Twelve months is a long time in the video game industry. Game release dates can be pushed back to allow for improvements and tweaking, companies can be created or go bust, colleagues can fall out over the most inconsequential incidents and pretty much any ‘unknown’ game can become a worldwide sensation.
For Microsoft, this time a year ago they were given something different entirely: a reality check.
Despite finally unveiling the Xbox One, their next generation gaming hardware, amidst a host of other announcements, the ego of this globally renowned company suffered a severe bruising thanks to Sony’s hailed “For the people” E3 2013 press briefing, as well as attracting criticism for unwanted features such as the much maligned 24 hour online check in requirement.
With this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo press briefing over and done with, and with the expo in full swing as we speak, has Microsoft been able to haul back its reputation as a potential leading light within the gaming industry once again?
The answer is a categorical ‘yes’.
From the moment that Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division, proclaimed that their showing was to be entirely devoted to games, right through to the gaming montage that signalled the end of the conference, gamers across the globe were treated to ninety minutes of trailers and game play footage for upcoming new and existing IPs and in doing so, Microsoft laid down the gauntlet to Sony, whose own E3 press briefing was still to come.
At the time of publishing this article, Sony have already taken to the stage and impressed with a number of their own first and third party titles but, regardless of arguably stealing the show from Microsoft once again due to their line up of games, the globally renowned American corporation can have plenty to be optimistic about following this year’s showing.
And it was one of Xbox’s instantaneously recognisable franchises that drew the loudest applause and cheers from Microsoft’s seminar.
Despite being leaked online a few weeks ago, Halo: The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One was Xbox’s biggest crowd pleaser, and with good reason. Released in time for the tenth anniversary of Halo 2’s original launch, The Master Chief Collection comprises all four Halo games, with Master Chief as its, well, chief protagonist, compiled onto a solitary disc. With the opportunity to play any campaign level, at any given time, across any of four games’ campaign arcs, any of 100 online multiplayer maps from each game on dedicated servers running at 1080p, access to the online multiplayer beta for the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians and a brand new live action digital series (named Halo: Nightfall, which acts to serve as a bridge between Halo 4 and Halo 5) executively produced by Ridley Scott, all for the price of £40 ($60), Halo: The Master Chief Collection looks an absolute certainty to be a best seller for both 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios when it hits shelves on 11th November of this year.
Gamers were also given a brief glimpse into what they can expect from Halo 5: Guardians as well, with a brief trailer for the multiplayer beta, and a teaser for the plot of the single player campaign (was that the Arbiter’s reflection in the visor of that other Spartan?) leaving fans with enough to tide them over until the Master Chief collection arrives in the fall.
Sunset Overdrive, the new IP from Insomniac Games, also garnered positive media attention following its brief presentation. After a brief trailer had given a general overview of the game’s plot (it helped that Insomniac poked a bit of fun at the bloated modern day FPS shooter market too), Ted Price, co-founder and CEO of Insomniac, took to the stage to play a 2-3 minute demo of the actual game, showcasing how players can navigate the open world environment, flaunting a few of the multitude of combination weapons, that the player can create, to take down the mutants, as well as taking on one of the ‘special’ infected mutants known as the Herker; a hulking tank-like monster with what appeared to be a digger’s bucket for a left hand/forearm. Aesthetically, Sunset Overdrive looked absolutely gorgeous, with vivid and bright colours giving the game a more vibrant, comical feel. Add a dash of over the top carnage and some humour, and Sunset Overdrive is looking like another hit for the Xbox One when it lands on 28th October.
There were other exclusive titles for Xbox users to look forward to also, including Forza Horizon 2 (Turn 10 Games) Scalebound (the new IP from Platinum Games) Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios) and Phantom Dust (Microsoft Studios), whilst a first trailer for a new Crackdown title, also by Platinum Games, was shown as the show was closed out, and Microsoft will be hoping that these first party developed games will help the company attract new and existing fans to Xbox One in the coming months and years.
As always, there was the usual slew of third party developed titles that were showcased at the event as well, with the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Fable Legends, Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt all drawing polite applause from the assembled crowd. Microsoft was also keen to stress that some new third party titles would be delivering content to Xbox One owners ahead of their rivals over at Sony, such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Evolve and Tom Clancy’s The Division, which will ship downloadable content to Xbox One owners first ahead of Playstation 4 users, and Inside, the new IP from the creators behind the critically acclaimed arcade title ‘Limbo’, which will debut first on Xbox One in early 2015.
There was even time for a world premiere trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix, whilst new downloadable content for Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5 was announced as being available to download as the press briefing was ongoing.
So, was it a stunning showing from Microsoft that left people eager to rush out and purchase an Xbox One, if they did not already own one? Not entirely. There was a definitive lack of a new or existing IP that left gamers with their jaws on the floor, and there was the small matter of not pushing home the lower price point for the Xbox One as of 9th June, but consider this: Microsoft really took a beating following their press briefing at last year’s E3, so much so that they have gone back on almost every commitment that they made for their new system, and even for a corporation of the size of Microsoft, that takes some doing. This time, there was no messing around. The ‘thank yous’ were kept to a minimum, presentations were concise and to the point, and the trailers and game play gave gamers a tasty snippet of what’s to come.
All things considered, Microsoft’s E3 2014 press conference can be considered as a triumph. Admittedly, what was said and shown would be deemed a triumph compared to last year’s damaging showing, but a triumph is a triumph no matter how you look at it.
Microsoft certainly has a lot to be positive about and thanks to a briefing full of enticing looking games, maybe, just maybe, their reputation will begin to rise once more.