Monday, 10 June 2013
Microsoft E3 Conference Review
Ok, so, where to begin...I guess I should start with a disclaimer, lest you think I'm a Microsoft hater or something, I'm not, or at least, I wasn't. I liked the original Xbox (you know, the real Xbox one?) and absolutely adored the 360, I thought they were brilliant, the 360 especially as Sony had apparently forgot that it was in the game console making business with the PS3 (though it did claw some of that lost respect back over the life of the PS3), touting it as media entertainment hub and what other nonsense...basically what Microsoft did with the reveal of the Xbox1, Sony did years ago with the PS3 reveal.
Now, I'm not going to go into detail on the Microsoft reveal because....you have internet access and are, I assume, somewhat sentient so you should know or will at least have heard of all the rage surrounding it. Microsoft has done an amazing job by uniting the grand majority of gamers, albeit in opposition to them, and so were quick to point out that the REAL show would be E3. Yes, at E3, that is when they would wow the world with their impressive game titles and show the world that they mean business. Well, the conference ended in the last hour or so and if that was their attempts to wow us, to really make an impression, mission failed dudes...But before I go onto the negative, I will start with the things Microsoft did right, because the conference wasn't actually all that bad, truth be told, it didn't really have any moments that were jaw-droppingly awesome but neither did it have too many moments that were head-droopingly boring. In fact, had it not been a show touted as their chance to regroup and blow us away (to paraphrase their own words), it would have been an all right show.
True to their word following the reveal, they showed us games. Games, games and nothing but games. And cars. And smartglass apps. And social programs...but you know what, that's fine, in the context in which it was shown, all of these, even the smartglass app integration, was fine. It was relevant to the game, it brought the games up to a higher level (the artillery strike called in on Dead Rising 3 using the smartglass for instance....nice way to rip off the wii-u, but whatever) and that is something that I can admire if not actually use. It's nice to have more choices available to players, so yeah, that's good going on their behalf. One feature that was barely mentioned (in fact, I can't remember it being mentioned at all, only used on the Project Spark title and even then never named) was Kinect. That whole thing was downplayed to the point where even when it was used (voice commands for example) it wasn't named, which is smart given the outcry over its somewhat...voyeuristic....properties, so again, it makes sense for Microsoft to not bring attention to it. And I am really running out of nice things to say about the conference now...erm...Quantum Break looked bloody good, very interesting concept, it was the stand-out title in their range...or at least it
So, the things that went wrong/could have been improved upon. It'd be too easy to say that they should have had more actual game-play footage for their games. Sony sure as hell won't later, EA won't, Square won't, Nintendo won't (well, maybe they actually will, I'm not read up on their Nintendo Direct thing yet), so it's not a fair thing to beat them with. The games themselves though could have benefited from it. Very few of the games actually looked interesting simply because they were, for the most part, apparently pre-rendered videos. It's all very well saying that the videos were taken from the game engine working inside the Xbox1, but it doesn't actually show us, the viewer, anything. We don't know how many takes each video took to get right, how much of it was edited to present as a free flowing video, it's the equivalent of a singer being accused of lip singing...and then the singer refuting those claims, expressing innocence, whilst the song continues on playing from the stage. This wasn't helped when one of the games, Ryse, supposedly taking place in real time (on two separate plays) used the same footage (check out when they first introduced it, and when the woman was playing it later before dropping out to play Killer Instinct). I mean, it's kind of an unspoken rule that what you see at a conference may be fake, but at least try to keep it believable...which I think they tried to do, by having her switch games so quickly, but that's crossing into conspiracy territory so...no, draw your own conclusion on that.
Secondly, the smartglass app...I think it could be useful, but that it's based on a faulty assumption that everyone will have access to that technology. You see, its basically copying the Wii-U tablet in a sense, and that's great but where it goes wrong is that it won't ever be able to be put in as prime feature in a game. Take the artillery shelling in Dead Rising 3, that's a fun little tool and helps out the protagonist, it creates a new element of game-play...and if you don't have access to that technology, then boy are you screwed. You could argue that there'll be a function in game to achieve the same end (i.e. open a pause menu, select the strike, pick the location, boom) and you'd probably be right, but then that renders the additional tech as a redundant feature....do you see what I'm saying? It's a nice bonus, but you could never make it a vital part of your gaming system, not with such low saturation levels....it's not so much a bad thing, just a pointless one.
Finally, on the bad portion, there's the price...This, I feel, was the only really low point of the whole conference, the real kick to the balls. In America, it'll cost you $499, in Europe, €499 and in the UK £429...for those of you blessed with the power of math and the knowledge of International currency rates...you'll see that something here isn't quite right. Now, I'm assuming that there's some kind of import law and I know in the UK that we enjoy a somewhat higher tax-rate on entertainment and electrical products than the US at least...but if you check out a currency exchange site now, you'll see that the american customer will receive their copy of the Xbox1 for £100 less, or to put it another way, if an American was forced to pay the same price as a Brit, it'd be over $777...let that sink in for a moment. Basically half as much again. Bare in mind that in the UK that a lot of the things marketed in the Xbox1 big reveal won't be available, no cable, no NFL, none of that sport crap. It doesn't matter that no one would particularly want it, what matters is that we have to pay a hell of a lot more for a hell of a lot less. Think about that for a second.
Overall, as I said at the beginning, it wasn't a bad show, it was pretty decent. I was a little disappointed Ryse turned from a Kinect game into a third person brawler (possibly the first time anyone has ever been sad that Kinect features have been taken out of a game!) but it still looks quite interesting. Other games, especially the hand selected indie titles looked very....average...at best, and I was quite intrigued by the concept of the "drivatar" of Forza 5 (even if it did make me think that "wait...so my games are going to play themselves now...what if I stop playing, do they just play on forever...."), which makes it more the pity that it was trying to clean up the mess of the Xbox1 reveal...because it came nowhere close. The fact that in addition to this decent, if underwhelming, presentation Microsoft have called off their table meeting, and so won't be responding to any questions about their new games or console, the whole thing just very much reeks of far too little, far too late. If I were Microsoft I would be hoping very much that other publishers help them out during E3, because at the moment, they've managed to stop digging themselves a deeper hole, now they just need someone to drop them a ladder to get out.