In 2013, Sony’s “Official Used Game Instructional Video” said it all.
As a gamer, I’ve always been firmly in the “Sony consoles, Nintendo handhelds” camp. Sony consoles because the PlayStation’s exclusives have tended to be quirkier, more accessible, indier, and Journey-er than the Xbox’s; Nintendo handhelds because Sony still doesn’t understand that portable gaming is better-suited to casual, pick-up-and-play experiences than, y’know, tiny weeny versions of console games.
And in recent years, Microsoft’s Xbox E3 Briefings have been hampered by the software giant’s weird, flip-floppy decision making and refusal to just focus on games. Sony just always seemed to get it — remember when they announced the PS4 with that quip about not having built “a box”, but an amazing place to play? And then Microsoft was like, “Hey, we’ve made a TV set-top box that runs Windows and also you can play games on it but only ONCE EVER and then it breaks!”?
You can probably understand why I wasn’t expecting much from this year’s show. And then, boom.
Suddenly my shiny new PS4 wasn’t looking so shiny.
Microsoft kicked things off with a look at the shiny new Xbox One S, which will be arriving in stores in time for Christmas. The new ‘Box includes support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) gaming and 4K Blu-ray playback, and is no less than 40% smaller than its older brother — finally, the Xbone has shed its “1980s VCR” design and unwieldy power brick in favour of a far more refined, premium-looking design.
Xbox One S works with all existing Xbox One games and accessories, too, so it should nicely complement its existing family members — and could possibly tempt new players into the Xbox fold.
Alongside its new console, Microsoft also announced its new Play Anywhere feature, which will allow players to buy a game and access it on their Xboxes and Windows 10 PCs. Play Anywhere games will also feature cross-platform Xbox Live multiplayer, and be able to share Achievements and save files. So you’ll be able to save a game on your Xbox at home, grab your laptop, and pick up where you left off on your lunch break. Currently, Gears of War 4, Dead Rising 4, Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 3, Scalebound, State of Decay 2, Halo Wars 2, ReCore, and Crackdown 3 are all confirmed to be Play Anywhere-compatible.
Interestingly, the Play Anywhere games we saw were described as “Xbox One and Windows 10 Exclusive”, which had me wondering if Microsoft is about to unify the Windows and Xbox Stores. We know Windows 10’s Universal Apps are on their way to the Xbox, so it’d certainly make sense — either way, this is something only Microsoft could really do, and it’s great to see them using some common sense and uniting their console and PC fanbases like this.
I’ve been champing at the bit to play Inside ever since it was announced at 2014’s E3, so it was great to see it finally get a release date and a new trailer. Inside, by Playdead games, is the follow-up and spiritual successor to 2010’s Limbo, arguably still the critical darling of the 2D sidescrolling platformer world, and it looks every bit as good.
Once again, players will take on the role of a lost young boy, but this time you’re tasked with shutting down a facility that performs gruesome mind-control experiments on people. Somehow, the sprawling, industrial landscapes and faceless, clipboard-wielding scientists are even scarier to me than Limbo’s eerie forest, and I can’t wait to tiptoe my way through Inside — if and when it finally sneaks onto the PS4.
We Happy Few is the wonderfully demented brainchild of Compulsion Games, who describe it as “a game of paranoia and survival, in a drugged-out, dystopian English city in 1964”. Seemingly a first-person survival game with “walking simulator” elements (I mean that in the best possible way), We Happy Few looks right up my alley and is easily the game I’m most excited about from Microsoft’s Briefing.
Like BioShock’s Little Sisters (and judging by today’s demo, I don’t think the BioShock parallels end there), the characters in We Happy Few live in a world of blissful, rose-tinted ignorance, fuelled by a mood-altering drug called Joy. Our character, however, has decided to wean himself off Joy — it’s up to us to help him hide his “Downer” ways and blend in well enough to avoid being attacked by the Happy Few.
We Happy Few is heading to Xbox Preview and Steam Early Access on July 26th, and I really, really, really hope it eventually comes to PS4. If it doesn’t, I might just become a Downer, too.
Rare and Microsoft Studios’ Sea of Thieves could be described as a massively cooperative pirate ship sim — working in small teams, players will man the various posts on a pirate ship, doing what they can to keep things running smoothly as they travel between islands, stave off attacks from rival ships, and desperately try to patch up leaks.
The game’s visuals remind me a lot of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which can only be a good sign: judging by the lucky players who got to try the above demo, this is less about stuffy, hyper realistic “experiences”, and more about recapturing the joy (lowercase J this time) that comes from smashing up a Playmobil pirate playset with your friends. It’s a childlike storytelling sandbox packaged for grown-ups, and it looks wonderful.
Touted as “the world’s most powerful console”, Microsoft’s Project Scorpio will eventually become the third member of the Xbox One family, bringing with it unparalleled processing power, true 4K gaming, and silky-smooth, 60Hz framerates. Naturally, we don’t yet know the full specs, and we haven’t seen a single second of Project Scorpio gameplay footage (heck, we haven’t even seen a case design), so it remains to be seen how well Microsoft’s new console will achieve its lofty promises.
However. What is really interesting here is Microsoft’s new strategy: going “beyond generations” and allowing people to play “without boundaries”. We’ve already heard how Windows 10 is supposed to be the last version of Windows, and the start of “Windows as a Service” — now, I have a feeling the Xbox team are working towards a similar end goal.
If Microsoft can make Xbox One “the last Xbox” — keep iterating every few years to stay ahead of the curve, but keep compatibility with older games and accessories — they could easily force Sony down the same route and blur the lines between console and PC gaming once and for all. The real challenge will be making sure that’s actually a good thing; the last thing console gamers need is a Steam Machines-esque mishmash of different models and upgrades to figure out.
I’ll be interested to see what kind of spin Sony puts on the Project Scorpio announcement, if any — we’ve heard the PlayStation 4K isn’t going to make an appearance at this year’s conference, but at this point it seems like it’d be platform suicide if they don’t at least give it a wry nod.
And then there’s the small matter of the games… More to follow…
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