so, have seemingly assisted in pushing the Apple tablet into a tier of the gaming community that is slowly allowing it to begin competing on some level with other handhelds. That being said though, there are other games that only serve to set the device back worse than the Virtual Boy did for Nintendo.

Paper Wars HD is one such game.

Paper Wars HD: Cannon Fodder (iPad)
Developer: iFun4all
Publisher: iFun4all
Released: Mar 28, 2011
MSRP: $1.99

Approaching the game with a modicum of optimism granted me a degree of fortitude that kept me coming back for more despite the games glaring failures – but I chose to press on through those first few hours to see if there would ultimately be something of treasured value beneath an otherwise murky surface, but only found myself feeling stuck in the mud and frustrated.

The high concept of the game is relatively simple. Enemy soldiers of various connotations pour from the side of the screen and the player is tasked with defending their side of the screen from allowing any of them to advance past your digital line in the sand. Suffice to say, there is realistically very little that is new or original here that gaming vets won’t have seen before – and many will be even more disappointed that for all the flagrant imitation being performed, very little of it impresses.

While the formulaic sequence of missions should be enough to justify the purchase, the sheer amount of content seemingly strides to aggravate the player. Even the menus chosen aesthetic are enough to insult the intelligence of even the most discerning gamer with titles being scribbled backwards complete with poorly, backward drawn letters to complete the vile design – a simply slap to your sensibilities before getting into the real grinder of pain that is the campaign.

From the first mission of the first campaign onwards, it’s like being strapped to a rack, the screws being turned with each successive completed level. While there are roughly 25 levels per campaign – each unlocked as you progress through the various missions – it feels about as rewarding as happening upon an additional circle to Hell, minus the company of Virgil to explain what atrocities lay before you.

Most pitifully is the actual in-game components that reek of rushed design processes with emphasis on making the overall design look bad as if it was a niche to be exploited – as if taking the whole ‘it’s hip to be square’ thought process as gospel. Launching shells at the papier-mâché styled enemy infantry lacks any real satisfaction, even with the blood turned on, leaving the player with little motivation to continue shelling the oncoming hordes of troops beyond the game telling you that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. But beyond that, there’s little incentive to push on towards the next level unless you have a militant desire to do so.

Moreover, the power-ups, which can usually pull even the worst of horde-style shooters back from the brink, are a severe letdown. Seemingly random in their underlying implementation, which could have served to add a kitschy degree of amusement to the overall experience only adds yet another major detraction to Paper Wars. Power-ups like tremors and a barrage of random missiles ultimately do little in the way of assisting the player and even on Normal will make veteran players feel unduly overwhelmed by a ridiculous spike in the difficulty curve early on. While this would normally serve to increase replayability, Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder lacks any of the whimsicality that would keep many players coming back for more.

Last but surely not least is the insipid sound design that went into this title. Certainly, the excuse could be made that it earns exceptions being an iPad game, but when World of Goo, Infinity Blade, Angry Birds and even the tablet rendition of the PC classic The 7th Guest are capable of exemplary qualitative audio – there leaves little excuse for other games to not pick up their respective slack. More often than not, I caught myself turning the game down, if not muting it since the whines of what this game interprets combat to be like amidst the repetitively reverb of a poor soundtrack on repeat served little to improve my opinion of Paper Wars. Ultimately, I ended up finishing the game on mute if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity from such relentless ear rape.

Sadly, for what initially appeared to be a silly, raucous romp through a bit of warfare turned out to be nothing more than a major disappointment. Paper Wars had the potential of being something very well executed on paper, pun intended, which could compete with XBLA titles such as Heavy Weapon. Yet, it flounders once put into practice, leaving many gamers at the very least frustrated and at the very most left with nothing more than a smashed iPad. I applaud the attempt of ‘making a bad game that’s so bad, it’s good’, simply because it’s so very incredibly difficult to make a game like that work, if not become a best-selling hit – as proven by Paper Wars – but sometimes it’s better to err on the side of logic that happily illustrates the simple creed that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Better luck next time.

Score: 3/10
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Music is always one of the few genres of games that have either been significantly underappreciated by a majority of the gaming community or created assembly line style only to be run into the ground by money hungry publishers. Pulse seems to land in the former of the two, but for good reason.

It's only available on the iPad.

While being created only for the Apple tablet doesn't necessarily contribute to the overall quality of the game, it definitely does bar a good number of potential Cipher Prime fans from partaking in the fun. Depite fans of their previous works, Auditorium and Fractal, feeling right at home, it doesn't take much time with Pulse to realize that it just may be the next great game to justify buying an iPad as a mobile gaming platform.

Pulse (iPad)
Developer: Cipher Prime
Publisher: Cipher Prime
Released: May 5, 2011
MSRP: $4.99

If you own any of the three major consoles of the last generation, odds are you've played at least one game to come out of the music genre in the last several years. Whether your preference deviates between Rock Band, Guitar/DJ Hero or even more obscure titles such as Elite Beat Agents it isn't difficult to enjoy the almost universal acceptability of music games. Thus, when Cipher Prime released their latest opus, it was a pleasantly welcomed entry into the iTunes App Store.

A clever twist on the formulaic gameplay that synergistically merges elements found in Gutair Hero and Elite Beat Agents, it harkens on further refined qualites of titles like Rock Band, Ouendon and Tap Tap Radiation. Nevertheless, Pulse stands on it's own incredibly well and proves itself to be unique against many other bland, generic games.

Proving visually unique and graphically appealing, the colors of each level are seamlessly harmonized with the audio, enhancing the gameplay in a very memorable way. Play well, and the sounds and colors remain characteristically vibrant. Play poor, the color washes out and the sound becomes broken and disoriented, beckoning the player to get their head back into the game.

The tutorial level, despite being only 1:07 long, will be a definite repeat affair for many players going back hone their rhythmic skills. It's here that the comprehensive design of the game really shines through, making the underlying gameplay stand out in a very clear way. Utterly, the best foot forward I've seen of a tutorial in a great while.

8 Levels later, each with their own individualized visuals, audible characteristics and clever names (i.e. Sakura, Let's Roll and Porcelain Doll), player will feel statisfied upon their first playthrough as well as with the replayability of each one (because it's doubtful anyone will nail a 100% on each song their first time through). Adding on a bit more each level, the difficulty curve doesn't exactly spike in the most dramatic sort of way, but there are times it almost seems unmanageable to the less experienced player. However, this never feels fun or overwhelming to the point of rage quitting. On the contrary, going back to a prior level, everything feels significantly easier akin to playing a song in Rock Band on Expert and then playing it again on Medium.

With a decidedly low barrier of entry (barring the fact that one needs to own an iPad to play), almost anyone can pick up the game and become attuned to it with relative ease in a very short amount of time - setting out to master it in a matter of minutes - which, odds are, will slowly bleed into a matter of hours.

The touch controls are almost eerily intuitive pending the fact that one doesn't fat finger the touch screen while complimenting the iPad interface very well. At times, Pulse will almost require gamers to set the tablet down on a flat surface as the game will unrelentingly demand the full attention of both hands in the later levels.

Complete with a fun, catchy soundtrack that is just one of the identifying hallmarks of a Cipher Prime title combined with enjoyable gameplay really will ultimately keep players coming back repeatedly, which sets it out to be the next great single-player experience on the iPad.

That being said though, the limited amount of initial levels demanded updated content, to ever expand the few levels in Pulse. And, Cipher Prime wishing to maintain and expand their iPad audience, did just that, which will definitely pay off as more people take the plunge and enter into the tablet market.

Truly, Pulse ends up feeling like a well-crafted game that expands on the puzzle roots of Cipher Prime, bringing them, and their previous works, a bit more into the spotlight as they continue to flex their audiophilic muscles as well as their proven ability to merge gaming and music into consistently great games.

Buy this game: If you own an iPad - otherwise you have no excuse.

Don't buy this game: If you're happier playing any other genre of game and avoid musical anything like the plague. Tone deaf, need not apply.

Watching Microsoft demonstrate what the world could expect from them, gaming-wise, between now and the next E3 is always an interesting proposition. For some, it’s fodder for their fan boy fueled hatred, while others discover it to be vindication in their belief that Microsoft genuinely has their fingers on the pulse of the gaming community. For many though, this time around, it seemed as though Microsoft was doing everything they could to please everyone and now that the initial shocks have worn, we can only wonder what exactly they were thinking in some cases.

Multiplatform Offerings:

It wasn’t terribly surprising that the press as well as those watching via Spike TV or one of many internet streams were entreated by Microsoft casually opening up by showing off Modern Warfare 3 within minutes of the lights dimming. The game is a flagship title that many players are looking forward to and shareholders are betting on turning a fair profit when it releases towards the end of the year. After all, Activision has impressed upon the world that this is series that can be, and realistically has been, milked into the ground.

Now, I’m not saying that the game looked bad by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, it looked very good under the assumption we can expect more of what made the first two Modern Warfare iterations so widely loved. What I’m simply proffering is that the series really hasn’t truly evolved in an innovative way since the first Modern Warfare hit store shelves, courtesy of a pre-capitulated Infinity Ward, other than the addition of Special Ops cooperative play. If this is the last Call of Duty or even the last Modern Warfare, then all the power to Activision, Sledgehammer and what’s left of Infinity Ward, because they deserve to see it go out with a bang. On the other hand, given Activision’s track record though in regards to many of its franchises, I anticipate we can see CoD further driven into the ground before it goes out with nothing more than a solemn whimper.

Still, Bravo to Microsoft for appealing to what is a major population component on Xbox Live by securing exclusively-timed DLC for Modern Warfare 3 when it hits store shelves this November, but should the game, in the unlikely event, ultimately flop or Battlefield 3 stands up and succinctly drive a wedge between the online community – aptly dividing prospective players between the two – then Microsoft will have bet on the wrong pony and their exclusivity will have meant nothing.

Moving on, Microsoft showed off the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, which was either vastly disappointing or sexually stimulating as hearing muffled porn through your bedroom wall – depending on your particular fetish. The developer, amidst the playthrough, conveyed that the game was going to be a telling of how a 21-year-old Lara Croft sets out upon adventure and becomes the hardened Tomb Raider only gamers familiar with the series when it first premiered over a decade ago would be intimately acquainted. While it seems almost moot at this point, it felt as though this reboot was an avenue for a potential cash-in on the popularity of titles such as Uncharted, but otherwise felt relatively soulless based on my initial impression.

Replete with all the Quick Time Events and insipidly poor female voice acting that you’ll be able to stomach, the demo was closer to watching a once kitschy beloved female character attempt to be reinvented as this fresh faced damsel with a bit of Indiana Jones in her. Feeling almost forced, it eventually becomes difficult to keep track of all the QTEs the game was throwing at the developer holding the controller during the roughly six minute demonstration. What could have been another chapter in the long line of Tomb Raider games heading on a downward slope towards an absolute nadir is instead going to be served up as an entirely new start to a long line of titles, which already look like it’ll be a long desperate climb to mediocrity.

Microsoft Exclusive Offerings:

Stepping out on Stage, Cliff Bleszinski was joined by Ice-T in what may or may not have been the most ridiculous use of celebrity during E3 this year. Showing off a level in the Gears of War 3 campaign, it was sort of what you’d expect from the preceding two Gears – running, shooting creatures big and small and taking cover when circumstances dictated. Now, before you string me up in the town square, it bears mentioning that yes, the game looked great and if you loved the previous incarnations, you’ll already be sold on the third in the trilogy. But, it just seemed to me that Gears of War 3 doesn’t have the same kind of heavyweight status as a certain other blockbuster franchise.

Speaking of which, Microsoft showed off more Halo. While we can’t expect a Bungie-crafted Halo anytime in the near future, we can look forward to the next best thing this holiday season. The original Halo, dubbed “Halo: Anniversary” will be arriving in stores in time for the Christmas season. Remastered in the Halo: Reach engine, Halo: Anniversary appears to definitely going the lengths to reinvigorate the decidedly strong love many fans have for the original. Complete with Xbox Live co-op, online multiplayer and bringing many fan-favorite maps back to bear, Halo: Anniversary seems to be a somewhat decent offering for zealous Halo fans, at least until 343 and Microsoft Game Studios can get something else out the door next year.

Next appeared an almost shockingly overwhelming amount of Kinect content, giving the definitive impression that now that Microsoft has secured the more relaxed slice of Xbox 360 gamers they’ll be going after the deeply embedded segment of the gaming community. Much seemed to cater to the die-hard Xbox 360 owners and while some look great theoretically, it’ll nonetheless be exceedingly interesting to see how the integration of core gamers accept Kinect functionality.

Mass Effect, showing off voice commands that seemed to work flawlessly in-game harkened back to Tom Clancy’s EndWar, which purveyed the use of the Xbox Headset to give orders to on-screen units with a relatively advanced level of seamless play. While a step in such a direction will leave many on uneven footing, even outright uncomfortable with the idea of utilizing this feature in-game, it looks like a reassuringly cool alternative to issuing movement commands via the previous methodology of the two prior ME titles. Suffice to say, Bioware did their homework and in this case, it really shows.

On a more superfluous level, the latest Ghost Recon showed off what can only be described as a Minority Report style armory. Allowing players to endlessly customize their weapons using voice commands such as “Long Range”, “Close Quarters” or “Randomize”, Ubisoft was more than happy to show off the almost infinite amount of creation that could go into a player’s weapon, being sure to note that potentially, no two weapons would ever be alike in game. Shooting seemed uncomfortable – not for the fact that there isn’t a weapon to hold – but because it just seemed unnecessary when placed next to a comparably good controller.

Perhaps most disappointing was the unveiling of Fable: The Journey. Seemingly gone is the whole “setting out to do whatever you wish while becoming the Hero of Albion” sort of thing, only to be replaced by something significantly worse. I don’t what the illness seems to be with developers trying to force the, so far, hit-and-miss integration of Kinect into more mainstream titles, but from what Molyneux and the Lionhead crew showed off during the Microsoft E3 Conference, it’s an understatement to say it was less than impressive.

A brief aside, the new Forza was shown, complete with a track from Kayne West. But it was a preview trailer that didn’t really go the lengths to show off what we can expect when the game finally revs its engines to hit stores in its final form. Certainly enough, it’ll have full Kinect integration, but the jury is still out on how popular that will be with Forza’s particular hard-line slice of the Xbox 360 crowd.

From there, it only seemed to become a disappointingly downward slide. Microsoft set out to try and continue convincing everyone that they have a stranglehold on a market the Nintendo Wii took years ago. Showing off sequels to original titles like Dance Central 2 and Wii Kinect Sports 2, the modus operandi for Microsoft regarding Kinect this year appears to be that if people liked it once, they’ll like it again. It was utterly disenchanting to watch them go through the motions.

Perhaps the only redeeming title, unveiled by none other than Tim Schafer, who stood by as an awkwardly stereotypical father-son pair played, was a Sesame Street title currently being developed for the Xbox 360 peripheral. Stepping into the digitized figures of Elmo and Cookie Monster, the pair played and watched their on-screen avatars do as they will, having a moderately enjoyable experience all the while – perfect sort of game for anyone with children. Admittedly though, the nostalgia factor for many who happily remember their days growing up watching the program is a key point of popularity for this game, nonetheless, time is definitely going to tell as it draws closer to release.

Going on, Microsoft showed off additional functional Kinect integration and what we can all expect from the, yet again, New Xbox Experience. Bing integration with Xbox Live was laughably received with absolutely zero applause while other features, such as YouTube pairing with the online service was met with audience approvals. UFC will additionally be receiving its own functionality, garnering an almost superfluous level of latitude similar to what ESPN got when it arrived on Xbox Live. Again, the best saving grace was the arriving ability to use the Xbox 360 to watch and DVR live television, which should bump whoever has a Tivo over the edge into finally buying a 360.

Beyond that, it was surprising how much Microsoft seemed to just get up there this year and flop around like a fish for two hours. Certainly, they showed a few interesting new additions to the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, proving that they have the capacity to adapt and change to whatever Microsoft wants it to be during a particular year, but with that evolution, it still feels like Microsoft is trying to please everyone on the gaming side of things.

Yet, showing a majority of Kinect and saving Halo 4 for the last was perhaps the best move they could have made, a teaser is just showing that 343 is indeed working on something and for the time being Halo: Anniversary is there to satiate your vicious fan-rage. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Microsoft even has the imaginative capacity to homebrew a new hit series that can meet or even top the laurels that Halo is now, in all essence, resting upon. But, since the next Halo kicks off a new trilogy, I guess we’ll have to wait a few years to find out.

Thus, while Microsoft didn’t bomb E3 this year, they didn’t really go too far out of their way to impress with anything that one would call revolutionary. Gears of War, Forza, and even Halo all made expected appearances, leaving little to blow the minds of those wanting to see something genuinely new. While it doesn’t seem that Microsoft is hurting as a developer or publisher, it feels like they did nothing less than phone it in this year – dumping their offerings on stage with a minutia of excitement and expecting us to eat it up like swine at the trough. Well, if nothing else, it gives us something to look forward to next year, right?
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