E3 2014: Microsoft Press Conference – It’s all about the games, baby!
Microsoft have just wrapped up their E3 Press Conference for this year and I have to say, I’m fairly impressed. Continuing their recent trend, Microsoft’s presentation demonstrated that they are continuing to listen to the Xbox community. Gone were the long speeches about the potential of the Xbox One, the tirade of media apps and vague buzzwords, and the awkward, cheesy gimmicks; instead, today was all about the games. In a tight, 90-minute trailer-blitz, we were shown game after game, with very little pre-amble or marketing spiel to be found. Though there may not have been any major surprises, the conference gave us a good look at the wealth of games making their way to Xbox One in the future.
Phil Spencer, newly promoted head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division and Microsoft Studios, kicked things off, by promising a briefing that was dedicated entirely to games. Immediately, we were thrown into some impressive-looking, in-game footage from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare; I’ve not really taken an interest in the Call of Duty franchise since Modern Warfare 2 but I have to say that this footage, along with the recent reveal trailer for Advanced Warfare has really piqued my interest. In the E3 demo, exo-skeleton-clad soldiers were dropped into the streets of a futuristic Seoul, South Korea, where they proceeded to make their way to a target that needed destroying. On display was a wealth of advanced technology, from giant spider mech tanks, to jet packs, lasers and drone swarms. It still looks like the same COD many of us know and love/hate, but it definitely looks like this new setting will allow for some interesting gameplay innovations that the most recent iterations have been lacking.
Following the grisly, arm-severing of our COD protagonist, we were whisked along to hear Playground Games’ Ralph Fulton talk about Forza Horizon 2, which will be coming out for Xbox One on September 30th, 2014. Built on Forza 5‘s game engine, Forza Horizon 2 is another open-world spin-off that will feature a full day/night cycle, dynamic weather, and over 200 cars, all running at 1080p, 30fps. Personally, I didn’t feel that the gameplay trailer was too flashy. If you like Forza, you’ll like Horizon 2, that’s all there is to it really.
Next up was a quick trailer for Turtle Rock Studio’s 4-on-1, team-based monster hunter, EVOLVE, teasing us with the sight of a brand new Cthulu-esque monster to play as. This is the first we’ve seen of any new monsters beyond the one revealed in the debut trailers last year, so it’s good to see some of the variety we’ll get to experience. It was also revealed that Xbox One owners will get exclusive access to the EVOLVE beta and first-access to DLC, which is nice to hear.
Ubisoft’s Vincent Pont Briand was up next to talk about Assassins Creed: Unity. Confirming the rumours that have been flying about for the past couple of days, it was revealed that the forthcoming next-gen only title will have a 4-player co-op mode. In a brief game demo, four assassins were shown infiltrating a palace on the eve of the French Revolution to assassinate a target. Although it wasn’t completely clear whether this was a single set-piece mission or whether four friends will be able to freely roam throughout the entirety of the map, taking on multiple missions, I’m certainly intrigued about the prospect of a co-operative approach to AC and look forward to learning a bit more about it!
After being shown a new trailer for Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition – more of which will likely be shown at the EA Conference – Microsoft brought out their first exclusive of the day, Sunset: Overdrive. Already revealed with a bombastic CGI trailer at last year’s E3 Conference, Ted Price, founder and CEO of Insomniac Games, gave as a longer look at some of the gameplay to be found in this third-person, open-world, Fanta-styled shooter. I really enjoy the tone of this game, with the not-so-subtle humour – “Can you save them? Of course you can, it’s a fucking video game!” – but for some reason, every time I see gameplay footage, I can’t help but feel that it hasn’t got quite as much velocity and craziness as it should have. Obviously, I’m yet to play the game, so I’ll keep an open mind; it does still look like it will be fun, especially with the newly-revealed Chaos Mode, featuring 8-player co-op. As always, time will tell.
In keeping with the light-hearted tone, the conference swiftly moved on to a trailer for the (bare with me here) Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition, a new 4-player co-op arcade mode launching today for Dead Rising 3. To celebrate Capcom’s 31st Anniversary, gamers will be able to play as their favourite Capcom character while battling zombie hordes and giant bosses – there’s definitely a huge M. Bison zombie boss in there – in what looks like a ridiculously fun piece of DLC. I always enjoy it when game developers take a bit of a tongue-in-cheek approach to things like DLC and in this case it looks like Capcom have certainly hit that nail on the head.
Following up on this, Alex Rigopulos, head of Harmonix, came on stage to remind us that Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, the Kinect-powered rhythm game featuring a score of Disney classics, will be coming out on October 26th, 2014. He then proceeded to announce Dance Central: Spotlight, a new, digital-only iteration of the Dance Central franchise, coming out this September, that will supposedly be updated more regularly than previous games with the newest hit songs and artists. There is little else to say about this, really; it will very likely be in the same vein as the previous Dance Central games, but it’s nice to have it on the Xbox One, nonetheless.
We were then given a glimpse of some gameplay for Fable: Legends, the forthcoming entry in the Fable series from Lionhead featuring – you guessed it – 4-player co-operative gameplay. As far as the ‘goodies’ go, gameplay looks to be fairly standard for Fable, with perhaps a little more fluidity afforded by the breakdown into different classes. However, from the perspective of the player who gets to control the bad guy, this does look to be quite interesting, with the player being presented with a top-down, almost RTS-like, view of the battlefield to control their hordes of minions, set traps, and so on. The same Fable charm and humour seems to be present, as always, and this does look like it will be a fun little game. That being said, I have my doubts about the appeal and longevity of the game for those who are longing for a more traditional Fable tale.
A quick trailer for Microsoft’s Project Spark was up next, introducing some new features and, strangely enough, Conker the Squirrel. After this, we were treated to a look at Ori and the Blind Forest, a beautiful looking indie platformer title from Moon Studios. This goes hand-in-hand with the announcement of Playdead Studio’s Inside, another dark, child survival platformer from the minds behind Limbo. This was all part of Microsoft’s effort to highlight their commitment to bringing the indie experience to Xbox One, which also saw Chris Charla, the director of ID@Xbox introduce a great montage of all of the forthcoming indie games soon to be heading to Xbox One. I thought this was a great way of tackling Sony’s apparent dominance over the console indie scene head-on and I look forward to seeing all of these games arriving on the X1 over the coming couple of years.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Microsoft E3 Conference without some mention of the big MC. Bonnie Ross, Studio Head of 343 Industries, took to the stage to present a new CGI trailer for the recently-titled Halo 5: Guardians. But the big Halo news was the confirmation of the much-rumoured Halo: The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One, which will contain HD remakes of Halo 1-4, unified under a singe UI, with every campaign, and every single multiplayer map from the games (that’s over 100), as well as six all-new maps designed for the Xbox One release, all running on dedicated servers at 1080p, 60fps. Furthermore, as if that wasn’t enough, Ross also confirmed that the Collection will ship with beta access to Halo 5, as well as Ridley Scott’s Halo: Nightfall live-action series. All-in-all, a good show for fans of the Master Chief. I’m very pleased by this news, it will be great to be able to play through some of those old Halo classics in shiny HD and to experience the renowned multiplayer all over again. It would have been nice to have seen a little bit more of Halo 5, but we’ll undoubtedly hear more about that as we draw closer to its Autumn 2015 release date.
The next major announcement came in the form of a CGI trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, the follow-up to last year’s Tomb Raider reboot that looks set to explore some of the emotional repercussions faced by the new, vulnerable Lara Croft we were introduced to in 2013. Tomb Raider was a brilliant game, drawing heavily from the Uncharted series, and I definitely enjoyed playing it. I certainly can’t wait to see what this next game will bring to the table. Though there was nothing in the way of gameplay, this trailer alone has definitely got me excited!
CD Projekt Red were up next to give us a gameplay demonstration from The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, in which protagonist, Geralt, hunts a griffin throughout the forests and mountains of the fantastically beautiful open-world that they have created. I’ve never been too much of a fan of the Witcher games, but this definitely caught my eye and I will certainly be taking a greater look into it in the future.
Ken Lobb came on stage next to debut a trailer for Phantom Dust, a reboot of the pseudo-card-based action/strategy Xbox exclusive that came out in 2005. Honestly, I’ve never heard of this game, but it appeared to get a good reception in the conference hall. We’ll hear more about this in the future, no doubt.
One of the highlights of the conference was the chance to get another look at Ubisoft’s The Division, slated for a 2015 release. Looking as beautiful as it did in last year’s reveal, the game demo showed the online co-op shooter in action once again, as three Xbox gamers and one tablet player took part in a hectic shoot-out on the snowy streets of an empty, desruction-filled, New York City. I’m hoping this one doesn’t suffer the same hype-train-deflation that Ubisoft’s recent Watch_Dogs did, but for now, my hopes are high for this one!
Hideki Kamiya from Platinum Games took to the stage for the penultimate reveal of the show, Scalebound, a new Monster Hunter-esque title. Aside from the pretty cool CGI trailer, featuring, amongst many other monsters, a dragon and a hydra battling it out, little else was said about this game. It’ll be an Xbox One exclusive and it will be coming out in 2015. Platinum Games were responsible for some of the more interesting titles of the previous generation, so I’ll definitely keep my eye on this one.
Finally, to wrap up the night, it was announced that Xbox exclusive Crackdown will be getting a reboot/sequel in 2015. The CGI trailer, showing an epicly convoluted assassination, looked pretty cool. Hopefully Microsoft have learned from the poor reception that Crackdown 2 received and will be making amends with this release. I’ve never really cared much for Crackdown, so I’ll honestly probably give this a miss. But I’m sure the fans are pleased anyway!
And with that, the Microsoft Conference for 2014 came to a close. There were few surprises, but a very solid showing nonetheless, that proved that Microsoft have listened to their fans and truly are focusing on the games! So, what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below what you thought! Keep posted for coverage of the EA, Ubisoft, Sony and Nintendo conferences over the next two days as well as watching E3 live on Geek Pride!