Back from the brink: Microsoft finally delivers the games, services and deals Xbox One fans have been crying out for.
“It was the Xbox 360 that made a welcome return at E3 this year, at least in spirit.”
There were real concerns going into Microsoft’s E3 showcase this morning that Xbox One was stumbling to an early death. The fear was Microsoft would spend too long talking up Windows 10, cross-platform play, augmented reality or sports and entertainment services a gaming audience would shrug off. Instead, a reinvigorated and laser-focused team walked us through 90 minutes of blockbuster games, much-requested services and a believable vision of the Xbox One’s future.
There was justifiable whooping for the opening sizzle reel, with Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix getting the loudest “fuck yeahs” from a pumped crowd. Halo 5’s Spartan Locke and Master Chief were in a support role while Lara Croft sealed her Rise of the Tomb Raider deal for good: like it or not, Lara’s an Xbox icon now, ditching the PlayStation blue for Redmond green.
This year’s lineup, which also includes the latest in the always slick Forza series and the weakest of the bunch, Fable: Legends, will get the Xbox One through to the end of 2015 comfortably. It’s not the strongest portfolio, but it’s not to be sniffed at if you’re already an Xbox One owner, and includes what looks to be a couple of genuine gems.
But far from relegated to the bins, it was the Xbox 360 that made a welcome return at E3 this year, at least in spirit. A new backwards compatiblity service launches soon, meaning players can dig out their old games and play them again free of charge. Revealing it in the first five minutes of the show was a master stroke, getting the crowd on board and reminiscing about the Xbox glory days.
“Lara Croft is an Xbox icon now, ditching the PlayStation blue for Redmond green.”
It wasn’t just the crowd, either. Both Elder Scrolls creative Todd Howard and Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six boss mentioned the old console, and with Gears of War remastered clearly Microsoft has gone back to basics in its approach. It’s spent two years trying to hype up the Xbox One at the cost of ignoring the hardware that pushed so far into Sony’s living room space last generation. There was never anything to be ashamed about, but weirdly it ran off and left the Xbox 360 in a wilderness when it first revealed the Xbox One. It’s only now that Phil Spencer and company have gone back to honour the barriers the previous system kicked down.
So Xbox One is finally the new Xbox 360, but it’s also beginning to grow into its own console after such a terrible false start. A new early access service for indie games with free trials is another no-brainer players have been craving. Having Elite Dangerous and The Long Dark demos available to download now shows Microsoft can follow a promise through. The new indie games on show looked distinctive but didn’t take up too much time. With titles like that, a tease is much better than a full-on demo as it preserves the mystique of games arguably more creative and willing to explore what is and isn’t to mainstream tastes.
Any doubts about losing third-party support were put to rest with the confirmation of Dark Souls 3’s biblical trailer. Keiji Inafune’s name did a better job of selling new IP Recore than the trailer did, but it’s a welcome addition to 2016’s line-up. The Division didn’t get a chance to shine but Rainbow 6: Siege did (with free versions of the Rainbow 6: Vegas games), representing for Ubisoft and the traditional hardcore gamer.
Add to that the brand new Elite controller, that frankly looked like it could challenge the Xbox 360 to the best pad ever made, and you have another reason to turn your Xbox One back on. Someone made the right decisions with VR too, mentioning it in passing before moving on to a stunning demo of Minecraft using the augmented reality tech HoloLens. It might never be a commercial product in the sense we saw it today, but it’s a great decision to show off what your best tech boffins can come up with and leave a few jaws on the floor.
“Gears 4 looked beautiful and delivered on the original Xbox promise of high-end video games about shooting bad guys in the face. There’s no shame in that.”
Even Rare, a studio that can never do right in some critics’ eyes, had a good show. Everyone has their own idea of what the UK studio should do with its back catalogue. Today it revealed a compendium of 30 of its much-loved games and quickly moved on to something new. The Sea of Thieves trailer captured playing pirates, and that’s all it needs to do at this point to keep us all interested for the future. It’s a new Rare game about pirates. I’m in.
The final big reveal echoed the glory days again. Gears 4 looked beautiful and delivered on the original Xbox promise of high-end video games about shooting bad guys in the face. There’s no shame in that – it’s what 90 percent of the games business is built upon – and Microsoft has finally come back to it as a strategy.
So after months of staying quiet and casting doubt on its future, a simplified approach has made us all care about the Xbox One again. Those mistakes it made feel like history now. The console looks the strongest it’s ever been. It’s much healthier since it first launched and is now in a genuine position to catch up and challenge the PS4’s early dominance of this generation of consoles. Xbox One is back in business.