Microsoft’s E3 Showcase – My Thoughts

Microsoft finds itself behind the eightball this year. The Xbox One hasn’t struck much of a chord with customers, and uptake on Windows 10 and MS’ new Universal Windows Platform hasn’t been as strong as expected, with many gamers sticking with the incumbent Steam. It’s not even that Microsoft had a bad E3 last year, it’s just that it was completely overshadowed. MS needed to knock this E3 out of the park and win people back. Did they? Kiiiinda.

After unveiling the newer, slimmer Xbox One S, the new Xbox Play Anywhere initiative was launched, involving bringing certain Xbox One titles to Windows 10 PCs, with cross compatibility for save data and multiplayer. It’s something of a strange move for a company investing in multiple new Xbox One models to do, but there is demand for it; Microsoft has already successfully revived flagging fighting game Killer Instinct with a second lease of life on PC.

The first such Play Anywhere game was Gears Of War 4, which showed off a new gameplay teaser. Starting off with the franchise’s signature cover-based shooting, chest high walls and charging melee action, the game built up to an interesting bullet-hell style setpiece involving a lightning conductor. The gameplay demo also introduced a new weapon, the Buzzkill, which like its ancestor the Unreal Tournament Ripper fires spinning circular sawblades capable of ricocheting off walls and obstacles. The demo finished with a reveal of a limited edition GOW4 controller, and the addition of Gears 1 antagonist General RAAM to Killer Instinct.

The next Forza Horizon title was revealed next, and somehow I’m not shitting on it. Probably something to do with the game appealing to my patriotism by being set in Australia, featuring many of Australia’s great driving locations, from the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road to the coastal road along Byron Bay. The game will also feature a legitimate all-Australian voice cast, as well as a number of classic Australian cars, launching September 27. B-roll footage released later suggested that while whoever pieced together the map must have been drunk at the wheel, a great deal of research into Australian car culture is being put into the game, maybe specifically to woo me away from Gran Turismo.

Next up was arid robotic adventure game Re-Core, with a cinematic trailer introducing the player character and several of the robotic shells your core can be implanted into, drawing comparisons to Megaman or Kirby titles. Following that was multi-platform titles Final Fantasy XV (showing off a large-scale boss fight against franchise regular Titan), The Division: Underground (announcing a number of expansion packs and a new sequentially generated mission bundle set in New York’s underground train system), Battlefield 1 (a replay of the trailer shown at EA’s presser, along with a plug for the early release via EA Access), and Minecraft (connectivity between Xbox and PC, iOS and Oculus versions of the game.

Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program again received an extended look, showcasing some of the Microsoft-supported indie games due for release on Xbox One soon, including Cuphead, The Culling, Stardew Valley, and Yooka Layley, Rare’s spiritual successor to much-loved platformer Banzo Kazooie.

This was followed by another new initiative, Xbox Game Preview, giving Xbox One owners the same sort of functionality as Steam’s beta releases. Players will buy games still in development, allowing them to offer the development team feedback. The first such Xbox Game Preview title was something called We Happy Few. It sounded vaguely familiar, I knew I’d heard the name somewhere before…

Oh! It’s that game with the creepy utopia where everyone’s on happy pills! Hell yeah, I loved the look of that the first time around! The short gameplay demo gave us a closer look at the reasoning behind such a batshit insane looking setting, which gave me a fairly Equilibrium-esque vibe. I can honestly say I’m glad this game was still a thing.

Then came CD Projekt Red to announce a stand-alone version of their hit RPG The Witcher’s in-world card game, Gwent, coming with an extensive campaign mode, multiplayer capability and an exclusive beta release in September. Whatever Gwent is, it can’t be anywhere near as rad as Triple Triad was.

While the franchise has been multi-platform for a long time now, it’s still strange to see Tekken 7 at a Microsoft press conference with its long history on the PlayStation. Nonetheless, there it was, showing off clips from its brand new story mode, flowing seamlessly into combat between Heihachi Mishima and the game’s guest character, Street Fighter’s Akuma. The game’s long awaited console version is due early next year, with free copies of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers in the time being.

Capcom’s latest Dead Rising game then got a cinematic trailer, revealing the return of series veteran Frank West, taking selfies with zombies in a snowy, Christmas setting with the same sort of crazy creativity and expansive weapon customisation features the franchise is known for.

After that came Scalebound from Platinum Games, and I’m going to be in the minority here, but the gameplay footage was an utter disappointment. It looked flat and plain, almost formulaic for a Platinum game, but that wasn’t my biggest beef with it. Take a look at that gameplay demo again. Do you see a giant enemy crab? Do you see the player characters attacking its weak point for massive damage? That’s a rookie mistake to make at E3, guys.

Rare’s other big project, Sea Of Thieves, came next with a surprisingly moody looking cinematic trailer, and a bunch of yahoos from YouTube putting together a gameplay trailer that made me hate everyone involved. That said, the sandbox style gameplay looks intriguing.

The last big game of the show was Halo Wars 2, a revamp of Microsoft’s flagship shooter’s venture into real-time strategy. Launching in February next year, the game is currently in beta on Xbox One.

Microsoft had one last big surprise up its sleeve; the company’s next console was teased, codenamed Project Scorpio. Microsoft promised the strongest, spare-no-expense hardware for the new platform, as well as backwards compatibility with Xbox One software. Scorpio will be available by Christmas 2017, giving dev teams ample time to come to grips with the new chipset.

So How Was It?

Microsoft’s presser had a number of solid, enticing titles, multiple new consoles, and a glimpse into the future of the Microsoft brand with new initiatives like Play Anywhere. In particular I was blown away by Forza Horizon 3, We Happy Few and Sea Of Thieves, for very different reasons. Unfortunately Microsoft also fell into the same trap of leaning on flagship sequels and rehashes a little too liberally. Microsoft also has its message somewhat confused, launching two brand new platforms while at the same time letting punters know that a console wasn’t necessarily required to play a good cross section of their games. Overall, while there’s still work to do, there was more to look forward to than I’m used to seeing from Microsoft.

Was I Right?

I was a bit off with Microsoft’s presser this year. After all the bluster with HoloLens last year we saw very little of it this time around, with more focus going towards opening the current Microsoft gaming environments to more people. Halo 5 kept under the radar, with Halo Wars 2 taking its place, and while EA Access got a fleeting mention and a new Forza game was shown off, there was no news about Tomb Raider or thankfully Plants Vs Zombies.

Final Grade: B


Posted on June 20, 2016, in Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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