Recap: Xbox’s E3 showcase shows quality and quantity

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LOS ANGELES — After Bethesda’s showcase Sunday, Xbox had a tough act to top in its briefing Monday.

Microsoft’s performance wasn’t remarkable, but it featured several announcements that made it a solid showing. From the variety of games, to independent developers and first-party titles, to a couple big hardware announcements, we’ll run it down for you.

Backward compatibility

The biggest news of the conference was an homage to throwbacks. Xbox One will become backward-compatible with Xbox 360 games during the holiday 2015 season. The nostalgia is a huge pull, and it opens up the Xbox library. Sifting back through the relics on our shelves will be an awesome time, and re-experiencing those titles on next-gen systems should give them new life. If you own the Xbox 360 game, it won’t cost anything to be able to play it on Xbox One. Yay.

Watch out, Steam

Microsoft let loose its Xbox Early Access promo Monday, which will basically be Steam for the One. This will allow potential players to play games the developers opt in before their official release. Day Z, which presented at the show, is one such game.

Hololens

Minecraft got more cheers than Halo 5: Guardians. That tells you something about the press conference overall, but it also shows how badass the new tech will be. Microsoft showed off Hololens, a virtual reality experience, with Minecraft. The user can move about as a player, zoom out, manipulate it from a world map view and access every inch of playable space. It’s like you’re the god of Minecraft, and though virtual reality experiences are by nature difficult to describe, what happened on-screen was incredible. The demo ended with lightning strikes called down on TNT boxes set by a non-Hololens player (to open up a stronghold beneath a city) followed by calling down bolts on pigs. “There you have it,” the demo ended. “Zombie pigmen.”
Huzzah!

Indie-splosion

Xbox emphasized its commitment to indie developers throughout the showcase, and with that came a chance for four developers to show off their upcoming titles. Fullbright, of Gone Home fame, revealed Tacoma, a game focused on isolation, exploring a foreign realm in space and dealing with the discomfort of the unknown. Then came Ashen by Aurora44, a wide open-world game where decisions aren’t cast for you. Each player has the choice to trust, combat or let alone the non-playable characters he or she comes across. There were also a few huge monsters in the trailer – some vicious, some friendly.

Beyond Eyes by Sherida Halatoe is about a blind girl named Rae who ventures out into the world for the first time. Rae, 10, must use her other senses to get a grip on the world around her and navigate space. A stoplight, for example, first appears as a tree, then as a metal pole once she touches it. After she notes the street nearby, the full picture comes into view. The concept seems great, and the gameplay looked interesting as well. The mechanics of that game should make it a fun one.

The final release was a popular one: Cuphead is coming to the One. The 2D shooter that has old-school Disney-style graphics was a cult hit before and should do well in the mainstream.

Rare revival?

A studio under duress, Rare has fallen off significantly during the modern console era. However, it’s aiming for a comeback with some throwback titles and a really cool-looking new game on the horizon. Rare Replay will feature 30 old-school games for $30, the ones that led me (and others, I bet) through my childhood gaming years. On top of that, the Xbox One exclusive, Sea of Thieves, looks remarkable. The game is a combination of massive multiplayer online elements and a shoot-and-loot system, complete with all the trappings of a pirate-centered story. In the trailer, players collect treasure, go to battle with other ships full of enemy gamers and traverse dangerous tropical landscapes with online compatriots.

This could be the game that revives Rare. If executed right, I’m betting it will.

New releases

There were a slew of games announced Monday and some that went into further detail on gameplay. A quick rundown of those:

  • Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 looks like tremendous fun. The zany, very-different-take-on-shooters game will take place in Zomburbia this time around. That means the plants are on the offensive. We can’t wait.

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider showed off a gameplay demo on a frozen mountainscape as you look for a hidden city. The action sequences were fast-paced and very realistic in terms of the movements of the player, and the storyline seems to focus on Lara Croft finding her purpose and discovering the life she’ll eventually lead. Rise of the Tomb Raider will drop during the holiday 2015 season.

  • Dark Souls III was confirmed in a brief trailer that included the typical large-scale enemies and dark landscapes of past games. It’ll be interesting to see how this one separates itself from the style of previous titles.
  • Forza 6 will partner with Ford for its upcoming game. The cars and scenery look gorgeous, and the game will include 26 tracks, 450 Fordvista cars and 24-person multiplayer. It’ll drop Sept. 15.
  • A Halo 5: Guardians gameplay trailer revealed squad combat mechanics, and the team announced two interesting add-ons. There will be two different perspectives for this story, that of Master Chief’s team and that of the group hunting him for deserting, complete with drop-in and drop-out for co-op play. It carries a kind of Arbiter-Master Chief feel to it, in my opinion. The game will also feature a 24-person multiplayer option known as Warzone, which will add in AI-controlled enemies for the first time in the vein of Titanfall. The pace was intense during the trailer, and it should have a look and feel all its own. Fun times.
  • Xbox One’s first multiplayer online battle arena game, Gigantic, was revealed. The MOBA focuses on combating, well, gigantic enemies and teaming up with several ranges of characters typical to the genre. The graphics gave the game a distinct look among its competitors, and the quick pace to the game might also help set it apart.
  • The makers of Mega Man and Metroid Prime are collaborating for a new Xbox exclusive title known as Recore. The trailer is set in a desert wasteland, and combat seems to revolve around a female character with shooting prowess and her handy robot, whose core (get it?) can be removed and placed into other mechs. At a time when remakes are all the rage, this game will be a welcome respite.
  • Dean Hall announced his latest, Ion, which focuses on the cycle of life throughout a universe concocted by hundreds of thousands of players. He was mum on details, and the trailer was brief, but this one piqued interest.
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division, the latest in a long run of great shooting and espionage games, will take place in a post-apocalyptic setting, it seems. It will be set in New York City, home to the members of The Division, the last bastion of hope for security in a world that’s already been destroyed. “You belong in that world,” Ubisoft president Laurent Detoc said. “You own it.” The interplay between the team’s connections to their home and their fight to save it should make for a compelling story.

Next Gear

This is another world premiere, but it deserves a category of its own. Black Tusk revealed Gears 4, perhaps the biggest title drop of the press conference. The gameplay looks familiar, but it features new enemies and the return of Imulsion despite all of our best efforts in previous releases. Gears 4 comes out during the holiday 2016 season.

Dueling across platforms

This seems pretty cool. With Windows 10, players will have access to competition (and collaboration) between PC and Xbox One on several games. Those include Fable: Legends and Fallout 4. Many other developers will likely take advantage of this.

Last word

The Xbox presser didn’t have the roaring applause of Bethesda’s, but it made up for a lack of fanfare with quantity of quality content. With nearly 20 games in the showcase, including more than a half-dozen world premieres and partnership announcements, there was both variety to the conference and a lot of excitement despite the lack of cheers. The backward compatibility is particularly thrilling, and Sony has a lot to live up to in its conference this evening.

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