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Preview: The Xbox One Holiday Lineup

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Preview: The Xbox One Holiday Lineup

Alien: Isolation:

There's our girl.

There's our girl.

The first thing I asked the Sgea rep demoing Alien: Isolation was when the demo content took place in the game proper. He told me it’s more of a vertical slice, indicative of the game’s overall feel, but not necessarily any one part.

People who remember 2013’s license nightmare Aliens: Colonial Marines know why this was deeply concerning to me. Colonial Marines was nothing but vertical slices, and when it came time for the game to be released, the final product was so different, it sparked lawsuits. So even though the next paragraph is going to begin with what’ll sound like a bit of hyperbole, know that I’m still very, very apprehensive about this game.

This spooky guy didn't show up during my demo, but one can only assume he's gonna be Xenomorph chow my the end of the game.

This spooky guy didn't show up during my demo, but one can only assume he's gonna be Xenomorph chow my the end of the game.

Alien: Isolation is probably the best Alien game ever made. It might even be up there as one of the best survival horror games ever made. The demo threw me into a limited zone, and presented a few tools up front. I had some flares, some scrap metal, and a flamethrower, which me handler was careful to call a “tool”, not a weapon. Unlke more classic survival horror experiences, Isolation doesn’t really hand you much in the way of weaponary, and why would it? Guns are pretty much useless against the Xenomorph. In fact, everything feels useless agaisnt the Xenomorph. It’s massive, towering over my character, and walks with a lumbering thump-thump. It’s genuinely horrifying, and with only one enemy throughout the entire game, it more than makes up for the pretty much guaranteed lack of jump scares.

Even the motion tracker itself looks gloriously crappy.

Even the motion tracker itself looks gloriously crappy.

It took me four tries to get anywhere in the demo. I had to be cautious and stealthy, checking my motion tracker whenever I found a safe hiding spot, and then finding out the alien was right behind me. The sound of it approaching was enough to get my knees shaking, and the subtle cutaway when it catches you is probably a thousand times spookier than any gore-shot could have been. The Xenomorph runs around unscripted too, doing whatever its AI feels like, so there’s no way to rely on rote memorization. It’s all about your skill at tracking, avoiding, and using the incredibly limited toolset availble to you. The game also looks incredibly faithful to the movie, replicating that 70s low-fi si-fi look with pretty stellar results. At the beginning of my demo, I got a tutorial video on how to use the motion tracker, which looked like the worn-out VHS tapes I saw in elementary school. Apparently, the dev team rendered the video in game, recorded it to a VHS tape, scratched it up, then put it back into the game. That’s dedication.

But, no matter how great Isolation is in, well, isolation, it remains to be seen how the full game will turn out. After the Colonial Marines disaster, it never hurts to be trepidatious, especially when dealing with a seven-and-a-half foot tall two-mouthed monstrosity.


Assassin’s Creed: Unity-

Bros before Templars, or something.

Bros before Templars, or something.

I am a cantankerous fart when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series. I’ve tried them again and again, but they’re never what I want out of a game that promises the experience of being an assassin. At best, they’re sort of bland trips through beautifully realized historical locales. At worst, they’re Assassin’s Creed 3. My problem always sort of comes down to the games increasing focus on open-world action. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is sort of the platonic ideal of that kind of game in a lot of ways. The focus is on fast paced, fluid action, and sailing the high seas looking for more people to shoot and stab. While that works for most people, evidently, I’ve always wanted a more stealthy experience from the Assassin’s Creed games. They always promise sneaky alternatives to action, but remaining hidden is usually so difficult and frustrating that it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Assassinate people through windows! In a church! At the barbeque! After school! After lunch! Any where is good for assassination!

Assassinate people through windows! In a church! At the barbeque! After school! After lunch! Any where is good for assassination!

In my hands-off demo of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Arno was spotted exactly once, and was able to silently get away regardless. It was impressive, but it was basically all due to one little improvement, the crouch button. The assassin’s guild has finally learned the art of getting low to the ground and wearing darker clothes, making it actually feasible to sneak by guards! Arno can also take cover, peek around cover, and even do third-person-shooter style cover-to-cover transitions. It’s something of a late revelation for the Assassin’s Creed series, considering Metal Gear was doing it more than a decade ago, but it’s by no means unwelcome. Adding stealth options that actually seem to work is a big, big deal for the Assassin’s Creed games, which have been catering to the action-focused players since Assassin’s Creed 2.

Next-gen consoles can render those crowds of thousands, but they're only there so you can kill 'em dead.

Next-gen consoles can render those crowds of thousands, but they're only there so you can kill 'em dead.

The game is also kind of insultingly pretty. It seems a bit cartoonier in style than previous entries, specifically when it comes to the blood. The Ubisoft rep who was demoing the game says the gore wasn’t specifically turned up, but the “improved” blood splatters and gore are definitely noticeable, and made me a little uncomfortable. At one point, Arno ducks into a confessional, and the camera zooms in as he stabs his wrist-blades into his targets eyes. It’s brutal, and just a little gross. Otherwise, the environments are beautifully realized, the crowds are enormous and give the world a much better sense of scope, and NPCs react accordingly. At one point, a man on patrol in Notre Dame cathedral was distracted by a cat long enough for Arno to kill him, and dump him into a nearby hay bale. But, this was all hands off. It remains to be seen exactly how well all this will work when it isn’t being demoed by a member of the dev team. For now though, Assassin’s Creed Unity looks like a stealth game I genuinely want to play, which is shocking.


Fable Legends:

That "four heroes walking into the middle distance" motif is real strong on this holiday's marketing materials.

That "four heroes walking into the middle distance" motif is real strong on this holiday's marketing materials.

At E3 Fable Legends looked both kind of generic, and far too good to be true. One one hand, it seemed like a weird offshoot of the Fable games, without any of their sense of scope and grandeur. On the other, the super seamless five player multiplayer, with one player serving as the villain and four working together as a band of heroes looked almost impossible. After going a few rounds with it, Fable Legends showed its true colours- it's actually two genuinely cool, interesting games.

No pictures of my trusty pal Inga, so have Glory wrecking stuff with fireballs.

No pictures of my trusty pal Inga, so have Glory wrecking stuff with fireballs.

The first game is the heroes side. They play an action RPG where each of them has a primary weapon, three health potions, four special powers, and a recharging mana bar that they draw from. I played as Inga, a tank class character, who had a slow sword swing, a big shield, and various abilities that improved her teammates survivability. Along for the ride were Shroud, a sniper, Leech, the necromancer, and Glory, the mage. The developers mentioned that so far, there are eight characters, with more in development, and the plan is that any team of heroes can be viable. The character picking feels a little bit like a MOBA, as each has a very specific role to play on any team they take part in. Otherwise though, characters level up and keep those levels, getting stronger over time and holding on to different weapons and items that players find in the single player campaign.

You know, they call 'em archers but you never see them arch.

You know, they call 'em archers but you never see them arch.

The villain player though is playing a totally different game., sort of a cross between an RTS and a board game. In each arena (distinct areas of each level) the villain can place enemies from a palette of four monsters per arena, activate traps, and direct monster attacks. At one point, the villain player used a monster to lure me past a gate, then sealed it behind me, leaving my slow tank to deal with a swarm of monsters, and the rest of my party without a reliable damage sponge. Before every arena, the villain has about a minute of prep time, but most of their action goes on as the heroes advance through the areas, reacting in realtime to the weaknesses and strengths of the other players.

It’s unbelievably fluid, and part of that may have had to do with the fact that it was running on five networked machines, but god damn if it wasn’t impressive. The game doesn’t currently have a five player local option, which could be a problem moving forward, but apparently Lionhead is looking into smartglass support for the villain player. Otherwise though, so long as the game actually runs this smoothly in its final form (which is a while away, a beta is happening in October), Fable Legends is shaping up to be one of the more interesting multiplayer experiences on next-gen consoles.


Mortal Kombat X:

Yeah, that's Mortal Kombat alright.

Yeah, that's Mortal Kombat alright.

X14, the media event wher I got a chance to play these games, was set up on two floors. More mature titles, like Assassin’s Creed and the Evil Within were on the basement floor, while family friendlier titles like Minecraft and Forza were on the first floor. I told you that because Cassie Cage, one of the new characters, has an attack where she punches her opponents in the nuts so hard their gentials explode.

Mortal Kombat was on the first floor.

Kotal Kahn is a new Mortal Kombat Kharacter, who Kicks and Kracks with the best of the top Kombatants.

Kotal Kahn is a new Mortal Kombat Kharacter, who Kicks and Kracks with the best of the top Kombatants.

Gameplay-wise, the big change is the introduction of a character variation system, which gives each character a choice between three different specializations. For example new character D’vorah, an insect-woman, had variations that added venom to her attacks, or gave her extra control over her bee swarm. Each variation changes the physical appearance of the character, letting competitive players know what they’re up against without any surprises. The other gameplay twist is taken from the MK team’s previous game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, which allowed fighters to interact with various objects and people in the environment. For example, on the market stage, the Warner Bros. PR rep playing the game with me picked up an old lady in the middle of her shopping and tossed her right into my face.

Mortal Kombats tone is a beautiful thing. It’s completely unserious, completely goofy. Where Assassin’s Creed’s cartoonish goriness was mildly upsetting, Mortal Kombat’s was almost jovial. This is a game where the aforementioned Cassie Cage (daughter of series mainstays Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, by the way) can kneecap her opponents, shoot them through the head, pull out some gum, chew it, stick it over the bullet hole, and watch as a blood soaked bubble pops out. The goofy goriness refreshingly unserious, which is strange to say in an industry where increased gore is meant to be a mark of maturity.


Ori and the Blind Forest:

Dang, that's pretty.

Dang, that's pretty.

Do you remember the action/platformer indie game trend of 2008ish? Moon studios does. In fact, their debut game, Ori and the Blind forest feels like it could have been ripped right out of that post-Braid period of indie game design. It’s actually kind of refreshing, considering so many indie games are following the current rougelike trend. In terms of platform mechanics, there’s a little bit of lag to Ori’s movement, a little bit of floatiness to his jumps, giving it a very similar feel to Rayman: Origins. Ori also shares that game’s focus on gorgeous 2D art. Like Rayman, it’s only meant to look hand drawn, but in motion, moves a lot more fluidly with less frames. It’s not janky looking by any means, but it’s likely what contributes to the floatiness of the gameplay.

Ori also borrows liberally from Metroidvania-style games, with areas that are only accessible by levelling up Ori’s various attacking, jumping and running abilities. The whole game takes place on one interconnected map screen, and the plan is for loading to be seamless, with all progress impediments being completely organic, rather than Metroid’s trademark locked doors. It’s a big promise, but as far as the demo goes, it seems feasible. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much that distinguishes Ori mechanically. It mostly seems like a method of conveyance for this gorgeous art, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s probably not the indie game that’ll put the Xbox One on the map.

Sunset Overdrive:

I really hope that gun actually fire bullets shaped like the word "Blamm!"

I really hope that gun actually fire bullets shaped like the word "Blamm!"

Sunset Overdrive is Sonic the Hedgehog but with guns.

But also it’s nothing like that one game that already did that.

See? Grinding! Just like everyone's favourite the Hedgehog.

See? Grinding! Just like everyone's favourite the Hedgehog.

Insomniac Games is coming hot off the heels of last year’s tepidly reviewed Fuse, their first multiplatform title. Sunset Overdrive meanwhile, is their first Xbox exclusive game, and the attitude is an interesting cross between the classic Insomniac cartooniness and Microsoft’s focus on “mature” content. The game opens with your personally designed character (mine was a buff red haired girl with a fantastic goatee) cursing up a storm as they flee from mutant energy drink addicts and learn how to grind on rails and building ledges. That’s where the sonic comparisons come in. on the ground, your character is a sitting duck. You’re not very quick, but the mutants are fast and come at you in droves. While grinding though, you get both the high and speed advantage, along with a better look at the lay of the land. Your advantage is the mobility that the rails offer you, and it makes for a faster, more visually dynamic shooter.

Explosions! Orange! Blue! Soda! Tongues! Firmly in cheeks! But not in a ditry way!

Explosions! Orange! Blue! Soda! Tongues! Firmly in cheeks! But not in a ditry way!

The problem mostly comes in when your weapon variety starts to show up. I had a flaming  gential-themed shotgun, a disc gun that fired vinyl records, and a massive hand cannon called the Dirty Harry. None of these guns really favoured the high speed, far away combat style that the grind-rails encouraged. The shotgun worked great for enemies nearby, and the hand cannon was perfect when I slowed myself down and focused on enemies, but otherwise, the disc gun’s bouncing records was the only weapon that worked at the high speeds the game wanted me to move at. Presumably as the game opens up, you’ll get more weapons that suit how you want to fight, but the game pushes you very hard in a particular direction. The other problem I see is the game’s open world, which sort of renders that high-speed mobile combat moot. Specific challenges designed around your mobility in certain areas can be really interesting, but a big, open world might just allow the developers to create more generalized challenges that can be dropped in anywhere on the map. For now, Sunset Overdrive’s overall goofiness, and highly mobile combat style has me a lot more interested in it than I’d initially thought, but that open world is particularly worrying, and very much not in Insomniac’s wheelhouse.


The Evil Within:

That lanterns is almost certainly going to burn through his pants. Give him some toasty buns.

That lanterns is almost certainly going to burn through his pants. Give him some toasty buns.

Hoods are so last year for "spooky apparition", don't you know that?

Hoods are so last year for "spooky apparition", don't you know that?

Did you play Resident Evil 4? If you didn’t, it’s something of a classic. Shinji Mikami reimagined of the survival horror genre when it desperately needed some fresh air, and created one of the first modern third person shooters to boot, RE4 is pretty rightfully considered to be one of the best games of its time, and it holds up surprisingly well. The Evil Within is Shinji Mikami’s return to the genre he revolutionized twice, and it’s sort of lacking in the revolution department. Without Mikami, Resident Evil has become a far more action- oriented franchise than ever before, and indie games have taken the survival horror genre in a more atmospheric, less actiony direction.The Evil Within is a very anti-climactic return to that Resident Evil 4 middle ground. The protagonist even has Leon Kennedy’s trademark constipated shuffle.

Ammo’s in tight supply, the “haunted” can come back from the dead if you don’t burn their corpses with a match, and the demo took place in a spooky mansion. The potential for jump scares and death traps is pretty much infinite. At one point, I walked down a hallway, and triggered a rope that dragged me into a closet full of spinning blades. I tried shooting at the blades to jam them, but of course, the game didn’t exactly highlight the tiny blinking light I was meant to shoot at until after I died. And then I lost about 20 minutes of progress. Retracing my steps was an exercise in memorization. Turn around, shoot that zombie. Stop, kick open door, defuse bomb, grab safe dial, go down hall, activate trap, shoot trap. The sheer scriptedness of everything renders the horror moot. The terrifying atmosphere of modern survival horror has left Mikami’s take on the genre feeling more like a particularly goofy haunted house.

In a more positive take, having to burn enemy corpses is an interesting mechanic. Your character only has so many matches available to him (one has to wonder why he doesn’t just carry a lighter) and any enemy whose head you don’t completely blow off has a chance of coming back. I could see that becoming a real great way of building dread, but then again, after dying once or twice, it wouldn’t be too hard for a player to figure out which bodies to burn and which to leave. Especially when compared to Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within seems like a survival horror throwback, and not necessarily in a good way.


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Xbox One Launch Line Up Preview- Quick Hits

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Xbox One Launch Line Up Preview- Quick Hits

Microsoft has opened up an Xbox One pop-up shop in Toronto ahead of the system’s launch. On Tuesday, Microsoft allowed members of the press to run around the shop and check out demos of upcoming Xbox One games. Here are some short previews on a few of the games available to demo at the pop-up shop, which opens to the public on Thursday, November 7. It'll stay open until December 27, with all the games previewed here, along with a few more.

Crimson Dragon:

Like Panzer Dragoon, but with even  more  dragons.

Like Panzer Dragoon, but with even more dragons.

The formerly Kinect exclusive, Xbox 360 successor to Panzer Dragoon has been freed of its motion control shackles. Or maybe it’s been shackled to a controller? Either way, the game plays pretty much like Panzer Dragoon, or, if you weren’t one of the five people who owned a Sega Saturn, like Star Fox.

It’s an on-rails shooter, where you ride on the back of a dragon, shooting lasers, fireballs and windblasts at other dragons and alien fauna. The game has a weird sci-fi fantasy thing going for it, with the dragons as the aliens that rule planet Draco, which humans want to colonize. They’re being infected by a disease that makes them go crazy, everybody wears standard space-marine armor, but occasionally there will be another soldier with an anime haircut instead of a helmet. It’s an odd balance, but it works, making for a cool visual style that hides the fact that the game started its life on 360, and it sometimes shows.

2c45498a_CrimsonDragon_06.jpeg

Some bosses take you into a free-flight mode, which functions pretty much like all-range mode in Star Fox. You fly around a giant boss, looking for weak points to shoot at as your wingmen help out. Wingmen can also be the AI profiles of people on your friends list you’ve summoned to help out, so no more blaming Slippy for messing up your run.

Crimson Dragon is a digital-only launch title for Xbox One, from Microsoft Studios.

It will forever drive me mad that the "Multiplizer" is not called the "Multiprizer" IT MAKES MORE SENSE.

It will forever drive me mad that the "Multiplizer" is not called the "Multiprizer" IT MAKES MORE SENSE.

Peggle 2:

Peggle is Peggle and will always be Peggle. You fire a ball at some pegs, watch it bounce around, get points, and become hopelessly addicted. Peggle 2 delivers on all those counts, and actually manages to add some freshness to the mix. The wider screen allows for more space for your Peggle Master (a helper character that gives you magic powers) to hang out in the corner, and get some extra animations. The new Yeti master, Berg, shakes his butt when you do really well, complete with pixelated censoring.

Another new addition are bumpers which line some boards, bouncing your ball around. It’s small, but it adds a little dynamism to the few stages I saw them in. The additions, which also include 5 new masters, sound small, mostly because they actually are. But Peggle was already great, and I can’t wait to become addicted all over again.

Forza 5:

Forza or Fortza? The eternal question...

Forza or Fortza? The eternal question...

I have to be honest, I’m not a car game guy. My primary racing game experience is with Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed and various Mario Karts. The last “real” racing game I played was Gran Turismo 2 on PlayStation. Nevertheless, I braved Forza 5 and found that...it’s a racing game.

It’s a really pretty racing game, absolutely gorgeous in fact, but as usual, I didn’t quite feel the appeal. The demo featured a rewind function that pulled me back to an earlier point in the race, which helped the one time I crashed, spun out, and went from second place to eighth, but I imagine that it isn’t a commonly used ability in regular gameplay.

What I took away from Forza 5 was its use of the Xbox One’s impulse triggers. When I pressed the brakes while driving, the triggers would rumble more and more the harder I pressed and there was always some slight rumble to the triggers as I held down the gas. It felt visceral, in a non-violent way, though I can’t imagine any other context in which rumbling triggers would make any sense.

Killer Instinct:

Werewolves can be stopped by two things: A silver bullet, and a swift kick to the jaw.

Werewolves can be stopped by two things: A silver bullet, and a swift kick to the jaw.

Fighting games are notoriously hard to demo. A fighting game is usually judged on how tough it is to figer out, how complicated it is to master, what the balance is like, and how deep the bonus modes go, and a short, 5 minute session isn’t really going to tell you any of that.

Killer Instinct was no different, but my 5 minutes were at the very least better than I expected. KI is an update of Rare’s SNES “classic”, which is mostly considered to be just another poor Mortal Kombat clone these days. The new Killer Instinct takes some pages out of the new Mortal Kombat’s book as well, with long juggle combos and a very “X-Treme” attitude. Specifically, an announcer who never shuts up and always sounds like he just smoked a pack of cigarettes in hell.

The game itself is hard to judge for now. Combos seemed fairly easy to do, but so did the combo breakers, which essentially just rewarded random button mashing during the match. But of course, that can really only be proven with more extensive play. The fact that the base version of the game is free, with all the characters running $20, and a deluxe version for $40 is a great business model, and one I hope more fighting games adopt, I just wish it wasn’t in a game I have so many apprehensions about.

Kinect Sports Rivals:

Kinect-Sports-Rivals-3-1280x720.jpg

Kinect Sports Rivals is easily the Xbox One’s prettiest launch game.

The Kinect sensor works a bit better, and you can play while sitting so you don’t look like a madman, twisting your arms and stomping your feet in front of the TV, but I still found that it didn’t quite work without making more exaggerated movements than I thought I’d need to make. That didn’t really matter though, because I was wowed, genuinely wowed, by how much prettier the game was than pretty much any next-gen title I’ve seen.

The difference from the rest of the next-gen line up is colour. Next-gen lighting effects (the real graphical jump that the Xbox One and PS4 will provide) take some of the edge off of the oversaturated primaries the game was using and leaves everything with a semi-realistic palette that still looks distinctly cartoony. The water was a vibrant blue, with amazing transparency, and I realize I sound like the world’s most cliched graphics evangelist, ranting about water effects, but they really are something great.

How much better the Kinect sensor remains to be seen, but if you’re picking up an Xbox One at launch, download the demo for this one, just so you can see that next-gen looks better when it isn’t brown and grey.

Dead Rising 3:

Nick, and his co-op partner Dick. No seriously, that's his name, and he just hangs around silently in cutscenes. It's great.

Nick, and his co-op partner Dick. No seriously, that's his name, and he just hangs around silently in cutscenes. It's great.

Going in, I was worried that Dead Rising 3 would lack the humour and general upbeat spirit that endeared me to the series in the first place. Going out, I was more worried about the game’s world than anything else. The demo had me, as zombie-outbreak-survivor Nick, hunting for some Zombrex (the famed zombie antidote) after an inopportune bite. So off I went into town, gleefully rampaging through zombies with a steamroller-motorcycle hybrid I built on the spot. Not having to search for crafting benches both makes and breaks the series’ trademark crafting. On one hand, crafting any two items I find on the ground is fantastic. On the other, it sort of inspired me to try and combine everything, which mostly had me standing around with a cinder block in one hand, longingly staring at a shotgun wishing I could combine the two.

dead-rising-3-crotch.png

The other worrying thing I noted was that the game’s open world made traversing by foot a bit of a chore, which left me using mostly vehicles to get around, and missing out on the various melee weapon combinations. It isn’t helped by the fact that the absolutely massive zombie hordes are a nightmare to plow through without a car.

On the bright side, one of the melee combinations I used was a fire spitting dragon head with umbrella wings and katana gloves, and the guy next to me was fighting off the zombie hordes in a full suit of knight’s armor while using an axe tied to a car engine. So you know, the comedy is still there.

Ryse: Son of Rome:

Why does the guy on the right get a helmet and the other one doesn't? Seems unfair.

Why does the guy on the right get a helmet and the other one doesn't? Seems unfair.

Look, neither of us want to do this. Launch lineups are pretty much always subpar, and, just a guess here, the PS4 and Xbox One don’t seem to be exceptions. But Ryse...well, Ryse is special. First announced as a first-person action game for the Kinect, Ryse was meant to show people that the peripheral could be used for hardcore games. But Kinect was repositioned as the Wii 2.0, and the game never came out.

Until now.

Ryse has been repositioned as a hack-and-slash, God of War style action game set in ancient Rome. Of course, just like God of War, the game tends to skew towards the old ultra-violence. At one point in the demo, after slashing at my enemy maybe five or six times, then bashing his head in with my shield, he ran at me again and I was given an execution prompt. When enemies are low enough on health, you can hit RT to exectue a canned animation and, well, execute them.

Ryse_023.bmp.jpg

My soldier chopped his left arm off when the game told me to hit X, then it asked me to press Y. I decided I was done murdering this man. But without any orders from me, my soldier spun behind him, knocked him to the floor, sliced off his right leg and then curb stomped him back to the ground. I was pretty much done with the demo at that point, but pressed on. Eventually I found myself in a turret section, with confusing auto-lock-on that someone made it both terribly confusing and insultingly easy, and later a boss fight, which was solved by pressing X with the occasional hit of Y to stun the boss.

The game looks pretty good, better than most of the other launch titles, which are ports of current-gen games, and some scenes in the cutscenes could have passed for photos. I just wish the game could pass for more than a gratuitously violent slash-fest that plays itself. 

 

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Microsoft E3 Roundup: Safe and Sound

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Microsoft E3 Roundup: Safe and Sound

Microsoft kicked off E3 today with their Xbox press conference. After the criticisms surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal, an event more or less devoid of games, the pressure was on to deliver a spectacular performance at this year’s E3.

They managed to deliver on the promise they made after their TV laden reveal event; today’s event was all about the games.  They dedicated the first few minutes of the conference to talking about the Xbox 360, a console, it seems, Microsoft has no plans to forget. The Xbox 360 has undergone a second redesign, which Microsoft says is available starting today. They also plan to keep releasing games new game for the console, listing titles such as Dark Souls 2GTA V, and the PC hit, World of Tanks, as games that will be available on the console in the near future.

Microsoft has also announced updates for Xbox LIVE. Gold Members can now look forward to two free game downloads every month, starting withAssassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3. Gold members can now share the features of their accounts, including multiplayer gaming, with other users on their home console without having to be logged in. They have also done away with the loathed Microsoft Points, opting instead to use local currencies.

As expected, the Xbox One took the spotlight, with Microsoft announcing a November launch and a $499 price tag. With the announcement of a myriad of new games and exclusive content, Microsoft made this one of the most jam-packed E3 in recent memory. Ryse: Son of RomeKiller Instinct,Forza Motorsport VQuantum BreakCrimson DragonDead Rising 3 and Halo, all exclusive titles coming to the Xbox One. On top of exclusive titles for their console, Microsoft has also managed to convince previously PlayStation exclusive franchises and developers to create content for the Xbox One. Hideo Kojima, vice president of Konami and director of Kojima Productions, has brought the Metal Gear franchise to an Xbox console in the first real way with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Insomniac, the once PlayStation only developers of the Ratchet and Clank franchise have also announced their new title Sunset Overdrive is going to be coming to Xbox One.

Microsoft managed to deliver the press conference they needed to in lieu of the negative reaction sparked from the some of the Xbox One’s policies. While they did not address any of the policies that caused said controversies, they did deliver one of the best press conferences in recent memory. With a set of exclusive titles, and a great multiplatform and indie game showing, Microsoft is approaching the next generation of gaming with full force.  

 

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D4, Swery 65's Newest Game

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D4, Swery 65's Newest Game

Microsoft didn't have too many complete shockers at their E3 press conference this year, but what they had was a doozy. In between trailers for flashy new IPs and world premieres of grayer and grittier first person shooters, Microsoft quietly announced they were publishing Swery65's new game, titled D4.

Swery65, best known for his work on Deadly Premonition, the completely bonkers send up of B-horror movies and Twin Peaks, is in charge of this game, which makes it a bit more interesting than the sum of its parts.

D4 is an episodic adventure game, which follows a man who can stop and travel through time. He uses this power to find his wife's killer, then stop her from being muredered. Seems a bit cliche, and even overlaps with the time shenanigans going in Microsoft's other time-travel Xbox One game, Quantum Break, but again, Swey65 brings  a unique flavour to his games that really has to be experienced, for example: check out that DDR-themed combat.

D4 was probably the most interesting thing Microsoft has in terms of exclusives, in my opinion. The cartoony art style makes it stand out among the grey and brown shooters that are already populating the Xbox One, and showing off a game made by a quirky, relatively unknown Japanese auteur game designer at a major press conference makes me feel like Microsoft is really banking on Swery65 working his crazy magic once again.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be a sequel to the Swery-levels of crazy D and D2, made by recently-deceased Japanese game auteur Kenji Eno. I can only hope you dine on the heart of your dead mother at the end of this game too.

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Microsoft Reveals Xbox One Used Game Policy, Finally

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Microsoft Reveals Xbox One Used Game Policy, Finally

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Microsoft’s position on a few key issues regarding used and borrowed games has finally been made clear amid the controversy that arose due to poor messaging surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal. 

In a post on Xbox Wire entitled: “How Games Licensing Works on Xbox One”, Microsoft has finally offered a clear response to how their new console plans to deal with used games – publishers. Apparently Microsoft is placing the decision of whether to allow consumers to trade in their games or not in the hands of publishers, who now have the power to “enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers.” No mention of any specific retailers yet, but you can probably bet that the big guys, GameStop, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, will be on that list. 

On the lending games front, Microsoft has also offered some clarification. All your games are stored to the cloud and connected to your Xbox LIVE account, after which they can be accessed from any console you are signed into. Lending games to your friends, like trading in used games, is also by publisher approval, with a few caveats. Lending must be done using physical copies of the game, the person you lend it to must have been on your friends list for at least 30 days, and each game can be traded only once. 

Microsoft is also letting you share games anywhere with up to 10 members of your “family”. Members of this family will be able to access your entire library of shared games and play them on their own console. No word yet on how users create these families, or whether or not the members actually have to be related to you, but it’s difficult to see how Microsoft could enforce any sort of policy requiring them to actually be related to you. Kinect DNA sampling maybe? 

This news comes amid growing concern that the console wouldn’t allow any used games at all, or that those who bought a used game, or even a friend who had borrowed one, might have to pay some sort of “reactivation fee” in order to be able to play. 

(In the interest full disclosure, I am not a fan of used games and avoid buying them whenever possible. You can hear me speak a little more about this on Built to Play episode 3. )

That being said, I think this was a smart move by Microsoft. It takes the target off their backs and shifts the pressure onto publishers. It will be interesting to see the number of games publishers allow consumers to trade in. In one scenario, they just might forbid it completely, forcing consumers to buy expensive new games which, with they way publishers have reacted to used games this generation, might just be what ends up happening.  Now that publishers have a say in used games, however, there is the potential that they can use this power to cut a deal with the used game retailers, like GameStop, forcing them to give a portion of used game profits to the publishers. 

The new families are a point of intrigue. The details are a bit hazy, but if you can share your games with up to ten people that might prove extremely useful. The best application I see of this is allowing people to play a co-op game from different consoles with only one copy of the game. It’s not clear if this library of shared games is also subject to publisher approval, but if it is, we might not get to utilize the feature as much as we would like. 

All in all it seems as if Microsoft has cleared up a big portion of the controversy. All though a few details remain hazy, majority of their policy has been adequately explained; a stark contrast to the rather incompetent mixed messaging surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal. This news comes none too soon, with E3 right around the corner, Microsoft can now (hopefully) focus on what the consumers want – games.

 

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