E3 Week 2015 - Microsoft Press Conference!

Microsoft's mammoth E3 press conference was a barrage of announcements fire off in quick succession. After their letdown E3 briefing in 2013, Xbox has been hard at work attempting to get back to the number one games console - Let's take a look at what they had to offer this year.

 

Part 1 - Big Gun First Party Exclusives

Microsoft is holding back no punches when it comes to its upcoming games lineup, especially in regards to it's holiday season - with 5 massive exclusive titles to look forward to this year, one sequel for 2016, a Rare surprise and one whole new First party developer joins the mix.

Halo 5

Xbox's biggest franchise is back for it's 5th installment in Halo 5: Guardians. Microsoft showed off a compelling gameplay demo of the game, featuring seamless drop in drop out 4 player co-op in the main story campaign. Halo 5 sees the player take on the role of Locke, a spartan tasked with the job of hunting down the "traitor" Masterchief with his squad of highly skilled agents. Other players will be able to drop in and play as one of those squad members at any time - when they leave, the spartans will return to being AI controlled.

A few interesting notes - the story does sound intriguing, no doubt with plenty of interesting twists turns. I put "traitor" in quotations because the situation is no doubt more grey than it would seem. Also something that seems to have been added is special abilities for the spartans to use, ala Destiny style - think jumping up in the air and pounding  the ground, creating a shockwave of energy.

Being a massive part of the Halo experience, multiplayer also is getting something special - War Zone is a 24 player mode that is essentially P v P v E. Teams of 12 face off against both each other and AI controlled monsters.

Halo 5 is due out October 27 2015.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Coming exclusively to Xbox One & Xbox 360 (at least for now), Rise of the Tomb Raider continues the journey of rebooted Lara Croft as she becomes the legend we all know and love.

Rise of the Tomb Raider send Lara to a new icy location, complete with snow, avalanches, ice and more action than you can throw a pry axe at.

Lara will be taking new companions with her in her quest to find a lost city in the hidden reaches of an icy mountain locale. An interesting (and fantastic for old fans of the series) quote made by Crystal Dynamics in relation to this game: "Yes, we will be putting the tombs back in Tomb Raider."

Rise of the Tomb Raider will be out November 10 2015.

Gears of War Ultimate Edition

The very first Gears of War is indeed coming to Xbox One.

Not just a simple port, this full remaster is a complete overhaul of the original. Rebuilt from the ground up, this game will bring the first Gears into the modern era of video gaming.

This version of Gears 1 will also include entirely new content and run at a smooth 60fps. A public beta is currently available, should you be an Xbox One owner.

Gears 4

Microsoft's One More Thing moment at this year's conference was the showing of a gameplay demo of the next in the Gears franchise, Gears 4. And boy, does it look next gen.

The guys behind this next installment have done a great job of animating the world to really make it feel alive. The way the wind blew with the trees... So good.

Anyway, this vertical slice of gameplay showed the main character with a female companion, hunting down a monster in a dark estate at night during a storm. Not much was really given away story wise, but the gameplay was all you'd expect from a Gears game - cover based shooting, big chainsaw guns and disgusting creatures trying to kill you.

The devs are aiming for a 2016 release for Gears 4.

Recore

In a surprising announcement, Keiji Inafune has partnered with Microsoft as a first party developer with the new title Recore.

A trailer was shown off for this title of a girl with a companion robot dog, housing a blue orb of some sort. The duo are attacked by crawling mechanical spiders with glowing red orbs, and... you know what, it's best if you just watch the trailer. Seems like this game has a great concept at it's core (heh.)

Rare's surprises

One of the beloved devs of the pre Microsoft purchase era is back in a big way with two amazing announcements for fans of the franchises Rare has created over the years.

First up, Rare is releasing a bundle of 30 games titled Rare Replay, coming exclusively to Xbox One. This bundle includes a diverse range of amazingly nostalgic titles, such as Battletoads, Banjo Kazooie, Conkers Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark and Blast Corp. Fans will be able to get their hands on this bundle August 4th 2015.

Second, Rare is developing a whole new (non Kinect) IP titled Sea of Thieves. Shown as a "shared world adventure game", this vibrant colourful world is based around sailing the seas, battling pirates, exploring strange islands and plundering treasure. The artwork reminds me of the Monkey Island remakes done by Telltale.

One sweet thing that it looks like you'll be able to do is get a group of friends together and sail your own ship, which looks pretty cool. The game will be coming to both Xbox One and Windows 10.

Fable Legends

The next installment in the Fable universe is an entirely new concept for franchise. Fable legends is a free to play MMO, coming to both Xbox One and Windows 10.

The game will feature cross play between both platforms, allowing players to play the one character where ever they choose to play, as well as allowing them to play with their friends no matter what the situation.

Forza Motorsport 6

In a new partnership with car manufacturer Ford, Forza will be bringing back the beloved Ford GT.

In stunning visual detail that fans have come to expect from the series, Forza 6 showed off the newest Ford GT in action across a range of tracks, times of day and weather conditions. In classic Microsoft style, the presentation for the game was lead by the lowing of an actual 2015 Ford GT lowered onto the stage from the roof. It was quite the spectacle. 

Boasting the graphic fidelity of 1080p/60fps, this game is sure to keep fans of the franchise satiated. You can expect this to hit shelves September 15 this year.

 

Part 2 - The Third Party's

Pretty much all 3rd party games mentioned by Microsoft were shown off at their respective shows, so a lot of what we saw had already been shown - but there were a few small surprises in the bunch.

Fallout 4

On Xbox One, Fallout 4 will have a little bit of a bonus over it's PS4 counterpart - Xbox One owners will have full access to mods made for the PC version. It is believed that modding will eventually come to all platforms, but Xbox One will be getting full support on day 1.

Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2

The colourful take on 3rd person shooters is getting a sequel, and this time the plants are on the offensive. The new sequel will add new modes, zombies, plants and more.

Dark Souls 3

All we got to see was a trailer, but it's official - Dark Souls 3 is coming. Word has it that it will be a bit of a departure from the first two - not sure what that means, but but I suppose we'll find out when it is released in early 2016.

Tom Clancy's The Division

While just showing off a trailer, Microsoft also mentioned that Xbox One will get an exclusive beta for The Division in December this year.

Rainbow Six: Siege

Nothing new was shown during the trailer for this game, but what was the surprising extra is that purchasers of this game on Xbox One will get the 360 versions of Rainbow Six: Vegas and Vegas 2 for free with backwards compatibility, which is pretty awesome of them.

Gigantic

A new IP coming exclusively to Xbox One and Windows 10, Gigantic looks to be a MOBA style game with a bit of a twist - each side has a guardian they must presumably defend, and then after a time can unleash on their opponents. A beta for the game will be available in August this year.


Part 3 - The Indies

Microsoft now boasts over 1000 developers in its ID@Xbox program, and decided to show off a few of them during the conference. Some of these really look like hits already.

Tacoma

The new project from the developers of Gone Home, this first person exploration game gets a bit more creative than it's predecessor.

Tacoma is set on a space station, and you are an astronaut trying to uncover the truth of what has happened to the crew that inhabited the structure. The game seems to add a bit more in the way of more action sequences, such as flying up a tube.

Ashen

A multiplayer game that seems part adventure, part dungeon exploring, part survival game, Ashen takes players on a journey through unknown locations to explore and survive. You need to figure who you can and can't trust in this game, because you just may be left behind.

Beyond Eyes

This gorgeous watercolor paint style game is about a blind girl "seeing" and finding her way through the world she lives in. Beyond Eyes will be out within the next few months.

Cup Head

Going for an art style very different from current games in any genre, this action platformer looks to being the days of old back with its 1930's cartoon aesthetic and its and tough gameplay.

Ion

The new game from Day Z developer Dean Hall, Ion is Dean's vision of a game that isn't a game based on quests, but on physics, chemistry and biology. The devs built the structure surrounding the game, but it is up to the players on Xbox One and PC to build the universe to how they want it.

Sounds a little bit like a human psychology experiment, but I'm intrigued. Plus, Dean's New Zealand accent is the best.

 

Part 4 - Future Platforms

Microsoft seemed to be lagging behind when it came to VR, but they left that opinion in the dust during this years conference.

Partnership with Oculus

After previously announcing it at Oculus' pre E3 show, Microsoft reaffirmed its commitment to VR by reiterating the Oculus partnership and repeating the announcement of the ability to stream Xbox games through Windows 10 to the Oculus Rift. VR support will be baked into Windows 10 from day 1.

Hololens Minecraft demo

This demo was potentially the most jaw-dropping part of Microsoft's whole show.

The Minecraft team at Mojang (actually pronounced Mo-yang - biggest revelation of the show) are always committed to bringing Minecraft to new platforms, and with Microsoft's $2.5 billion purchase of the team, you can probably see where this is going.

With one person on a Surface tablet and another donning a Hololens prototype, the duo showed off a version of Minecraft playably through the headset. The camera showing the demo to the world also had a retrofitted hololens, so we could see what the wearer was seeing - an augmented reality screen projected on the wall that only he could see. Pretty amazing stuff - but the best was yet to come.

To show off the real power of Hololens, the wearer put the controller down and turned to a small, plain looking table, and proceeded to use voice and hand gestures to generate a 3D hologram of the Minecraft world on the table. This world was the same world that the tablet user was in, and could be seen running around in the hologram.

Seriously, words can not describe the amazing stuff shown with Hololens. I'd highly recommend you watch the demo below and see it for yourself.

 

Part 5 - Software and Platform

Microsoft spent a bit of time talking about some stuff other than actual games - though all of it was game related. Not a peep of TV, media or apps this year (thankfully).

EA access

EA's partnership with Microsoft continues to strengthen as they detailed more about EA's special Xbox deal, EA Access. With this $5 a month subscription service, Xbox One owners can get free unlimited access to a back catalog of games, as well as early access to new games coming to market. The example of upcoming game Madden NFL 2016 was given - The game will be released on August 25 this year, but EA access members can start playing the game 5 days earlier than anyone else. Sounds like a great deal if you're into the title's EA puts out each year - especially sports titles.

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility

To the roars of the crowd, Microsoft announced a new, long awaited feature for Xbox One in backwards compatibility. You can now play your old games on Xbox One. However, there is a catch.

It seems like the team at Xbox themselves need to put the games through some sort of process to get them ready for backwards compatibility - you can't just play the game straight off the disk. You still put the disk into the drive, and the Xbox One recognizes the 360 disk - but you need to re-download the game from Microsoft servers. It's all free, which is fantastic, but it'll still cost you download data and time.

There will be a library of over 100 games available for this feature straight away, with more being added over time. If devs of Xbox 360 games want this feature added (which they should) all they need to do is tell Microsoft so, and they'll do the heavy lifting so to speak.

Even with these little niggles, this is still a massive win for Xbox. The fact that you can now play at least some of your old titles, hopefully all of them someday, all without the need to repurchase them, makes the Xbox One look like a much more attractive games machine than it did a week ago.

The feature will be included in an update coming out this holiday season.

Xbox Game Preview

Microsoft has announced an initiative similar to early access on Steam for Xbox One users - with hopefully a lot less kinks.

Certain games will become available for early access on the Xbox One. These games will have to pass a screening from Microsoft, and will need to have a few extra things in order to go live on Preview. Namely, games will need to have a free demo available for consumers to try out - this way players know what they're getting into before they shell out any dollars. There will only be a few titles available when this service launches:

The Long Dark
Shelter
Elite Dangerous
Day Z

With the combination of the hand picked curation and the free demo, players are much more likely to have a better time with this kind of early access compared to other competitor options. This new initiative was launched immediately after the conference, so if you are an Xbox One owner and want to get on it, go for it.

Xbox Elite Controller

Microsoft officially unveiled their new upgraded Xbox One controller, featuring a swath of upgrades and options to make any hardcore gamer salivate.

The first notable thing about the new controller is the d-pad: instead of the usual + button layout, a kind of flat pad sits in its place, allowing for more control over the diagonal directions. Controller modders who are familiar with such pads as the ones from Evil Controllers will be right at home with the 4 buttons added to the back of pad, which sit just underneath the pinky/ring/index fingers - two on each side. The new controller also supports adjustable triggers, presumably for adjusting the amount of pressure needed for a button press. And yes, there is now a headphone jack for plugging your headset directly into the controller.

What makes this controller an even more appealing option is the fact that basically everything that has been added is swappable - if you want to keep the back buttons but don't like the new d-pad, you can swap it out for the old version. No official word on pricing yet for these babies, but expect it to be in $100 - $200 range. These controllers are designed with pro players in mind, not the casual everyman.

 

That's a wrap folks

After a mammoth conference, Microsoft finished with the big promises of a lot more to come at Gamescom in August.

 

More E3 coverage still to come over the weekend - come back for more EA, PC and Square Enix coverage soon!