Microsoft unveil their plans for gaming and entertainment at the E3 Microsoft Conference. Luke Pilchowski breaks it down.
Phil Spencer’s second E3 conference continues to live up to his gaming-priority promise last year with a press conference that is start-to-end about gaming. From the return of old favourites, to brand new IPs, to the future of gaming with Xbox, Microsoft came out to say and show a lot, but may have tried to show too much.
The conference started with another look at 343’s latest iteration of the Halo franchise in Halo 5: Guardians, giving us the first look at the new campaign with Locke and Fireteam Osiris, as well as the fire teasers for their new ‘Warzone’ multiplayer game-type, though it was a surprisingly, or worryingly, short showcase for Microsoft flagship.
They then quickly moved on to the cinematic reveal of latest project by Megaman and Dead Rising creator Keiji Inafune, Recore, though the trailer revealed little beyond a female main protagonist alongside robotic companions and enemies.
After this came the huge announcement of the Xbox One getting backwards compatibility, free for all Xbox One owners, with around 100 games being available by end of 2015. Alongside this was the reveal of their improved Elite controller, coming with a slew of changeable joysticks, d-pads and underneath paddles.
Todd Howard came on next, with extra footage of Fallout 4, along with the major news that there would be mod support for Xbox One, and that Fallout 3 would be bundled with Fallout 4. Following him was EA’s Peter Moore, who talked predominantly about EA Access, EA’s Netflix-style game subscription service, saving most of their game announcements for their conference, but did reveal the latest Plants Vs. Zombies game in Garden Warfare 2.
Several companies followed with short but sweet showcases. Turn 10’s Dan Greenawalt came to the stage along with Ford’s Henry Ford III and a new Ford GT40. Despite the extravagance, they showed little beyond a short trailer, though it showed the next Forza game will look and sound as beautiful as ever. Bandai Namco has an even further brief showcase with the short cinematic announcement of Dark Souls 3 coming early 2016. Ubisoft’s Laurent Detoc was up next, sharing small pieces of information on their upcoming Tom Clancy games, with The Division getting an Xbox-exclusive beta in December and Rainbox Six Siege having its predecessors bundled with it. Then there was the reveal of Gigantic, a new free-to-play game by indie developer Motiga, giving a short trailer and news of a beta in August.
The conference moved into their indie showcase, showing off the most promising games coming from their ID@Xbox
programme. Creators of Gone Home Fullbright revealed their next project, Tacoma, taking the ‘empty home’ scenario from Gone Home and moving it to a lunar space station in the near future, giving an early 2016 release. Aurora 44 showed Ashen, an open-world game with a focus on player-player relationships and muted art-style, though gave no release window. Tiger & Squid presented Beyond Eyes, a colourful yet minimalistic game about the first ventures into the outside world by a young blind girl named Rae, with the world being visualised for the player through the use of her remaining senses. Studio MDHR showed us more of their 1930s cartoon-style game Cuphead, bringing a classic art-style to a new media form ‘1936 (plus eighty years)’. Alongside this was the announcement of an early-access game service for Xbox One, including titles such as Elite Dangerous and DayZ. They ended the segment with DayZ creator Dean Hall revealing his latest project for early access ION, a shared-world space-adventure game focusing on the scientific laws of physics, chemistry and biology.
Crystal Dynamics’ Brian Horton followed, giving us a greater taste of Rise of Tomb Raider, with perhaps the most substantial gameplay demo of the conference. They showed a part of the singleplayer set in an icy mountain range, where Lara had to escape a oncoming avalanche, along with a brief montage of other segments and location in the game. Rare was on next, revealing two upcoming titles in the 30 classic-game collection Rare Replay, including Perfect Dark and Battletoads, and shared-world pirate game Sea of Thieves, though neither got a substantial gameplay demo disappointingly.
With a short gameplay trailer for the free-to-play game Fable Legends, Microsoft moved into perhaps the most interesting part of their conference with their upcoming hardware. After covering their partnership with Occulus VR, Microsoft gave a first look at their HoloLens, their Augmented Reality gaming headset, with a Minecraft demo. Utilising AR technology, it maps, in 3D, the world onto a flat surface through the lenses, where you can look through the surfaces simply by moving yourself to look through the walls, along with being able control where you are looking with voice commands. The 3D capabilities beyond a screen, and the potential interactivity it can give, made it one of highlights of the conference.
The conference ended with a double reveal for the Gears of War franchise, with the announcement of an anniversary ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the original Gear of War, along with the first look at Gears 4, which was bizarrely tame for a Gears game.
Microsoft had a strong conference, perhaps one of their strongest since the announcement of the Xbox One, but not an E3-winning one. Despite the strong number of games they showed, very few got a substantial amount of gameplay. Games like Halo 5 and Forza 6 got too little gameplay coverage for games coming in the next few months, while too many cinematic trailers filled the conference, showing very little and nothing reflective as to why we would want to play. The highlights of the conference came from non-exclusives in Fallout 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, new hardware in the form of the HoloLens, and software updates with the reveal of backwards compatibility. These well covered, interesting and praise-worthy showcase were great-looking on their own, but overshadowed a conference that showed many great but unsubstantiated exclusive titles, and established favourite that deserved more. For a company needing to win back gamers, Microsoft’s conference may have been strong for the wrong reasons.