E3: Microsoft Conference - New 360, Killer Instinct, Ryse, Dead Rising 3, Titanfall, price

By Matt Bailey

Microsoft pre-empted their E3 conference with a reveal of their new console, the Xbox One, about three weeks before with a focus on the design of the console and the services behind it. This included a widely-criticised (at least in the gaming community) focus on television and Skype, with only a couple of game reveals. In Microsoft's defence, they had said this would be the case up front, and would instead use E3 to focus on games. And that they did.

Headlining the event, before any executives set foot on stage, was Konami's Metal Gear Solid 5, with quite a lot of gameplay being shown off, including horseback riding, and the new open world aspect, alongside our first chance to hear Kiefer Sutherland in the role of Big Boss. And then Kojima made a brief appearance on stage afterwards, though only to say "hi" rather than announce anything. In some ways it's a great choice to start a conference, as it looks exciting and there's a lot of interest in it, but it's not an Xbox One exclusive, so it seems a strange choice for Microsoft to give it such prominence. In fact, it's not even next-gen console exclusive, with the game set to arrive on the Xbox 360 and PS3, in addition to the XBOne and PS4. There aren't even any planned exclusives for the Xbox One version that have been announced, although maybe Kojima has plans for the new Kinect that comes with every console.

Not wanting to dive straight into Xbox One news, Microsoft decided to unveil a new model of the Xbox 360 - and one that looks rather like the Xbox One, oddly enough. Maybe they are just trying to get us used to its unusual styling. Curiously the new machine is only a tiny bit smaller, and carries the same RRP price tag - and actually drops video and audio out features, so you can now only use composite (Red, White and Yellow cables) or HDMI - no component, VGA, SCART or Optical Audio Out. Microsoft also revealed its attempt to counter PlayStation Plus with a new "Games for Gold" promotion that gives Xbox Live Gold subscribers two free games each month, starting with Fable III available right now, and moving on to the somewhat old Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed II, which are cheaper to pick up second hand than a monthly Xbox Live Gold subscription. Let's hope the quality of the lineup picks up so that more recent but underlooked titles (say, Square Enix's Sleeping Dogs) are included. The promotion runs until December, and at the moment it doesn't look set to be carried over to the new console.

The Xbox 360 news continued with the unveiling of World of Tanks. Well, the unveiling of the Xbox 360 version of World of Tanks, as the game has been building up a huge success on the PC as a free-to-play (F2P) game, and this marks a moment when Microsoft are finally making a push into F2P on the Xbox brand. It's free-to-play if you have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, so free-to-play if you're already paying. It's a good example of an interesting F2P game that does better than the exploitative games seen on the mobile stores, and hopefully we'll see more great F2P examples on the 360 and the Xbox One.

When Microsoft were finally ready to talk about the Xbox One, they started with Ryse: Son of Rome, which is what the long-in-development Ryse is now called. The Crytek-developed Microsoft-published Xbox One exclusive has transformed from a Kinect-based game to a controller-driven action game with a heavy use of quick time events - the button prompts that are required in order to pull over rather impressive but gruesome moves. We don't know yet how laden Ryse will be with QTEs, but the Roman setting makes for a change for a modern action game. Also with an unusual setting is Insomniac's Sunset Overdrive, an open-world shooter from a developer with a history of PlayStation exclusives, such as the Sypro (PS1 days) and Ratchet and Clank franchises. It features a world where people have turned into mutants, and while that might not sound unusual, the trailer seemed to feature a bunch of Jet Set Radio-style characters jumping around the place firing off vinyl discs. Which is certainly a bit different from Insomniac's recent (and disappointing) Fuse - hopefully Sunset Overdrive takes more from the humour of their other series instead.

Rare's classic fighting game Killer Instinct will be making a return on the Xbox One, and it's another Microsoft experiment with F2P. You essentially start with a demo version featuring just one character (unlike the recent F2P fighting game Tekken Revolution which starts you with multiple characters), and you can buy more with real money (oh, yes, real 'real' money - the company is doing away with Microsoft Points for both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One later this year). Rare aren't actually developing the game, instead a company who hasn't made fighting games before, Double Helix, is at the helm (Rare are working on Kinect Sports Rivals it was revealed before the conference). Double Helix's last game was the terrible Battleship movie tie-in, though to make us less concerned they did show off an interesting looking gameplay demonstration on stage (pity about the excruciating banter...).

Forza 5 was one of the games shown at the Xbox One reveal, and it got featured here as a demonstration of Microsoft's Xbox Live cloud infrastructure when Turn 10 Studios talked about the "Drivatar" feature, which will analyse how you play, and then use that not only to enhance your AI opponents, but also to allow you to have a virtual copy of yourself playing against friends in their races. It's an interesting idea, although seeing as the original Forza featured a similar Drivatar function, albeit only done locally, we're not quite sure if this is really a good justification for the cloud infrastructure. Quantum Break was also first revealed at the XBOne unveiling, and while we got a bit more than the brief glimpse shown there, it was only rendered footage, and we still have no idea what the gameplay of Remedy's game-TV crossover will be like (although it's apparently an "action shooter"). At least the interesting sci-fi freeze-time angle was shown off, so we get an idea of the theme.

People worried that Microsoft was ignoring indie games - especially with the decision not to continue with the dedicated Xbox Live Indie Games initiative or continue to support the free XNA development tools - might be relieved to hear Phil Harrison on stage talking up the giant's support for the little guys, especially in light of their successes on the Xbox 360's Live Arcade. Backing this up was the reveal of Below, a rather pretty adventure game from Sword and Sworcery and Super Time Force developers Capybara Games - genuine indie pedigree. Although sadly that was it, and the game is actually being published by Microsoft Studios as the company continues to not allow independent developers to put out games on their platforms by themselves. The other nod to indies was a new version of Minecraft, called (unsurprisingly) Minecraft Xbox One Edition, which seems like an attempt to recreate the huge success of Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition (which is the biggest XBLA game to date) by getting those people to buy it again. With new features, of course.

Project Spark was a pleasingly different game for the Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC (well, Windows 8), away from the shooting and stabbing of modern games, with world and gamemode creation tools similar to Square Enix's Gameglobe, and plenty of colourful palettes. It's already available in beta form (well, not the Xbox One version, of course).

Unfortunately that marked the end of colourful and original ideas, and everything got a bit greyer and darker - and generally more violent - after this point. Capcom's Dead Rising 3 was revealed, curiously an Xbox One exclusive, suggesting Microsoft had thrown some money the Japanese publisher's way. It has a far more serious tone than its predecessors, and it also had many more zombies on screen, but aside from some SmartGlass integration, it hasn't shown anything particularly original yet. Battlefield 4 - another multi-platform game - had a major video failure at the beginning, which is really the fault of Microsoft's AV staff rather than EA/DICE, and when it got going what we got to see was very pretty, but it was from the story-driven singleplayer mode that few people will be interested in (especially after Battlefield 3). It took EA's conference later in the day, where they showed a multiplayer game being played live with 64 PCs, to really show the game at its best. Tall buildings collapse, and it looks impressive. But that's not what was shown off in Microsoft's event, unfortunately.

Master Chief made a brief appearance in a scene set in a desert with a giant mechanical monster of some sort, but we don't know what the game is (it wasn't even described as Halo 5) or whether it's even the expected continuation of the new trilogy. We just know that said game is set for a 2014 release. And finally, to finish the show, was a new exclusive. Well, a sort of non-PS4/Wii U exclusive (i.e. it's on 360 and PC too). It's Titanfall, the long-awaited new game from Respawn Entertainment - the company formed from the fallout over the Infinity Ward crisis that resulted in its founders leaving, taking a good portion of the staff with them. A little awkward considering Infinity Ward themselves were showing Call of Duty: Ghosts briefly in this event and in more detail at the Xbox One reveal... Anyway, Titanfall is a multiplayer-focussed first person shooter with mechs, and a more futuristic setting which should set it apart from Call of Duty, although maybe it won't feel as distinct from Halo. It's looking good, and is curiously running on Valve's Source engine. It's also set for a release at some point next year, and has the potential to be an important system seller for Microsoft.

Actually, that's not quite it, as Microsoft also revealed two other important bits of information. While we didn't get an exact release date, we did get confirmation that the console is coming out in November, at least in the 21 launch countries. This includes North America, Australia and New Zealand, and parts of Europe - that includes the UK. What is doesn't includes is the likes of Portugal, Czech Republic and Poland, all big European gaming markets - and nowhere in Asia either. And in those 21 countries it will cost about £429 (US$499) - which we later found out to be about £80 (US$100) more expensive than a PS4. On the one hand it does include the new Kinect, whereas the camera is sold separately for the PS4, but let's hope Microsoft can justify that difference in the months to come; while it had a solid showing here, their messaging recently (particularly around its controversial DRM policies which have changed since the conference) could leave it in trouble when the PS4 and Xbox One go head to head this Christmas.

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