After the TV-focused, digital-rights-management-laden debut of the Xbox One that so heavily shunned the core market, it's safe to say that expectations were high going into today's Microsoft E3 press conference. We were promised games that would help to define a new generation of console gaming, but instead what little innovation shown was buried underneath a flurry of gunfire and buzzword-infused hyperbole.
Microsoft gave us little reason to drop a steep $499 (£429) on an Xbox One. Yes, the games were pretty, and at a claimed 60fps I'm sure they'll run smoothly too. But that's far from enough. What we were shown was a sea of sequels that forced the same tired first-person mechanics into shiny new graphics engines. Ryse, with its over-the-top scripted action sequences and quick-time events, was little more than Call of Duty with swords. Replace those swords with mechs and you've got Titanfall.
Battlefield 4 pushed dynamic battles, Dead Rising 3 slaughtered zombies with chainsaws, and Master Chief was flashed up onscreen to push another Halo game. Driving fiends were taken care of with Forza 5, families got a look-in with Minecraft: Xbox One Edition, and the nostalgia brigade was thrown a bone with Killer Instinct. It's the same press conference Microsoft wheels out year after year. But hey, at least Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain's hyperactive horses raised a smile.
The games that showed promise were relegated to absurdly short teasers or prerendered footage. Sunset Overdrive, Below, and D4 (from developer Swery65) were all a little different, and all far more interesting than the rest of the lineup, but all were overshadowed by the blockbuster shooters. The best-looking game shown--Dark Souls II--is an Xbox 360 game: hardly a ringing endorsement for a new platform.
Even the Xbox One's gaming-focused features were more common sense than out-and-out innovation. Xbox points have finally been scrapped in favour of local currency; you can now add as many people as you like to your friends list; and Xbox Live accounts can be shared within a single household. There was streaming, too, thanks to Microsoft's partnership with Twitch.TV, but without the convenience of the PlayStation 4's share button and heavily integrated social features.
"Microsoft can try as hard as it likes to push SmartGlass, but it's ultimately a solution in search of a problem."
SmartGlass made its obligatory appearance, allowing players to view achievements or access in-game menus from a tablet screen--things that aren't exactly hard to do with a controller. Microsoft can try as hard as it likes to push SmartGlass, but it's ultimately a solution in search of a problem. The fact that it's an optional part of Xbox ownership means there's little incentive for devs to try harder. And what about the all-new Kinect? For all the bluster made about the device's heightened accuracy and ability to sense heart rates, there wasn't a single game shown that made use of it. For now, the Kinect seems relegated to voice commands that will likely be slower than using an actual controller.
While Microsoft's media-focused event last month left many disappointed, there was at least a confidence about it, a vision that the company wanted to share with the world. There was no such vision for games today, nothing new for us to rally behind. We were subjected to old men in suits, a stream of buzzwords, and superficial games that valued visuals over innovation. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Microsoft press conference really was the company's vision for the future of games. And if it was, my word, what a dull future it will be.