I realize that it's Wednesday and the Xbox press conference was Monday, but it's taken me until now to finish watching all of it. Without further ado, though, read on for my impressions of Microsoft's big E3 announcements!
PHIL SPENCER: OPENING REMARKS
The opening video shows a Kinect, Xbox One, and Xbox controller for a brief second, and I predict that will be the only time we see a Kinect during this conference.
Phil takes the stage and offers a very sincere comment on how Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are all about sharing the excitement and passion of games. However, he then quickly only talks about two new consoles (yeah, he says "this year," so he's right, but he could have thrown in admittance that the Wii U exists).
Two big points: he acknowledges that the Xbox community has been very vocal and has helped shape the future of the console, and this entire conference will be dedicated to games. And only games. People cheered.
CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE
They'll be opening the conference with Call of Duty. Not much of a surprise for Microsoft. A quick reveal (also not a surprise): Xbox gamers get all of the content first.
The graphics in this helicopter (hovercraft?) crash look pretty phenomenal. The character models are really starting to get past the old uncanny valley, and some of the movement just looks...quite real. The city they've crashed into looks pretty war-torn. They quickly get into some of the "advanced" gadgets: instead of rapelling down a building, they use air boosters and just jump. This opens into a Times Square-esque intersection.
Okay, the guy controlling this game is walking SO. SLOWLY. I guess he wants to give everyone a chance to look around and all the pretty stuff exploding, but come on. There's a guy in a exoskeleton/mech suit. More guys doing booster jumps. A spider tank thing. This is advanced, everyone. Very advanced.
Now, for as nice as everything looks, I find myself unable to look away from a fire effect off in the distance. It looks like a low-quality animated GIF on a loop. Why doesn't that look better?
Moving past that, a bunch of swarming, flying robots are swooshing through the air. Creepy. Now we have some kind of shield that shows any human adversaries as orange silhouettes. Not sure what the point of that is, but it looks kinda neat.
You've got a buddy, but he got his arm caught in the ship as he was planting an explosive device on it. He had to tell you to leave. A single tear. Man, these CoD games love the cheese ball moments. In all seriousness, I do enjoy these campaigns, but I remember laughing out loud during last year's campaign in Ghosts. At least this one has Kevin Spacey!
We're talking now about how awesome Forza Motorsport 5. A few stats on the game, and then they announce that the Nürburgring is available as a new track starting today. Free!
But, now they're moving to Forza Horizon 2, the sequel to the first Forza spinoff game. It's another open-world racing game, but it will be built on the Forza 5 engine. This will be running at 1080p (gotta fight those resolution trolls). Dedicated servers--yay. September 30, 2014.
Evolve looks like a class-based shooter where you can also have one person play as "THE MONSTER," a giant, alien-looking creature. Most of this trailer takes place in a pretty good-looking cave, and the characters have a good bit of personality to their design. But that's about all we get for this one. Coming this fall.
ASSASSIN'S CREED UNITY
The new AC game, Unity, is exclusively next gen and takes place in Paris during the French Revolution, which is an awesome setting. It will also be the first time you'll be able to "make your own brotherhood" with four-player co-op. That's cool, I guess...but I prefer my AC action to be single player.
One of the first things I noticed is that there are more opportunities to go inside buildings. In ACIII, they added the ability to go through buildings when there was an open window. However, these merely triggered unstoppable animations until you got to the other side and back out on the street. Here, though, they show the assassin heading into a house, but then actually getting to perform a dual assassination of two guards and then walk around a little inside the house before jumping outside. That's pretty cool, as it opens the door for even better virtual tourism (my favorite part of the AC franchise).
Next up, we're storming the palace, attempting to assassinate a Marquis. Again, we get to move fluidly in and out of open windows and explore huge interior environments. This really seems to make good on the promise of stealth upon which so many previous AC games have failed (in my opinion) to truly deliver. There's a huge ballroom with the Marquis making comments about the "rabble" outside, but things don't end well for him as all four Assassin's (controlled by four players) corner him and toss him out a window, only to be beheaded by the very rabble about which he was just complaining. Sweet justice.
This game looks pretty exciting, and it's a big deal for Microsoft to get the reveal for what has historically been a pretty Sony-ish franchise.
DRAGON AGE INQUISITION
BioWare's next entry in the Dragon Age franchise is up next, and they seem to have brought back some of the fighting mechanics from Origins instead of being so Mass Effect-y like they were in the second one.
Huge monsters, lots of threats, giant swords. All looks like good stuff. However, it's noteworthy that they did not show any of the conversation mechanics. Could there be a revamp in the works to the Mass Effect wheel of talking?
In case you didn't know, Insomniac Games has always been a Sony-exclusive third party. In fact, they don't even own any of their old IPs (intellectual properties). So, it was pretty big news when they announced that they were going to make an Xbox exclusive game, Sunset Overdrive.
Regardless of the platform, this game looks rad: lighthearted and fast action in a colorful, cartoonish world that doesn't take itself very seriously. They made a big deal about the hero being "YOU" (an attempt at gaming press conference humor that fell completely flat), but that just means you get to customize your character. This will probably make more of a difference in the eight-player multiplayer mode.
The demo level takes place in an amusement park under attack by all of the mutated enemies, and the highlight was the epic grinding along a wooden roller coaster while pummeling giant monsters with a huge gun. October 28, 2014.
DEAD RISING 3: SUPER ULTRA ARACADE REMIX HYPER EDITION EX + α
This DLC for Dead Rising 3 is absolute fan-service for the Capcom faithful. If the name wasn't obvious, this is Available now.
Alex Rigopulos, head of Harmonix, the studio behind Rock Band & Dance Central, takes the stage to talk about their two new games:
- Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved
- Dance Central Spotlight
It doesn't seem like they gave poor Alex a very good idea of which cameras he would be talking to, as they comedically switched from camera to camera as he struggled to face the right direction. Who's running the control room?
Anyway, they didn't talk much about these, but he did make a big deal about the new Dance Central having a way to make it easier and faster for them to release new tracks, which is a plus for dance fans.
This is a new entry in the Fable franchise, which hasn't seen a new game since the Xbox 360, Kinect-only Fable :The Journey. It looks to be a completely co-op, online Fable with up to four heroes and one villain. The villain gets to be a sort of overlord, which is actually similar to the (unfortunately offline) multiplayer mode in ZombiU.
After Fable 2, it feels a bit like this series has gotten lost in itself; I certainly didn't make it through most of Fable 3. I'm not sure that co-op is really what anyone ever wanted from these games, but everything has to be connected these days. I actually have a copy of Fable: The Journey lying around...maybe I should give it a spin and see if it changes my mind at all.
But, back to the game at hand. Legends certainly looks great, but I can already see it suffering from the same lack of animation polish that has plagued every Fable game. The heroes are voice acted with some witty one-liners, but their physical animations look completely over-the-top while they deliver them, like bad actors in a silent film. Why can't this franchise adopt some subtlety when it comes to player movement?
With a hilarious intro video from SNL's Bobby Moynahan and Taran Killam talking about what they would make in their perfect game (Ninja Turtles and Batman--awesome), Microsoft re-introduces Project Spark. We've seen actually seen this game before (technically it's been in open beta for some time now), but this is a bigger, cooler look at it than I've seen yet. For those unaware, this is a game that lets you make other games. How meta.
This is actually the evolution of a little-known Xbox 360 downloadable game called Kodu Game Lab, which also let you create 3D worlds. At the time it was announced, I didn't yet have a PS3 and thought it was the answer to Sony's Little Big Planet. Turns out it lacked the charm of that particular franchise--and certainly the popularity.
Anyway, Spark looks to allow quite a bit more freedom than LBP in terms of game design (and a lot more personality than Kodu), but these are games that rely completely on the creativity of the dedicated fan base who is interested in learning all of the creation tools. And, now, it also has Minecraft to contend with, which didn't exist back in the Kodu days.
I know that Microsoft is hoping the Kinect will make Spark more accessible than many other games, but I suspect that the really cool stuff will require skill and effort.
Awesome extra reveal? Conker (from Conker's Bad Fur Day on N64) will be in this game. What!? That's pretty awesome.
ORI AND THE BLIND FOREST
Really artistic/stylized 2D platformer with mysterious music. The main creature looks like something out of a Studio Ghibli film. I'm pretty sure this will be an Xbox Live-only title. To be honest, this looks like something a Sony first party studio would come up; it's clear that Microsoft is really trying to up their game in terms of non-shooter appeal to balance out the Halos and Gears of Wars of the world. Speaking of that, though...
HALO 5: GUARDIANS
Well, this isn't quite a surprise. We've got our Xbox One--gotta have a Halo game before too long! It sounds like Captain Anderson from Mass Effect was narrating this trailer.
"Your journey begins." (I think this was pulled from the E3 bag o' clichés)
Oh, now we have a 343 spokeswoman talking about Master Chief questioning authority. What a troublemaker! He'll be up to some space-y trouble for sure. I bet there will be multiplayer.
HALO: THE MASTER CHIEF COLLECTION
Also, on November 11, 2014, we're getting Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which has the first four Halo games bundled together on a single console for the first time. That's pretty cool. For multiplayer, you can mix and match playlists from all of the earlier games. And Halo 2 will be getting the "Anniversary" treatment--including the original multiplayer suite verbatim. You've got to appreciate Microsoft's fan service here.
To further ensure that this is the super-ultimate-mega edition, they're adding every multiplayer map, 4000 Gamerscore points worth of achievements, dedicated servers for each game, 1080p + 60fps on each game, and the Halo TV show to boot. Microsoft wants to make sure that Halo fans get an Xbox One. And fast.
Oh, and Phil Spencer is back with a few awkward remarks about how important Halo is to Xbox. Also, this is the 2014 cutoff point of the conference; everything from here on out is 2015.
This is a "First on Xbox" title, so it's not exclusive forever. It looks like some kind of oppressive world with lots of guard robots, spotlights, guard dogs, humans confined to toiling away in plain outfits in endless factories. A young boy (the only one wearing red) has clearly broken loose of whatever mind control is getting everyone else down.
This a third person game with the camera pulled back pretty far, but I don't think it's actually confined to a 2D plane--I'm pretty sure he can walk on a 3D flat plane.
Chris Carla is here to talk about the new "Independent Developers" initiative, ID@XBOX. They're offering cheap developer kits and lots of support for new ideas. Here's the full list of indie games shown in a massive trailer:
- Knight Squad
- Plague Inc Evolved
- White Night
- Earthlock: Festival of Magic
- Hyper Light Drifter
- Lifeless Planet
- Slash Dash
- Lovers in a Dangers Spacetime
- Mighty #9
That's all definitely good news!
RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER
World premiere. A therapist in a dark room, talking someone through a traumatic experience. It's a woman--hard to see who, though. Talk of an island. A boat.
Oh, yes: this is the Tomb Raider sequel. It's Lara Croft!
It sounds like this game will focus on how she goes from adventurer newbie in last year's Tomb Raider to the hardened veteran from the old games. No gameplay, but the trailer makes it clear that the bow is back with Lara landing a few choice arrow shots. Sweet.
THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT
The next game in the Witcher series will be coming out February 24, 2015, and we're treated to a bit of gameplay hunting a griffin, with some cutscenes peppered in for good measure. The game looks good, but has the camera movement of slightly stiff character animation of a more PC-centric game developer (which, of course, CD Projekt RED is).
Still though, this looks like quite a step up from The Witcher 2, especially on Xbox 360. Finally, console gamers will get a much more polished version of this franchise.
Wait, this came out last year. Ken Lobb is here to talk about rebooting old franchises. What's he planning on announcing? "Let's just watch the trailer."
The trailer opens on a man with long, dark hair sitting on a park bench. He twitches. The world suddenly becomes all messed up, like a dust storm wen through the city. A woman starts running toward him. They are making blue and red lights. I have no idea what this is.
Apparently Phantom Dust is a game from the original Xbox. Read more here. I'm clearly unfamiliar with this.
TOM CLANCY: THE DIVISION
The coolest thing about this trailer is the way the 3D map appears in and around in you the environment. That's a pretty visually interesting way to show what is usually a boring part of the interface. Oh, wait; there's something cooler. Your character can see visualizations of the past somehow with monochrome floating pixels in the environment. That was quite awesome.
I should explain what's going on: apparently some kind of virus got released on Black Friday and now things are in a state of emergency. This appears to be a squad-based third person shooter with a cool slide-into-cover mechanic. The initial trek through the subway opens up into what looks kind of like a war zone in front of the New York Public Library. The lighting effects look fantastic.
Hediki Kamiya from Platinum Games is here to announce their next original game, which is an Xbox One exclusive. "Action at a whole new scale." (hey, I think he found that cliché bag)
We've got a guy in a forest with a sword, huge monsters that can breathe fire. Oh, but this guy also a bow and arrow. And headphones...? And some kind of crazy armor that forms around him. Looks like he took care of these two huge monster/dragon things quickly.
Ah, but now a 7 or 8-headed larger monster is here (and the sky is darker, obviously).
A new guy is on stage to talk about reviving another game. It's got online, of course. Hey, more talk of dedicated servers! What could it be? It's a new Crackdown! It's cool to hear that the original game designer is back to work on this title. Hopefully it won't need a Halo beta key to sell copies.
Phil is back again and reiterating that they showed us 90 minutes of games. He's also reminding everyone that the Xbox team is always listening to its fans, which is great to hear. And, that's it! They closed with a sizzle reel of all the big games they just showed, ending with Sunset Overdrive. Microsoft is clearly pleased to have a deal with the formerly Sony-exclusive studio.
Anyway, Microsoft definitely delivered on a conference full of games and nothing else. In a way, that's a little disappointing for me, but I know why they did it. I always like when E3 conferences spend a little bit of time on gadgets, non-gaming functionality or other fun stuff. But, the Xbox brand needs to distance itself from Kinect and TV functions a little bit to make the internet happy, so there you go. No non-game announcements.
The games, though, included a lot of strong offerings. Where was Quantum Break, though? That was a little disappointing, as it's one of the best-looking games that has been announced for Microsoft's new console. And how many times do we have to hear about STUNNING 1080p and DEDICATED SERVERS? I guess Microsoft is tired of hearing Twitter complain about anything they possibly can.
All in all, this was a strong press conference. They definitely focused on some lengthier gameplay sessions than Sony did, and the amount of 2014 content actually seems to have outpaced what Sony had to offer. A fair amount of these games are multiplatform, though, so I think 2014 still has plenty for gamers to enjoy.
What did you think of Microsoft's event? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!