After last year’s mildly-disastrous E3 appearance, Xbox has slowly but surely been on the road to redemption. This year, they promised that it would be all about the games. And they delivered. Gone were the announcements of user interface features, applications, and–let us not forget–sports. There were no mentions of Xbox Live subscriptions and sales figures. Xbox promised ninety minutes of games and that is exactly what they gave us.
The newly-instated head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, took the stage. Opening the show, naturally, was the latest installment in the Call of Duty franchise, Advanced Warfare, out November 4. Per tradition, Xbox owners will be privileged enough to play all add-on content first on their consoles. Sledgehammer Games’ iteration will give the franchise a much needed new feel. Using an “exoskeleton”, players will be able to jump higher with a boost and even cling to walls. The weapons looked new, yet comfortably familiar. The grenades got a facelift, including a cycle option which allows users to flip through grenade types such as flash, stun, and explosive. For once, the gameplay looked a little different from what we’ve come to expect from CoD. It looked like it combined elements of both Titanfall and even Halo, all while maintaing that classic CoD feel.
Next, Xbox showcased their other big franchise title, Forza Motorsport. Available today for free via the Marketplace is the Nürburgring track. They also showed their new installment for the series, Horizon 2, which will come to both Xbox One and 360 platforms on September 30th. They announced that it will run at full 1080p and will have dedicated servers for the game’s online drivatars. The game will feature day-to-night cycles and weather changes all in an open-world environment. Another new feature is a club creator. Up to one thousand players will be able to join a single club to compete against each other.
One gripe I have with console conferences, be it from Microsoft or Sony, is when they show off third-party games instead of just exclusives. Exclusive titles are why we choose one console over another. Microsoft’s conference should prove to gamers why they need be playing an Xbox, just as Sony’s conference should promote PlayStation. Multi-platform games are better suited to developer exhibitions rather than console conferences. Microsoft was guilty of doing this a bit too much this year. From the opening ten minute demo of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to the eight minute demo of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Microsoft spent too much time away from exclusive titles–those reasons why we need an Xbox One. Timed-exclusive DLC has never been a huge deal for me. Unfortunately, this is one of Microsoft’s major selling points when it comes to justifying third-party titles at their conferences.
Taking a page out of Sony’s handbook from last year’s E3, Microsoft spent some time showing off their strong library of indie titles coming to Xbox, titles such as: Cuphead, Knight Squad, Earthlock, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Ori and the Blind Forest, and the iOS hit, Threes, just to name a few. Now, granted, these are not all Xbox exclusives. They will, however, make their console debut first on Xbox. This is a step in the right direction for Microsoft, who never really show the love for indie developers.
Not a surprise, Halo 5: Guardians was also shown. Although no gameplay or release date was given, we did get a trailer. Sticking with the franchise, they took the time to formally announce Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a series anthology that will collect Halos 1-4. What’s cool about this collection is that everything comes unlocked. Meaning, you can play any level from any game without having to progress through each one in order. Another neat feature is creating a playlist of levels. This is something very unique that I have not seen other game collections do before. Players will be able to customize a playlist of levels from any of the Halo games, reliving their favorite moments from the series. Perhaps the best announcement from this collection is that, for the first time ever, Halo: Combat Evolved, will have online multiplayer. The collection will run at full 1080p and 60fps, have dedicated servers, and–for all you achievement whores out there–will contain a whopping 4,000 point gamerscore. Packaged with this game will be an invitation to the Halo 5: Guardians beta and also the digital film, Halo: Nightfall, an episodic series coming to Xbox in weekly installments starting November 11th. This is a lot of Halo news to take in and felt a little bit overwhelming. Granted, this is Xbox’s biggest franchise, the announcements, which came in bulk, seemed to have flooded the market with Halo.
And now for the best thing that Microsoft showed; Sunset Overdrive. From Insomniac Games, a former PlayStation-exclusive developer, comes an exciting, fun, colorful new IP. A teaser trailer for the game was shown last year. This year, we got a new trailer and gameplay footage. In the live demo, the protagonist jumps, fights, and slides his way through a vibrant amusement park. A plethora of guns were shown including a freeze ray, grenade launcher, and assault rifle. We saw a mini boss battle, some rail riding, and explosive parkour action. For those familiar with the Ratchet and Clank series on PlayStation, Sunset Overdrive’s mechanics will hit very close to home. This game will be the reason I pick up an Xbox One. I was already pretty excited for this game, but with Microsoft’s demo of it, my hype has been brought to a whole new level.
Fans of Crackdown have been itching for a new installment to the series. The bombshell trailer at today’s Microsoft conference was an answer to this call, and did not disappoint. Though I never got into the series, I have to admit, the trailer looked exciting.
Overall, Microsoft delivered on their promise of “all about the games”. For ninety minutes, it was literally non-stop with game announcements, gameplay demos, and trailers. It was both awesome and overwhelming. I wanted to see more gameplay per title and less CG trailers, but this was a vast improvement from their showing last year. The key features and buzzwords that they centered on were multiplayer experiences, dedicated servers, and full 1080p/60fps. Microsoft’s Xbox One continues to move along the winding road to redemption, getting gamers back on their side.
Below is the conference in its entirety: Watch live video from Twitch on TwitchTV