In the time between Microsoft’s reveal of their next-generation Xbox One console and today’s E3 press conference, the company promised that they’d show games. Not just any games, either. They essentially said, “Ready your eyeballs, oh Skeptical Fanbase, for a suite of playable software that will make your heart skip beats.” Well, after watching this morning’s presentation, I can safely say that I won’t be seeing my cardiologist anytime soon.
Microsoft had to know that sentiment was turning against them as more information came to light about the used games policy and required internet check-in for the Xbox One. And they needed to show daring games today, exclusives and third-party titles that would explode any doubts about the 360’s successor and make the thing that feel like a must-buy. I don’t think they did that.
More than a dozen games got rolled out during this morning press event and most of them felt like variations of what we’ve played already. Sure, outright sequels like Dead Rising 3 and The Witcher 3 seemed to benefit from the upgraded capabilities of the One, at least as far as graphics were concerned. But, let’s be honest, those are safe bets. New entries in well-established genres or franchises with devoted followings aren’t the fireworks people wanted to see today.
"There’s no better way to show that you believe in games as a creative medium than to make some yourself."
E3’s an annual knife-to-throat death-duel for the hearts and minds of gamers. That means that there’s no avoiding comparisons to what Sony has already said and shown about the games and development partnerships. Sony has largely put developers first when talking about their next-gen box and, moreover, their promises about easy publishing and developer support feel more organic to a strategy that been long-running. The company seems to be snatching up every promising indie release in recent memory and making them available on all their current hardware and you feel like that same plan will carry over to PS4. Time and again, Sony’s supported unconventional visions on this last generation of hardware.
With Microsoft, the games shown today feel like tertiary concerns. Yes, the tech giant’s ramping up first-party development efforts. But this comes after the portfolio of Microsoft-made games dried up to almost nothing during this last-generation. There’s no better way to show that you believe in games as a creative medium than to make some yourself. It feels like Microsoft is just coming back around to that kind of thinking, just in time to add some seasoning to their fancy DVR-linked/cable box substitute/voice-control web browser machine.
Some of the flashiest features shown today—the SmartGlass/Kinect/video editing, in particular—feel like they're supposed to get you jazzed, right? Instead, the feeling I was left with was that they were Trojan horses meant to lure me into using more Microsoft services that would expose me to more ads and more frilly extras that don't really add to game design implementation.
Too much of the stuff shown during today’s event felt derivative. Teases for meals that don’t feel the least bit tantalizing. Even the games with bigger spotlights—like Quantum Break or Halo—still have the looming shadow of TV hovering over them. Quantum Break is supposed to be a sort-of hybrid between games and TV but that interaction wasn’t shown. And let’s not forget that said interaction may not even be a thing that we want.
And that Halo teaser we saw today? Microsoft couldn’t help but remind viewers that it’ll be tethered in some form or fashion to a TV show that they’re developing with Steven Spielberg. Did anyone forget that factoid in the intervening month since the Xbox One reveal? No? Didn’t think so.
Yeah, it’s great that smaller titles like D4 and Below go to share the stage with Titanfall and Metal Gear Solid V. Their developers didn’t get to talkabout ther games, though, and overall it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that Microsoft’s a company with a seriously split focus nowadays. Whatever they do in the next five months, there’s no denying that their ultimate aim is to do something loftier than just deliver a greatly upgraded game box. And while that’s to be expected of all console makers at this point, somehow, the game lovers who energized the 360 to world-beating success feel like stepping stones now. It’s not a good feeling.