E3 2013 / Games

Microsoft at E3 2013: Hindered Success

So E3 2013 has just about wound to a close after several hectic press conferences unveiling new consoles, new technologies and a plethora of new gaming experiences for the years yet to come. Naturally, however, it was the slew of information surrounding the latest hardware from Sony and Microsoft that garnered the most attention, and it is with the former that I will start my E3 coverage this year.

e32013-image-02I’m not going to mention every single game and piece of information from Microsoft’s conference because a post approaching six thousand words probably wouldn’t be terribly appealing. But I will focus on some of the larger, more discussion-worthy elements that were talked about over the course of the 90-minute-ish event.

Also, in the days ahead I will hopefully be discussing the unveilings that occurred during Ubisoft’s, EA’s and Sony’s press conferences in a similar vein to what you’ll see here, so check back if you’re interested. (I doubt I’ll be covering Nintendo this year simply because they didn’t have a traditional conference and there really isn’t anything there for me to be interested in, I’m afraid.)

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

We’ll start off exactly where Microsoft started: the confirmation (and debut gameplay footage) of Metal Gear Solid 5, and how the franchise is finally making an appearance on a non-Sony platform.

I will freely admit that Metal Gear Solid has never been a franchise I have particularly gotten on with over the years. I generally find it tricky to get on with any stealth games, so it’s just never really appealed to me. That being said, the gameplay footage they demonstrated at the conference looked fairly interesting–like a blend of Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption with the open-world nature of titles like Far Cry and even GTA. Things like a ‘realistic passage of time’ and ‘real-time weather’ all sound like solid concepts in a game of this nature…if they pull them off correctly.

In terms of using the game to open Microsoft’s conference, I don’t think it was a bad idea. Evidently, stealing away a franchise that’s been exclusive to Sony for such a long time is a fairly big deal and one worth mentioning, but I doubt it’ll be a console seller considering it’s highly unlikely to not be exclusive. Still, for somebody who’s never been compelled or interested in Metal Gear Solid in the past, it still managed to capture my attention.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Oh dear, what do we have here? Ryse is an Xbox One exclusive developed by Crytek, most famous for the Crysis series, and it has (read: had) all the makings of an exciting, interesting game. I mean, when does the idea of stepping into the boots of a Roman General and slashing, stabbing and mauling your way through hordes of enemies sound tedious? Rarely. But unfortunately, from watching the gameplay demonstration in Microsoft’s conference, it looks as though all degree of challenge and even player control has been thrown out of the window in favour of spectacle.

e32013-image-03It shouldn’t be a surprise that Ryse is a stunning-looking game; Crytek, and the Crysis series, are famous for eye-bleedingly powerful graphics in their games. But while the games are technologically impressive, the gameplay is sometimes where they stutter. Ryse, then, looks as though it might be following in the same vein.

If there are two complaints I have from watching the gameplay footage it would be the fact that the combat, as cinematic and spectacular as it may appear, doesn’t look to be even the least bit challenging. Also, the excessive use of quick-time events is, well, excessive. QTEs are not a good substitution for strong, fluid, rewarding combat, and while they help to add to the game’s cinematic style (as evident with Ryse), they are always best used in moderation. Crytek, unfortunately, don’t seem to have fully learned that just yet.

Still, I’m not going to lambast the game too much because it is possible that the QTEs shown in the footage were optional. (The injured enemies had icons hovering over their heads, so it’s entirely possible that you can finish them off without engaging in a QTE.) Ryse does have all the makings of an exciting game, and most of that comes from the concept alone, so it’s worth keeping an eye on in that regard. Also, Ryse has been confirmed to be an Xbox One launch title, so I think it’ll be successful with that in mind.

Xbox 360

While the majority of Microsoft’s press conference was understandably dedicated to the Xbox One, the Xbox 360 still managed to get a look-in. Three games were announced for the console over the coming months (on top of the titles already on the way from many different publishers): Dark Souls 2, World of Tanks and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Microsoft stated that the Xbox 360 will have “hundreds” of titles launching on the system in the next year, and on that topic, we get to the latest redesign of the console.

Yep, Microsoft announced–and unveiled–a newer model of the Xbox 360 that’s slimmer and supposedly quieter, and it’s available right now. It also features a design similar to the Xbox One, perhaps indicating Microsoft’s intentions for the Xbox 360 to not die a quick death and instead sit alongside the Xbox One with a unified design scheme. I’m being honest, however, I don’t see much purpose for such a new design this late in the game, even if the system will still be supported for a long time to come.

e32013-image-02On top of that, Microsoft also announced a new incentive for Xbox Live Gold members. Starting from now with Fable 3 available on the marketplace for free, Gold members will be given two free titles every month until the end of the year, with next month’s offerings being Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3.

I know, I know, I can hear your cries about how Microsoft is copying Sony already. It’s fairly obvious where the inspiration came from when Microsoft decided to concoct this plan. Sony’s Playstation Plus membership service gives its subscribers free games on a monthly basis that are theirs to play if ever and however they like providing they remain a subscriber, and it’s widely regarded as more than worth the price it costs. While I can appreciate Microsoft’s desire to get in on the game, it’s simply a case of ‘too little, too late’ at this point. Right now it seems like nothing more than a meagre attempt at capturing some of the attention PSN+ has collected over time, and with significantly less success.

Xbox One version of Minecraft announced

You should all know how much I love Minecraft by now, but c’mon, announcing that it is to hit the Xbox One is about as surprising as a toaster being able to toast bread. They did confirm that the Xbox One version will feature bigger map sizes, but with the likelihood of worlds created on the Xbox 360 not carrying over, is there really any big demand for it? I doubt it. It’ll probably sell well and be fairly popular (Minecraft has never been unpopular on anything it’s released on), but during the event, it was a fairly mute announcement.

Twitch game streaming built into the Xbox One

e32013-image-04Now other people can watch you get your ass kicked by some potty-mouthed teenage Call of Duty player over the internet! During their press conference, Microsoft announced that game streaming over Twitch will be built into the system, making the process of streaming your games to the website as seamless as possible.

Although I would never use the streaming functionalities were I to ever buy the Xbox One, it’s still a fairly decent move that will likely be very appealing to many people that, until now, had to rely on additional cables and other equipment to be able to stream console footage over the internet. If I’m not mistaken, the Playstation 4 has some similar integration with Ustream, I believe, but in terms of streaming video game footage, Twitch is a far more popular and appealing prospect.

New games galore!

Microsoft stated that this year’s E3 would be dedicated purely to games, games and more games, and boy were they not lying. In fact, almost every part of Microsoft’s conference was focused on what games would be available for the Xbox One over time, and we’ll get to some of those momentarily.

In terms of new IPs, Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break looked to have a compelling premise worthy of attention. They didn’t show a lot of it off at the event, but what we did see (and from what has been said about the game) looks to be a story-driven experience with a strong developer behind it to have confidence in delivering an engaging experience.

Also in the new IPs category, we have D4, from the creators of Deadly Premonition, and Project Spark. The former is a cel-shaded episodic murder mystery that was fairly difficult to get a strong impression of given how little of it we actually saw, while the latter is an ambitious map editor that integrates Kinect and SmartGlass (it finally has a reason to exist, folks!) into its gameplay. I’m a complete sucker for all things map editors, so Project Spark looked very appealing to me. Were I getting an Xbox One (I’m not), I’m sure that I would make good use of what it had to offer.

On top of the above titles, Microsoft also unveiled a new Halo title (they never actually specified whether or not it will be called Halo 5 or will carry a subtitle instead), confirmed that Battlefield 4 will run at 60fps (and will have its first DLC pack a timed exclusive to Xbox One), and also featured the long-awaited return of Killer Instinct. (I’ve never played the series before so this was of no concern to me, but my Twitter timeline lit up when it appeared.)

As if the games mentioned previously weren’t enough, Microsoft also showed off Dead Rising 3–which, as the rumours suggested, will indeed be an Xbox One exclusive–and Respawn Entertainment’s debut offering TitanFall, which will also be Xbox-only.

Now, in regards to Dead Rising 3, it inevitably looked visually impressive (and gameplay-wise it also looked equally strong), but the franchise has never really ‘clicked’ for me. The first game was awkward at best (even with a strong premise), and I never tried the second so I cannot comment on it. The gameplay of DR3 that was demonstrated would convince me to at least give it a try, but regardless of my personal feelings towards the series, it should be a decent performer for the Xbox One (more so if it’s a launch title).

And now we get to TitanFall, which had all the makings of a strong, exciting game but ultimately, from the footage we saw, looks to be just another generic “shooty shooty boom boom” title that’ll appeal mostly to those who like explosions on their screen every other breath. While it looked visually spectacular, there isn’t really anything there that makes me eager to pick up an Xbox One just to play it. (It’ll also be available on Xbox 360 and PC, so it’s not completely an Xbox One-only title.) The multiplayer-only concept that is supposed to feature set piece moments normally found in a singleplayer campaign sounds great on paper, but on screen, all I saw was something I’ve seen countless times before in other games, which is a huge shame. Getting it to be Xbox-only was a big grab for Microsoft, but whether or not the game can be anything other than ‘same old same old’ remains to be seen.

Games were the biggest focus of Microsoft’s E3 conference this year, and while it was a little frustrating that they didn’t make an attempt to address some of the concerns leveraged their way since the console’s reveal last month, it was good to see that despite the Xbox One being a multimedia device, there is still very much an emphasis on gaming. Some of the titles they showcased were stronger than others, but they actually have a fairly decent line-up in store for the Xbox One and the months that will follow the launch.

The price

And now we get to the big one: the price. Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox One will be launching in November 2013, and will cost $499/€499/£429. Inevitably, there were many cries of “it’s far too expensive” at the time, and they are continuing as I type this, but while it could’ve been a lot worse, I have to concede that the price isn’t as competitive as I would’ve liked.

e32013-image-05Firstly, I have no doubt that packaging Kinect into every box will have increased the price of the Xbox One, which, considering so many people are opposed to the idea of a mandatory Kinect, is a little frustrating. Plus, you would still have to buy at least one game alongside the system and a Gold membership if you didn’t already have one, so you would be approaching £500 (maybe even exceeding it) to get everything you would need to start off with.

Secondly, the Playstation 4 was later confirmed to only cost $399/£349 at launch, which is a significantly lower price than the Xbox One and something that will likely be a strong advantage for the system when it comes to prospective buyers whose wallets will inevitably be thinning because of the busy Christmas period. Factor in the fact the Playstation 4 has been confirmed to have no used games restrictions, nor online requirements, and you can understand why Sony’s offering looks more attractive right now.

My overall thoughts

Although I’ve made my decision not to purchase an Xbox One from watching both Microsoft’s and Sony’s press conferences, I still believe that Microsoft had a decent E3 outing this year. Their concentration was clearly on everything games and nothing else, and they unveiled a line-up of titles that’s considerably strong. Personally, I absolutely cannot get past the restrictions the system has in place and that’s why I’ll be going to camp Sony come this Fall, but compared to their atrocious E3 last year, Microsoft came back fighting this time around, but with their success hindered by a restrictive console and much stronger competition elsewhere.

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