Did Microsoft come out on top unveiling a new Xbox One S and a vision for a 4K gaming future with Project Scorpio or did Sony win the day with their focus on games and virtual reality?
And Games Editor Brett Phipps, currently in LA for E3 2016, shares his thoughts on each company in more depth further down.
Another year, another win for Sony.
Microsoft can tease us about the power of Scorpio, but that’s next year. Right now, Sony is showing off its incredible line-up of exclusive games including Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, God of War, Detroit Become Human and Hideo Kojima’s mysterious new game, Death Stranding.
Sony’s Playstation VR (PSVR) headset is also coming out on October 13th for $399 (£350) with over 50 games at launch, including Resident Evil 7 and Final Fantasy XV.
We didn’t see the new PS4 Neo (PS4.5) at the conference, but Sony confirmed its existence earlier in the week so we can look forward to hearing more about that soon.
If we’re talking about games, what about Gears of War 4, Dead Rising 4, Forza Horizon 3, Halo Wars 2 and Scalebound? All these incredible looking games are exclusive to Xbox and Windows 10, and Brett confirms Forza looks incredible.
Speaking of Windows 10, Microsoft announced Play Anywhere. Buy a game digitally and play it on your Windows 10 PC or Xbox One console? This is cross-play done right.
6 teraflops of power, 4K gaming and virtual reality support – all possible with Project Scorpio. It might not come out until next Christmas, but announcing it now gives developers plenty of time to take advantage of the new hardware.
Sadly, Brett couldn’t join us in the studio as he’s out in LA attending the show, but he saw every event live and in person, so here’s his verdict on their efforts with special insider perspective on what it’s like to attend these massive events.
Microsoft: 8/10 – A very slick performance
Microsoft opened the show with the Xbox One S – 40% smaller, 2TB HDD, IR Blaster, integrated power supply and 4K Blu-ray – and it wasn’t pulling punches.
Microsoft kept the pace fast and frantic, with game after game on stage. The reveal of Play Anywhere was huge, which means you get a PC and an Xbox copy of a game when you buy a digital copy, was also yet another push for Windows 10 as a gaming platform.
While Microsoft is trying to gain Xbox exclusives, it is now promoting this as dual-exclusive across PC – or Windows 10 exclusive, as Microsoft puts it.
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We bounced very quickly from Gears of War to Killer Instinct to Forza Horizon 3 and beyond. This is a far cry from when Don Mattrick was at the helm of Xbox, and all the better for it. This is (finally) a games console.
After a breathtaking run of gameplay, we finally paused to discuss Xbox Live. After a few pats on the back from Microsoft, discussing backwards compatibility and cross network play, Mike Ybarra revealed background music, which got a huge reception, and Cortana, which we already knew about thanks to the beta update.
But then, he mentioned ‘three of our most requested features’, and they were Clubs – a place to create communities of like-minded players on Xbox – Group Search and Arena, Microsoft’s new tournament platform where players can register and compete in the games they think they’re amazeballs at.
But after that, it was straight back to the games. We were treated to more in-depth looks at Sea of Thieves, Tekken 7, Gwent, a slew of indie titles via Xbox’s ID programme, with We Happy Few being far and away the standout of the bunch, and out next month to maintain a very strong showing and the hype generated.
But of course, all of this paled in comparison to Microsoft’s behemoth reveal that came at the close of the show. yes, Project Scorpio is real, and it’s as powerful as the rumours suggested. All of the teraflops and all of the GBs and all that other stuff to get gamers and developers alike tingling with excited and it’s set to launch holiday 2017.
Now the decision to open the conference with the Xbox One S makes sense. But who on earth is going to buy that now? It’s a very curious decision to have three concurrent consoles in one generation.
Phil Spencer stated that all games will work across each of the three consoles. The Scorpio will offer “true 4K experiences” and full VR gaming, while the Slim will ‘only’ offer 4K video output thanks to the 4K blu-ray player.
However it’s hard to argue Microsoft kicked things off with a bang, and shoved the ball firmly back in Sony’s court with the first conference of the day.
Sony: 9/10 – The king of the console exclusive
Sony had to make a serious statement this after Microsoft’s stellar performance at its conference – I didn’t think Sony could top it. But within just a few short onstage demos, it was quite clear that it could, and in a big way.
While Microsoft has made a big push to become relevant again in the console war with its two new hardware SKUs, Sony has simply pushed the argument to the back-burner by leaving the PS4 Nero for another day and re-asserted its dominance as the first-party exclusive king of software.
Opening the conference with an orchestral score of the God of War soundtrack, we knew we were in for something special. Then the curtain lifted, and we were greeted to an all-new Kratos, in a snowier climate, and in a game with a very Last of Us vibe. You know, until the giant troll came crashing in and tried to kill everyone.
The fact that you rarely saw any men in suits – or worse, suits with t-shirts and trainers – showed how confident Sony was in the games on show.
Oh and we finally got a release date for The Last Guardian, who saw that coming!?
With the exception of Resident Evil 7, which multi-platform but adds VR support on the PS4, every game that stood out was an exclusive. There wasn’t a single flat moment in the conference.
I’ve never been a fan of all the screaming from the crowds, but I’ll admit the Spider-Man reveal gave me goosebumps.
All-in-all, this was an excellent round of press conferences. Microsoft went big on hardware, but still couldn’t quite match the confidence and sheer ballsy nature with which Sony simply rolls out its exclusive titles.
There was also a moment I’ve genuinely never experienced in my life before the Sony conference. We all knew what was about to happen – Hideo Kojima was about to walk on stage and present his new game.
Andrew House introduced Kojima, the curtain lifted, and for some reason the famed Japanese developer decided to honour Michael Jackson by turning the stage into a rendition of Billie Jean, the floor turning white as he walked. The crowd, meanwhile, turned feral. People around me jumped, cheered, screamed. One woman two rows in front literally stood up and ‘rocked out’, hands aloft and head to the sky. The ‘press’ section can be proud.
Then we got to see the game, and it’s as bizarre and unique as you’d expect. Norman Reedus returns after the collapse of Silent Hills to work with Kojima on Death Stranding, which looks set to be a surreal psychological thriller that will no doubt raise plenty of questions.
Watch: What is Death Stranding?
There was even time to announce a return of everyone’s beloved mascot: Crash Bandicoot. Sony is remastering the PSOne titles from the ground up, perhaps as a means to prove to Activision how much demand there is for a brand-new title.
With the PS4 Neo still set to be revealed, the next year in gaming is going to be pretty incredible, and Sony remains firmly in the driving seat.
EA: 5/10 – Good highlights, but left me wanting more
EA kicked off the press conference battle on Sunday afternoon, and delivered a solid if unspectacular show. The decision to broadcast simultaneously from both LA and London gave fans on both continents the chance to experience an announcement in the building, but also left bizarre moments of lull for those in the room when the show was handed across the pond.
However, for anyone watching the show there was a distinct sense of wishing we saw more.
This felt like the show where we were finally going to see full unveiling of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Instead, we got yet another developer behind-the-scenes peppered with mere snippets of game footage, with no indication of if it was in-game, gameplay or otherwise.
After Jade Raymond earlier teased we could be seeing some Star Wars goodness from the likes of Visceral and potentially the next wave of Battlefront content, instead we were told the launch line-up over the next two years similar to the way Marvel lays out its movie slate.
Thankfully, there were some incredibly great moments in the show. Titanfall 2 looks incredible, delivering a single player campaign that looks to delve deeper into the relationship between Titan AI and its Pilot, with multiplayer delivering a more visceral experience all round with plenty more gadgets and diversity.
Meanwhile, Battlefield 1 looks set to be the best-looking multiplayer shooters ever. The trip to World War 1 looks set to be a violent one indeed.
FIFA 17 revealed its story mode, which having gone hands-on with it recently, has the risk of falling flat, and EA showed its human side with a new indie developer program and charity initiative.
Overall it felt like an opportunity missed for many EA titles, but Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 rightly shone.
Bethesda: 6/10 – A solid effort
Quake Champions lifted the curtain and was undoubtedly a jaw-dropper. Off the back of the highly successful Doom rebirth, it was surprising that the publisher opted to reinvigorate another historic franchise so soon. But, of course, it was a huge hit with the crowd in attendance. With more to come at Quakecon, Bethesda did a great job of setting the bar high early.
This was, of course, followed up later on in the show with the re-unveiling of Prey, with a new narrative and now in the hands of Arkane. Although a completely new game with a brand new premise, it now also has far greater promise.
Arkane also closed out the show with an extended look at Dishonored 2. We finally got a chance to see the world beyond Dunwall, and also how the game looks built from the ground up on new-gen consoles and on a new engine.
There were some performance issues, but overall the new abilities and freedom to explore this city looked excellent.
However, one person deserves a special dishonourable mention, known colloquially as ‘woo girl’ on social media. During the Elder Scrolls Online section of the conference, this pain in the backside of an attendee proceeded to whoop and holler every non-announcement that was made.
When the guy on stage rhetorically stated ‘we hope you like what we’ve announced today’ following the reveal that Elder Scrolls Online has foregone a levelling system to allow players to meet up with friends to complete any quest, she exclaimed “uh, yeah!”.
Woo girl, please never may we be in the same room together again.
Overall, Bethesda won the Sunday for conferences, but the day merely felt like an appetiser for what was to come next.
Ubisoft: 7/10 – South Park and For Honor steal the show
30 seconds in and we see a dancing giraffe, lion, saggy Rey Mystery all gyrating to Queen. Ubisoft opened a press conference like I’ve never seen before. Yes it was for Just Dance 2017, a game I care as much about as a prostate exam, but that didn’t matter, this was the best opening of any show.
Then Aisha Tyler walks on stage and is far and away the most charismatic host of the lot. She’s funny, charming and naturally welcoming to all in attendance both in the room and around the world.
I almost forgot we was here for some games, which we then roll back into as Ubisoft celebrates its 30th birthday by showing us Ghost Recon Wildlands. The problem with this demo is it fell foul of the similar tropes The Division’s first gameplay demo did – having four ‘friends’ talking in the most forced way during a scripted mission that went on way too long that caused us to lose interest.
It didn’t help that the gameplay didn’t do much to impress. Looking like a co-op Metal Gear 5 only far less competent, with bland interiors juxtaposing the lush savannah meant it was hard to stay engaged.
But then we got to see my personal highlight of the show: South Park The Fractured But Whole. Trey Parker and Matt Stone got more laughs than all the other conferences combined and presented an incredible game that looks to warm the hearts of every fan of the show.
With improved combat mechanics and laugh-out-loud cutscenes, December 6 can’t come soon enough.
We got to see Ubisoft’s investment in VR with Eagle Flight and Star Trek. The demo certainly made Eagle Flight feel more like a tech demo, but we finally got to see a game that offers multiplayer in virtual reality, and this felt even more so with Star Trek. Being able to work onboard the flight deck as part of a team looked pretty amazing, even for a non-Trekkie like myself.
For Honor provided a hugely impressive demo. We saw a brief glimpse last year as Jason Vandenberghe described a hugely passionate vision of a visceral and violent game with an all-new melee system. This year we finally got to see some gameplay and it didn’t disappoint. This is like a Western Dynasty Warriors, and arrives on Valentine’s Day 2017. I can’t wait to try it for myself and if the combat offers deep enough mechanics, this is sure to be a hit.
For Ubisoft’s “one more thing” new IP we were treated to Steep, a downhill skiing, wingsuit and paragliding extreme sports title. While Ubi may present this as a ‘groundbreaking new genre’, I’m pretty sure SSX tried doing the exact same thing with its last outing to little success. Few in the audience and on my social media feeds seemed hugely won over, but it was impressive to have gameplay on show and a nice turn of pace to have Ubisoft’s new IP reveal out this year.
With Nintendo only showing Legend of Zelda for Wii U and Pokemon Sun and Moon during its Nintendo Direct, I felt like we had to exclude it from the running, as this is clearly the year where the company steps back ahead of what is surely going to be a huge 2017 with the launch of the Nintendo NX.
Another honourable mention must go to Capcom for Resident Evil 7. My full first impressions are coming soon, but suffice it to say I think it’s awesome.
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