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E3 2011: Microsoft focuses on Kinect; no news on Xbox 720

New Gears, Halo, CoD, Mass Effect announced

Giving the opening press conference of the E3 gaming show last night, Microsoft followed its expected course and focused heavily on its comparatively new Xbox 360 peripheral, the Kinect motion sensor, rather than hinting about future hardware - such as the Xbox 720. You can watch the new Xbox launch livestream right here on PC Advisor.

Some of us were hoping for at least hints of when we can expect the follow-up to the Xbox 360 itself, but wise heads had foreseen that Microsoft was unlikely to pull attention from its (currently bestselling) Kinect unit with glimpses of the 'Nextbox'.

Probably the most anticipated Kinect announcement was Kinect Star Wars, which attendees got to check out for the first time. First looks were promising, with the 10-year-old's Holy Grail of gaming - motion-tracked lightsaber combat - presented with the high production values you'd expect. Although as my US colleague Matt Peckham points out, some tracking delays seemed to be dogging the setup; hopefully that'll be cleared up before launch.

Although Kinect has been a major success so far, with sales exceeding expectations, the one thing Microsoft will want to secure for its peripheral is the respect of serious gamers - it won't simply settle for the casual market that Nintendo's Wii has got a major hold on. So big-franchise, 'proper gaming' titles like Star Wars are exactly what the Kinect needs.

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And a decent RPG wouldn't hurt. Which made it a pleasure to see Peter Molyneux, the creator of Fable and many other notable gaming dynasties, wheeled out to talk up the next (Kinect-based) Fable title, Fable: The Journey. But whether this will feel like a proper RPG is somewhat in doubt - like Star Wars Kinect, it appears to follow the route of (very polished) on-rails action, with a series of heavily Kinect-focused movement tasks dropped on to the player, rather than the huge wealth of possibilities we expect from a modern RPG.

Not that the Fable games have ever been at the far end of that particular spectrum, but it would be nice for Microsoft to learn the long-ago lessons of titles like Nintendo's Twilight Princess and produce a game for a motion-sensing system that incorporates the motion tracking as and when it's appropriate, rather than throughout.

Other Kinect announcements included Ryse, an ancient Rome-themed sword-fighting game, and Mass Effect 3 - exactly the sort of 'serious game' the company's looking for in the Kinect corner, but from the looks of things, not one that really needs Kinect's functionality. And Kinect Fun Labs, an intriguing new area on the Xbox Dashboard that will allow Xbox Live users to try out Kinect gadgets as they're developed, including some, well, fun possibilities for scanning in objects to use as in-game digital avatars.

Non-Kinect news

There were a few reasonably sustaining crumbs of comfort for those Xbox fans who've not bought into Kinect. Halo 4 is on the way, for a start; that would have been huge news if it hadn't been leaked beforehand. Modern Warfare 3 looks fantastic - and hey, at least they're not pushing that on Kinect - as does the new, gritty (almost unpleasant) Tomb Raider (which we won't get to play until next year, sadly). And we got to see a demo of Gears of War 3. But with all these sequels, the overall impression was that all the really interesting, genuinely new ideas were directed at the Kinect.


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