Microsoft’s E3 Briefing – Report and Analysis

A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

In this metaphor, I’m Richard III, the horse is the smattering of genuinely good-looking games unveiled at Microsoft’s E3 press conference this year, and the Battle of Bosworth Field is the amount of big question marks still hanging over the Xbox One. Here’s the Cubed Gamers report on proceedings.

Safe to say, none of us were quite expecting the variety or number of games showcased at Microsoft’s conference. Opening with a complete sideswipe by demonstrating Metal Gear Solid V was a move few anticipated, and the traditionally Sony-based series has done some growing up since Metal Gear Solid IV hit PS3 back in 2008. In place of relatively small or linear environments, you’ll be stealthing it up in, among others, an open-world desert environment, featuring horses, sheep and, er, trucks you can hide in. Still wearing the subtitle of The Phantom Pain, it’s safe to say that without spoiling too much, it’s going to be about Liquid Snake. Don’t worry. He’s ‘armless.

There was some news about Xbox Live announced next, chief among which was the fact that existing members are now going to receive two free games a month in exchange for their £39.99 yearly subscription fee. It’s hard to think where they got the idea for this, until you engage first gear on your brain and realise that they stole the whole concept from Sony, who have been doing this sort of thing for years with their PlayStation Plus program. Good to see the endless circle of theft continues unabated.

Accompanied by a typically generic metal soundtrack was the trailer for World of Tanks, the freemium game that’s been such a hit of late. Curiously, it was announced as an Xbox 360 rather than an Xbox One game, which may provide some problems in a few months when backwards compatibility is inevitably not included. Danish studio Press Play also got a word in by announcing Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, a fun looking indie platformer that should help bolster the Xbox indie credentials.

For fans of self-flagellation, you’ll be able to return to gaming’s toughest current challenge in Dark Souls II, which we’re assuming will be a multiplatform release. It’s a curious choice for a title, given that it’s the second sequel to Demon’s Souls and thus ought to be called Demon’s Souls III, but whatever, games don’t exactly follow a logical sequel title structure. Look at Soul Calibur.

The next big game was Ryse: Son of Rome, which can in essence be described as Rome of Duty. The player is a Roman general stomping on the enemy of the day. However, one should not dismiss it too quickly. The graphics, which I initially thought were pre-rendered, are very impressive and although an over-reliance on quick-time events and a scripted Testudo moment rather marred the appearance of the combat, it’s rather gratifying to see a game explore a period of history which for odd reasons considering its rather abundant wars, hasn’t had nearly as much representation in gaming as it deserves. It all looks rather fascistic to be honest, but hey, Gears of War sold well. Here’s a trailer:

Ah, Killer Instinct. The fighting series returned to rather a rapturous reception during the midpoint of the show, accompanied by a shockingly casual rape gag from one of the players on stage towards his female opponent. So that was nice. Honestly, I can’t say much about Killer Instinct. I’ve never liked fighting games that aren’t Super Smash Bros., I’m never going to play it, but that’s not because it’s necessarily bad, it’s just not my thing. Make up your own minds, will you? I’m not a bloody critic. Oh, wait…

Next up was Sunset Overdrive, a madcap open-world adventure from Insomniac Games (you remember them, they did Ratchet and Clank) which for all the world looks like someone took Mirror’s Edge and covered it with the art style from Jet Set Radio. If you think that sounds like the best thing in the world, you are very much correct. Zipwires. Brightly coloured environments. A gun that shoots LPs. Yes please, Insomniac. Have yourselves a merry little trailer:

Forza Motorsport 5. Yawn. A car came out of the stage, which is flashy but absolutely nothing to do with the game. It has a rather cool AI that learns your behaviours and shares them with your friends, allowing a sort of single-player multiplayer. Other than that though, sports and fighting games ain’t me specialties, so I’ll let you make up your own mind on this one.

Phil Harrison, who famously has shilled both Sony and Microsoft products over the years, appeared to say that nobody was giving as much attention to indie developers as Microsoft. Pausing briefly to catch his breath after the subsequent laughing fit, he introduced us to Minecraft: Xbox One edition. Now, I hate to poop on Phil’s parade (or however that metaphor goes) but given Microsoft have already erected an enormous granite middle finger to anyone audacious enough to want to play Xbox 360 games on their Xbox One, it seems a little rich to expect them to pay again for a product they not only have on their perfectly functional console, but also could download for free on PC.

Quantum Break was next, attempting to marry cinematic presentation with real-time gameplay in much the same way David Cage and Quantic Dream have been attempting to do. The game seems to be about time travel – or, rather, the lack thereof. The cinematic we were shown features a woman (who looks a hell of a lot like Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite, now that I mention it) being rescued by our protagonists. Long story short, it’s excellent to see innovation in game design and even if the finished product doesn’t meet expectations, it’s an encouraging sign to have a return to storytelling in games the likes of which we haven’t seen since the adventure game bubble burst in the late Nineties.

Following that, we had the announcement of the episodic cel-shaded horror title D4, by auteur game designer Swery65, creator of Deadly Premonition. This is of course nothing like the cel-shaded horror title Killer7, by auteur game designer Suda51. Still, it opens with a gunfight on a plane, which if movies have taught me anything, is, I believe, rather a bad idea. Given that I love horror games, think episodic gaming is a fantastic idea and adore cel-shaded graphics, there’s very little chance I won’t be picking this one up. Look out for more details as they emerge, but for now have some traileriffic love.

Going in the middle of a presentation is never an easy trick to pull off but my god did the developers of Project Spark manage it. Making use of Smartglass (remember that from last year?) to deliver a touch-screen interface, Project Spark gives players simple tools for creating their own games. One imagines it will be a sort of 3D LittleBigPlanet, which given the creative tools present in that game is a very exciting concept indeed. Terraforming, biomes, textures and game mechanics will all be in the hands of the player, enabling them to create towns, rivers, mountains, valleys and deserts as they please. Excitingly, all the objects in the game have a ‘brain’ – programmable AI that will let thousands of gamers around the world experience the joy of creative two enormous mobs of bunnies and hurling them at one another in a brutal fight to the death. Or maybe that’s just me.

After some announcements on Xbox Live (TwitchTV streaming, paving the way for hundreds of horrible Let’s Plays, a removal of the 100-friend cap and the dropping of Microsoft Points) we saw yet another game announcement, this time from Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futatsugi. Crimson Dragon is, well, very Japanese. It’s a rail shooter, it’s got a very bombastic visual style and it’s got dragons in it. Why, Microsoft, do you insist on showing off games in genres with which I am not familiar? Also, that sentence was incredibly hard to parse, so if you’re a grammar Nazi you can very well leave me alone.

Anyway, moving on from my minor breakdown over having to cover the Microsoft conference, there was Dead Rising 3, which seems to feature locations that aren’t a mall this time. Opening with what might have appeared to be stealthy mechanics like cover and flashlights, the trailer soon descended into running over hordes of zombies with a car. We’ve missed you, old friend. In an interesting twist, you can now combine most items into weapons, as opposed to the relatively limited scope of Dead Rising 2‘s improvised whacking sticks. Have a trailer to break up the text wall.

The Witcher 3! It’s a Western RPG with boobs and swords! Moving right bloody on!

Battlefield 4 was always going to be a big title of the show (and was shown at EA’s briefing as well – you’ll be hearing about that on Friday) but Microsoft’s attempt at showing it off did not go tremendously well. A couple of minutes of screwing with technology later, we were treated to a glimpse of the single-player campaign, fighting off invaders on the deck of a sinking aircraft carrier. By the way, what is it with recent shooters and combat on naval vessels? Black Ops II had almost the exact same mission, Modern Warfare 3 put you in a submarine and one can only assume Call of Duty Ghosts will have you fist fighting on the battleship Yamato.

In all honesty, the game doesn’t look tremendously different to Battlefield 3 because it’s running on the same engine, so save some slightly higher resolution textures we won’t see much difference in the games until we’ve got a controller or keyboard in our hands, but it’s safe to say that the only modern shooter to appeal to us has the team very impressed so far.

Next we had a bit of a weird trailer featuring a hooded figure traipsing through the desert in the midst of a sandstorm. One could almost have been forgiven for thinking that Microsoft had managed to wrangle a license for Journey, which would have been interesting. But then the Halo logo rose out of the desert and the figure was revealed to be Master Chief. It was a new Halo game. Obviously. What a fool I was a day or so ago. Halo Spartan Assault will launch for Xbox One next year.

And finally we got down to the meat of it. When the console is launching and when. Want to know? Do you? Well, fine.

  • Launching November 2013 in 21 markets.
  • $499US, €499 or £429.

Well that all seems to be in order – wait, what? Four Hundred and Twenty Nine Pounds Sterling? Are they kidding us? Well, evidently not. The PS3 launched at £425 and that crippled its sales for three years in the UK. Moreover, there is very little justification for the price disparity. £429 is equivalent to $670, a markup of around a third for the crime of living in Britain. We can take some small comfort from the fact that our European friends will be paying a similarly outrageous price, but it hardly seems fair. We’ll be calling the winner of E3 at the end of the week, but for now you can have this little titbit – for that kind of cash, it isn’t going to be Microsoft.

In fairness to them, it was a pretty competent presentation. The games shown were varied and many, plenty of them had never been seen before and it left us with a lot to be excited about. Where Microsoft failed was in not addressing the many deep issues with their system – the heavily restrictive DRM, high price tag and creepy always-online and always-listening elements to its architecture. Until these issues are addressed, many of us in the gaming sphere will remain deeply concerned about the level of intrusion inherent in the console.

Wait, what’s that? A multiplayer shooter with mechs called Titanfall? Well never bloody mind then!

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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I’m also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.

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