Gaming: E3 2016 Part 2 - Microsoft & Sony

Justin drops an epic bit of coverage on Sony and Microsoft from this year's E3

The bulk of the E3 press conferences are complete, and two of ‘The Big 3’ were public Monday showing off their new games and hardware on the biggest stages in video games. While E3 might not have the relevance that it once had, there were a lot of companies and commenters in LA this week to check out the future, and the makers of the Xbox One and Playstation 4 were amongst them showing of the newest and best.

Microsoft has not stopped fighting since becoming ‘behind’ in the current console generation. Some mistakes were made in the Don Matrick era, and while they still have a lower installed base than the PS4, they have really turned around their marketing and technology since the 2013 release of the Xbox One. All that work came to a head in this press conference and in my humble opinion, blew it completely out of the water.

Exclusive games were the bread and butter of the last generation, and until now they have been less than impressive on the Xbox One. Microsoft came to the stage to combat that with a number of new games, almost of all which were announced as exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10, continuing Microsoft’s efforts towards both bettering the Xbox platform and trying to make their mark in PC gaming. There were so many new games announced, and existing games getting first-time gameplay reveals that I am more excited about being an Xbox owner than I have been in several years. Check out the newest and best coming to the Xbox One and PC.

Gears of War 4: Finally some extensive gameplay footage after screenshots and text exclusively prior. The game has a fantastic look with varied environments and intense weather effects. The gameplay looks like an iterative improvement over the Gears equation but new enemies and characters, and from the looks of it there will be a lot of excited fans. As with nearly every game announcement from this press conference, Gears of War 4 will have the new ‘Xbox Anywhere’ capabilities that allows for one purchase to be playable on both PC and Xbox consoles with shared savedata and even cross-platform co-op play. It’s October release is shaping up to be the biggest title in Microsoft’s arsenal of games coming this fall. 

The dark and twisted new setting in Gears of War 4 are as immersive as they are impressive

Forza Horizon 3: Looking to be taking even more influence from Burnout Paradise, the third entry in the Forza Horizon series takes us to Australia for more open world driving. While this isn't the ‘car porn’ simulation game for the Gran Turismo players. The outdoor areas are massive and the attention to detail is high. Even without having much love for racing games personally, consider my interest piqued. Keeping the fall theme going, Forza Horizon 3 will be available September of this year.

Recore: It was nice to finally see some gameplay for this title after only a brief teaser last year at E3 2015. The gameplay looks to be 3rd person, and more shooting than I would have expected considering what was shown last year. The ‘core’ swapping mechanic was featured more heavily, and you will have options of different robots to pick with your core to help you out situationally. There’s still a lot of mystery regarding the moment-to-moment gameplay and story, but I am excited to see more about it soon as this as one of many titles coming to Xbox this September.

Dead Rising 4: Unfortunately, some leaks spoiled the surprise of this announcement, but nevertheless Frank West is back! The footage looks to have taken a lot of the vehicle gameplay from Dead Rising 3 and combined it with even crazier assembled weapons and a wider playspace. I don’t see a lot of innovation which is always a little disappointing, but a new game in the series that has taken its time and isn't a launch title of a console could be truly spectacular. Crazy weapons and hordes of zombie fun is sure to ensue this holiday season.

See of Thieves: It is nice to see Rare actually coming back to make games again, and not just kinect and avatar stuff. Sea of Thieves looks like a lot of fun and has you gather friends to crew a ship and do some online multiplayer pirating. Sing shanties, complete shipboard tasks, drink grog, and have the real pirate experience.  No release date was announced but it was nice to see Rare’s particular brand of charm come to a modern console game.

Inside: The new title from Limbo developer Playdead was announced today on the E3 stage, and with the small teaser shown we unfortunately know almost nothing. The visuals look dark, with a corporate look to it and the same looming feeling of dread surrounding it. Not much else to say but I want to know more.

Scalebound: Platinum and Microsoft have been radio silent about this game since it's announced delay to 2017. Unfortunately, its return came with an underwhelming gameplay demo of a giant set-piece monster battle that seemed to have more ties with Lost Planet than anything else. It looked clunky and slow, and I find it hard to believe this was the part of the game they wanted to demo. Considering Platinum’s recent pedigree, I am not holding my breath for Scalebound.

Big monster is big

We Happy Few: I left the most exciting for last. Part Bioshock, part Equilibrium, part Jazzpunk, We Happy Few looks to be an intense story driven experience about a terrifying future of redacted history and drugs that keep the populace happy. The gameplay is first person, but the style and story is what got me hooked. The Kafka-esque tone looks unique and I'll be keeping my eyes open for news about it going forward.

A few other games were also featured, but abundantly not new information or exclusivity. Battlefield 1 and Tekken 7 are coming to the console, and ID@Xbox showed a rapid-fire slideshow of small team indies coming to Xbox in the coming years in a way that I really appreciated (especially considering Sony’s comparative lack of said titles). Halo Wars 2 appears to be a video game, though I still question its existence to some extent considering its mediocre gameplay and limited hype. Gwent, the card game from The Witcher 3, is also getting a standalone release, but as a Magic and Hearthstone player, I have trouble being interested in a game when considerably better card games already exist.

Even with all that news, there were still multiple hardware announcements from Microsoft at E3. The leaks from the past few months have all be confirmed. This fall we will be getting the Xbox One S, a 40% smaller version of the Xbox One complete with 4k Blu Ray, a bigger hard drive, and an improved controller with some changes similar to the Xbox Elite controller. On the topic of controllers, they also announced a product in the form of custom controllers. Get your hands on a the new Xbox controller, and make it your own with custom colors and engraving. Considering the popularity of Nike Id and other customization of brands, I see this as a smart move from Xbox and I will likely buy one myself. Even more exciting was the confirmation of the ‘Project Scorpio’ rumors, and Microsoft brought in countless developers to talk about the importance of the hardware iteration for making better games. I don't think Microsoft could have done a better job announcing this, and really put a focus on its compatibility with all existing Xbox One content and how much better games will be with new hardware. The promise of console VR was even hinted at, a smart move considering Sony’s Playstation VR. No firm announcements were made about VR hardware and compatibility, but I fully expect a more Oculus partnership and unit compatible with Scorpio in 2017.

I don't think I’ll buy one, but the ‘S’ in Xbox One S obviously stands for ‘Sure looks pretty’

I was disappointed not to see more of Cuphead or a single indication of Halo 6, but as a whole Microsoft has taken the lead so far in the E3 press conference world.


While Sony brought some heavy hitters to the table that impressed me, outside of those few titles I found their press conference showing to be weak, especially considering Microsoft’s big announcements were still at the front of my mind. They started off on a high note with an impressive live orchestra and a huge game announcement in the form of the God of War reboot, but as the conference continued I felt inundated with mediocre VR ‘Experiences’, generic new titles, dispassionate trailers, and almost zero mention of anything independently developed.

God of War: Starting off with the good stuff, the new God of War title continues forward in a new setting: the snowy north. Rumors of a new Norse mythology themed God of War have been looming for some time, but the awesome and unexpected result is a game with a new perspective, new combat style, and a new setting. The demo began with an aged Kratos and his young son as they set out through the forest on a hunt, and soon discover things are afoot with mysterious forces. They’re beset by Skeletons and beasts, and a combat system is revealed that is more reminiscent of Dark Souls than anything else, definitely not the wild speed of the traditional God of War combat. Enemies take slow and telegraphed swings, you can dodge and strafe around targets, attack animations are deliberately paced, and there even appeared to be a stamina indicator in the UI. I am on board for Dark Souls meets God of War. I would like to know more.

A bearded Kratos guides his young son on a hunt through the snowy wilds

Daysgone: Announced here for the first time, Daysgone is the unnamed project Sony’s Bend has been working on since last year. Initial videos showed a leather-clad biker in the zombie apocalypse, but the more that was shown of the game, the less I liked it. Daysgone has a look and feel very similar to The Last of Us while in the game’s quiet moments, but when a zombie encounter got into full swing it turned to a generic 3rd-person shooter with a deluge of zombies. So many zombies in fact, that it almost seemed like it was used to show off the power of the platform, and it made for a very confused tone seeing this character dump hundreds of rounds into mounds of zombies. It could turn out to be great, but at this moment I’m not holding my breath.

The Last Guardian: This game has been in development for nearly a decade. They said last year it was slotted for late 2016. All Sony needed to do was show another teaser and give a release date. And that's all they did. Good job, Sony.

Yeah! Hit ‘em with your bow, Sally!

Horizon Zero Dawn: The other title that got me very excited was Horizon Zero Dawn, and after a year of limited announcements the extensive gameplay demo was exactly what the community wanted. The main theme of ‘Cavelady meet robot dinosaur in the post-apocalypse’ is still there, but more combat footage showed off traps, crafting materials, and a weapon wheel chock full of bows, slingshots, knives, and a Garry’s Mod-esque rope thrower that can be used to pin enemies to the ground. The combat was fast, varying between close-quarters and ranged battles, and the breakable weak points and traps reminded me of my time with the Monster Hunter series. The looting and crafting is a safe move considering the popularity of open-world survival games like Ark, and the mechanics reminded me of crafting with animal parts in recent Far Cry titles. On top of all that, the game is drop dead gorgeous, and it's nice to see a studio that isn't Naughty Dog actually push the console hardware to its limits. I eagerly await more footage.

Detroit: As a metro-detroiter myself, (born and raised in the burbs) this was on my radar since its announcement last year. I have a lot of respect for David Cage’s Heavy Rain, and while I didn't personally enjoy playing it, I think it made some bold choices. This appears to be more of the David Cage’s telltale decision trees and varying paths, but this time in a future Detroit that ‘dreams of electric sheep.’ Can’t really pass judgement yet but I don't expect to really enjoy Detroit, and even less so considering the often tone-deaf portrayal of the City of Detroit and its particular issues and social climate.

Call of Duty Infinite Warfare: I know this isn’t an exclusive title, but it was heavily featured in the press conference and I don't think I will cover it elsewhere. It is still weird to me to have the newest Call of Duty title getting its big moment on stage with Sony considering its history with the Xbox brand . The online community was drastically Xbox-centric las generation, and the consistent successes even drove sales of the 360 in the latter years of its lifecycle. I digress, but there is a new Call of Duty and it's gone off the future tech deepend. The game is in space, there are single player missions with ship combat, and maps add zero gravity elements to mix up combat. It still looks rooted in the combat that the series made famous, but I always like seeing what unique shakeups the different developers throw at the existing model. I'm not a usual COD fan, but I may check this one out if the sci-fi stuff really tickles my fancy.

Playstation VR: Virtual Reality is here in a big way, and Sony is trying to get to the forefront by being first to market with a console VR experience. I applaud Sony for making an more affordable (still out of price range of many) VR experience for console owners.  They made a lot of smart decisions, and featured something the VR space has been sorely lacking: AAA titles from known developers. A new Resident Evil title, a Rocksteady Batman ‘VR Experience’, a simulated Final Fantasy XV boss battle in VR all made unexpected appearances. The disappointing part was just that these weren’t full games, they were one-off interactive experiences, or things on the periphery of their big budget counterparts. I get that this is a whole new platform that's very green for developers, but these experiences just aren’t enough to get me, and many other PS4, owners to drop another $400 on hardware. The VR wasnt all bad, footage was shown of a new title called Farpoint which looks like it could be an excellent VR Sci-fi exploration game, but gleaning specifics about gameplay was hard from a pre-recorded trailer. I am very excited for the future of VR, even for many non-game purposes, but at this point I'm not ready to jump on board, especially on a console with fixed hardware that’s almost three years old.

This is seriously an FFXV Character in game wearing a Playstation VR headset. Can't make this shit up.

What remained of the press conference was mostly short reveals and one special guest appearance that I would go as far as to say was ‘Magical’. Crash Bandicoot is making a comeback among rumors from his cameo appearance in Uncharted 4, but unfortunately only in the capacity of an HD Re-release of the PS1 titles. A new Skylanders title is in the works if your kids or oddly-childlike adult relatives are into it. Insomniac is making a new Spider Man licensed game, which a surprising amount of people are excited about. Nearing the end of the show, a surprise appearance was made my video game legend Hideo Kojima, as he walked down and magically appearing stairway from heaven with glorious purpose. What he came to reveal was a very unsettling trailer for his new game Death Stranding, featuring The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus. Not much is known there, but the usual internet back and fourth of ‘Kojima is a genius’ and ‘Kojima is an actual crazy person’ was there, and the trailer certainly made an impact on those that watched it. Knowing the way Kojima has made games in the past, I don't expect to get my hands on Death Stranding for a number of years, but I’m not sure I would have it any other way.

Sony wanted to show off games, and they showed off games. I still think I was more impressed overall with Microsoft’s E3 showing, but sitting down to suss out my thoughts on their press conference to write this did color the content with some better light. I am happy I have a PS4, there are games coming I want to play on the platform, and despite indie games being criminally under-represented, there is a lot to be excited about over the next year or two from Sony.

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-Justin Wicker