Xbox Connections: Microsoft's E3 2016 Media Briefing

Microsoft Xbox E3 Forza Horizon 3

The Xbox has been on the backfoot this generation. Its core concept has had to be redesigned on the fly (Remember all that TV malarkey? The current Xbox One certainly doesn’t) and its sales numbers continue to lag behind the PS4. But rather than dwelling on what can be done to salvage this generation, this year’s Xbox Media Briefing looks to the what it can do in the next half-generation.

Things kicked right off with a trailer for the Xbox One S. It will be 40% smaller than its predecessor, will feature an integrated power supply (no more power cubes!), a 2TB hard drive and support for High Dynamic Range. It will launch in August for $US299. On the iterative hardware front, players in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico can now order custom-designed controllers from the Xbox Design Lab. Just imagine your enemy on Call of Duty wielding an all-brown controller engraved with his gamertag, “xXPoonSlaya420Xx”.

Following this, we kicked off the gameplay with a Gears of War 4 demo, in all its 60fps glory. There was a quote during the demo which seemed to sum up Microsoft’s efforts to reboot the franchise: “I’m hoping it might have some kick left in it!” It’s apparent that the game won’t be deviating too far from the now decade-old formula, with the familiar brown-grey palette, weighty mechanics and characters; a fitting double entendre given the reveal of Old Marcus Fenix at the end and the addition of General RAAM to the Killer Instinct roster

We then took a trip to the faraway exotic land of, uh, Australia with Forza Horizon 3. The stage demo took the Horizon franchise’s brand of arcadey racing through the Yarra Valley and the Great Ocean Road, and as a Victorian resident the two depictions matched the reality…save for the fact that the two aren’t actually next to each other. I’m looking forward to seeing Playground Games’ caricature of our country come September 27; it may take a video game for me to finally drive down the Eastern Freeway without running into bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Speaking of the APAC region, there was a surprising show of force from the Japanese gaming sector. Square Enix director Hajime Tabata was on hand to show off the Titan battles in the upcoming Final Fantasy XV; think Shadow of the Colossus with more QTEs and handsome boys. We also got an appearance from Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya who demoed one of the large-scale boss battles in Scalebound. Both demos featured mountainous bosses, but while Final Fantasy XV was dulling in its earnestness, Scalebound leaned into its ridiculousness, with the demo literally ending with the co-op party hitting the giant enemy crab’s weak spot for massive damage.

Other games coming from Japan included Recore, one of the most interesting announcements from last year’s Microsoft event which this year was relegated to a trailer and a 13 September release date, and Tekken 7, which introduced Street Fighter’s Akuma (this is the closest we’ll get to a Tekken X Street Fighter game). Xbox One Gold members will also be able to download a free copy of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for the next week.

The [email protected] montage of course featured too many games to include here, but some of the highlights included Inside from Limbo developer Playdead (coming to Xbox One June 29) and We Happy Few from Compulsion Games. This one received an extended trailer, which painted a post-war England where citizens are hopped up on pills of Joy to keep them content and compliant (“Snug as a bug on a drug”).

We were also introduced to Dead Rising 4, State of Decay 2 and Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. There were no details about Gwent’s business model or any new cards and mechanics (suffice to say it’s ‘a game of skill), but we will find out more once the closed beta kicks off this September. We also received the trailer treatment for Halo Wars 2, which is coming out on Xbox One and Windows 10 on 21 February 2017; however, a weeklong multiplayer beta is available right now for Xbox One owners.

This press conference showed off the two ways *not* to demo a video game. I should’ve been paying more attention to the Minecraft demo and the cross-play compatibility between iOS, Android and Windows 10 versions, but I was distracted by some stilted on-stage co-op banter that would make Ubisoft’s press conferences seem human. Rare’s upcoming first-person piracy title Sea of Thieves should have left a better impression, but the Let’s Play commentary provided by the array of YouTubers and Influencers™ near-unsold me on the game, the internet and all humanity.

Finally, we put on our best ‘surprised’ faces when Phil Spencer revealed Project Scorpio. Coming in Holiday 2017, the console promises to deliver on 4K and virtual reality gaming with 6 teraflops of GPU processing and other fancy technical stats which will provide ammo to the console skirmishes soon to take place on your local comments section. Microsoft emphasised that Project Scorpio won’t replace the Xbox One or the Xbox One S, that the three consoles will coexist and that all Xbox One games and accessories will remain compatible.

Microsoft is scuttling this generation; indeed, it is attempting to do away with preconceived barriers. In its eyes, there is no difference between console and PC, East and West, Xbox One circa 2016 and whatever form the console will take in the future. The questions remains whether it will stick to its newfound guns or revert back to a safe, brown-grey formula.