E3 Media Briefing Impressions: Microsoft

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Prior to Microsoft’s 2014 E3 show starting, there were nowhere near as many rumors flying around as usual.

In fact, the biggest story on Twitter was the electronic wristbands (see Josh’s photo below) that audience members were fitted with on admission.

A Don Mattrick-less E3 conference took some getting used to, and the acclimatization process was lengthened by a shocking bombshell: Microsoft would be focusing on games – not TV. Interlaced between his opening corporate talk and mandatory statements about how “humbled” they are by the fans, Phil Spencer promised wall-to-wall Xbox One titles. Did they deliver? Hell yeah.

Although, the first title showcased was very predictable. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was played on stage, whilst the continuation of the timed exclusivity on DLC was confirmed. At this point, I don’t think any PlayStation gamers are concerned by the news. The add-ons haven’t exactly had ‘must-buy’ status of late, so waiting a few weeks for it to appear on PSN is no big deal.

As far as the actual game goes, both versions will likely be identical. Advanced Warfare looks great and may well rejuvenate the series, but I personally find these 10-minute long mission walkthroughs very tedious. During an E3 presser where retaining engagement is so vital, it seems an awful waste of time.

Forza 5 followed, with an announcement that the Nurburgring would be available as a free download from today. This was greeted with cheers, but I was shocked to learn it wasn’t already on there. As one of the most famous and distinctive tracks on earth, any racer claiming to be serious or definitive should feature it – especially when many 360 titles (including Forza 3) did.

During this segment, the word “drivatar” was being used at least eight times per sentence, as Forza Horizon  2 – direct competitor to PS4‘s DriveClub – was shown off. It felt like I’d seen this conference a few times before, and every time that horrible mangling of words was used (if they were going to do it, it should have at least been “AvaCar”), I felt like taking a chainsaw to my wireless router.

Thankfully, the show improved. Assassin’s Creed: Unity was demoed with 4-player co-op. The visuals were simply gorgeous and I’m loving the Parisian setting. Admittedly, I lost interest in the series recently due to the regularity of releases, but this is looking very exciting.

In a world of soulless shooters and sequels, the next two games received a brilliant reception from the live audience and the online community. Sunset Overdrive is a major exclusive for Xbox One – and the hurt for PlayStation fans is two-fold.

Firstly, it’s shaping up to be an excellent game. Secondly, Insomniac Games used to be a studio synonymous with Sony; just think Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and Spyro.

Launching right in the middle of ‘crazy season’ on October 28th, Sunset Overdrive could be the breakout star of 2014. There’s always one new IP which captures the imagination to steal sales from the big guns. Oozing creativity, I’d back this game to do just that, thanks to the fluid gameplay and injection of color.

On the same theme, a light-hearted crossover between two of Capcom‘s finest franchises was revealed. Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha blends the titular zombie slayer with Street Fighter. It’s not a system seller, but tongue-in-cheek trailers like this (below) are always a winner.

Sticking to their word, Microsoft did well to avoid a Disney Fantasia/Dance Central/Kinect snorefest, by only briefly mentioning these ‘casual’ ventures. Perhaps targeting a similar audience however, Project Spark was next up. It’s essentially a ‘build-your-own’ game, which could be fantastic for kids. If marketed correctly (a concept Sony are seemingly incapable of grasping), I can see it being a hit.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection was then revealed, providing all four of the main titles on one disc. This is a system seller – and I’ll happily admit I’m one of those suckers who will purchase the console for this.

Yes, it sounds completely crazy. After all, some would argue this is the equivalent of buying a PS3 in 2009 purely for the God of War Collection. But this has seemingly been executed superbly. Every single map from each title will be on the disc at launch, all with dedicated servers.

With 2014 being the 10th anniversary of Halo 2, that title in particular will have the “full treatment”. Its predecessor already had a HD remake, whilst the others were on 360, so will presumably require less work.

Being able to jump into all my favourite game modes and maps from a decade’s worth of gaming is sure to be special, so I cannot wait for this. In addition, for all the achievement hunters, this will have 4000 GamerScore and you can be sure that fact alone will stupidly sell many copies.

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At the other end of the spectrum, [email protected] was the next focus of today’s presser. Microsoft have imitated Sony‘s impressive indie ventures, realizing the need to make a big play in this field.

The headline boasts will be those of free dev kits, but the seedy underbelly – i.e. when it comes to hidden costs and how profits are split – will undoubtedly be kept relatively under wraps. The main concern from developers at the moment (and the reason many choose PlayStation over Xbox) will need to be addressed before this becomes anything for Sony to worry about.

Some significant titles hitting in 2015 were revealed to close out the show, beginning with Rise of the Tomb Raider. Lara Croft was shown in therapy, trying to recover from the events of last year’s series reboot. Suffice it to say, the game looked brilliant, though elements of the footage seemed similar to the Beyond: Two Souls reveal of two years back.

Phantom Dust was a more unexpected return, but garnered a similar positive response from most gamers. Platinum GamesXbox exclusive, Scalebound, was the penultimate announcement of a packed show.

Finally, we were treated to the return of Crackdown. The original was perhaps my most-played game of the previous generation. Not only was it a solid action game with a personality, the sublime sandbox title set the bar for the likes of Just Cause 2 and inFamous: Second Son, when it comes to that time-sink mentality.

The experience of collecting those glowing orbs will haunt many a gamer for decades. Today’s trailer wasn’t overly special, but just hearing talk of ‘The Agency’ was enough to raise anticipation levels through the roof.

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Overall, this was a strong showing from Microsoft. They recognized the dis-Kinect (sorry) gamers felt at recent E3 conferences and addressed the situation well.

There was no talk of television or apps, no celebrity appearances, no Skype video calls. It was just about games, which is what we all want. Interestingly though, there was absolutely no mention of the 360, which suggests – similarly to the original Xbox in 2005 – Microsoft is ready to pull the plug soon.

If I was forced to score the performance, I’d opt for a 7.5. Sony could top it tonight with ease, but that almost doesn’t matter. ‘Winning’ E3 is overrated and an overused, clichéd concept in the grand scheme of a platform holder’s strategy. This show didn’t propel Xbox One past, or indeed anywhere near, PS4, but it did create a very solid foundation for the future.

Written by Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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  • Keith Dunn

    Oh my gosh, Raj. This recap is MARVELOUS! Extremely well-written and interesting. MORE interesting than the actual event, in fact. Microsoft should hire YOU to run their show!

  • SEGA_FAN_KAIN

    Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive and Halo Master Chief Collection won E3 even if the idea of winning E3 is stupid. And that’s just this year. Halo 5 next will win again in 2015 along with everything else teased.

  • Ultima-X

    I’d give them a silver star. Better than last year (even though that might not be saying much).

  • Ω GUNTZ

    get that microsoft crap outta here