Microsoft was first out of the gate at this year’s E3 show and their conference is now behind us.  We knew going in that Microsoft would need a solid showing, so how did they do?

Essentially, Microsoft did everything they needed to do.  They did no more and no less.  Almost everything we mentioned in our E3 preview was addressed by Microsoft.  We said we needed good games using Kinect; MS delivered.  Mass Effect 3 makes especially good use of the peripheral allowing you to actually participate in conversations and also issue commands to squad mates during combat.  The best part?  It actually works.  This is something new for games and shows that Kinect can be intelligently integrated into games that hardcore gamers actually want to play.

The Star Wars Kinect title was pretty underwhelming.  The visuals just were not up to par and the action seemed slow and deliberate.  Thankfully, MS had more good Kinect showings than bad including a new Fable title, Forza 4 and Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.  Ubisoft has always been a big supporter of Kinect and announced that all future Tom Clancy games would be implementing Kinect.

Microsoft also showed off a few family-centric titles including Disneyland Adventures, which features a faithful recreation of the actual Disneyland park.  Double Fine’s Sesame Street title looked surprisingly polished; more so than the Kinect Star Wars game, and will likely be a fantastic game for your younger children.

In addition to all the new Kinect games, MS gave us a preview of the Fall dashboard update which finally gives us full Kinect integration.  This is something that is noticeably absent today.  It’s a little weird to be able to navigate some menus with Kinect while others still require a controller.  The new dash update looks nice; not wholly unlike the Windows Phone 7 interface, and introduces some slick new features such as Bing search.  With Bing search integrated directly into the dash, you can just tell the Xbox what you’re looking for (literally, tell it with Kinect) and it will return a list of results spanning across various media including movies, music and games.  Very cool.

Microsoft also announced some cool new services for Xbox LIVE, which was another point we had hit on in our previous article.  They announced a new partnership with YouTube and also the implementation of live television from major networks.  I’ve written before about Xbox LIVE making cable obsolete and this just further proves the point.

The last point in the Microsoft trinity is exclusives.  This was the last area we thought MS needed to work on and it was also what I felt was the weakest part of their conference.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about Gears 3, both Halo titles and Forza 4, but we didn’t see many new games.  Crytek’s Ryse was one and Minecraft was cool, but most of the rest of the exclusives were sequels to games we’ve already seen.  Still, two out of three isn’t bad.  And I am incredibly excited to play the remake of the original Halo.  I’ve been gaming since the early 80’s and the original Halo still ranks among my favorites.

Overall, Microsoft’s conference delivered.  They showed us new services for XBL, they showed us great Kinect games and had a few exclusives worth talking about.  They didn’t have much in the way of surprise game announcements, but it was a solid performance.  What Microsoft does better than Sony and Nintendo is focus on the entertainment experience as a whole. They have shown this time and time again with their intuitive dashboards and the features they have introduced with the Xbox 360. The final grade? B+.

By Ryan Schaefer – 06/06/11

Screenshots for MS E3 2011: Report Card