Microsoft's E3 mantra: Games, games, and more games (but few surprises)
I hope you’ve stocked up on Doritos and Mountain Dew—it’s going to be a long day for gamers.
Microsoft, as usual, kicked off the 2014 edition of E3 with a bombastic press conference. And, since all of last year’s hardware announcements have already come to pass, Microsoft put the focus on games, games, and more games for this year’s E3 opener. Ninety minutes of games of games, in fact.
How it went down
Call of Duty might have slipped up with last year’s installment, Ghosts. But the franchise is still big enough to lead off an E3 press event. Call of Duty: Advance Warfare was the first game we saw this morning, and it looks… well, not a lot like Call of Duty. Somebody spilled a tall glass of Titanfall/Halo onto this Call of Duty game. Near future, homing grenades, jetpack boots—Advanced Warfare cribs liberally from sci-fi mainstays and competing games.
On the plus side, Advanced Warfare looks very little like Call of Duty. For a series that’s been under fire for staid gameplay for years now, that could be exactly what the franchise needs. Also, the sound design is gorgeous.
A brief aside followed Call of Duty’s appearance so Forza 5 director Dan Greenwalt could announce a new course, Nurburgring, available for free. Then we jumped to this year’s release—Forza Horizon 2. As previously revealed, the game takes place around a music festival in Southern Europe. There’s a full day-night cycle, “dramatic” weather, “open-world drivatars,” and the game runs in 1080p. I can’t say I’m too excited to hear about the continued existence of drivatars—Forza’s AI system that supposedly resembles your own driving style and those of your friends. Every Drivatar I’ve ever seen has been a jerk. Outside of that, though, I’m excited. Look for Forza Horizon 2 on September 30.
From there, the press event jumped to big games we already knew about but haven’t seen a ton of in action—Assassin’s Creed Unity, Dragon Age Inquisition, The Witcher 3, The Division, and Sunset Overdrive.
Assassin’s Creed Unity looks more along the lines of the franchise’s roots than ACIV’s pirate-themed adventure. Whether that’s an improvement or not, well, that’s up to you. The big change: this year’s installment features four-player co-op for lots and lots of stabbing.
Dragon Age Inquisition, The Witcher 3, The Division, and Sunset Overdrive all got new trailers and demos, but there’s nothing particularly new to report. Dragon Age Inquisition still looks grim and brooding. The Witcher 3 still looks like the best RPG on the horizon. The Division still looks like a polished shooter with incredible graphics. Sunset Overdrive still looks silly and lively. Check out the trailers for more.
The first surprise of the day came next: Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition. (I might be missing a few modifiers in that title.) Four Dead Rising characters are back in… something silly. You’re running around killing zombies, scoring points, doing challenges, and so on. Plus, it’s available for download as of Monday on Xbox One.
While the recently-removed-from-the-Xbox-One Kinect didn’t get a lot of love in Microsoft’s press conference (finally), Harmonix did come out to talk about its upcoming game, Fantasia: Music Evolved, and reveal it’s working on a new, digital-only Dance Central game titled Dance Central Spotlight. That approach allows Harmonix to get top hits into the game faster. Both are coming this fall.
Multiplayer Fable? Yes. Four-player cooperative Fable is coming, under the name Fable Legends. It’s less of an RPG and more of a pure combat experience. The most interesting piece is that your challenges are player-controlled. Like Evolve, the game is actually four versus one—a player, termed “the villain,” places all traps and monsters for the other four to contend against.
Project Spark, Microsoft’s game-creation-software-and-game a la Little Big Planet, is getting a new environment this year: the Desert of Death. And Conker, of Conker's Bad Fur Day fame.
We saw a ton of indie games this year, as Microsoft looks to counter last year’s impression that the Xbox isn’t for indie games. As part of a whirlwind trailer, Microsoft demoed a new (beautiful) platformer titled Ori and the Blind Forest, Double Fine’s Massive Chalice, and…Threes? Yes, the mobile hit Threes is coming to Xbox One. No, I don’t know why.
Also, Playdead finally announced its follow-up to Limbo, titled Inside. It features the same grey, grey, and more grey aesthetic as Limbo, though it’s definitely a distinct world. There’s something very police state-y about the game, though details are scarce.
As rumored, Halo is coming to the Xbox One—all four Halo games, in fact. It’s called Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which brings all four Halo games under one interface. Every multiplayer map, every singleplayer mission—it’s all here and fully unlocked.
Halo 2 Anniversary is also coming, with fully remastered graphics. And, unlike Halo Anniversary, this game keeps Halo 2’s multiplayer intact. Halo 2 Anniversary is only bringing back six maps, but presumably more will come post-release.
If you still need more Halo, the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta kicks off in December.
New and shiny
There were a few more surprises at Microsoft’s press event, including a new Tom Raider. Microsoft unveiled Rise of the Tomb Raider during the conference, and outside of that abysmal name I am very interested. 2012’s Tomb Raider brought the franchise back with a vengeance, and this game looks (according to the trailer) like it will delve into the psychological trauma done to Lara by her first adventure. Very keen.
Microsoft also showed off Scalebound. All I saw in the trailer was dragon-murder-after-dragon-murder, so I’m not sure what this game will be about. I’m guessing it has something to do with murdering dragons.
And if you want old franchises resurrected, Microsoft has your back. Phantom Dust, the original Xbox cult classic, and Crackdown, the game that sold me on an Xbox 360, are getting new installments. Ken Lobb said Phantom Dust, an action/strategy game, is one of the series he’s always wanted to bring back since its inception in 2004. Crackdown, the superhero-cop open-world game, is returning but hopefully done right this time—Crackdown 2, released in 2010, was a muddled mess of a game.
Outside of the trailers, details were scarce of what these games had to offer. There’s only so much you can pack into 90 minutes, after all.
There weren’t a ton of surprises during Monday’s E3 opener, but it’s not a bad haul for Xbox One owners. Games like Halo 2 Anniversary, Crackdown, and Forza Horizons 2 should keep you warm through the winter if you bought an early Xbox One.
We’ll see you back here in a few hours for EA’s press conference, as we continue this day of announcements.
Updated at 2:47 p.m. PT with a video report from IDG News Service.