The Electronics Entertainment Expo for 2014 has arrived, and of the three major video game powers of the current generation, Microsoft was up first in their media briefing to outline the future of Xbox One. When the latest Microsoft console was announced last May, there was a lot of collective trepidation from the gaming community. Some fans were put off by Microsoft’s focus to take over your living room rather than your video game library, and even the 2013 E3 media briefing didn’t manage to wow audiences as much as it should have. These issues and some latent perceptions about restrictive game policies (which have since been reversed) kind of gave Microsoft something to prove going into this year’s E3 presentation, and with a strong lineup of games outlined for both this year and next year, the 2014 Xbox Media Briefing was actually quite a show, coinciding with the release of the new Kinect-less Xbox One.
Things kicked off with a pretty extensive look at the gameplay of Activision and Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. As they did with last year’s CoD: Ghosts, Microsoft has again secured rights to release new downloadable content for the game first on the Xbox platform, and though the Xbox One has been criticized by some gamers for being less powerful than Sony’s PlayStation 4, the game footage shown during this briefing was captured on Xbox One, and looks really spectacular. We were shown a battle scenario that shows off the game’s futuristic weaponry, including giant mech tanks, enemy-illuminating grenades, and really beautiful character models. Advanced Warfare will actually be a multi-platform release bowing on November 4th, though, so next up on the docket was Forza Horizon 2, an Xbox exclusive, and a follow-up to 2012’s Forza Horizon on the Xbox 360. Horizon 2 will be built off of the same graphical engine as last year’s Forza Motorsport 5, it’ll be hitting Xbox One on September 30th.
Next up was another multi-platform release, but a truly impressive look at the cooperative play that will be offered in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity. With each installment in the action series taking place in a different historical period, Unity will be taking place during the bloody French Revolution. In the gameplay footage shown during the briefing, four players work in concert to assassinate a member of the aristocracy. While we weren’t given examples of gameplay in concert with any voice chat functions, assassins can work together and coordinate tactics of distraction and execution as they traverse the lavish aristocratic environments and buildings in order to close in on the target and throw him to the enraged people. The fundamentals of the series are very strong, and Unity looks like it’s going to make it fun to play with friends.
The next big game shown was an Xbox One exclusive, and that’s Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive. From the developers of Spyro, this game looks like an off-the-wall, open-world third-person shooter, with a tongue-in-cheek overtone and a lot of unconventional weapon choices and fighting mechanics. The trailer itself was awesome too, with the main character in it asking if players will survive, before answering his own question: “Of course you will! It’s a f**king video game, right?” For me personally, Sunset Overdrive will be one of the big Xbox exclusives to watch when it releases on October 28th.
After that showing, things mellowed a little bit when it was announced that the Dance Central franchise will return to Xbox in the form of Dance Central: Spotlight, a downloadable-only title available in September. A stable of the Xbox platform since the original console will also be returning in the form of Fable Legends, running beautifully on the Unreal 4 Engine and allowing players to get behind the role of the villain in a top-down, RTS-like interface, creating the adversity for the heroes to overcome. After short looks at Project: Spark and a new title called Ori and the Blind Forest, some very familiar music brought the lighting in the room down, and a trailer began to play featuring the one and only Master Chief.
As previously rumored, Microsoft and 343 Industries are creating an unprecedented package of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4, and combining them into a single title. Halo: The Master Chief Collection will fully remaster Halo 2 just in time for its 10th anniversary, and will also bring the multi-engine multiplayer gameplay of all four games to one disc, including over 100 multiplayer maps. Halo 2 was the game that basically helped define Xbox Live’s multiplayer mechanics, and along with cosmetic updates to the maps and models to 1080p resolutions at 60 frames per second, Halo 2‘s multiplayer is going to be ported to the Xbox One just as it shipped a decade ago with Halo 2. While it wasn’t mentioned during the actual event, 343’s Bonnie Ross stated that the same preservation of gameplay mechanics will apply to all four games in the package, while Halo 2‘s remastering effort will be given the same intense rework that was accomplished for 2011’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Given the relatively recent release of Halo 3 in 2007 and Halo 4 in 2012, these games will likely be direct ports of their Xbox 360 versions.
Coinciding with the release of The Master Chief Collection will be a web series called Halo: Nightfall, produced by filmmaker Ridley Scott and directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (Battlestar Galactica, Heroes). The first episode of the series will premiere on the game’s launch date, November 11th, with a new episode debuting every week for four weeks. The story of the web series is also going to lead into next year’s franchise sequel, Halo 5: Guardians. Pre-ordering The Master Chief Collection will also give players access to the multiplayer beta for Halo 5 this December.
At this point in the presentation, they started discussing games slated for 2015 and beyond, with the first one being the first new game from developer Playdead since 2010’s spectacular Limbo. While some of the platforming mechanics look similar to Limbo, at least in this stage of production, the level design and graphical presentation of the new game – simply titled Inside – looks like a great next step for the studio.
While new gameplay footage is hard to come by for games that are relatively far off, the concept trailer shown for holiday 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider looked like it may be an interesting exploration of Lara Croft’s psyche, and the effects of her line of work on her mental state. We were then treated to some pretty gory but nicely detailed gameplay footage from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, showing the player character tracking and hunting a griffin in a vast open world clearing. The developers claim that any part of the world you see, from the grass in front of you to the enormous mountains in the far distance, are reachable in the game’s engine, and that release will happen in February. After this, we were treated to a tease of “season 2” content for Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, and also treated to a teaser for another original Xbox title being remade for Xbox One: Phantom Dust.
From there Microsoft showed off some awesome gameplay footage from 2015’s new Tom Clancy game Division, as well as new titles in the independent development ID@Xbox program, and ended with the promise of a game that got a rather large reaction from the audience: Crackdown for Xbox One.
All in all, it was an impressive showing for Microsoft, and one that was needed to try and regain the trust of gamers that had grown a bit disillusioned with the Xbox brand over the last year. But hey, this is only E3 2014’s first stop. Be sure to check back at GeekNation soon for recaps covering the conferences for both Sony and Nintendo, and we’ll have a greater idea of what the next couple of years in gaming will look like!
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