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Sound Off Vol. 8 – Microsoft press conference reactions

E3 2013Microsoft

Welcome, to the eight volume of our Sound Off feature. With E3 2013 well underway, and both Microsoft’s and Sony’s consoles fully unveiled, we’ve had roundtable discussions on what we thought. Here’s our reaction to the Microsoft press conference from those not on the show floor.

Shane Ryan: Following the promise that E3 would be all about games for Microsoft, what did everyone think of their conference?

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Jonas Jürgens: Personally, I found it to be a pretty average conference – as per usual – with some fine games displayed but also an overreliance on multiplayer experiences, and not so much on new, innovative ideas. But then, that’s generally the standard in my experience. There were also some jarring presentations and performances, such as the one for Battlefield 4. “Just try to laugh it off, dude!” At least it was a bit entertaining. Plus, I counted at least five uses of the word “epic”. Urgh.

“An overreliance on multiplayer experiences”The things that caught my eyes the most was Ryse, which is delving into a setting rarely visited in recent games – the Roman Empire – and Below, the new game by Capybara Games. I really liked – not loved – Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, and seeing them team up with Jim Guthrie was very exciting. Also, The Witcher 3 looks technically extremely impressive… it will probably murder my PC.

I was a bit disappointed by Dead Rising 3, because it lost the element that made the second game enjoyable. The silliness. And don’t get me wrong, I love zombie games with a more serious tone. The Walking Dead was my favorite game last year, but it just seems like the market is oversaturated with them now. I will admit, though, that the scale is rather impressive, and the fact that you need to avoid engaging too many zombies at a time. It gives the whole thing a more strategic approach.

I didn’t really have that high expectations going in, but to me, Titanfall honestly looks like Call of Duty: Future Warfare, which I suppose isn’t that surprising when a large part of the team are ex-Infinity Ward staff. Even the interface looked like CoD. The titans, though, were great, and they will certainly add a change to the gameplay.

Oh, and I’m also officially tired of modern shooters. Battlefield 4 was visually impressive, but felt like same old Battlefield 3.

Tarek Robertson: Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed by the conference, although less so than by previous Microsoft showings. The whole thing failed to explain why the Xbox One is necessary; nothing looked significantly more impressive than the current generation of games. Dead Rising 3 barely looked as good as the second game, not least because they seem to have removed all the fun and colour from the franchise. The zombie count was certainly impressive, though.

“Minimal Kinect nonsense”Everything that would make me consider buying the console was multiformat (MGS 5, The Witcher 3), which defeats the purpose of paying extra for the Xbox One. Some of the exclusives screamed ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’, too. A Max and the Magic Marker title? Seriously? Apart from that, shooters, shooters, shooters and a smattering of interesting, but hardly console-defining, titles.

Worst of all was the price: £429. That’s nothing short of ridiculous, especially since it’s obviously inflated by the inclusion of the Kinect in every box; a device I couldn’t care less for.

That awful ‘joke’ during the Killer Instinct demo (did that seriously happen?) pretty much summed up Microsoft’s conference in a nutshell: ‘Just let it happen, it’ll be over soon.’ Yeah, nice to see the worst parts of Xbox Live culture being propagated by Microsoft.

There was minimal Kinect nonsense though, which was merciful, so it was the best conference Microsoft have had in years; shame that doesn’t really mean much at this point.

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Richard Wakeling: I thought it was an impressive conference purely because it cut out all the periphery TV stuff and most of the empty jargon to focus purely on a barrage of new games. There weren’t even any awkward Kinect families, or Usher! Surely that’s progress?

In terms of what was shown there was certainly a lot to be excited about, both for the games themselves and the promise this advanced technology holds for the future. Take Dead Rising 3, for example, and its impressive scale. The darker tone is a little disappointing but I’m glad the ridiculous weapon crafting still exists, especially when you take into account the amount of zombies onscreen at any one time. It’s a phenomenal number that will hopefully introduce a more survivalist aspect to the series. Seems you have to choose your moments to fight and utilise the environment to keep out of danger, using items to distract the horde before making a quick dash to safety. Zombie games may be all the rage but we’ve yet to really see one take full advantage of an open world. Hopefully Dead Rising 3 can pull it off.

“Certainly a lot to be excited about”Ryse was certainly an impressive spectacle, and the idea of playing as a Roman Centurion is particularly enticing. The combat seemed really bland, though, with all of the panache being saved for yet more generic quick time events. It’s too early to judge but hopefully the combat progresses beyond what was shown; the squad commands certainly looked like they could be interesting within an action game of that ilk.

The Witcher 2 is one of my favourite games of this generation so I’ve been keeping up with The Witcher 3 ever since it was announced. The footage they showed at the conference only reaffirmed everything I’ve read; it looks like a perfect progression for the series, opening up the scale to a vast degree and bleeding more locations out of this fantastic world. Plus, boats! My feelings towards Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain are fairly similar, too. What was shown seems like a mixture of the most popular games of this generation with a sprinkling of Red Dead Redemption, some Assassin’s Creed, a bit of every modern military shooter, and oddly enough even some Final Fantasy. Yet it seems to mesh them all together with a fluidity I don’t think the series has ever had. Colour me excited.

Titanfall was the ideal way to close out the conference. I was left disappointed by the short trailer they showed since it did just seem like a futuristic Call of Duty, but once the multiplayer gameplay was revealed my interest definitely piqued. Its mechanics don’t necessarily seem to be doing anything new or innovative – though piloting mechs is certainly cool – but the narrative elements they introduce to a multiplayer arena are fascinating. We might be beyond the point of no return by now but I hope it can recapture some of that Call of Duty 4 magic. They have the guys to do it.

Personally, I didn’t really find much to be disappointed by. It was a conference that catered to ‘hardcore’ games in a way Microsoft hasn’t done in about five years at E3. Battlefield 4‘s single player might not be a big pull, and the few seconds they showed of Jim Guthrie’s new game just seemed to scream “we have indies, too, you know!”. But they were still games, and that’s about all I can ask for out of these things. It delivered.

Jonas Jürgens: Ah, glad you brought that – narrative elements introduced to multiplayer – up. The merging of multiplayer and narrative intrigued me too. Most multiplayer shooters, in my experience, divide the two sections up entirely. Especially for the arena-style multiplayer, this gets boring after a while. Besides upgrades, there’s little incentive to keep playing. Having a narrative to drive the experience will make it feel more like an actual battle you are participating in. Especially if it’s randomized, it could prove very exciting.

“The merging of multiplayer and narrative intrigued me”Quantum Break also piqued my interest. There wasn’t gameplay to show off, but if the trailer’s any indication, the time-stopping abilities should make things interesting, if you can rearrange the environment after an explosion, or use it to dodge bullets, or something else entirely.

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Calvin Kemph: D4 and Sunset Overdrive were my highlights. I was impressed as hell they featured Swery’s new project, D4, in the middle of all these giant budget releases. Although it didn’t get enough stage time, it’s a good get for Microsoft, considering his masterwork Deadly Premonition provided something entirely unique on the last console. And then Insomniac coming over just after releasing Fuse, with a trailer that closely evokes the original vision of that game. Lovely.

“Nothing unified Microsoft’s content”Microsoft largely stuck to the videogames, a refreshing finish on their two part conference. The most important issue is that Microsoft seemed to lack much of a vision beyond finding great talent to hand money. That’s how they got into console videogames, of course, but they entered with the superb Halo, which broadly influenced everything that came to follow. With Bungie later presenting at Sony, they were left high and dry for that one representative Xbox One experience, with Respawn’s promising TitanFall coming the closest, but also carrying a PC release. The third time out, one expects to find a consistency and sense of purpose but nothing unified Microsoft’s content or gave a good argument why we need a new platform for it.

Shane Ryan: Games, games, games. With Deadly Premonition being my game of the current generation, discovering that someone is financing a new vision by writer/director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro was a moment of joy. Add in a new exclusive from two thirds of the creative talent behind Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, awarded my only 10/10 score to date, and right there are two reasons to consider Microsoft’s new console.

Respawns’ Titanfall aims to provide some needed oxygen to the fading flame of the first-person shooter through a persistent multiplayer world stitched together with narrative. Previously, F.E.A.R.2‘s use of controllable mechs never reached full potential in its translation from concept to playing field. Perhaps Respawn will nail it with their online world.

“A new vision by writer/director Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro”What was cemented is a strong reliance on third-party support. Microsoft are going on hard on exclusive/timed content and releases. Exclusive or timed content for Call of Duty: Ghost, Battlefield 4, FIFA and Madden is a strong hand in their plan for domination of the North American market. We must always remember that ‘us’ – the enthusiasts – are a small percentage in the larger market.

Another fifty games wouldn’t have conquered the outstanding questions, though. As the anti-used game baton continues to be passed from one person to the next, many policies remain clouded in fog. I, for example, turn my modem off when I’m not in. Will this cause a delay in re-authentication with every new load-up? Who knows. The announcement of a launch price £80 more than its competitor is yet another hurdle Microsoft expects its consumers to leap.

But let’s finish by focusing on the developers: the cynicism of an overstretched generation is on its way out.

You can read Nick Vracar’s direct thoughts of the conference from E3 here.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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