E3 2015: Microsoft Media Briefing Impressions


Microsoft produced one of their most surprising E3 conferences to date in a solid, though not quite spectacular, showing.

The much-touted rumors which had been circulating in recent months did not come to fruition – there was no hardware revision, nor was there a further price drop. Last week’s launch of a 1TB unit (along with a ‘matte’ finish over ‘gloss’, and a controller featuring a 3.5mm headphone jack) is as far as the 2015 console changes go.

This was instead a presser about AAA blockbusters, a smattering of indie titles, another new controller and one huge shocker in terms of new features.

The Washington-based giant kicked off proceedings in a familiar manner, with Halo 5: Guardians. After the debacle that was the Master Chief Collection, many gamers are still feeling bitter towards the franchise. Personally, I’d rather they fully fixed an existing game, before touting another $60 outlay.

Monday’s showing did little to get us back on board the Halo hype-train. It looks like a conventional modern FPS – there was no special or jaw-dropping moment – with plenty ‘borrowed’ from other titles. If anything, it needs to be truer to its roots.

Following Halo was something much more unique. Keiji Inafune’s intriguing new IP – ReCore – is exclusive to Xbox One, launching in Spring 2016. It certainly carries shooting elements via the protagonist, but the blue orb is the most interesting aspect. At first fuelling her trusty sidekick, the orb is then placed into another robot, which could make for an enjoyable and ever-changing mechanic:

Next came the biggest shock of the day: the Xbox One is backwards compatible. Well, kind of. Starting from this Christmas season, 360 titles can be played on the current console via digital downloads.

If you already own a game on Xbox Live, it can simply be re-downloaded on the newer system. For any discs, Microsoft suggested that when the disc is inserted into the Xbox One, it will grant a digital copy. Once the initial joy subsided, this presents an obvious problem. Not every 360 game is available digitally, which presumably means a chunk of your disc collection will not function on the Xbox One.

However, it’s still a brilliant move for former 360 gamers. A lot of stellar titles are available and they’ll still be playable online against 360 owners, but with added extras such as video capture. It also allowed Microsoft to take a dig at Sony’s PlayStation Now – “We won’t charge you to play the games you already own,” they said on stage.

The aforementioned customisable controller was then announced. The ‘Elite’ features a changeable set of sticks, nine-way D-pad (perfect for Street Fighter… oh, sorry) and rear buttons. Apparently offering “pro-level performance”, this is undoubtedly Microsoft’s way of cutting into the profitable modded controller aftermarket:

[Update: After the show, the product page for the ‘Elite’ went live, with an eye-watering $150 / £130 price tag. It still takes AA batteries.]

Fallout 4, which featured heavily at Bethesda’s own conference on Sunday evening, was also paraded on Xbox. Visually, this doesn’t look great, but the gameplay will no doubt hook fans of the franchise for countless hours.

The biggest announcement (I’m reliably informed, at least) is the fact that PC mods for the game can be transferred to Xbox One. Lastly, a message flashed on screen for a moment (but was not referred to) that a download of Fallout 3 (360) would be included with the game.

Peter Moore then arrived for possibly the shortest of his annual appearances. His brief time on stage was centred on EA Access, reiterating the features it offers, such as early downloads of Madden 16 and Need for Speed. He ‘revealed’ Titanfall was joining the vault (though many gamers discovered it on the Xbox Live marketplace during the weekend) and that Dragon Age: Inquisition would join the $40-a-year service later this summer. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 rounded off EA’s showing.

Microsoft began their Forza 6 talk by lowering a Ford GT from the ceiling, before bringing Henry Ford III on stage for the standard one line on how delighted he was to be partnering with Turn 10. The new title will likely be a very good racer, but this former Forza fanatic is completely fatigued with the franchise at this point.

It’s the third Forza (fourth if you were to include the downloadable Forza: Fast & Furious 7) on the young Xbox One. The series has been fully milked now; it needs a break, not annualisation. Turn 10 were keen to show off their latest work nonetheless, which includes features such as “wet weather”. Get me that pre-order link now!

Dark Souls III followed – though surely will not be exclusive to Xbox – with a launch window of early 2016. Ubisoft strolled on stage next to provide an update on The Division, which fell of the face of the earth last year. This is one that (as with all Tom Clancy titles) I’m very much looking forward to; it doesn’t seem overly unique, but for some reason it simply ‘clicks’ with me. The studio also showed off Rainbow Six: Siege once again and, similarly to Fallout, both Rainbow Six: Vegas outings are bundled with the new game.

Gigantic, a cartoony action game, instigated a shift away from the blockbuster focus. At first it had me interested, purely because it was colorful and not ‘just another FPS’. That was until three words appeared: ‘free to play’. Or, most likely, ‘pay to win’.

An indie sizzle reel then began, transitioning into the [email protected] portion of the event. It was stated that more than 1000 developers were signed up to the programme, with a new feature of game previews being announced. Similar to some PC titles, this will let gamers trial and purchase an early version of indie games, contributing opinions for the final build. However, this segment will only be remembered for the classic line from the Day Z developer of, “I want a game that isn’t a game”. Stealing the indie show though, with a lovely old animation style, was Cuphead:

Xbox’s “holiday 2015 exclusive”, Rise of the Tomb Raider, looked very good, though strangely reminiscent of another game. The opening section, involving ice picks, reminded me of Modern Warfare 2’s first mission – albeit with more bombast and set piece. I’m not sure which part of that sentence is more surreal. Anyway, the game is looking pretty impressive but will of course eventually make its way to PS4. One detail of note was the release date. It’s pencilled in for November 10th – the same day as Fallout 4.

The worst kept secret of the last week, the Rare HD collection – titled Rare Replay – was up next. Aside from the headline Banjo titles, the set spans 30 games, with everything from Battletoads to Viva Pinata. Predictably, one of the main selling points is “earn 10,000 GamerScore!” This collection will introduce many young gamers to Rare for the first time, which is a sad state of affairs. Since Microsoft bought the studio, they’ve all but killed it off; placed on projects such as Xbox Avatars. Finally, Rare is being shown the light of day:

VR is ‘the new hotness’, so it was inevitable Microsoft would be mentioning it. A partnership with Valve VR was met with a strange applause; after moments of awkward silence, some of the audience clapped politely until it turned into a rapturous reception. HoloLensMicrosoft’s own ‘everyday’ VR which was shown during the Windows 10 reveal – has now presented gaming applications. The Minecraft demo shown was simply superb, presenting a window into the insanely fascinating potential of the device.

Rounding off the Xbox E3 presser was the 360’s first premier title: Gears of War. Another leaked project, Gears Ultimate Edition, was confirmed. This up-ressed remake will launch on August 25th, with a beta for it going live today. This preceeded the reveal of Gears 4, which looks very samey. Though the franchise was fresh and unique when it first appeared, the style of gameplay has been done to death now. It should be a solid title, but from the action shown, I can’t see it being the Xbox One’s savior (if it needed one):

Overall, Microsoft’s 2015 E3 conference never hit the canvas, connected with plenty of small punches, but didn’t quite land that knockout blow. There wasn’t anything ‘bad’ in the showing whatsoever; it all looked middling to decent. The biggest criticism one could level would be the reliance upon repetitive ‘AAA’ franchises. They also chose to hold back some big hitters – “Crackdown, Quantum Break… and new IPs” – for GamesCom, which is fine by this European.

It was rather refreshing that there was zero mention of either Call of Duty or Kinect. The former is possibly now bed partners with PlayStation, ending the long association of timed exclusive DLC on Xbox, but the latter omission was even more surprising. I’d have expected at least one mention of the device in the 90 minutes of chatter and gameplay.

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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