By Phil Harris
After last year's car crash of a press conference Microsoft had a lot of ground to make up at E3. They started as they meant to go on however with Phil Spencer opening The Xbox Global Media Briefing, acknowledging his competitors at Sony and Nintendo, although you have4 to assume he is more worried about one, and stating something that made the hall roar with glee. They would only be talking about games.
After last year's talk about the global multimedia possibilities of the Xbox One, Microsoft found themselves in risk of alienating their market and Spencer made clear, time and again that the change in direction was due to listening to the fans, something they had failed to do previously. To be honest, Microsoft's whole style of presentation had been revamped, into the slicker, friendlier Sony Playstation model but this was no bad thing and allowed him to seamlessly lead into the first franchise, Call of Duty (CoD) advanced warfare.
You don't expect Activision to back away from this cash cow, nor Microsoft to reveal anything too exclusive right from the get go, but it does feel like CoD doesn't really need the publicity and have their audience hog tied. That said the game looked impressively realistic, with a sci-fi future-shock vibe which will excite their core fans and draw in new followers who may have got a little sick of playing in hyper-realistic simulations of real theatres of war.
Following this, we had another mainstay of the Xbox, Forza, the new content for Forza Motorsport 5, the full Nurburgring – a classic track for any racing afficionados – and a vastly contrived introduction to the open world driving experience that is Forza Horizon 2, surely acknowledging another console with an open world driving game. Much as Forza itself is a classic brand open world driving games often don't really inspire, so we'll need to wait and see.
Evolve, the next creation of the Left 4 Dead team, looked far more exciting however. A multiplayer game where the human hunters pit their wits against the evolving monster, another player. Where the hunters start the stronger, as the monster evolves the balance of power changes and if the opportunities for evolving the monster are well developed this game could become one of those multiplayer classics that lasts a generation. Indeed the in game play was lip-smacking and the developers pedigree is not in doubt; lets hope we get something good.
For those not already terminally sick of the Assassin's Creed series, Ubisoft introduced Assassin's Creed: Unity, set during the French Revolution. In the next stage of this series evolution, you can team up with up to three others to complete your objectives but other than this Ubisoft broke their habit of revealing a new play mechanic to wow the audience and the gameplay looked remarkably similar to the previous iterations, although the new environments were beautiful to behold, as was Bioware's Dragon Age: Inquisition – although the reception to this see-saw series was very muted.
Not to worry, as ready to catch the eye was Insomniac's trailer for Sunset Overdrive. If the trailer had got your attention Insomniac's Ted Price seemed to kill it by suggesting that "You are the hero" and promising things like customizable characters, like it was the last decade. Anyway, he wasn't talking long enough to really kill the buzz and the gameplay had everything you loved about Ratchet & Clank except more realistic, with a seemingly endless arsenal of crazy weapons, something the developers excel at. The crowd though so too and with solo and multiplayer this seems to be a surefire winner.
Following, the terribly twee Capcom, all our characters in one game, Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade… blah, blah, jokes gone too far and Dance Central Spotlight. A simple presentation of facts from a presenter who didn't seem to want to be there, we got Lionhead and Fable Legends.
Fable is a game with a solid style all of its own, which goes with its fanbase. Its mix of light hearted fun and fantasy tropes appealing to many. Legends allows players to be the villain too, building levels for your friends to fight through and enjoy. The two styles of play complimenting each other and creating seemingly endless possibilities as long as the villains placement tool makes the level building simple and effective, but we have faith in the studio to deliver.
Keeping with the theme of creating, we had Project Spark. A world builder, game creator, which already has been popular and has lots of users, so we wish them well and to keep the 2D platform gamers happy, Ori and the blind Forest looked amazing but it was a little thin on the gameplay or any real explanation.
If you can't kill it then perhaps you should make another game. The familiar helm of Master Chief graced the screen and Bonnie Ross, 343 Studios, tried to assure us that the character had a deep personal journey, and I thought he just killed aliens, ah well. However more exciting was Halo: The Master Chief Collection, collecting all the games with Master Chief, but not the awesome Halo: ODST, with significant new options, full game unlock from the start and a modern rework of Halo 2 to celebrate its anniversary. Included in the pack is the full Halo Nightfall Digital Series and access to the Halo 5 Beta, a must for fans.
The rest of the press conference looked towards the future and most importantly the return of Microsoft's to support the indie developer. Having alienated the community they so famously supported with the 360, it was clear that they were open for business again and E3 was the best place to reassert this.
We also saw Inside, haunting gameplay moments from the creators of Limbo, the trailer of Rise of the Tomb Raider, which promised some interesting story elements about the psychology of Miss Croft we hope they develop further and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, with its massive open world and intersecting story elements, mid quest.
With Tom Clancy's: The Division, looking like a more modern version of the last Tom Clancy game, a remake of Phantom Dust and Hideki Kamiya's Scalebound, the future for Xbox One was looking bright but they simply left the best to last.
One of the breakthrough hits for the original Xbox was Real Time Worlds Crackdown and the crowd went wild when they announced a new Crackdown, already looking good and with the original creator Dave Jones on board. If it maintains the series toy box of items, vehicles and weapons to play with it could be exceptional.
Compared to last year's conference, it was clear that Microsoft had listened to its audience and adapted to their wants. Although the conference was full of franchise classics these should assure many Xbox One owners that their future is bright and well supported.
Whilst the rest of us wondered what Sony's response would be…