Microsoft has stack-ranked employees for quite a long time, going back even prior to my employment a decade ago, and yes, this is how reviews are done every cycle. It has it's drawbacks, but it also incentivizes everyone to work harder (and smarter) on things that the company is trying to push. People that I've met over the years that have had issues with this almost always fail to understand the last part. It's not always the case, and sometimes people do have legitimate gripes with the system, but.... they are few and far between. To also be full disclosure, I've had bad reviews, good reviews, and everything in between in all my reviews at Microsoft, and once I figured out the last part of the "puzzle" I found it much easier to do "well" in any given year when rankings came up - I leveled quicker, made more in stocks and bonuses if they were available, and generally have found it easier to do my job, and do it in a way that I can still feel good about what I do, not go around kissing any rear-ends, and help the company succeed from even my lowly (relatively speaking) position inside of it.
As to the stack-ranking and requirements of the review process, it must be said that the "visibility" part is true, but it's not visibility as in kissing someone's rear-end (again, "former" employee talking about it is usually a clue) - it's visibility working in projects that are company "big bets" that year or over multiple years. If the company is pushing Azure, or Office 365, or Windows 8, or System Center, or what have you, then find ways to be involved in pushing those products or services and get involved and network on projects that will make those successful. Doing that is the kind of thing that gets one ahead at Microsoft (on top of being a hard worker, yes), not butt-kissing. There are some divisions where that happens in certain areas, to be fair, but those are limited to those fiefdoms, and I've yet to come across one outside of those unnamed areas for obvious reasons.