The chilly air whipped across my face, cutting it like a thousands tiny piranhas snapping at my pores. I was in San Francisco, California, with weather report a balmy 10ºC, at the invitation of Microsoft’s Xbox. I was here to attend the Xbox Spring Showcase 2012 held at the Bently Reserve Conference Center.
Just a cable car trundle away from my hotel (or a tumble down the steep slopes), the conference centre was an assuming building like the rest of its counterparts nestled in the financial district of San Francisco. However, throw open the doors and a hive of activity buzzed in the neon-lit interior.
After a short registration exercise, we were finally let into the conference hall. The first thing that hit me was how closely the set up resemble a LAN gaming centre, the second was when do we get to play the games. On the first level were demo stations where we could try out games such as Gears of War, Fable: Heroes, Counterstrike, Forza Motorsport Expansion 4, Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City, as well as brand new games such as Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure and Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.
On the second level, heavy walls conceal new games yet to be launched. These were under heavy security and we were not allowed to film the sessions. The games we’ve seen in these Behind Closed Door presentations were impressive to say the least and we can’t wait to lay our hands on them. Unfortunately only two volunteers were lucky enough to try out the Kinect Star Wars game and Fable: The Journey. Some of us lucky ones, myself included, would later be invited to George Lucas’ highly secure Skywalker Ranch where we got to try the full version of the Kinect Star Wars game.
One of the most exciting of the new announcements made behind these presentations was the return of Master Chief in HALO 4. The reboot version of the Halo series is not a reset of the universe assures the developers but a continuation from the last three episodes. While many details are still under wraps, they did share that Master Chief will display new character traits, there will be a new HUD (Heads up display), there will be further developments in the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. Master Chief will also sport a new armour design and the story will take on a darker, more sophisticated tone.
Master Chief will also be pitted against a new, ancient and dark threat. The game developers assured us there will be more storytelling and character development in the follow up to this fan favourite. Multiplayer gamers will be glad to learn there will be two new maps featuring lots of details, launch canons, hidden spots to take cover in. The new game will be built on the existing game core but there will be a huge overhaul. Gamers can expect a more visceral experience of being Master Chief. Oh, and did we mention you will be able to customise Master Chief’s spartan outfit?
Racing fans will be glad to learn FORZA MOTORSPORT 4 have released yet another batch of cars for collectors. Available only on Xbox Live, the Pirelli pack will put another 10 cars up for grabs.
And in May, FM4 will roll back the covers on the Porsche expansion pack. This collaboration with the German automobile maker will see 30 cars and AI fields. The engine purrs and roars that you hear will be authentic Porsche and so will the stitching of the interiors. Developers Turn 10 hope to turn gamers into car lovers and car lovers into gamers with FM4. The developers also assured us they are car lovers too, often going down to the track to burn some rubber.
Before the presentation ended, the FM team offered another nugget of info: Forza Motorsport will release the next version of the racing game, dubbed Forza Horizon, in fall this year. Unlike previous releases which followed a every-other-year schedule, Forza Horizon comes hot on the heels after FM4 released last year. No other information was given on the new game.
If you’re looking for some family entertainment, you will not have to look further than the KINECT RUSH: A DISNEY PIXAR ADVENTURE. This five-in-one compendium offers heroes from five of Disney-Pixar films such as Ratatouile, Cars, The Incredibles, Toy Story and Up. Creating your own avatar, you can relive adventures as your favourite hero or simply live in the environment with a virtual you. Utilising Kinect, this game will be — in the words of Mater in Cars — a hoot and a half for kids and a giggle-fest for adults. When I tried playing the Cars portion and had to spread my arms to ‘fly’, it felt silly yet liberating. For a short while, I left the burden of work behind and became a child again.
If you have a child or have a childlike demeanour, and especially if you love Disney Pixar movies, you will definitely love this game. Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure will be available here from March 20 at a retail price of $59.90.
Besides the new games presented at the Xbox Spring Showcase 2012, the demo stations gave us a first look at Xbox Live on Windows Phone and the Microsoft Flight, a PC flight simulator on Windows.
It also introduced me to MASS EFFECT 3 with Kinect, where you would call out commands to your crew to change weapon and frag your enemies. You could even command them to check out a spot ahead of you, or to cover you as you explore. This hybrid experience, akin to Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour and Kinect Star Wars was new to me and knowing I could call out commands and have the characters respond even though I did not have an American accent — or British or Australian accents for that matter — was refreshing. Unlike Siri, this game could wrap its AI around my Singlish tongue.
While availability for Kinect Star Wars and Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure in Singapore has been announced — April 3 (pre-orders open now) and March 20 respectively, we’re not quite sure when the other games will reach our shores. But when they arrive, be prepared for sleepless nights.