This Monday, Microsoft kicked off the E3 hype train with their media briefing. Amazingly, Microsoft seemed to have gotten the message. Phil Spencer and the bunch made it clear that they were going to focus on the games, and by crikey, did they ever. Not once did they talk about the Kinect, except in passing.
The new direction of Microsoft seems to be one of forward, if not safe, progress. It was obvious they were still reeling from last year’s E3 conference. The shadow of Don Mattrick and talk of using the Xbox One as a “water cooler” still haunts MS, primarily in the form of losing two million unit sales to Sony. So this E3 was really Microsoft’s way of kissing a whole lot of ass. And to their credit, it worked.
We saw new stuff from so many different studios, it was a veritable damn rainbow of new games. Well, maybe half a rainbow. It’s hard to be colorful when you’re concentrating on dystopian environments and shady murderfests. A few of them were exclusive, but most were really just going to be released on the Xbox One first, or there were those three words every gamer hates: exclusive downloadable content.
Unfortunately, with all the backtracking and catch up they were forced to do because of last year, they weren’t really able to introduce anything that a) we already knew was coming or b) really knocked our socks off. We were given a big dose of nostalgia and familiarity, but behind the pretty cinematics, there just wasn’t a lot of originality. Microsoft’s strategy was essentially to shore up its fan base in an attempt to beat out Sony, and it just might work. Then again, it might not. To its credit and detriment, here are a few things they did right, and a few things they did wrong:
From the beginning, Xbox head Phil Spencer told the audience gathered in the darkened arena that this year, Xbox One would be “the best place to play games in this generation.” Boy howdy, did they ever set themselves in such a nice spot for that. There were several great titles mentioned and demoed at the briefing, and they all looked amazing, regardless of whether what was being showed was a live demo or a trailer. From Assassin’s Creed: Unity to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Dragon Age: Inquisition, they all looked amazing and in some cases, played beautifully. It was exciting to see, and as someone who has never owned an Xbox, it made me think about investing. It also helped me personally to see that Microsoft had learned its lesson from last year, and that Phil Spencer might just know what he’s doing.
While Microsoft did have a great swath of video games to show at their press conference, but there was just one little problem – they only had two exclusives to show. People just need to wait however long, because the length wasn’t established in most cases, to get the game for either PC or another console. While these games might be amazing experiences on the Xbox One, there’s no reason for a gamer to justify buying a new console for $400 when they can just wait a few weeks or months until it comes out for their system, when they can snatch it up for $60, especially when said gamer can only afford the one console, or hates Microsoft with a passion. Can I mention Don Mattrick one more time? Alright, last time. I promise.
The amount of independent games in the pipeline for Xbox was really exciting. From Ori and the Blind Forest to Guacamelee, the action game starring Mexican luchadores, indie was out in full force for MS’s briefing. They concentrated on the games, alright, and not just triple-A titles. The leader of their Indie branch, Chris Charla, was a walking ball of enthusiasm for their ID@Xbox program, promising an easy and painless way for aspiring developers to create games for the Xbox and Windows Phone platforms. I would have actually preferred a bit longer of a demonstration of those titles, to be honest, rather than the twenty-minute nostalgia fest that was exhibited when Halo Master Chief Collection was announced. Now if only the indie games featured would have been exclusive for the Xbox…
I mentioned that Xbox had a problem with exclusive games, and they do. However, worst part was that for all of the games that were not exclusive, most of those had exclusive downloadable content.
Kill me now.
This is a scenario when certain features of the game are held back and released only for copies on two systems. This is an old pet peeve, and a prime example of what happens when console makers want to get into a contest with one another. Somebody’s gotta do the work and it’s always the consumer.
There were a bunch of fantasy titles exhibited at Microsoft’s conference, like Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3, but the only exclusive to hit the Xbox One is an interesting title called Scalebound. The game is developed by Platinum Games, the same studio working on Bayonetta 2 for the WiiU. The trailer featured a rather cheesy-looking hero that for some reason looks like Dante from Devil May Cry’s snotty little nephew with a bright red pair of Beats headphones. He’s got this nifty-looking sword, and fights dragons for some reason. The cool thing about fighting the dragons is that he somehow absorbs their properties. In the trailer, he mounts a really scaly dragon and is somehow imbued with a rad suit of armor, which he uses to protect himself from a pretty awesome looking hydra. Pretty sweet.
Of the non-exclusive new games set to come out, at least 85% of them were continuations of previous intellectual properties: The Witcher, Halo, two Forza titles, Call Of Duty, Dead Rising DLC, Assassin’s Creed, Dragon Age, Fable. Now, I know it’s all well and good, and I know that sequels have been an industry norm for ages, but it was a veritable drought of new IP for Microsoft this time around. The well on several of those recognizable titles has gone dry ages ago, yet developers are still trying to find a way to make it profitable. I know it’s hard to, but as Hemingway said, “Kill your darlings.” Please?
Alright, so I know I'm being hypocritical here, saying that a third installment of a game is a good thing right after slamming Microsoft for their sequels. But let me ask you this – how many other sequel/reboots did we see where the regular, human-sized villain is killed by the regular, human-sized heroes throwing a building at him? Oh, the answer you came up with is none? I thought so. Sit back down.
Crackdown looks like an over-the-top first person shooter that will blow up everything and anything you come across. Kinda like Skyrim, if it had a threesome with Blade Runner and Borderlands. And I’ll state once more: They threw a building at a guy. Who wins? We do.
This Tuesday, Nintendo headed up their press conference with bunches and bunches of whimsy. However, they also made sure that the President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, was present for each segue of major content to be provided. Microsoft’s briefing saw several different heads of several different game companies coming out and talking about their own games. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want to see nothing but Phil Spencer's mug for ninety minutes, but come on, I’m pretty sure Chris Charla had more screen time. Instead of the “Microsoft Media Briefing” it was supposed to be, it turned into the “New Video Games To Be Released Trailer-a-thon (Featuring Microsoft).” I was more excited about the games than I was the fact that they were coming out for the Xbox One. Except of course, for…
Does this game look good. It’s like Serious Sam met Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, fell in love and a baby, then when that baby grew up, he got with Lollipop Chainsaw and this was their illegitimate love child.
Just go with it.
Anyway, the game looks like a rainbow puked on Dead Rising, and sounds like an episode of Jackass. There’s no shortage of it, and you play as Johnny Rotten or something. He’s punky and cool, just like this game is. It’s going to be an absolute orgy of killing zombies or mutants or whatever the hell with a ridiculous array of weapons, with a healthy dose of campy, irreverent humor. I’m in.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a big Halo dude. I played the first back when Halo 2 was out because it was only like ten bucks and I wanted to get something else to go along with my copy of Unreal Tournament. The sound was nice, the premise could have been good, but level design sucked. I think I played through the same bunker twelve times before the end of the game. When I was done, I was done with the series.
Bearing that in mind, I knew others had been waiting for Halo 5 for a while, so I was hoping there would be more news on it at this briefing. Imagine my surprise when instead of showing anything substantial, they decided to unveil Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
MS is shooting themselves in the foot with this – the mushy date for H5 is fall 2015. That will mean that their flagship console has gone for two years without an exclusive Halo title. You know, the title that actually made Xbox a household name in the first place? Anyway, it’s not all bad news, I guess. Those who get H:MCC get all four previous Halo titles, re-mastered, and the multiplayer maps from every single game as well(woo hoo). They are also granted guaranteed beta access to Halo 5 and access to a series produced by Ridley Scott (you know, the guy who did Alien? And Prometheus?).
Microsoft – well 343 Studios head Bonnie Ross – spent about twenty minutes talking about Halo, and in those twenty minutes, about eight seconds of it directly related to Halo 5. You know, what people actually wanted to see. The rest was a giant public apology cloaked in a polished up package because H5 wasn’t ready. Master Chief Collection is still going to move consoles, just nowhere near as fast as Microsoft needs to in order to keep up with Sony. Halo 5 might have given them that, but by the time it’s ready, Microsoft may have already lost yet another important battle with Sony – holiday 2014.