Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Microsoft @ E3 2015

After Bethesda's fantastic E3 debut, it was Microsofts turn to dish out their games. Over the past few years I haven't really thought that Microsoft made the best out of E3, so going into this year I only hoped that they were trying to change their ways. A reveal too small to mention on this list was the fact that the Xbox One is finally backwards compatible with the Xbox 360. The process of adding games will take time, but it's happening. Beyond that, thankfully this year  Microsoft's event was mostly successful, but in terms of jaw-dropping exclusives, they were a little lacking. Lets get into it.


Halo 5: Guardians


The Halo franchise is a staple of the Xbox brand. First arriving on the original Xbox at launch back in 2001, the Halo series is essentially Microsoft's Star Wars. The original game spawned sequels, prequels, spin-offs, books, comics, toys and a TV series. You name it and Halo has a piece of merchandise of it. So it's no secret that nothing sells Xboxes more than a new Halo game, and with the Xbox Ones sales lagging behind those of the Playstation 4, it was time Microsoft broke out the big guns.

The CGI opening trailer set up the fact that the Master Chief has gone AWOL, and when it cut to real-time gameplay, two people were on stage essentially playing a cooperative mission. With the mission objective to find the Master Chief, the gameplay shown hit all the expected Halo beats. Don't get me wrong, it's looking incredibly lovely from a visual perspective, but in terms of gameplay it looks like, well, Halo. Nothing in the gameplay footage excited or interested me. I just sat there thinking, “I played that back in 2001”. That said, the ability to take command of the Master Chief's or Jameson Locke's squad is an interesting gameplay idea, as is the fact that both protagonists- whom we can only assume are still both good guys- are essentially enemies here. Here's hoping it's more than just another re-skinned previous Halo entry.

Rare Replay/Sea of Thieves


Since I can remember Rare haven't been the same. Perhaps it was being bought by Microsoft that sucked the soul right out of their body, but going from making games such as Goldeneye 64 and Donkey Kong Country, to now making titles like Kinect Sports and the like, it's sad to have seen them fall from grace. However, it looks like Rare is on the rebound as two big Rare centric announcements were made at Microsoft's press conference.

First came the expected announcement of Rare Replay, an upcoming title that essentially bundles together 30 of Rare's best games on one disc. Though the collection is sadly missing those two great previously mentioned Rare titles, it's jam packed full of plenty of content. The other announcement was of Rares upcoming brand new game. It's called Sea of Thieves, and from the looks of it places you in an open-world full of other online players. Taking the role of a pirate of sorts, combat and exploration happens both on foot and out in the ocean as you, alongside your friends, work together to control a large Galleon.

Forza Motorsport 6


The same way Halo is interwoven with the fabric that is the Xbox brand, so is Forza Motorsport, the high tempo racing sim by Turn 10 Studios. Gaining 6 sequels since its original 2005 debut, the series has easily become a contender with the likes of Gran Turismo. I'm not a huge fan of racing games (I'm trying to get better), so when Microsoft started to lower down a sleek looking Ford GT down from the roof I was a little confused. It was only there for show though, and after a few minutes of talking about why racing is so orgasmic or something, the car was promptly and unceremoniously pulled back up into the rafters.

Regardless of my general disinterest in racing games, even a prat like me could see how delicious Forza Motorsport 6 looked. The preview wasn't incredibly in-depth, but featuring footage allegedly captured directly from an Xbox One, the visuals were stunning, beautiful and a real step up from 2013's Forza Motorsport 5. Featuring 25 locations to race in, 25-player multiplayer and a whopping total of 450 cars to choose from, this looks like it may the definitive racing experience on any console.

Hololens


OK this was incredible. If you don't agree please stop reading. Go. OK, you gone? Good. Powered by Windows 10, Hololens is Microsoft's see through “holographic computer”. Though it has a lot of decent real world applications, gamers have been keen to find out how this piece of tech impacts gaming. Compared to the virtual reality that the Oculus Rift is attempting to perfect, Hololens goes down the route of augmented reality. Simply put, Hololens will layer content over your real life surroundings, and the demo they put together for the presentation was nothing short of astounding.

What better way to sell a product that sell it with Minecraft, right? With a nearby camera also set up to be able to view what the Hololens was seeing in real time, a virtual TV screen appeared on a nearby wall. Though nothing looks out of the ordinary to anyone around, the person wearing the Hololens is treated to a 3D virtual world in their very own living room. However, things got even more impressive when they decided to move the action to a nearby table. Once the game was on the table it built up and projected itself out into 3D space, essentially getting to the point whereby you could walk around it, peer down into individual rooms and even overlook your friends playing from afar. It was a mind blowing demo, and though rumours of the Hololens' limited field-of-view is a little concerning, it's certainly a piece of tech to expect more from in the future.

Gears 4


This was expected, right? You can't have a Microsoft E3 conference without Gears of War and Halo, and after news of a HD remaster of the original Gears of War, Gears 4 had its premier trailer. I was never a huge fan of the franchise myself, as to me it always came across as an especially mindless shooter. However, this trailer to the latest entry in the celebrated franchise actually really impressed me. Coming across like more of a survival horror game at first, this is clearly a Gear of War game that's (literally) holding back the big guns for now.

Featuring stunning environments that are both atmospheric and insanely creepy, gameplay followed two characters as they were on the hunt for... something. Though the action kicked off at the end of the trailer with guns, explosions, muscles and typical Gears of War craziness, the build up to it all was refreshing. If the developers stay on this route and add a much needed layer of tension to the game, Gears 4 just might get me back into the series.

Overall Microsoft's live event was both superb and disappointing. I appreciate the lack of Kinect news, as do I with there being no mention of the Xbox Ones TV capabilities, but if Microsoft is going to turn the tide against Sony, they'll need to really work on dishing out some massive, game-changing exclusives. For now though, it looks like there's more of a reason to own an Xbox One than there was this time last year.

Denis Murphy


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