Microsoft E3 Press Conference: What Stood Out?

Jun 10, 2014

Earlier today I watched the Microsoft E3 media briefing, and as expected the company focused entirely on upcoming games. My Xbox One has not been getting nearly as much play time as my PS4 or PC these days, so I’ve been waiting for E3 to give me a taste of what I can expect later on in the year. The briefing itself was very typical, with a big live audience that obligingly cheered during the video reels (the biggest pop went to Halo in my opinion, as you may have expected). Phil Spencer bookended the presentation, with plenty of developer vignettes in between asset showings, which I personally found somewhat jarring – like hard cuts in a movie. The briefing showcased a number of triple A titles and a montage of various ID@Xbox games. The stand outs for me were Halo: The Master Chief Collection, The Division, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Assassin’s Creed Unity. Overall it was a very competent event: no shocking bombshells, but filled with plenty of teasers for those spoiling for new content.

To put it bluntly, the Xbox One still lacks a true killer app; that must-own game to spark a wildfire of interest in the system. There certainly have been enjoyable titles in the early life of the Xbox One’s library (Killer Instinct and Titanfall come to mind) but nothing with the first party marquee of say the Halo series. So it’s fitting then that Halo 5 and the Master Chief Collection were present in the briefing. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a Halo fan boy: I found Halo 3 to be somewhat underwhelming compared to the hype it received, and the side stories of Halo 3 ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo Wars were ultimately forgettable affairs.  But as Bonnie Ross presented the Halo Master Chief Collection, it struck me that this coming holiday season is the perfect time to release a bundle at the very reasonable price of $59.99. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of Halo 2, and the entire set is being positioned as a lead in to Halo 5.  Getting a complete HD remake of Halo 2 is appealing, but for me the real story here is the return of the game’s multiplayer mode. I spent a huge chunk of 2005 playing those maps, and I’m looking forward to doing it again later this year. While it may seem like a cop out to repackage four games and call it a day, I feel this is exactly the shot in the arm the Xbox One needs this year.

As for the rest: certainly there were some beautiful and intriguing games, but again, overall there were no surprises or showstoppers.  Ori and the Blind Forest is an excellent example of an artsy game that looks to evoke emotional reactions from gamers from its minimalist presentation. We’ve seen more of these kinds of games pop up over the years, so hopefully this will bring something unique to the table. I hate to say it, but there’s something about Sunset Overdrive that turns me off. It certainly looks like it could be a fun game; think Crackdown meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But I found the trailer to be borderline offensive, with a whole lot of exaggerated eye winking to the audience: “Of course you can be the hero, it’s an effin video game!” It feels like the game is trying way too hard to be the cool kid in the room. I find it difficult to take something seriously when it’s coming from such an irreverent angle, when compared to the self-depreciating humor that Capcom did with the announcement of the Dead Rising 3 DLC: the “Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX+ Alpha” content.  I appreciated that kind of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness on their part, and it genuinely looks like a load of fun.  There seemed to be an emphasis on multiplayer modes in some of the other “big” titles like Forza Horizon 2, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Evolve, Fable: Legends, and The Division.  The notable aspect of Evolve and Fable: Legends is the ability to play as the bad guy, which in the end may or may not lead to an enjoyable experience for everyone.

The Microsoft press briefing felt like a very safe event:  there were no real hiccups, no real surprises, it was just all business showcasing a number of solid games that should be appealing to most folks. The focus on upcoming games was nice, even welcome, but I have to admit that I was looking for something a little more earth shattering and I just didn’t get that from the press conference. I wanted to see more Halo 5, but instead I’m given a reminder of what made Halo 2 so great. Conker makes a cameo during the Project Spark reel, and I’m left feeling Joanna Dark would have been way more impactful addition to the community game creator. Undoubtedly more will be revealed in the coming days at E3, but for now the Xbox One killer app has yet to make an appearance.