#E32014: Microsoft Present 90 Minutes of Catchup

It’s almost tempting to feel sorry for Microsoft. Kicking off their E3 press conference with a focus on games rather than apps, gizmos or other assorted crap was a clear indicator that they’d learnt the lessons of the past year; foremost among which was that Sony’s “For The Players” campaign had comprehensively kicked the shit out of, “turn it on with your voice” as far as marketing went.

If you are tempted to go in this direction however and pity a billion-dollar empire, remember how much Microsoft hated retailers and gamers last year. Always on, DRM protection, no reselling, et cetera. It’s only because gamers responded so vehemently and critically to the corporation’s actions that Phil Spencer opened up this year’s conference about gamers ‘shaping the future of XBOX’ – 12 months ago Microsoft seemed to have forgotten that without gamers, the XBOX is a useless gimmick of technology and will have no future if they don’t stick with. So here’s a conference for the gamers, then. Excellent. What’s up first?

Call of Duty: The New One. Whoop-de-fucking-do.

Now to be fair to COD, this does look like a visually impressive FPS but the day COD stops looking pretty, half the point of purchase is gone. Kevin Spacey showing up as the bad guy or not, no one in the world is going to buy this game for its story. The futuristic setting is nice though; there actually seem to be a handful of new gameplay mechanics and the multiplayer will almost certainly be addictive, if you’re the kind of person that finds playing the same game on the same level in the same way over and over again addictive. A multiplayer, in other words. The most important thing about Microsoft kicking off with COD though? It’s not an exclusive. You’ll be able to play it on PlayStation as well. Yes, some DLC will come out first on XBOX, but who over the mental age of fifteen really gives a shit about putting a map purchase off for next month’s paycheck? A poor start.

Next up is Forza… err, 5? Yes, second billing in Microsoft’s press conference goes to a game that came out last year. Why is such a prestigious spot given to an eight-month old game? You can now download a new track for it as DLC. It’s free. Yay.

Forza: The Real New One is up next however, and it’s got… cars and shit in it. Cue a notably muted reaction from the crowd. 1080p and 60fps we were told! Or put another way, exactly what everyone should fucking be providing on next-gen, all the fucking time. At least it’s an exclusive though, making this the first time today Microsoft have given you a real reason to pick an XBOX over a PS4. Assuming you like racing games, that is, and think a shameless Gran Turismo clone will be better than the next Gran Turismo. You might.

Flying in hot on its heels is a quick ad for Evolve which makes some half-witted claim about the next evolution in gameplay being a First Person Shooter where you kill monsters. Or you can be the monster, which has certainly never happened in games ever before. This will also be evolving on PS4.

Interestingly if you’re not a complete fucking philistine, Assassin’s Creed Not V: Unity is up next. ACNotV is set in revolutionary France, features campaign co-op play for you and up to three other people who won’t read the codex entries and looks very good fun, as always. No mention of how the present day story will progress, as always, and interesting to note that since this isn’t being given a number, Ubisoft themselves may not consider it that much of a groundbreaking sequel. Certainly that’s why Black Flag was bumped up to the all important ACIV name, rather than remaining a Brotherhood-esque ‘lesser’ sequel. Available on PS4. At this stage, you have to wonder whether Sony will really need more than ten minutes at the end of the day, because Microsoft are advertising for both at the moment.

Microsoft next push forward EA and Bioware’s Dragon Age Not III: Spanish Inquisition which is an XBOX exclusive. Nah, just fucking with you. Of course it’s not. Much has been made by others of the progress Bioware have made with the Frostbite 3 engine and maybe I’m just less excited about the incremental step forward graphics seem to have taken with this console generation, but I’m not so impressed. It looks okay. Okay that is, if it’s running on an XBOX 360. There is absolutely nothing that screams next-gen about this game.  Dragon Age is about the story more than the graphics though; we all know this.

But then there’s fuck all about the story other than what might be Leliana with a knife to her throat at the end. It’s actually a strikingly unimpressive, unevenly-paced and badly cut trailer. A big disappointment, though we can presumably expect more later on when EA take centre stage.

It’s in stark contrast to what follows. Insomniac Games foul-mouthed, pisstaking trailer for Sunset Overdrive. Playing like a mad cross between Saints Row IV and Jet Set Radio, it’s the first genuinely interesting and NEW idea we’ve seen thus far. It remains to be seen whether the gameplay’s frenetic style will get mundane and repetitive, but for now the game looks very impressive. And EXCLUSIVE!

And it’s followed up by MOAR EXCLUSIVE! It’s DLC, right enough, but what DLC. The fresh-natured and brightly coloured, slightly madcap fun we were just shown in Sunset Overdrive already seems as boring as guessing whether or not HALO will be mentioned in the next half hour. Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix (this is actually what it’s called) Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha looks like brilliantly good fun combining the repetitive boredom of Dead Rising 3 with the balls-to-the-wall mentalism of Capcom employees who found some decent coke from the 80s revisited Street Fighter whilst high. Want to kill Zombies with your mates as Ryu and Chung Li? Of course you fucking do. This is the stand-out moment so far and finally provokes some real enthusiasm from the crowd.

Fable McChicken Legends is introduced next. It looks pretty enough in that comicy Fable way, and deserves kudos for arguably being only the fifth game of all time to feature a Scottish accent that sounds like it might actually belong to someone from Scotland, but there seems little of particular interest here until ‘villain mode’ is mentioned, where you effectively play the game as a Tower Defence clone while people actually playing Fable (and presumably having more fun) try and get through your traps. I’ve always been fond of Fable’s experimentation though, and forgiven it a lot of faults so maybe it won’t be quite as dull as Microsoft have made it seem today.

Continuing the brightly coloured cartoon visuals next is a very attractive side-scrolling platformer exclusive to XBOX, Ori and the Blind Forest. It really does look lovely.

HALO music is next. Lots of people get excited. Those of us excited by minor concerns such as character and plot do not. First up is the Masturbator Collection which includes Halos, 1, 2, 3 and 4, presumably remastered. Maybe not. Since Halo 2’s anniversary is coming up, Halo 2 is being re-released individually as well, and it is being remastered. The focus is naturally on the multiplayer (despite Halo 2’s campaign being one of the most interesting of the lot), so I went for a piss and came back when they were talking about HALO Nightfall which could actually be fun. HALO has a decent story at heart; it’s always fun when they decide to actually tell some of it rather than funnel you down a corridor to shoot some more neon gremlins.

A look at (Intel?) Inside from the creators of Limbo is next and it looks every bit as atmospheric as its precursor. Available on XBOX and PlayStation. It’s followed by a longer than usual VT on indie games, but on this subject it’s impossible not to think of Microsoft playing catchup to Sony who have gone out of their way to make life easier for indie developers.

A big video next as Not Tomb Raider II is premiered. Lara’s having therapy and still shooting people with arrows. There’s very little on detail here, but the revamp of the franchise was fun enough last time round and there’s reason to hope for the same next ‘Holiday’ which I think is Americans bullshit way of saying Christmas.

In any case, The Witcher Wild III Hunt is up next and looks to be a perfectly capable Elder Scrolls clone. That’s slightly harsh, as the combat and cut-scenes are much improved over Skyrim and its forebears, the voice-acting seems competent and the graphics attractive enough.

Killer Instinct – a game that really doesn’t seem that old to me, but evidently no one under the age of 25 had ever heard of until last year gets a namecheck next, and there’s more nostalgia to follows as Phantom Dust is announced via a trailer that looks like a post-apocalyptic gay nightclub opening, fireworks, fag hags and all.

Tom Clancy’s Non-Exclusive The Division is up next and this looked impressive last year and continues today. Despite some new ideas such as levitating torches that blind your enemies as you shoot them, this is standard cover-based shooting, but does look considerably more interesting than the legion of COD clones you’ll see over the next few years.

Next up is Something From Platinum Games (or ‘Scalebound’ if you prefer) and it looks to be typical hack n’ slash shit of the sort that’s kept the ex-Capcom employees in the black for the last few years. Expect good reviews, particularly from XBOX only mags which will get hard simply because it’s exclusive, and repetitive, over-in-five-hours, gameplay.

Crackdown makes a welcome appearance at the end and with levels of mad that seem to be trying to out-Saint, Saints Row IV, which is only fair since SRIV tried to out-Crack Crackdown.

Finally a montage of what’s coming out in future. The finale? It’s more fun on XBOX ONE. No mention of Kinect which seems odd when you consider that it really is the one area Microsoft are ahead of Sony by a big margin. Co-op is obviously the buzzword of the year. And the 360 is dead. This is despite the fact that a number of the above mentioned games will be released on the console; Microsoft never mentioned it once.


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