Microsoft at E3 2013: First Impressions

WATCH THE FULL CONFERENCE HERE

The Xbox One

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft shook the gaming world with a dreadful conference that will go on to rival Sony’s infamous ‘Riiiiidge Racer’ Conference at E3 2006. There was a distinct lack of something important in gaming: games. Microsoft were kind enough to assure upset fans and journalists that games would be the focus of their E3 show.

They weren’t lying.

Opening with a triple-A crowd-pleaser is inevitable, though choosing Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain was an unusual move by Microsoft, who true to their US origin, traditionally remain very American (think Call of Duty, of which there was none tonight!) rather than turn to Japan. While having faith in the game, it’s MGS after all, the trailer seemed to hype up attributes that I would usually have considered unremarkable. Real-time weather? Lots of vehicles? These aren’t particularly of note. However, the revelation of an ‘open world’ was brilliant. Either way, I’m looking forward to this. I can’t resist pointing out though that despite Snake only having one line in the trailer Kiefer Sutherland is no David Hayter.

I think that it was a very clever idea to give Xbox 360 a few mentions. This is a difficult time for Microsoft as one console winds down for another to rise. The redesign of the Xbox 360 to match the image of the new console will certainly draw attention to the Xbox One as its brand is given a big push, and it was very poorly veiled. It’s very clear what they are trying to do, but either way, I think it will work just fine.

Introduced with the very bold statement that it is “an all new blockbuster franchise”, Sunset Overdrive was an interesting addition. At the beginning, I thought ‘this looks a bit cartoony for X…’. Perhaps I should have waited a few more seconds before drawing any conclusions, as a chatter of machine gun fire followed. The best description that I can give for it is a mixture of the comic visuals of Timesplitters with the headtwisting speed and somersaults of SSX. With very little explanation, and the inclusion of quirky objects such as a record gun, I’m very intrigued.

Another new franchise to grab attention was Quantum Break which looks as though it has a great and unique concept, that on the game floors could wow gamers as Watch Dogs did last year. While we didn’t get to see any direct gameplay, I am very interested in where this will be taken.

A few games were welcome although for secondary reasons. Killer Instinct is a classic fighter, and a franchise that hasn’t seen a release in 17 years, so it is surely very welcome for nostalgia purposes. But the reason that this got me excited, was that it could be the opener for a new era for Rare. For the last few years, Rare’s games have been quite a miserable subject, such as the fall of the Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie franchises, and a focus on more casual games with Kinect Sports. There is an off chance that they could be back.

Ryse: Son of Rome looked good, although I never envisioned Roman soldiers sounding quite so Cockney. This is quite difficult to judge considering that it is a new IP. What also doesn’t help was the unusual brushing aside of the Kinect, as this originally announced as a Kinect-only game. It is great that it’s been acknowledged that players want handheld controllers. In the end, it could be the Wii Sports of the Xbox One, good fun with the unique controller, but too simplistic and even dull were it to be played with buttons.

Ryse returned for a second time, later in the conference to demonstrate use of SmartGlass. The split was a good idea, as segments have infamously been ruined with the addition of the words (and variants of) “and this is how it will use Kinect”. Despite the split, I feel that it hurt the conference quite a bit. SmartGlass still looks like more of a peripheral than a primary controller. For example it was disappointing when a tablet arrived during the Dead Rising 3 premiere. Things hit a low during the demonstration of recording of an ‘epic moment’ during a game of Killer Instinct, which seemed totally pointless. The repeated mentions of just how ‘epic’ everything was irritated me (it always does). Luckily it had finally been realized that the gaming world had been SmartGlassed and Kinected out, and let it go relatively quickly.

However, in some cases it did look as though Microsoft were on course to beat Nintendo to what they were trying to achieve with their GamePad, with special mention for Project Spark, probably the best use that we have seen of a tablet controller that isn’t simply a convenience, like an inventory. Here, it was vital but it didn’t seem to be a problem. If I can flaw this segment, it is because of the ridiculous amount of ambition. This could be the Microsoft version of Scribblenauts, a game that seemed to have limitless capabilities, but didn’t quite deliver, at least with its first release.

I think that the Halo trailer was a very bad idea. If looking for a definition a flagship exclusive series, then look no further than Halo. After the announcement of the Halo television series (which got another mention) and the upcoming Halo: Spartan Assault, this cryptic tease was totally unnecessary. As brilliant as the trailer was, it’s no surprise that there will be a new Halo game on the Xbox One, after all there are two Halos to go in the current trilogy. It now looks as though they are just milking the series in a Nintendo-style fashion.

The show ended with Titanfall, a new Xbox One exclusive franchise. As it was at the end, after the big Halo and Battlefield 4 segment (the game looks amazing, but the technical faults will be mocked for some time to come), it is certain that this will be rammed at gamers for the next few months as the next big thing, though to be honest, it didn’t look that incredible. It looks like a good, fun online multiplayer, but it was just… there.

Big, eagerly awaited news came at the end: the price. At $499/E499/£429, it’s a pricey piece of kit, but at least that is out of the way. Other welcome news was introduction of ‘real money’ instead of Microsoft Points as a currency.

Microsoft did very well. Although I wasn’t blown away or excited by any games in particular, it wasn’t nearly as humiliating as previous years. There is a new console on its way, so of course Microsoft want to promote it. They did that just enough not to make it seem like overkill (though the Forza segment pushed it a bit too far, discussing the power of Xbox One). It was primarily about the games, with a brief ‘and that will be on Xbox One’ tagged on.

After their spectacular failure at the Xbox One unveiling, Microsoft were stuck in a very embarrassing situation. Now, getting the ‘television’, ‘sports’ and ‘Call of Duty’ out of the way, to pave the way for a gaming bonanza at E3 may not have been a bad idea after all.

So, what does this mean for Sony? They have a lot more to announce about the console itself, and if they are not careful could do what is usually expected of Microsoft – too much focus on hardware over software. It’s also worth noting that Microsoft have just snatched what was arguably their flagship franchise, Metal Gear Solid, for their conference. We shall see soon whether this will truly be the case.

PROS

– Great looking exclusives
– Acknowledged that Xbox 360 still exists
– Project Spark finally gave brilliant use to SmartGlass
– Despite the technical hitch, Battlefield 4 looked very good.

CONS

– We get it. You don’t need to brag about Halo anymore.
– Ryse is still confusing.
– More bad, pointless uses of Kinect and SmartGlass than good
– Questions about controversial online charges still aren’t answered.

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