So, this was Microsoft’s ‘gamer’ show. Apparently going to free of TV chat, careful side-stepping of DRM issues and a focus on what the Xbox brand was originally about before the platform holder steered it towards the all-in-one entertainment system that the Xbox One is clearly pitched towards in recent years.
Of course, there are games – we were promised 20 of them – and Microsoft came out fighting this morning during their pre-E3 conference at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.
The first thing up? Konami, and the big guns – Kojima’s rather stunning looking Metal Gear Solid. It’s quite a coup, you’ll note, and the Fox Engine is clearly a capable piece of software. The blend into gamely was flawless, the scenery expansive, and open world? Realtime weather? It’s still Metal Gear, but it’s looking better than ever before.
From what we could see it was all about choice – multiple ways to tackle every problem, multiple strategic decisions, better stealth. Yeah, the speeded up elements spoiled the overall impression, but you can’t deny the weight of something like this to open your conference.
A good start, then. Enough to wash away last month’s bumbling reveal? Not quite, but this is the first five minutes.
And then the first trick – a new Xbox 360. Smaller, sleeker and quieter than ever, and available today. Improvements to Xbox LIVE Gold? How about something like PlayStation Plus – two free games per month for Gold members. The first two: Assassin’s Creed II and Halo 3. Muted applause. Against Plus it feels incredibly dated.
Three new games for the console, too. World of Tanks wasn’t a huge surprise (we’d already revealed the box art an hour before) but it’s still a great signing for Microsoft, despite a few minutes of awful music. And yeah, you need Gold. What else? An indie game from Press Play, and From Software’s Dark Souls 2.
Phil Spencer had a fair bit to prove, the Studios head claiming plenty of investment, more titles in development now than ever before in Xbox history.
First up for Xbox One? Crytek’s Ryse. The stirring pre-battle pep talk was impressive, but it was the rush into combat from the ship that impressed. God of War amped a few notches probably isn’t too silly a comparison, plenty of pre-scripted elements created thrills but it fell apart once the fighting started, clunky animation, slo-mo and quick time events all over the shop.
Cevat Yerli explained that the game covers both individuality and the ability to control the squadrons. The game is exclusively for Xbox One, and will appear at the console’s launch.
And then? Heh, Killer Instinct. Rare might have been classed as a studio locked down to Kinect games, but it looks like they’ve still got a grip on their back catalogue. The reveal was tiny, a few seconds at most, but it was a nice touch.
And then, Insomniac’s Ted Price, coming onto stage after mentions of several PlayStation exclusive titles like Resistance. Sunset Overdrive is a “stylised open world shooter” and Price’s presence says a lot – references to the Cloud, saying the game is something the studio could “only do on Xbox One” is one hell of a kicker for Sony diehards.
The video looked like a mix between Mirror’s Edge and a multiplayer third person blaster, with a nice art style, one published – apparently by Microsoft.
Forza Motorsport 5’s flashy entrance, car led, with Dan Greenawalt stood next to the Maclaren P1. He sounded close to tears, which was slightly odd, but you can’t deny that the game looked breathtakingly detailed. The next generation is about the “details”, claimed Greenawalt, rather than polygon count and texture detail. The speech reminded us of DriveClub’s, but of course there was discussion of Cloud processing – “a learning agent in the cloud, the end of AI”.
Greenawalt promised that the Drivatar – Forza’s computer-controlled avatar – would learn from your individual style and abilities, it learns how you attack corners, how you drive in traffic. Is this really something that the Cloud is managing? Regardless of buzzwords and an E3 Bingo sheet getting furiously ticked off, it was convincing enough.
Minecraft appearing on the One wasn’t a massive shock, the game has done incredibly well on the 360 and the move to next generation was something of a no-brainer.
Quantum Break sounds interesting – the ability to twist a TV show to your will – and the realtime demo shows that the Xbox One is clearly a technically capable machine. The pausing of time is a neat idea, anti-hero Jack able to move in and out of a frozen scene and interact with our characters that look about as uncanny valley as we’ve seen for a while.
Was it clear how the game actually played? No, not at all. We’ll need more time to see how Quantum Break actually runs when the player is at the controller.
Project Spark echoed LittleBigPlanet, or at least Sony’s approach to creation and sharing. Interacting with Kinect to pick the environment still seemed more laborious than just tapping left and right, but then the use of SmartGlass to draw hills and drop in a bridge crafted an impressive setting in seconds.
Dropping in behaviours and scripting with ‘brains’ was far too rehearsed, but the seeds of a game with three days of development at least resembled a game, even if the introduction of a giant mech seemed only there to get the crowd connected again. Media Molecule may well have left LittleBigPlanet alone for a while, but the legacy of letting users build their own games from scratch can clearly be seen. Spark at least seemed expansive, if not particularly focused.
A segment on SmartGlass showed that, with a tablet connected to the One, games move beyond the on-disk experience, with the ability to view your Achievements, tips and the progress of your friends away from the screen.
Upload Studio, the system’s built-in video uploading tool, allowed a quick upload from Killer Instinct, although the video appeared to have a different combo number at the end suggesting the playback of the video wasn’t directly related to the gameplay we saw uploading. The ability to share gameplay live on Twitch was neat, though.
Crimson Dragon, clearly related to the earlier Panzer Dragoon series, appeared without audio, much to the amusement of the conference crowd. Imagining sweeping orchestral music wasn’t a real stretch though. Dead Rising 3, a far more impressive signing for Microsoft, showed that Capcom still have the ability to really flex the muscles of a console. Zombie games aren’t exactly rare, but Dead Rising still has a unique feel about it, and DR3’s open world could be really interesting.
It’s all about the numbers with Dead Rising, and there were certainly quite a few of the undead interested in the game’s new lead. The game promises density and scale, and the simple crafting system was back with a nice example: strapping a torch to a pistol. The artillery support via SmartGlass though? Seemed like overkill, removing much of the tension built up over the previous ten minutes.
Battlefield 4’s gameplay (at sixty frames per second, no less) video looked impressive, but an audio glitch and a complete restart slightly spoiled the show. Battlefield’s single player has never really been the game’s strongest point (at least, 3 suffered a little despite some clear ambition) but 4 certainly pushes lighting and effects to considerable effect. For a multi platform title, it’s obvious DICE’s engine doesn’t mess around technically anyway.
Second Assault, a Battlefield 4 expansion, would appear first for Xbox One.
More interestingly, perhaps, was a brand new exclusive game from Superbrothers, Below. We didn’t see much of it, but it certainly seemed to tick the box marked “we’d like a Journey, please”. Other games, like Black Tusk’s upcoming (and mysterious) title showed that Microsoft were still keen on creating new IPs, with the promise of serious investment in new development studios.
And then, of course, Halo. A dark, moody demonstration from 343 Industries came out of nowhere, but was well received. The Xbox One Halo would be – of course – a first person shooter “enhanced by the power of cloud computing” that would run at sixty frames per second. We’ve no idea what the actual game looks like, but that didn’t really seem to matter.
A confirmation of a November release priced at $499, £429 unsettled the audience, at least until the requisite crowd chipped in.
And then to close, one more title. A distraction from the price? Hardly, the tension was still palpable, but with Respawn’s TitanFall suitably epic in scale at least the show ended on a high. The game’s exclusive to Microsoft, at least on console, a mix of shooter and mech, and very definitely geared up for the Xbox’s core audience.
Games, then – lots of them. A solid show, rocked at the end by a price that caused an uncomfortable silence. The fallout of all this? Xbox One is definitely for the gamer, despite last month’s TV-focused presentation. Do those games really represent a huge step forward? It’s hard to tell from carefully scripted videos and gameplay, and only our own time with the titles at the conference will confirm either way.
Until then, at least the platform holder held their promise.
Your move, Sony.