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Monday, June 15, 2015

Xbox @ E3 2015 Roundup - Coming Back Stronger

Microsoft hasn't had the strongest presence at E3 the past couple of years. First there was the horrendous Xbox One debacle in 2013 resulting in Sony trampling Microsoft underfoot, and last year they seemed to be more on the defensive, simply trying not to do anything offensive more than trying to do anything really good. This year, on the other hand, the proud, defeated, and timid Microsofts were all nowhere to be found, replaced by a new personality that may yet be able to salvage what many considered a botched console.

Last year, Microsoft's E3 strategy was, as they put it, 'games, games, games'. While it was a fairly safe move, it boiled down to little more than a rather uninteresting string of commercials for mostly lackluster titles. Even the bigger showings such as Quantum Break or the Halo Master Chief Collection ended up falling short due to delays in technical issues. While this year was certainly about its share of games as well, a lineup Microsoft is calling the best in Xbox history, for 2015 Microsoft had much more to show than just advertising. Here's the complete rundown:

Halo 5: Guardians

Appropriately enough, Microsoft started their show off with none other than some live gameplay of Halo 5: Guardians. Following a long-term media campaign building up to launch, Halo 5 looks to have one of the deepest and most cinematic plots of any Halo game yet, with multiple playable characters and subplots for each along with the broader narrative and familiar Master Chief. The final game will run in full 1080p at 60 FPS, and supports 4-player online co-op in the campaign as well as 24-player multiplayer matches in the game's new Warzone mode, which 343 advertises as 'Player vs Everything' (as opposed to PvP or PvE, 'Player vs Player' and 'Player vs Environment').

Halo 5: Guardians is coming October 27, 2015 exclusively for Xbox One.


But Microsoft didn't even stop to catch their breath from there. Jumping straight into a new trailer came the world premiere of Recore, another Xbox-exclusive from Mega-man developer Keiji Inafune and the makers of Metroid Prime. Though the game was only present in cinematic trailer form, what little we know indicates it will be a sort of post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure featuring a combination of human protagonists and robots whose personalities evidently are contained within glowing orbs called 'cores' which can be inserted into different robotic bodies to take on new forms. It's a bit like Playstation's failed experiment, Knack, but hopefully will do better with such a talented team behind it to flesh the idea out and make it something really clever and fun.

Xbox 360 Backwards-compatibility

It's not every year that a non-game feature ends up one of the biggest announcements of E3, but this one certainly takes the cake. As part of a new firmware update for Xbox One consoles, backwards-compatibility has been added to enable play of all Xbox 360 games in both retail disc and digital formats on the Xbox One. In addition, Xbox One features will be maintained in old titles, enabling taking screenshots, streaming to Twitch, and even streaming to the Xbox app on Windows 10. What's more, the feature connects to all the same servers as its previous generation counterparts, meaning Xbox One and Xbox 360 players can join in on the same exact online sessions. While Microsoft is at the mercy of Xbox 360 game developers to support old titles, all that is needed for a game to hit the store in digital form is the approval of that developer--no coding work necessary. Though it wasn't made clear, it was implied that this applies to disc-based games as well, since apparently an Xbox 360 disc is only used to verify ownership, and actually playing the game is done through a download of the title from the Xbox Marketplace. Still, in light of Sony's rather poor offering with Playstation Now, native backwards compatibility on Xbox One is a massive selling point for the console and will grow its library and userbase dramatically. With last gen lacking many exclusive games, the Xbox One is now an attractive option even for former Playstation 3 users who can't quite let go of their old favorites.

Xbox Elite Controller

The Xbox controller has always been a fan favorite for its sturdy build and analog stick configuration, and it just got better. The new 'Elite' controller is both your average Xbox One gamepad and something completely unlike Microsoft has ever done before. Gone is the so-so D-pad in favor of a flat disc with 8 faces to indicate directions, something like a digital-analog hybrid. Four additional buttons occupy the underside of the controller. Hair triggers can be locked, and wireless audio is provided via a 3.5mm headphone jack. And what's more, all the controls are swappable. Want a different pair of analog sticks? Different style of underside buttons? New face buttons? You can do it all without disassembling the controller or voiding any warranties. On the software side, buttons can even be remapped and sensitivity curves adjusted. The Elite controller is also said to feature increased precision, though how exactly this pans out in actual gameplay won't be seen until the new gamepad releases this Fall for both Xbox One and PCs running Windows 10. UPDATE: the Elite Controller will come with a price tag to match, at $149.99 direct from Microsoft.

Third Parties

But this was the Xbox E3 event, not just Microsoft, and so some time was given to other developers to share their products and services on the Xbox One as well. Fresh out of a successful inaugural E3 event of Bethesda's own was Director of Bethesda Games, Todd Howard, on stage to demo Fallout 4 running on the Xbox One and share the pretty incredible news that mods created for the game on the PC will be transferable and playable on the Xbox One. Peter Moore of EA also stepped up to promote EA Access, an Xbox-exclusive companion service for EA games that allows early access to new titles and a growing catalog of older games that come at no additional charge for subscribers in addition to discounts and other benefits. Joining that collection this week is Titanfall, and at the end of the summer Dragon Age: Inquisition will drop as well. At $4.99 a month, EA Access seems like a pretty good deal for Xbox One gamers who don't already own much of EA's library. If you want to check the service out, EA also announced that during the week of E3 the vault is open to all who already have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, so act fast! Last but certainly not least, a brief promo played to announce Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. For more on that title, stay tuned for the big EA @ E3 2015 Roundup post to follow shortly.

Forza Motorsport 6

If nothing else, you've got to hand it to Microsoft for having the highest-budget E3 presentation so far: to announce Forza Motorsport 6, a real Ford GT concept car was literally dropped down through the roof right onto Microsoft's Xbox stage, and Henry Ford III himself was even present to plug the new game, and more specifically, to plug the Xbox One as the console for racing. With titles like Driveclub and Project Cars just recently released the latest Forza has a lot of competition, but it looks set to hold its own anyhow. An insane amount of detail has been put into the car models themselves, both internally and externally, and weather effects continue to grow more and more intense as individual drops of water streak across the windshields of virtual cars. And yes, Forza 6 will run at 1080p in 60 FPS, exclusively on Xbox One. The game will release on September 15, 2015.

Dark Souls 3

Sony may have struck a win with Bloodborne, but don't count Microsoft out just yet: From Software's next entry in the notoriously brutal Dark Souls series is coming to Xbox One in early 2016. Though only a cinematic trailer was shown and the game will not be exclusive to the platform, it's clear Microsoft wants gamers to remember that Playstation isn't the only place to get your From Software fix--just another sign of the Xbox One's maturity as a console.

The Division, Rainbow Six Siege

Microsoft also had the advantage of being the first to show off Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's The Division, with a trailer detailing a bit of the game's story. It appears New York has been devastated by a weaponized virus--not the most original of plot points by now, but one that may prove to still be interesting for another go-round. In the game, the Division is a force of special ops designed to bring the city back under control. It's being called an 'action RPG' by Ubisoft, and it's coming in beta form to Xbox One only this December.

Ubisoft's other big Tom Clancy game, rather the opposite of the Division, is a close-quarters SWAT-style anti-terrorist shooter: Rainbow Six Siege. Siege will arrive October 13, 2015, and thanks to Xbox 360 compatibility will ship with free copies of both Rainbow Six Vegas and Rainbow Six Vegas 2, which will become available to Xbox One gamers later in the year. For more on The Division and Rainbow Six Siege, stay tuned for the big Ubisoft @ E3 2015 Roundup post.


In something of a tonal shift, Microsoft also unveiled the bright, colorful, and stylized 'Gigantic', a free-to-play cooperative action game hitting Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One in beta form come August 2015. Not much is currently known about the title, but with the beta already on the horizon we'll likely hear more from Microsoft on this one shortly.


From the very start of the console generation, Sony created a platform for indie game developers to easily publish their games on Playstation consoles. While Microsoft initially only committed to the same ideal half-heartedly, it's clear that indies are now a priority for Xbox as well. Games like Cuphead, Rise and Shine, The Mean Greens, Phantasmal, and handfuls of other indie-developed games made up a montage to show off the Xbox One as a viable platform for small studios as well as the big honchos. We even got a sneak peak of the next game from the creator of DayZ, a space MMO not unlike said game, called Ion.

Beyond Eyes

For the Bethesda @ E3 Roundup post, I said videogames have become comfortable in their own skin, to be whatever they want to be instead of just the same formula over and over again. Games like Beyond Eyes are the perfect example. What kind of game is Beyond Eyes? We don't really know, but we know that it comes from a very interesting premise: playing a character who is blind and must experience the world through other senses. It's artistic, it's atmospheric, it's emotional, and the type of unique experience we only get every once in a long while. Think what Journey was to the Playstation 3, this game will be to the Xbox One.

Xbox Game Preview

And as the cherry on top of Xbox's indie game presentation, Microsoft unveiled Xbox Game Preview, a new program similar to Steam Early Access on PC. With Game Preview, developers can make their in-development titles available for gamers to try out. This generates both user feedback and financial support to get the final product out of the gate as the best it can be. Since early access games are something of a gamble, however, free trials will be available so players can make better-educated decisions on what titles to put themselves behind and which to hold out on to see how development progresses.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

We've known for a while that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be Xbox exclusive for a while now--a deal that got plenty of series fans up-in-arms, considering its history of being multi-platform with a predominantly Playstation focus. Though the exclusivity is timed, meaning a PC and PS4 release will happen eventually, for the game's release in time for Christmas this year it's Xbox-only. And following the world premiere of gameplay from the sequel to 2012's hit franchise reboot, I have to say the future is looking bright for gaming's most popular action heroine. In terms of gameplay it's no great departure from the reboot, but it's clear Rise of the Tomb Raider is growing itself even as it aims to show off the growth of its titular character. The visuals are more intense, the set pieces are bigger, the stakes are higher, the story is deeper, and Lara Croft is stronger. From the looks of things, we'll even actually visit plenty of tombs this time. If archeological action adventures are your thing, you'll definitely want to sink some time into enjoying Rise of the Tomb Raider. If you aren't an Xbox gamer, you'll just have to wait a while to do it. Otherwise, you can expect to be raiding tombs at the end of the year on your Xbox 360 or Xbox One.

Rare Replay

If you were around in the late '90s, chances are high you're familiar with Rare, creator of some of the most beloved games on the Nintendo 64. Following a buyout by Microsoft the developer fell into obscurity, but for Rare's 30th anniversary Microsoft is making good on the properties they acquired by re-releasing 30 classic Rare games on the Xbox One as a single, $30 package. Noticing the pattern yet? Perfect Dark, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and Banjo-Kazooie definitely highlight the collection, but there are plenty of others worth checking out as well. While not much has been done to update the collection to modern standards (in other words, this isn't a remaster), $1 per game isn't a bad rate for a package of classics, and with Xbox 360 backwards compatibility is really just icing on the cake for anyone looking to relive some of the brighter moments of gaming past on their Xbox One. The Rare Replay collection will be available on August 4 of this year.

Sea of Thieves

Rare also had a brand new title to show off, a stylized and colorful 'pirate simulator' sort of title where players can band together online and take to the seas in naval combat. The game will be an Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive, and has no release date as of this point.

Fable Legends

In the same vein is the Xbox One and Windows 10 PC exclusive, Fable Legends. This will be a free-to-play title, with the one caveat that Xbox players must have an active Xbox Live subscription. Cross-platform play between Xbox One and PC is fully supported, meaning not only can the two interact with each other, but anything done on one platform carries over to the other seamlessly, so players do not have to maintain separate characters. Though only a cinematic trailer was shown, Fable Legends has been confirmed for a holiday 2015 release.

Microsoft Hololens

For the Oculus Rift @ E3 2015 post, I mentioned that I would rather see Microsoft working on Hololens gaming than streaming Xbox One into a virtual big-screen TV in Oculus Rift. While the latter feature did get a second plug at the Xbox event, as it turns out my alternative wish came true: Hololens may indeed be more a productivity tool than an entertainment tool, but that doesn't stop it from offering some interesting 'mixed reality' gaming experiences, and spearheading the effort is none other than Minecraft. Now, this is the real Minecraft experience mind you, not a watered down version like we've seen on Android and iOS devices. Hololens and regular PC users can interact as normal, with the game appearing as a virtual screen in Hololens. But that's not the exciting part. Hololens is about virtual holograms, and it is possible to turn, say, a blank table surface into a Minecraft world of its own. It's a bit like viewing the game as a living Lego set, and it practically has to be seen to be believed. With real-time 3D match-moving, the game appears to really blend in with the table, showing only as many Minecraft pixels as can fit on the table's surface. The view can be manipulated as necessary, even looking inside buildings and underground, and actions in the world can be taken with a combination of touch and voice gestures--though I remind you you won't actually be touching anything, much as it might feel like it. It's one of the most new and creative things I've ever seen, and a terrific showcase for Hololens that's sure to serve as a major selling point for the device whenever it releases.

Gears 4

Remember 2005? I sure do. Remember that it was ten whole years ago? Nope, that part I completely forgot. But it's true, and that means the iconic Gears of War franchise is also a decade old now. Crazy. But despite going silent for a number of years, the series is ready to make a comeback on the Xbox One with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, a remaster of the original game for Xbox One releasing this August 25, and more importantly a proper continuation to the original trilogy, Gears 4, coming holiday 2016. The series hasn't skipped a beat in the last several years, and the new protagonist looks like a refreshing change from the overly-beefy Marcus Fenix of the past. We only got a brief gameplay clip taken from the game's campaign, but it's clear that what's there is Gears of War to the core, and we'll surely see more of the game next E3 before the big launch.