I’m sure you all remember Microsoft’s controversial showing at last year’s E3. They chose to focus on TV and entertainment rather than games, and their mixed messages, high price tags, and online restrictions were quickly targeted with fan backlash from all across the internet. But since that time, Microsoft has quickly been making a positive turnaround: removing some of the Xbox One’s online and DRM restrictions, and putting the focus back on what the gamers wanted in the first place: the games.
The central message of Microsoft’s E3 2014 presentation was that their current-generation console is now in our hands, the gamers. There was no mention of new entertainment apps, TV shows, or hardware bundles whatsoever. At the start of the conference, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer expressed his gratitude towards gamers for making their voices heard over the last year. In return, Spencer promised that Microsoft would continue to listen, and Monday morning they certainly did with a full-on 90-minute barrage of games.
“Barrage” is certainly the choice word here when describing the presentation, as the Microsoft games just kept on coming way faster than my brain could even process them. They started the show off with a few heavy hitters like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gameplay, a new look at Forza Horizon 2 and Evolve, and they even got to exclusively debut some gameplay footage of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, along with the announcement of the game’s 4-player cooperative mode.
But while each of these games looked stunning in their own right (as expectedly so), the first half of the Microsoft presentation was easily stolen by the gameplay demo of Sunset Overdrive. The upcoming Xbox One exclusive from Insomniac Games takes the fundamental gameplay roots from the studio’s Ratchet & Clank series but puts it in front of a more mature audience. The result is a blistering action game with crazy weapons, eye-popping colors, and rail-grinding high above the sights and sounds of an amusement park. Sunset Overdrive was officially given a release date of October 28, as well as a confirmation of the game’s hectic 8-player multiplayer mode.
Microsoft then dialed things back a bit and showed off a wacky new Dead Rising 3 DLC, announced Dance Central Spotlight, and demonstrated the villain-oriented gameplay mode in Fable Legends. Things were going great until they got to the tail end of the multiplayer demo for Project Spark, a user-creation focused game that was first announced at last year’s E3. When the trailer ended, Rare’s own Conker the squirrel from Conker’s Bad Fur Day popped up and used a chainsaw to cut through the Project Spark logo.
This was the precise moment that I absolutely lost it and started screaming at the thought of a full-fledged new Conker game on Xbox One. But sadly, it turns out that Conker will only be appearing for use by players in Project Spark levels, and to make matters worse, Rare had no other presence at the presentation at all: no announcement of the rumored Battletoads or Perfect Dark revamp. Maybe it’s because I’m one of the only people left who still cares about Rare, but that Conker tease just felt like a huge slap in the face.
Moving on to lighter notes, Halo had a huge and welcomed presence at Microsoft’s conference, with a brand new trailer for Halo 5: Guardians and the announcement of a December beta before the full-fledged release in 2015. But perhaps the bigger news was the official unveiling of the rumored Master Chief Collection, which contains remastered versions of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4, all in a neat Xbox One package that’s coming this November.
Microsoft has taken a little heat in the past over their alleged inattention to the community of indie game developers, but this year’s conference served to prove that this isn’t so. The company led off the indie section of the presentation with the official announcement of Limbo creator Playdead’s second game, another atmospheric sidescroller called Inside. This was followed by a number of other indie games that will be making their way to Xbox One in the next year, courtesy of a new Xbox development ID: including another new one called Ori and the Blind Forest, as well as Below, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Mighty No. 9, Threes, Fenix Rage, and my new personal favorite indie game, Lifeless Planet.
Then Microsoft moved on to what everyone was waiting for: the announcements of new AAA games that will be headed our way in 2015 and beyond. The biggest of all these unveilings was easily the cinematic trailer for the brand new Tomb Raider game, officially titled Rise of the Tomb Raider. Platinum Games also showed off a stunning new action game called Scalebound, which looks like an epic cross between Dark Souls and Devil May Cry. We also got the weird announcement of a reboot of the original Xbox-exclusive game Phantom Dust, which I admittedly have never heard of before.
To close out the show, Microsoft ended with another big one: a third Crackdown game. While the announcement didn’t exactly have the same kind of impact that a Gears of War 4 would have had, there’s still no denying that it was great to see that Crackdown logo show up on a screen once again, and for what it’s worth, the cinematic trailer itself looked pretty spectacular.
But aside from the noticeable absence of Gears of War (even just a logo would have been satisfying!), Microsoft debuted some pretty strong powerhouse games from both their own studios as well as third parties, which are sure to keep the Xbox One catalogue going strong well into 2015 and beyond. Microsoft achieved exactly what they set out to do this time around: make it all about the games. And make it all about the games they did.
After this year’s E3 conference, it will be hard to remember that this is the same company who floundered so badly with their message such a short time ago. This is a version of Microsoft and the Xbox One that are both here to play.