Killer Instinct! Open world Metal Gear! Indies! The best of Microsoft’s press conference
Microsoft held their annual E3 press conference today, and as promised everything was about the games. We got a few nods here and there to Kinect and Smart Glass, but by and large they came to this show to impress the gaming community. They trotted out an endless stream of high profile games mixed with a number of surprising niche titles and even some indies as well.
METAL GEAR SOLID 5
Despite all the action that followed, Microsoft's conference may have hit its peak in its opening minutes as Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain was revealed in the most extensive trailer we've yet seen. It opened to Snake and Revolver Ocelot riding through a desert in a scene that looked like it was cut straight from Red Dead Redemption.
It takes place in Afghanistan, and as usual features Kojima's heavy-handed approach to exploring war, suffering, and somewhat tortured dialog.
In game play terms, this looks like it could be the largest expansion of the Metal Gear Series in its history. The game will be open world with plenty of vehicles, from horses to tanks. We saw real-time weather effects with a massive, blinding snow storm, as well as a gorgeous graphical engine with amazing lighting effects.
From the looks of it, Kojima won't be letting up on his anti-war messaging as the trailer touched briefly on what appeared to be child soldiers.
This title was a nifty game creator very much in the same vein as Little Big Planet. The developers showed off the ability of players to dynamically change the environment from desert to tundra to forest to nighttime to day in the blink of an eye, using voice commands or a tablet running SmartGlass. Everything in the game can be given a “brain” or a set of code instructions that will tell it how to act. They showed this by giving a rock a set of instructions that made it act like a pet, and later using a more complex “brain” to make it act like a fighter.
It ended with a bigger example of the type of epic battle that could be created with the software as a horde of goblins attacked an outpost with the player literally surfing through the world by creating land bridges underneath himself, all the while throwing lava bombs at the enemies.
A sizzle reel then showed off the wide breadth of possibilities in the game, and it had me and Ben both pretty impressed. The idea of a next-generation Little Big Planet is a pretty neat idea, and we look forward to seeing what comes of it.
Dead Rising 3
Perhaps the most exciting new title on display was the newest game in the popular Dead Rising series. It's got a new focus, a new hero, and it looks like a lot of fun. The new main character, Nick Ramos, can still craft new weapons like a chainsaw-shovel a la Dead Rising 2, but they've upped the ante with a beautiful new graphics engine and some great new fast-paced gameplay.
It was really neat to watch the gameplay shift from a scene where Ramos battled a giant horde of zombies in a wide-open outside environment, directly to a cramped, tight-hallway creeping horror scene in an instant. With no loading screens, Ramos crashed through the roof of a building after escaping the horde, and then slowly crept through the hallways of a pitch-black building while zombies leapt out from the corners.
At the same time, this is still the over-the-top zombie game that so many people have fallen in love with. Actually, it's even more over the top. Near the end of the video, Ramos drove a muscle car through a pack of dozens of zombies before exiting the car and calling down an artillery strike. This is Dead Rising at peak insanity.
The appearance of niche games
Before the conference Microsoft had been extremely focused on the mass consumer for Xbox One, so I was shocked and pleased to find that there were actually a number of small and niche games on display at the show as well. In fact, they were the biggest applause earners.
The most notable of these was the resurrection of Killer Instinct, which sent the crowd into a furor. Fighting games have fallen from the top of gaming's most popular genres list, but Microsoft devoted considerable time to this cult classic.
We also got a cursory nod to a new, cell-shaded game called D4 coming from Deadly Premonition creator Hidetaka “Swery65” Suehiro. Not much was shown about the game, but it was great to see Microsoft acknowledging the cult part of its Xbox 360 fanbase.
Speaking of the Xbox's cult fanbases, Microsoft announced a new game in the same vein as the Xbox's original cult classic, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and Panzer Dragoon games before it. Crimson Dragon is an on-rails shooter and is being called a spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon, and is being led by one of Team Andromeda's former leaders, Yukio Futatsugi, who worked on the series' early games.
Beyond that we also got a first look at a new roguelike from the creators of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery. It was a brief announcement, but frankly, we never believed we'd hear an executive on-stage at a major press conference even say the word “roguelike.”
Blockbuster games aplenty
Of course, it wasn't just about niche games. The major moments of the show tended to revolve around a long list of huge, blockbuster games filled with exploding set pieces and scripted moments. Whether or not that style of game is up your alley is another story, but this conference was full of them.
We got to see Battlefield 4's set piece extravaganza as a battle raged through a sinking ship that was falling to pieces around the soldiers. In one of the cooler moments, fighter jets from the deck of the ship began sliding down the deck and into the ocean in the middle of the battle.
Microsoft also devoted considerable time to the announcement that World of Tanks is coming to Xbox 360. As far as global blockbusters go, that's a big one.
Quantum Break, one of the few games to make an appearance at the original Xbox One announcement, was back with a short in-game sequence. We were told the show would help us create a “personalized television show,” which was an approach that worked very well with Alan Wake.
One of the biggest semi-surprise announcements at the show was Crytek's Ryse: Son of Rome. We got a long look at the gameplay of the title which stars a Roman warrior-general-type-person fighting barbarians. It all took place on a beach that might as well have been Normandy with huge explosions and arrows raining down everywhere. Ben called it “Saving Private Maximus.”
The impression from the video was a bit mixed though as the game seems to rely heavily on scripted moments and quick-time-events, but there were also moments where the main character, Marius Titus, took command of a squad of legionnaires in a pseudo RTS moment, instructing them to launch javelins and raise shields as necessary.
The big titles kept coming Microsoft revealed a new partnership with Insomniac Games, a company formerly known to only make Sony exclusives. Their new game is an open world multiplayer game called Sunset Overdrive. Game play wasn't featured in the video of the game, but it featured a cartoonish art style with gameplay that seemed to revolve around parkour mixed with monster slaying and weapon modding. Ben called it “Mirror's Edge Borderlands 2.”
From there we also got an enticing new look at Forza 5 which is introducing a new feature called the “drivatar”, a cloud-enabled tool that allows Forza to learn how to race. Once it has learned, your “drivatar” can continue competing against other opponents even when you're not racing, and you'll receive points for your digital avatar's online exploits.
The Witcher 3 was also on display with a new trailer showing Geralt of Rivia navigating an open world, battling monsters, and sailing a boat while mingling with some mermaids. They also announced optional Kinect and Smart Glass features for things like inventory management and quick-casting of spells.
In the show's most cryptic moment, we were shown a video of a cloaked figure marching through the desert before approaching a massive alien spaceship emerging from the ground. Surprise! It was Master Chief, staring face to face with a skyscraper sized alien ship. What was this exactly? We're not sure, but the word is that it indicates more Halo in 2014. Also: why the heck does a Spartan need a cloak to guard against sand? Does he get all creaky otherwise?
Microsoft's big show ended with a long look at Respawn Entertainment's new game, Titanfall.
“It's a science fiction war game, but it sure is pretty,” said Ben. “It's going to be hard to find out what makes some of these games stand out. The mech stuff looks pretty great, though.”
It's a game where humans fight alongside Mechs, and the multiplayer aspect of the game seemed strong, especially next to the obviously next-generation visuals. In many ways it was reminiscent of the powered armor described in the Starship Troopers novel, and that's a wonderful influence from which to pull. We'll see more of this game during the show, and we'll report back.
A strong showing, but strong enough?
Overall, Microsoft trotted out a long list of games that look pretty great, and it wasn't just about the blockbusters either. They devoted appreciable time to experimental games, and Japanese games as well.
This was pretty much exactly what Microsoft needed to do. They showed off a huge list of reasons why gamers should be excited for Xbox One. Now, about that price...