Microsoft came out guns blazing this morning with its pre-E3 press conference.  We were live in the USC Galen Center in a packed audience of game developers, publishers and journalists to see the latest announcements from Microsoft and Xbox 360!  Here's a recap and our thoughts on the event!

Halo 4

Microsoft immediately started its showcase on the right foot with the first gameplay footage from Halo 4.  Featuring a whole new storyline involving a strange new alien race, the game has you once again controlling Master Chief as he takes on old and new enemies alike, using his own weaponry, along with advanced technology that he scavenges from those he defeats.

Halo 4’s new engine looks amazing, with some dynamic lighting effects that really bring the world to life (especially if you use the alternate view on your visor to track life forms) and great up-close battle situations, possibly the most visceral the series has ever seen.  The cinematic trailer looked awesome too, showing a new ship in peril – with people on board – as it came crashing down to Earth.  Be on the lookout for the game this week on the show floor.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Next up with Microsoft’s showcase is a new game announcement, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  This looks to be a prequel to the series, introducing Sam Fisher in a hostile war environment as he uses mark and execute technology to systematically take out enemies.  

The game is set to bring back the fun co-op and Mercenaries vs. Spies multiplayer mode, though fans of Michael Ironside will be sad over the fact that he’s replaced here by…Nolan North?  Yep.  We couldn't help but think of Assassin's Creed as Sam Fisher scaled a huge cliffside after dispatching foes in a very Ezio-like way!  This game immediately started trending on Twitter, meaning Ubisoft has another huge hit on their hands!

EA Sports, Fable and Gears of War

From there, EA Sports came out to talk sports integration with Kinect, as FIFA 13 will allow you to argue calls in real time and perform management duties, while Madden NFL 13 will let you handle play-calling on the fly.  (Joe Montana, of all people, demonstrated this at the show.)

After brief trailers for Fable: The Journey and Gears of War: Judgment (no new gameplay, sadly, all cinematics), some more action from Forza Horizon was shown, along with a release date of October 23, 2012.  We would have loved to see some gameplay of Gears of War: Judgment, but we were told to expect an eyes-only demo at the show!

Xbox 360 Entertainment

Microsoft then talked new additions to its Xbox Live media channels, including Nickelodeon, Machinima, Paramount Pictures, Univision, NBA on Xbox and NHL GameCenter.  ESPN will also be integrated better with 24 hour live programming sometime this fall.

In addition, Microsoft is introducing a new Xbox Music service that lets you sort out tunes your way, and is also working with Nike on a special Kinect Trainer program that helps you burn calories more efficiently.  Not bad, and helps continue to broaden Xbox 360's mass market appeal.

Xbox Smartglass

Microsoft then went into detail on a new Smartglass technology, which will allow you to integrate your tablet and mobile devices not only into the way you watch programs, but also with how you play games, as you can use the screen for stat displays and such.  Sounds like the Wii U, doesn’t it?  Internet Explorer will also be coming to the service as well, changing the way you browse on a console.  Supposedly.

Tomb Raider and Some Surprises

From there, it was back to games, with an explosive new trailer for Tomb Raider that featured a lot more action than previous clip – including a free fall off a waterfall.  Resident Evil 6 then took over with plenty of zombies that needed killing and a thrilling helicopter ride through the city.  (Both of these games will have downloadable content exclusive for Xbox Live first.)  Some new Xbox titles were also announced, including Signal Studios’ Ascend: New Gods, Twisted Pixel’s Lococycle and a Kinect-supported puzzle game called Matter.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Trey Parker and Matt Stone came out to talk South Park: The Stick of Truth, due for release on March 5, 2013.  The game will let you create and integrate your own South Park character, which wasn’t an easy feat.  The trailer we saw looked just like a South Park episode, so much so that we can't confirm whether or not it's gameplay!

Usher then came out to do a quick performance in collaboration with Harmonix’s recently announced Dance Central 3, which will feature, well, more dancing.  And the whole thing wrapped up with Call of Duty: Black Ops II gameplay footage, which we saw previously in our preview a couple of weeks back.  Can't wait to get you more hands-on impressions of the new BLOPS soon!

Overall, a decent show.  No major surprises outside of Blacklist, but Halo 4 looks fantastic, and the new Kinect/social stuff for Xbox Live might just be the ticket for most casual users.  We’re interested in seeing more on the show floor this week, so stick with us for the latest as we cover E3 2012 live from Los Angeles!