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LOS ANGELES — Games. Exclusives. Exclusive games. Microsoft largely shifted the emphasis well away from the Xbox One console itself — and much of the controversy surrounding it — in order to showcase the one thing everyone really wanted to see: What we’ll play on it.
But they also took some time to show the outgoing Xbox 360 some love. For starters, it won’t be outgoing anytime soon. Microsoft debuted a new version (no price mentioned) and an exclusive game to go with it. Free-to-play PC hit World of Tanks will get its own custom-built Xbox version and remain free-to-play on the 360 servers
Then Microsoft went full-bore into Xbox One’s opening salvo, with only one crossover title mentioned: Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain, the first open-world entry in the long-running action-stealth franchise.
Only two represented the smaller, indie fare that buoyed Xbox’s Summer of Arcade downloadables — Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood, a fantasy platformer from Press Play (and sequel to Max & The Magic Marker) and Below, from the creators of hit tablet game Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP.
The other 14 were solidly top-tier, Xbox One exclusives. Expected sequels like The Witcher 3, Battlefield 4, Forza 5, Killer Instinct II, Dead Rising 3, and a new iteration of Minecraft all looked like promising — and gorgeous — additions to their franchises. But new IPs got special attention at the conference and generated more excitement.
The crowd cheered when Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futasugi’s name appeared on the screen. His new game, Crimson Dragon, looks like it’s won’t divert far from that series’ popular (and long-absent) gameplay. Ryse: Son of Rome showed off a beautifully rendered Roman onslaught, though its combat did look like it was heavily quick-time-event-based. The original Max Payne himself, Sam Lake, spoke about Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break as a game with a personalized experienced that goes beyond what we’ve seen before. Titanfall, from the creators of Call of Duty, might just be the safest bet a new IP can make, featuring infantry fighters going hand-to-hand against giant robots.
And after the lukewarm reception for Fuse, Insomniac Games appears to be back to crazy-firearms form. Ted Price, Insomniac’s CEO, stepped onto a Microsoft stage for the first time to introduce Sunset Overdrive, a wild, parkouring shooter that saw skinny kids headshooting mutants with smiley-face bullets, decapitating LP launchers, and energy-drink-fueled zap guns.
The other big surprise turned out to be Spark, a create-your-own game that can be played co-operatively through Microsoft’s SmartGlass. Its demo featured a game world apparently created on the fly mainly through voice commands and touch controls, right down to the time of day and adding textures. Even more impressive, the tablet player could manipulate the environment to send the player on an earthan tidal wave across a battlefield occupied by goblin airships and elemental mechs.
And as is their custom, Microsoft ended with a teaser trailer for a new Halo game staring the Master Chief. Oddly, though it was described as a first-person shooter, at no point did anyone refer to it as Halo 5, the expected sequel to last year’s Halo 4.
The Xbox One itself also left a lot of questions hanging. Microsoft spent almost no time on the console itself, with only brief callouts to SmartGlass and its social features. Gamers can edit and upload gameplay — which the Xbox One automatically records as you play — and live-stream your sessions with audio commentary via Kinect, the Xbox’s built-in motion-control camera/microphone. That functionality was slipped into a Killer Instinct II demo.
Along with the Spark demo, that also represented the only mentions Kinect rated during the entire conference. Microsoft also gave up the Xbox One’s retail price: $499, about a hundred dollars above what analyst Michael Patcher predicted.
By debuting game after game after game, Microsoft went with the old (and not incorrect) theory that people don’t buy the hardware … they buy the games. And while plenty of mysteries still surround how the console will work, what it will and won’t allow, and what customers must do in order to use it, Microsoft did finally give their fans plenty of reasons to buy in to Xbox One come November.