After enduring much criticism after last year’s showing at E3, Microsoft have had to go back to the drawing board and return with a revamped image, and a console with a stellar line-up of gaming titles strong enough to win the ongoing “console war”. In recent months, Phil Spencer (head of all things Xbox) has spoken frequently about keeping the company’s focus on the most important aspect of any console, the games, but was this just rhetoric, or has he, and Microsoft Game Studios as a whole, been able to back up his bold words…
The Microsoft you knew last year is dead. This week, Phil Spencer’s new Xbox vision dismantled the last vestiges of Don Mattrick’s arrogant, misinformed (though not without its own merit and potential future) vision for the American giant. Under Spencer, Xbox is all about the gamer – from delivering the games they want to seeking and implementing good feedback at every turn. Their E3 Media Conference was the epitome of this new vision; and Microsoft delivered what they set out to do with a solid, games-RAMMED 90 minutes that didn’t deliver and all out show-stopper (only Nintendo’s new Zelda for Wii U has arguably done that this E3) but managed to paint a clear and enticing vision for the rest of 2014 and beyond.
One criticism I’ve seen floating around the internet is that maybe, just *maybe*, there were too many games on show and some slipped through the net. I can see that point. But we live in an era when every pixel of video is debated and re-viewed ad infinitum, and the cream always rises to the top – and it certainly did here. While the whole line-up was solid, special mention must go to a few titles that really captured my imagination and got my, er, motor revving…
Forza Horizon 2
You saw the pun coming, right? RIGHT?! I’ve been looking forward to Horizon 2 since I laid my grubby mitts on Forza 5 in September of last year (yeah, yeah I got to play it early but I don’t like to brag). The original Horizon was my favourite racer on the 360 and combining the freedom and adventure with the grunt of the Xbox One, day/night systems, dynamic weather and, my favourite new-gen innovation thus far, GOD-DAMN drivatar is a prospect too enticing to dismiss. Even better? It’s out in 3 months time.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
Yes, there should be female assassin’s for gamers to choose – that goes without saying. And you know what? Bet your pocket/lunch/beer/mortgage (delete where appropriate) money on the option being there on launch day (though a part of me would find it highly amusing if UbiSoft audaciously offered female assassin’s as DLC!). What we should be talking about further down the line is, at last, we might have an Assassin’s Creed that gives you the freedom, the tools and the scope to be an assassin – and to be part of a dynamic, organic brotherhood. The Xbox One gives UbiSoft the power to make Assassin’s Creed look staggering, lets hope this new-gen only title lives up to my lofty expectations.
One of Microsoft’s big Xmas three might just be their most important game in 2014. Evoking the Dreamcast days of blue-skies, vibrant colours and ‘gamey’ video-games, Overdrive stood out as being different to everything else on show – in the very best of ways. Expect to see and hear a lot about Overdrive before it’s October release – Sony don’t look to have an answer to it (or Halo for that matter) this year so Microsoft need to capitalise on the goodwill behind it and deliver BIG.
Halo: Master Chief Collection
Yes, it’s a remake – but it’s also 4 games on one disc – one of which has been fully remastered – with over 100 multiplayer maps, the best multiplayer FPS of all-time (Halo 2, IMO), custom playlists for campaign, 4000 gamerscore, the new Ridley Scott Halo produced live-action digital feature AND a Halo 5 beta-key… all for $59.99 (please be a good price in Europe!). That’s an amazing package and staggering value – especially when you consider this generation has already seen the same game from 360/PS3 pop up again with minimal changes at full-whack (hello Tomb Raider, Murdered and Ground Zeroes! Please welcome Last of Us and GTA V who will be with you soon!). Xbox is the house that Halo built – people will buy consoles for any type of Halo game, and this is a seriously big deal – this, Forza Horizon 2 and Sunset Overdrive are a formidable, and exciting, trio.
Smaller, hidden gems…
It wasn’t all guns, cars and mutants though. Microsoft had a full indie-inspired reel with many stand-out titles; they also had a couple of special ones. Inside, from Limbo creators Playdead, is launching first on Xbox One and looks unique – foreboding, challenging and thoughtful, here’s hoping Playdead have built on the excellent Limbo to deliver something truly special. Speaking of special, Ori and the Blind Forest is an Xbox One exclusive – gorgeously animated and looking equal parts Journey, Child Of Light, Metroid and Super Meat Boy. Keep an eye out for that one.
While this years E3 as a whole wasn’t full of surprises, there were a few small ones – and some notable ones on the Microsoft stage…
We all knew Phil Spencer was a fan, and that something would happen at some point – but I don’t think anyone could have guessed it would close this E3, and with series (and GTA) creator Dave Jones back on board. Crackdown 3 will be taking advantage of the Xbox One cloud technology and all its bells and whistles – and you can be sure Spencer and co will give it the care and attention it needs to make a stellar title.
Another curio. Originally released on the original Xbox (and at one time refused a release in the US due to its niche appeal), Phantom Dust is from the mind of the creator of Panzer Dragoon and another cult-classic that was a favourite of Phil Spencer (he also worked on it) . Only a CGI-trailer was shown so who knows what direction the game will go in – but it reaffirms Spencer’s vision for Microsoft to rebuild their own portfolio of in-house first party games.
Strong 3rd Party
Microsoft usually show off a bit of 3rd party at their pressers – but not normally from these companies. UbiSoft were on hand for world-premiers and new-looks at Assassin’s Creed Unity and The Division – historically, they show the goods with Sony and at their own conference. Square-Enix were around to announce Tomb Raider sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider – due in 2015. Other stand outs was the reveal of a Cthulu like creature in Evolve and griffin-hunting in the staggering Witcher 3. Most impressive, though (to me anyway!) was an extended look at the ultra-exciting Dragon Age: Inquisition. Did I mention all these titles are getting exclusive DLC and features for Xbox One? Because they are.
There were some! There always are. Thankfully, there was nothing earth-shattering – but there was a couple of issues worth keeping an eye out for nonetheless…
I’m a huge Fable fan. And I’m looking forward to Fable Legends. It looked the part. It sounds the part. It has a fresh, bold, new angle. Being the villain looks great! But there’s something… something quite not right with Fable Legends. Maybe it was the empty looking villages and towns? Maybe it was the complete multi-player focus? While the main game isn’t out until 2015, we do have a beta incoming this Autumn where we can put Legends through its paces and get to the root of the matter.
No Gears Of War
E3, unfortunately, is a PR battle. What better way to end a show containing Forza, Halo, Crackdown, Sunset et al with a sneak peek of the all new, Black Tusk Gears of War? I’m not a GoW fan, but I know a lot of people who are. Maybe Microsoft thought there already was too much game to digest and they didn’t need it, plus Black Tusk have only been hard at work on the project for 4 months – but it feels like a missed opportunity to me.
So, that was E3 for Microsoft then – an extremely solid showing with something for everyone. I didn’t even mention the likes of Massive Chalice, CupHead, Killer Instinct Season 2, Platinum Games’ Scale Bound, Dance Central: Spotlight (apparently Kinect wasn’t mentioned at all according to the press; even though this and Fantasia were spotlighted by Harmonix!) or the intriguing Below – all have exclusive features, are timed exclusive or are system exclusive to Xbox One – such was the amount of game on show.
And there’s even more promised for GamesCom, including a gameplay reveal for Remedy Entertainment’s incredible looking Quantum Break. It’s a good time to be an Xbox One owner – with the constant (and excellent) system updates to the plethora and depth of the games line-up – and it looks like it’s only going to get better.
– Dave Green @davidpgreen83