A humble showing from Big Green
It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago that we caught our first glimpse of next-gen consoles. Microsoft took one on the chin last year with the unveiling of the Xbox One, a system that seemed to contain just about everything that nobody really wanted. Microsoft has spent the last year scrambling to play catch up, reversing a lot of their early promises and falling more in line with what Sony’s been doing with the Playstation 4.
As such, the Microsoft at this E3 was a more humble Microsoft. More personable. It was all about “My Favorite Game”, as the presentation was frequently inter-cut with developer interviews as they discussed favorite game characters, longest play sessions, and yes, their favorite games, even if they weren’t on Microsoft consoles. It also seemed a little more desperate, perhaps taking a page from Nintendo’s notebook of giving fans exactly what they want.
The presentation leaned hard on well-worn franchises, opening with a look at Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It looks a lot like Call of Duty, but now prettier, and in the future. A lot of emphasis was paid to the upcoming “Master Chief Collection“. Featuring Halo 1-4 on a single disc, The Master Chief Collection aims to seamlessly retell Master Chief’s entire story leading up to the release of “Halo 5: Guardians” next year. No gameplay footage of Guardians was shown at the event, though there seems to be the suggestion that Master Chief’s time in the spotlight might be coming to a close. The Master Chief Collection will also feature well over 100 multiplayer maps, to quote: “Every map ever released, on their original engines, at 1080p.” Cross-game playlists mean that you can hop between maps from all included games with no interruptions. An on-stage demo of Halo 2‘s visually remastered multiplayer was given, and yup, it certainly looks like Halo 2. Crowds cheered for the unchanged, decade-old multiplayer mode.
The lack of gameplay footage from Halo 5: Guardians was seemed to be one of the themes of the show, as many other games debuted as pre-rendered CG, such as “Rise of the Tomb Raider“, the continuation to last year’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. A new Crackdown was also unveiled through pre-rendered CG, as Agents brought down a skyscraper to take down a notorious gang lord. Also on offer was a revival of the Original Xbox game Phantom Dust. Hideki Kamiya of Platinum Games (Bayonetta) took the stage to reveal a CG trailer for the Xbox One-exclusive Scalebound, a game where a smarmy white-haired teen battles and commands massive dragons using a magical suit of armor. Knowing Kamiya, it wouldn’t surprise me if the kid’s half dragon himself.
A gameplay demonstration of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was on offer, following Geralt as he tracked down a legendary gryphon. Using Geralt’s Witcher senses, the player can easily pick up a monster’s trail and follow it throughout the environment, which is quite lush and detailed. You may have seen forests in videogames before, but none have looked this natural. There’s a density to the trees and the foliage that’s just… hard to describe, I guess. Early on in the demonstration Geralt wounds the gryphon, and using a special vision mode (think Detective Vision from Batman), he follows its blood trail through the woods until eventually confronting and beheading the creature. Impressive stuff.
Four-player co-op seemed to be another big theme, between showings of Evolve, the next game from Turtle Rock Studios (the original creators of Left 4 Dead). A team of four rag-tag misfits must track and kill an alien that is hunting them from the shadows. Fable Legends allows four friends to join up and go questing together in the Fable universe, with plenty of ways to team up and mix abilities in interesting ways. But new to Fable Legends is the ability to play as the game’s villain, and as the villain you see the world as a top-down strategy game, not unlike the ZombiU’s multiplayer mode from a couple years ago, or the old “Zombie Master” mod for Half-Life 2.
Ubisoft had quite a showing, providing the first in-game look at the co-op-focused Assassin’s Creed: Unity, where up to four players tackle assassination missions together as a team. Ubisoft also gave another look at The Division, though that demonstration was quite clearly staged, with lots of actors trying their best to sound anything like what a real online co-op game would. Visually, The Division looks like it might be one of the most graphically impressive next-gen games at the show, with lots of drop-dead gorgeous lighting, smoke, and environmental effects. Gameplay-wise, it looks like a third-person cover based shooter. You can probably fill in the blanks from there.
Sunset Overdrive made a new appearance, with a CG-only trailer that painted itself as an irreverent cure for the military shooter, where you play as a smug hero saving the world from energy drink mutants. Gameplay looks like a blend between Sega’s Jet Set Radio and Sony’s Infamous, with grind rails, traversal and lots of crazy guns. Capcom also unveiled Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha, a DLC pack for the original Dead Rising 3 that adds four player co-op in a new mission full of references to older Capcom games. Dead Rising games were always sort of wacky, but this DLC looks to take things to the next level, with hyper-saturated colors, over-the-top weapons, and huge monsters.
Microsoft also flexed their indie muscle, with a quick montage of all the independent games they’re supporting through their ID@Xbox initiative, including Cuphead, a 2D brawler inspired by 1930’s cartoons, and recent Kickstarter success story, Hyper Light Drifter. Smartphone sensation Threes is also coming to the Xbox One, just in case you ever wanted to play that on a TV for some reason.
In general, Microsoft paid lip service to those who helped them get to where they are today, and you couldn’t help but feel there was a slight tinge of an apology in all of that. Microsoft clearly knows that they made some wrong moves, and they’re still trying to right their course and get back on track. And while nothing at this show especially blew me away, these days it’s probably good enough news that they didn’t screw anything else up. Not bad, Microsoft. Not bad at all.