E3 2014: Xbox One gets raft of new games
Microsoft needed a strong conference. While the Xbox One had a moderately successful launch — selling over 4 million — of more concern to the Redmond giant was the lead that rival Sony has established with the PlayStation 4.
Seven million and counting. If PlayStation stretches ahead any further, the Xbox One could be in danger of withering support from developers. Microsoft had already made moves to spark sales, offering a package that didn’t include the Kinect 2.0 sensor in order to drive their hefty price tag down. But they needed more. They needed games.
And games they had. Xbox’s new supremo, Phil Spencer, promised that the briefing would be dedicated entirely to games, moving away from the Xbox One’s initial reveal as an all-in-one entertainment box.
As is often the case, the conference opened with a look at the new Call of Duty, a drop of smashing into a city under siege. It was as loud and boisterous as you might expect but, with Advanced Warfare being developed for next-gen for the first time, it impressed with its detail and lighting. Plenty of familiar blasting was to follow, but there was some neat futuristic quirks to the formula with homing grenades and suits enabling double jumps. More than a whiff of Titanfall movement, but placed into Call of Duty’s cinematic bombast.
That other grand staple of E3 conferences was next: cars. Forza Horizon 2, sequel to the excellent open-world racer. Game direct Ralph Fulton revealed the game will be out as soon as September 30 and will feature online clubs and use the ‘drivatar’ feature from Forza Motorsport 5.
Briefly back to shooting, with 2K’s multi-platform Evolve, a four on one multiplayer games of humans v one gargantuan monster. If there was an early issue for the Xbox conference, it was the use of multi-platofrm games rather than exclusives. Forza is only on Xbox One, but CoD, Evolve and the next game up, Assassin’s Creed Unity will all be released on PlayStation 4.
Unity looked terrific, however, the Assassin’s Creed series moving to Paris during the French Revolution. If one thing is clear, developers have moved on from leading on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to create some beautiful visuals. The twist to Assassin’s Creed usual sneak and sprint gameplay is that you can now carry out kills in four player online co-op, which could be an interesting shot in the arm for the series.
And Assassin’s Creed swords gave way to another blade-filled multi-platform game, BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. The fantasy RPG will release on October 7.
Now here was a platform exclusive, and a new IP at that. Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive. Another shooter,but a colour-filled one with, shock horror, a sense of humour. The game has you grinding rails like a skateboarder, blasting mutants with exotic weaponry which flashes up comic-book styled onomatopoeia. It looks a lot of fun and arguably the best game of the conference.
Microsoft may have decided to no longer make Kinect mandatory with every Xbox One purchase, but the camera hasn’t been totally forgotten. With short lip service payed to Disney’s Fantasia and a new Dance Central, the digital-only Spotlight. It wasn’t the biggest cheer of the day, but it made me happy, Dance Central’s great.
Fable Legends came next, with Microsoft hitting a comfortable rhythm with Xbox exclusive titles. Fable was pretty, utilising a dungeon master style competitive mode which has one player assigning enemies to take on a group of hero players. Looked fun, if a touch repetitive, so will be interesting to see how that turns out.
While up until this point there hadn’t been any real surprises, there was a nice diversity in the titles. Project Spark, Microsoft’s expanding game-creator, had an airing before the gorgeous looking Ori and the Blind Forest had a brief trailer. With an interesting use of light and dark in a fantasy forest, I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Time to get back to blockbusters. One of the biggest, in fact, with a teaser of Halo 5: Guardians scheduled for next year. Then the expected Halo: Master Chief collection was revealed, featuring Halos 1-4 on one disc. For many it will be difficult to get too excited about re-releases of games they would have played to death, but it could be a small masterstroke from Microsoft, tempting those who have yet to buy an Xbox with four extremely good sci-fi shooters. The collection will be out on November 11. Significantly, it was also announced that the collection will come with a Halo 5 Guardians multiplayer beta, which will undoubtedly boost sales for the experienced looking forward to the new game.
Then we saw the new game from Playdead Studios, developer of Limbo. Inside looks like another intriguing 2D puzzler with a dark theme. Independent games took centre stage for a while, Microsoft looking to claw back another form of ground lost on Sony with their ID@Xbox program, which allows developers to self-publish on Xbox One. Some terrific looking games were on show, Microsoft making all the right moves in an arena they had fallen behind on. The animated Cuphead and Capybara Games’ Below particularly catching the eye.
Then we had an announcement and trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, follow-up to the excellent Lara Croft reboot, and some sizzling gameplay from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, an announcement of a Phantom Dust reboot and some gameplay from Ubisoft’s The Division.
This was good stuff from Microsoft, with decent variety. Though it was strong rather than spectacular, perhaps needing a real wow moment. Then they started to come. First the creator of Bayonetta, Hideki Kamiya revealed Scalebound a super-charged action game, and Realtime Worlds announced they are making Crackdown 3. While not entirely a surprise, the confirmation of a new Crackdown, a game that could be credited with influencing many of the open-world games of the last generation, is a huge boost for the Xbox One. Though some gameplay rather than a pre-rendered trailer would have been nice.
Still, it was a strong full stop to a very good conference. Microsoft may be behind, but it’s not giving up without a fight.