E3 2013: Microsoft

It’s been a bit of a bad month for Microsoft. Did E3 make it any better? R.G. starts a retrospective of the convention with the divisive Xbox One. 

It’s that time of year again! The Electronic Entertainment Expo is one of the most important video game events of the calendar. This year is an especially important one, as this is the E3 that will completely kick-off the eighth generation of gaming. This week, I will cover all five conferences and will do a first-impression review on what I think about the overall conference, from the games they show to how they present them. First, I will look at Microsoft’s display, which will show off the games available for their new console, the Xbox One.

Microsoft’s unpopular Xbox One reveal last month, and the official confirmations on their controversial DRM policies, has put them at the gunpoint of angry and frustrated gamers, so they had to deliver something redeeming in this press conference. I had low expectations but was still intrigued, assuming that Microsoft could either recover from their previously bad PR or dump more fuel on the fire. They did promise beforehand to only show games without mentioning “television,” so that was appreciated.

The company got the ball rolling with something that surprised me a little. Metal Gear Solid 5 struts some interesting stealth mechanics and shows off the Fox Engine’s graphical capabilities with an uncanny resemblance to Red Dead Redemption. I say surprise because this is technically the first brand new Metal Gear Solid game that isn’t a remake to appear outside of Sony.

The conference then moved on to address the Xbox 360, making announcements such as two free games a month for Gold members, Dark Souls II and World of Tanks – Xbox 360 Edition. The former holds a particular interest as it’s a sequel to a game beloved for its difficulty, whilst the two free games a month for Gold users is just their answer to Sony’s PlayStation Plus. As for World of Tanks, I have no particular knowledge about it other than it is the 360 incarnation of a free-to-play PC game, technically making it the more pricy option thanks to Xbox Live subscriptions.

Signing off from the tried old 360, it was time to move on to the conference’s main focus: The Xbox One. As they promised, it was a consistent slew of game after game. First, let’s talk about the supposed console exclusives. Ryse: Son of Rome looks very nice in visual terms, but the gameplay consisted of repetitive quick-time events whenever the player goes in for a final kill, which diminished the value for me.

Killer Instinct was a pleasant surprise until I saw the developer, Double Helix, whose resume leaves a lot to be desired. Having developed a couple of mediocre-to-really-bad games, notably three awful movie tie-ins, it is not a very good sign. Hopefully, Rare has some good oversight on the development so that they don’t mess up, but having a long-awaited fighting game in the hands of a not-so-good team is worrying. Sunset Overdrive looked more like a colourful version of Left4Dead with a touch of Team Fortress 2 and Brink, as well as being a lot of crazy, over-the-top fun. Forza 5 is a very interesting demo as it demonstrates the “Driveatar,” which uses Cloud-based technology to make the AI a lot smarter and more unpredictable, “much like a human,” to quote the speaker. It seems that Forza 5 is taking advantage of the console’s DRM infrastructure with the “always online” connectivity, and it is a pretty cool idea. On the other hand, if you want the AI to be more life-like, just play the online multiplayer.

Project Spark is one of the more interesting and original games from this conference, and to my chagrin, integrates with the Kinect and Smartglass pretty well. It was colourful and it had interesting Kinect and Smartglass-based mechanics, such as creating new terrains and changing the landscape. It looks like a ton of fun to play, especially when you have friends over. As for Quantum Break, I still have no idea what it is even after it was revealed at the May 21st conference. Cool trailer but it is still shrouded in mystery. The only thing we do know is that it has a tie-in TV show.

There was also a cool-looking teaser trailer that tricks us into thinking that it’s a brand new IP until it was revealed that it is another Halo game, probably Halo 5. Not much to say other than that, but if you like Halo, then you will probably appreciate the trailer. Dead Rising 3 was less impressive on this front as I have no particular interest in the previous Dead Rising games. I can appreciate them, though, because they were self-aware about the absurd and OTT nature of the premise, which was completely missing in the demo. It looked like a Walking Dead episode and captures the bleakness of the situation and environment, which is not what Dead Rising is all about.

For third-party support, there was Witcher 3, which looked very interesting and helluva lot bigger than Witcher and Witcher 2 combined, showing a more dynamic combat system. There was also a single-player reel of Battlefield 4, a game I will talk about in full detail later on in another entry. Crimson Dragon looked like Panzer Dragoon, of course being helmed by the director of the first three games in that series. It would’ve been a nice reveal if the sound was on, with the crowd doing it service by making their own sound effects over it. Speaking of sound problems, the conference was slightly marred by technical issues overall, with an especially embarrassing delay on the Battlefield 4 demonstration as the audio would not come on until a minute later.

For independent titles, there was not a lot to write home about. In fact, there were only three shown. There’s Minecraft, which is not the least bit interesting and, along with the 360 version, will never be superior to the PC copy. It can be said that it’s a smart move to make it an exclusive on the Xbox One since it is a huge, popular name in gaming. There was also Max: Curse of the Brotherhood, a sidescrolling platformer which looked like a brighter version of Limbo, and its platform gameplay looks like a blast to play. The last indie title they revealed is called Below, which looks like a co-op dungeon crawler with a really far top-down camera view, making the characters appear like specs on the screen. The lack of indie titles here suggests that Microsoft isn’t too bothered about these developers, being that they have not been too friendly with them recently when it comes to Xbox Live Arcade and the numerous reports about indie teams not being able to self-publish on the Xbox One.

To wrap up, they showcased Titanfall, which is the highlight of the entire conference. I’m not really sure if its multiplayer only or if it has a single- player campaign, but nevertheless, it is an impressive-looking title with a lot of very interesting mechanics involving free-running and mech battles as well as tactical co-op play. Overall, this might be the One’s killer app as it is an Xbox One and PC exclusive.

Overall, this was a surprisingly decent conference, probably Microsoft’s best one for the past three years. As they promised, they revealed a lot of games, with little emphasis on the Kinect as well as no mention of TV. It would’ve been nice if they addressed the bad PR surrounding the console. Rather than not acknowledging it at all, it would have been better if they explain why the console’s DRM policies on used games and the online necessity can be beneficial to our gaming experience. It’s not guaranteed that it would quell the anger of gamers, but at least it shows that they have an understanding about it, and were professional and brave enough to address such a controversial choice.

The console will be released this November, and the price tag will be $499 in the US whilst UK gamers get screwed over with a hefty £429  asking price (if you convert it to dollars, it calculates to around $650).

R.G. Villanueva

Contributing game and film writer for SquabbleBox. Occasional DJ and instrumentalist, amateur programmer, all-around lazy guy.

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