The strange case of Microsoft continues. Having being soundly beaten by Sony in hardware sales, hardware power and games available this console generation their line has always been that they’re just focusing on keeping their own house in order. There is no console war according to Microsoft. What is fascinating about the idea of a console war is simply put that the console as we know it is dead. Rumours, leaks and suggestions have persisted for months of an upgraded Xbox One, not just to match Sony’s now confirmed PS4K but to iterate on the current generation just as iPhones, tablets and PC components have been doing for years. We are now in an iterative state when it comes to home gaming. Every Xbox game will play on whatever Xbox you have, it’s just that some games are more equal than others. Microsoft pushed this message hard with its two main hardware announcements – the Xbox One S & Project Scorpio and also “Play Anywhere”, a conjoining of Windows 10 and Xbox which means when you buy an Xbox game, you get to play it on a Windows 10 PC or whatever box is plugged into your TV, 4K or not. I’ve never brought an Xbox to the park however so perhaps more work on the slogan would have been advised.
Let’s take the hardware first. Project Scorpio, the 4K ready, 6 teraflop touting upgraded Xbox One won’t be with until Christmas 2017, a full 18 months from now. The Xbox One S, a slimmer more refined looking version of the current console, will be released this year. So can anyone tell me why someone would buy an Xbox One of either variant in the next year given the faster, better console’s arrival? Microsoft obviously feel that in the long-term they need to not just catch up to PS4 in terms of power but to outstrip them also. I think the question in the meantime is how much are they going to sacrifice in doing so. An interesting and exciting 18 months await.
Microsoft also brought some actual games to the show too by the way. Unfortunately, like Ubisoft, nothing much hit the mark.
Gears of War is a series desperate for a reimaging, a reboot, a return to some sort of form but as far as I can see from the fourth entry not a lot has changed. Living in a post-Uncharted 4 world has put extra pressure on developers to shake up the third-person genre but it looks like more of the same here at least. The trailer they showed was dark, unimaginative and uninspired. The draw of the series has often been its grim setting but even its violent tendencies has been lessened and made more palatable by the cartoonish gore of Doom and Mortal Kombat’s latest kill-fests. A case of a studio being left behind as times move on perhaps. October 11th is coming soon so they better get polishing.
Scalebound, where to begin? The headphone toting protagonist has to be one of the worst in recent history. I just do not see how anyone could possibly connect to him in any capacity. His constant shout-casting, lame moves and super-naff Beats-esque musical equipment has destroyed any hope this game had with me unfortunately. Luckily enough the gameplay looks crap too. We saw 4 variants of our player-character pepper a giant crab with bullets, spells and dragon fire for a while until it eventually subsided. At no point did the crab appear to do anything in retaliation or be particularly bothered about anything happening to it until it perished. JRPG, control a dragon, giant bosses, what could possibly go wrong? See here for answer.
Sea of Thieves continued the theme of underwhelming attempts at creating new things influenced by old. This might to be a deathmatch type MMO? A Destiny-esque clan based exploration game? I don’t think anyone knows yet. The world looked fairly empty which leads me to believe that it might be a type of arena battle match in which you can also build your own ships. It’s on the show floor anyway so we’ll have more reports in the coming days but for now this has, for me, only confirmed Rare’s sensational fall from grace. Keep your eyes on Yooka Laylee for the real team that worked on all our N64 favourites.
One game that blew me away however was We Happy Few. This looks simply beautiful. A striking visual style contrasting cartoonish long-line sketches with splashes of colour makes this stand out head and shoulders above the rest of Microsoft’s show. Set in a dystopian otherworld, the inhabitants all take “Joy”, a drug created to mask the horrors of everyday life and keep grotesque smiles torn across their faces. It all goes very 1984 however when you, the hero of the tale, decide to stop taking it. The reveal of what is actually happening in the city leads to a chase and on to what looks like a first-person survival game. Keep your eyes out for a release date soon. This could be a modern classic.
To round up a few more of the mostly insipid show; ReCore has me interested. Its Keiji Inafune so tick there but if Mighty No. 9 is anything to go by that star may have fallen somewhat. I look forward to seeing more however. Forza Horizon 3 looks extremely pretty. Expect a solid driving game, it will have its fans marked already. I’ve heard very good reports on Crackdown 3 although very little of the game has been shown. Judgement reserved till I can see more. State of Decay 2 was a surprise and looks pretty if nothing else. Halo Wars has its fans; I feel they will welcome a second. Finally, Dead Rising 4 was a badly kept secret and was expected to make a showing, the first few games were distractions and this doesn’t look to change the formula drastically. Christmas theme and release date for that one, expect it to be boxed with the One S for sure.
All in all, the first of the Big Two didn’t fare too well on their report card. They did what they had to do in terms of hardware and they especially pushed the idea of the new architecture being easier for developers to work with given reports that the Xbox One wasn’t exactly that. Their software continues to be a serious downfall however and will do nothing to swing anyone away from Sony and their stellar IPs. When you’re up against the Final Fantasy VII remake, The Last Guardian, whatever Death Stranding is, God of War, No Man’s Sky and Horizon Zero Dawn you have to make sure your release calendar is stacked. Microsoft’s looks bereft of ideas, innovation and most importantly; anything to get excited about.
Watch all of Microsoft’s E32016 trailers right here:
Watch the entire Microsoft e32016 press conference right here (Courtesy of Gamespot):
Words by Eoin Monaghan