E3 2012 is well underway, and all the platform holders have shown off their wares in their respective 90-minute conferences. Rather than cover each individually (each conference had more than its fair share of fluff), I’ve decided to say a little about each conference, and then single out the games that got my pulse racing

Broadcast for the first time on Xbox Live, Microsoft kicked off E3 2012 with their conference yesterday at 5pm. It was much the same as last year’s show, focusing on 2 or 3 first-party core titles in Halo 4, Gears of War: Judgment and Forza Horizon, and allowing third-party games and apps (such as the interesting looking Smart Glass and Internet Explorer for 360) to pick up the slack.

Halo 4
We got our first look at single-player Halo 4 gameplay, and it looked glorious, starting off with a cutscene showing the UNSC Infinity storming through the clouds over the Chief’s head, sounding a distress signal as it descends. As the Chief watches, an enormous, mysterious sphere materialises behind him and sets off in pursuit of the human vessel. Cortana notes that it’s heading for the Infinity, and the pair head out.

Next we see the Infinity at it’s landing site, as Covenant Phantoms and Banshees swarm toward it, and the sphere can be seen floating high in the sky. It’s a beautiful vista, with the hulking ship resting in a dense, sumptuous jungle valley to the left of your field of vision, and it’s already apparent that Halo‘s graphics have gone through a massive overhaul; the dynamic lighting is a particular highlight, with bright sun later streaming through the tree canopy. The Master Chief asks Cortana to plot a path to the Infinity, and they once again set off through the jungle, stumbling upon a Covenant patrol. The Chief takes out two Grunts and a Jackal, but before he can take it down, an Elite is vapourised by something off-screen, which seems to wink out of existence in our peripheral vision.

Continuing on, the Chief stumbles upon some four-legged creatures that attack when they see him. Cortana analyzes them and realizes they are inorganic, some kind of defensive AI. They are soon joined by a larger, more aggressive armed opponent that has the ability to teleport and is backed up by a flying drone that has the ability to shield its comrade, as well as catch and fling your own grenades back at you. As the Chief takes the enemy down, we get our first look at a Forerunner weapon, the Light-rifle, which seems to be a powerful scoped railgun, and shows off a very cool weapon-switching animation.

Another encounter yields what appears to be a Forerunner shotgun, before Cortana switches the Chief’s visor to the previously-announced Promethean Vision (somewhat reminiscent of the Predator’s heat vision), where it is revealed he is surrounded. As one of the bipedal creatures lunges toward the screen, the demo ends. As a huge Halo fan, I’ve been simultaneously excited and terrified to see how 343i’s very first Halo title is coming along, but yesterday’s demo absolutely blew me away. It was beautiful, mysterious and unmistakably Halo. That trademark 30 seconds of fun game design seems to be completely intact, but now with new enemies that fight in a way we’ve never seen before. There was also a touch of Metroid Prime in the switchable visor modes, and I hope the sense of isolation seen in that game will bleed into Halo 4. See the gameplay footage below.

As a little bonus before the demo was shown, we also got a glimpse of the live-action webseries Forward Unto Dawn, and it certainly looks like this has had a lot of money spent on it. The web series, which launches this autumn, centres on a young UNSC cadet who becomes inspired by the Master Chief and eventually becomes a leader aboard the Infinity. See the trailer below.

Halo 4 launches on Xbox 360 on November 6th. Forward Unto Dawn will run on Machinima and Halo Waypoint in the weeks leading up to the game’s release.