First off, Metal Gear starting off Microsoft’s press conference? What kind of world do we live in? Is nothing SACRED anymore?
Sensationalism aside, Microsoft’s and Hideo Kojima’s introduction of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for Microsoft’s press conference set the stage for what matters most at E3: the games. Microsoft’s most prevalent criticism over the last few E3‘s, as well as their Xbox One reveal last month, has been for the company’s focus on television, sports, and, well, things not really related to games. Microsoft’s E3 press conference, for better or for worse, changed that perception. Microsoft made good on their promise of fifteen exclusive Xbox One games, which as of today now officially include Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, and Quantum Break.
After an absolutely stellar opening from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Microsoft jumped into their presentation. But before rushing right into the new Xbox One games, Microsoft showed they still remain committed to the Xbox 360, beginning with some of the most interesting news of the show: A new Xbox 360 model that is designed to look more in line with the Xbox One, trailers for Dark Souls II and a brand new indie game titled Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, a side-scrolling platformer which evoked stop motion films such as Coraline and ParaNorman. Whatever cynicism I had going into the conference, the charm of Max briefly warmed my icy heart.
Then of course came the heavy hitters: The Xbox One games. Given the controversy surrounding Microsoft’s stance on DRM and used games (neither of which were mentioned in the press conference), the pressure was on for Xbox One’s games to deliver. And for the most part, they did. If there is anything to take from the games showcased for next-generation so far, it’s that we won’t be seeing as much of a graphical leap as we did the previous generation. Dead Rising 3, Battlefield 4, and The Witcher 3 are great looking games, but are not game-changing in terms of presentation, or even that much in gameplay compared to what we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years.
More interesting were the unique features being promised by Xbox One’s very own “unique features”, such as cloud processing. The most interesting of which is the promise that cloud processing will add even more power to the consoles, as well as segueing into one of the most interesting reveals of the conference, codenamed Project Spark, a cloud-based, user-created content-centric multiplayer game that seems like Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet.
One of the first extended demos for the Xbox One was Crytek’s newest IP, Ryse: Son of Rome, which... well, let’s just say maybe a different game should have been showcased to present our first real extended demo of an Xbox One game. Ryse has spent most of its development history as a Xbox 360 game, and it shows. Iffy presentation and a plethora of quicktime events didn’t do much to build confidence for the next generation of gaming.
The next misstep was for Forza 5, and the incredibly disconcerting (and dorky sounding) “Drivatar” feature, in which your driving techniques and data are uploaded to the cloud, allowing your friends to effectively play against “you” without you actually having to play. Microsoft tried to hype the concept of “playing without playing” as a selling point. Welcome to the future of gaming.
I’m much more interested in Insomniac’s brand-new Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive, a stylistic, massively-multiplayer shooter that incorporates parkour and Insomniac’s signature uniquely designed weapons. However, I can’t help being reminded of Insomniac’s similar reveal back in 2011 of Overstrike (it even has a similar title!), before being rebranded as Fuse and redesigned as a more realistic, generic, brown-and-grey shooter. I can only hope Sunset Overdrive does not suffer a similar fate.
Brand new, smaller IPs were also shown off, such as the new game from Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery developers Capybara Games, Below, an enigmatic rogue-like that looks to follow in the stylistic footsteps of Superbrothers. Other games included Crimson Dragon, which is a spiritual successor to the Panzer Dragoon series, and D4, a cel-shaded “episodic murder mystery.” Overall, Microsoft’s conference seemed to strike a solid balance between AAA-releases and smaller titles, hopefully showing that Xbox One will show the same support towards indie developers that the 360 had.
The most surprising non-surprise of the show was the reveal of the new Halo for Xbox One, simply titled Halo during its reveal (though this is most likely a placeholder title). We didn’t see much except Master Chief’s iconic helmet looking at a gigantic mech. The lack of an official title other than Halo was perplexing to some - 343 Industries’ spokesperson mentioned the recently announced Halo: Spartan Ops for Windows 8 and the Stephen Spielberg-produced Halo TV series which makes me think that Halo One (my title until shown otherwise) will focus even more on cross-media branding than previous entries, and will potentially be tied into the TV series in a similar manner as Remedy’s Quantum Break.
Finally, we got to see Respawn Entertainment’s long awaited new game, Titanfall, another Xbox One exclusive. Titanfall’s existence had already been leaked a couple days prior, but after seeing the game in action, this is the one game from the conference that truly made me believe we were seeing the next generation in action. The ways in which it appears to combine traditional shooter mechanics with verticality and the titular titans (giant mechs that the player can enter at any time) was absolutely breathtaking, and was easily my personal Xbox One exclusive game of show.
Microsoft’s E3 presentation didn’t clear up any anxieties or uncertainties surrounding Xbox One’s DRM or its stance against used games, which will likely remain an ominous shadow over everything surrounding the system until its launch this Fall. The official price, a whopping $499, didn’t help much either. However, with a dedicated focus on “core” games, and a surprising lack of Kinect, Microsoft’s E3 conference showed that it’s going to take games seriously in the future. The Xbox One has had its fair share of controversies in its short time in the public consciousness, but hopefully lack of quality games won’t be one of them.