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E3 2013 - A superbly valiant effort from Microsoft that still lost

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With Microsoft confirming the worse in recent weeks that it will impose some of the most drastic and ultimately consumer-restrictive policies the gaming industry has ever seen, it was absolutely crucial they performed at their very best at E3 2013 - for there own console's sake. Suprisingly, they did just that as it was arguably Microsoft's best E3 press conference ever and yet the overall atmosphere still left them ultimately losing in the wake (and appearance) of Sony's Playstation 4. Worse still, Sony's conference was not particularly engrossing but they did capitalise on Microsoft's choices and more importantly, sided with the gamers.

 

Microsoft's E3 Press Conference 2013:

After watching both Sony and Microsoft's Press Conferences, Microsoft's presentation actually came across vastly superior both in content and delivery. They revealed that they will be offering two games a month free to XBL Gold members, in a similar fashion to Sony's Playstation Plus members, every month until Xbox One's console launch. I'm assuming this was the Xbox 360's surprise reveal for E3, but none the less a worthy addition to Xbox Live. Microsoft then went on to reveal the Xbox 360 console with the Xbox One's design. It looked nice and received somewhat of a cheer from the watching crowd, but it was an ultimately worthless addition to gamers.

Then we moved on to the main event - the Xbox One's section of E3. They did particularly well with this section it has to be said. Microsoft flaunted very little of Kinect and its uses, with only Kinect Sport Rivals being shown, and concentrated on the more hardcore games - even Crytek's Ryse no longer fully supports Kinect. They cheekily revealed Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on the Xbox One, with even an appearance from Hideo Kojima himself to mention how good the console is in his slightly broken english. They revealed for te first time actual gameplay footage and a fair bit of content about the game. It looks fantastic with the new Fox Engine and plays even better.

Overall, One's event was more of a success rather than a failure given the critical mauling Microsoft has received in recent weeks - they revealed a solid and almost tempting selection of games and a good amount of exclusives (including Dead Rising 3 being the main exclusive suprise here), but everyone was anxiously waiting for the big reveal - the cost of the Xbox One at launch. The words $499 and £429 echoed the room, followed by a mixture of cheers and slightly disappointed murmurs. It seems quite expensive, given that we have to have Kinect included in the package due to their new policy that Kinect is required for Microsoft's new console. Atleast you XBL Gold membership transfers to Xbox One without additional cost - that would of been the true 'icing on the cake'.

 

Sony's E3 Press Conference 2013:


More specifically, Sony's Playstation 4 Press Conference as that was what essentially everyone was here for. I felt slightly disappointed by the games revealed here exclusives-wise. I'm assuming the big heavy hitters from the likes of NaughtyDog are being kept underwraps especially given they have nearly released ' The Last of Us' on the PS3 - a game that has hit the world of gaming by storm. More to the point though, little first party titles weren't as eventful as Microsoft's. In fact, many games had exclusive extras for Sony's console such as items in Diablo III, additional gameplay in Assassin's Creed 4 and Watch Dogs - things that don't really cut it for me as being titled exclusives or being catogorised along with Sony's true exclusive titles. They stated over 140 games are currently in development for the PS4, 100 of which will be released within the first year and 40 are exclusives or have exclusive content. My question and only major concern at this is how many of those 40 games are third-party games with merely exclusive content like additional skins or an extra one hour of gameplay? I sincerely hope this is not the case as the PS3, despite its obvious flaws, prided itself in its triple-A exclusives.

Sony did, however, reveal a major blow to Microsft early on by focusing on the Indie developers and gamers, with them presenting the crowd with several exclusive indie games. They reiterated their new stance that they are open to Indie developers and will not impose any restrictions for developers to present their new games onto the Playstation 4 Network - something which Microsoft does not do on the 360 or with the Xbox One. A loud cheer emerged with plenty of fans smiling at this news. This was Sony's first jab of many directed towards Microsoft. And it was working.

People were eagerly awaiting for the physical console reveal itself that eluded the world back in February 2013. It did not take long for Sony to ease their suffering as they did just that within minutes of discussing the PS4. The console looks surprisingly small and compact when compared to the chunky Xbox One and even there own console, the PS3. Some have described it as a small box that has been squished diagonally whereas others see it as a baby from the Xbox One and PS2. I personally thought it looked suprisingly similar to the Nintendo Wii black version. Interestingly, they demonstrated the new console standing vertically and sitting horizontally - again, something which the Xbox One cannot do with its sheer bulkness. Was this another jibe at Microsoft? Small, compact and seemingly could fit anywhere or a rather large black box similar to an old VHS player with a large camera having to be placed near it? It certainly felt like a subtle dig to me.

Then the real information and arguably the first haymaker at Microsoft arrived; the Playstation 4 supports preowned games. That is they believe the consumer has a right that when purchasing a disc, they can lend it to as many or as few friends as they like, they can trade it in to any retailer (not just participating and Microsoft approved retailers), sell it on ebay, or just keep the disc for themselves. The hugely exciting roar from the giant crowd was amazing, a true highlight of E3 history if there ever was one. The cheers continued for a while and Jack Tretton's face could not hide his emotions as he cracked quite a smile and said "I guess that's a good thing." Sony knew this was a victory point but even they could not of expected such a huge reaction from the crowd to something that consoles have been doing for generations.

The haymakers did not stop there as Tretton continued that not only does Sony support preowned games, but there console will require no internet connection or authentication to operate. The crowd were ecstatic and the loudest E3 2013 had been on day one. Microsoft would of heard that regardless if they were watching or not. Jack Tretton did this by stating:

"The Playstation 4 won't impose any new restrictions on you. The PS4 supports used games - we believe in the model that people embrace today with the PS3. In addition, it doesn't need to be connected; if you enjoy playing single player games offline, the PS4 won't require you to check-in online period and it won't stop working if you haven't authenticated in 24 hours."

Not only was this several haymakers to Xbox One's exterior, but it was a stab to their circuits. This was huge for Microsoft, publishers and gamers alike. Many have felt that the rumours of PS4 supporting some form of DRM were going to be true and surely Microsoft would not of risked such a PR nightmare if Sony was not going to do something similar? These decisions could potentially decide who wins next generations of console gaming. And the slaughter didn't stop there as at the end of the presentation, Sony revealed that the PS4 will retail this winter holiday at $399 and £349 - undercutting Microsoft immensely by $100 and £80 respectively. Again, the cheers from the crowd were rediculously loud at this news with fans shouting "Sony! Sony! Sony!" and many taking pictures of the slide revealing the retail prices, just like they did for the no DRM slides.

Sony had done what Microsoft couldn't - to win the hearts of millions of gamers and make them feel like they are being cared and catered for. They learned from their mistakes with the PS3, gathered feedback and actually listened as opposed to claiming they listened and delivered. It was a subpar presentation that still blew Microsoft's excellent one out the water by simply going along with what gamers want. The E3 crowd appeared more than delighted at the news, despite being slightly dampened that PS4 multiplayer will require Playstation Plus membership to function but this was surely to be expected given that Microsoft had been doing this requirement for over 8 years - making millions it has to be said. Together, along with the news that the PSN will be completely overhauled and updated for the modern gamer to include such things as cross game chat (i.e., party chat), Sony won a huge victory at E3 2013 and surely have gathered momentum to succeed as the console to own next generation.

Gamers were then again given rediculously good news from Sony the following day. Shehei Yoshida confirmed via Twitter that PS4 is region free, meaning you can finally play those Japenese RPGs that never make it to Western retailers and vice versa. This was just becoming sadistic from Sony's part; not only did they redicule Microsoft's new restrictive policies during their own event that won E3, but then topped off the mauling with a simple tweet the morning after. It was like they were just not finished as they revealed this information as Microsoft's new console had already been confirmed to be region locked. It seemed that Sony's philosophy was simple; give the gamers what they want and gamers will respond with equally open arms. Unfortunately from Microsoft's perspective, this is still a PR nightmare despite the games they threw in attempt to attract back the surely distancing audience. An interview released shortly after the events of E3 seemed to demonstrate both Microsoft's arrogance and frustration with what is happening around them. Don Mattrick (Microsoft Interactive Entertainment President), in a response to the criticism of always-online, stated:

"Fortunately we have a product for people that aren't able to get some form of connectivity - it's called an Xbox 360."

The last thing you want from what can only be described as an E3 loss, and the potential to lose millions of your consumers to your major rivals, is to have an interview released of a Microsoft President coming across arrogant and lacking any care towards your fans regarding the harsh restrictions that have been imposed for the Xbox One. Sure, they will sell the Xbox One - it has good games, a solid online system and some interesting prospects like live streaming via TwitchTV. However, they have already lost a huge audience that do not have the internet whether through availability or affordability and are rapidly losing there own fanbase that they deservedly earned through the accomplishments of the Xbox and Xbox 360. Many gamers don't like the idea of having to pay and forcably use Xbox Kinect, preventing them lending games to friends, choose where they can trade in and (if possible) sell to as well as having to authenticate there Xbox every 24hours and every one hour if they are on a friend's Xbox. Combine this with the considerably more expensive price tag and Microsoft has got one hell of a dilemma on its hands. Perhaps Microsoft should learn from Sony's approach. Perhaps things can change. Perhaps not. Only time can tell.

 

My thoughts/rant on Xbox One

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A common iteration among hardcore gamers about console wars and which is better would be a typical gamer's response: why don't you own both? I have done exactly that for generations with examples like Sega Megadrive vs. SNES; Playstation vs. N64; PS2 vs Xbox vs Gamecube (and Dreamcast). The list goes on and I was fully intending to continue this pattern with the PS4 and Xbox One, until more recently - to which this generation may only be the PS4, depending on their intent and direction in further reveals, ofcourse. And here's why:

 

Xbox One Reveil - 21st May 2013

 This was a HUGE disappointment. Microsoft had the opportunity to capitalize on a slightly-disappointing reveal by Sony, whom failed to reveal the actual console physically yaknow during a console reveal and yet Microsoft squandered it and, at the same time, committed suicide. I clearly was not the only one feeling this as Sonys shares at the New York Stock Exchange went up 8.35% immediately in the aftermath following Microsofts reveal of its All-in-One Console.

In Microsofts defense, they did reveal the console and controller but then tragically went spiraling out of control and distanced themselves further by not talking much about the gaming side of the console. In a subtle manner they decided E3 in June was the better choice to demonstrate the Xbox Ones gaming capabilities. Instead, they went with the mediocre multimedia side of things and by that I mean 'TV, Sport TV, TV, Live TV, Streaming, TV' - something to which gamers do not really care about never mind during an 8th generation gaming console reveal. The whole event was completely underwhelming from a gaming perspective and too much was focused towards the mainstream names of Call Of Duty: Ghosts and EA Sports games. In fact, Infinity Ward even took to stage to reveal their next generation CoD game and how they made it with clear innovations in gaming mechanics such as being able to do a Battlefield-esk fence hop and play peek-a-boo around corners...

It was logical for Microsoft to target these two huge super-powers within gaming as both Call Of Duty and EA Sports games have ridiculously massive followings, but to completely neglect everyone else in favour to illustrate how good Kinect is at picking up your voice and motions was a big middle finger for the rest of us gamers  but just wait until E3 though guys! My big question is will even the huge followings of CoD, FIFA and Madden leap towards a console that requires Kinect to always be Konnected (sorry for the pun), a console to always be connected to the internet (I'll get onto this little matter shortly), limit used games and who you lend your own property to? Unless Sony equally messes up, I hugely doubt it.

 

The Story Since Then:

According to Microsoft they were listening to gamers, retailers and publishers about preowned games and arrived to the intellectual conclusion that:

 

  • You can only pass on a disc to a friend who has been on your Xbox Live friends list for atleast 30 days
  • You can only pass on a game disc ONCE ()
  • Trade-ins are possible but only at selective retailers

 

They go onto state that this means a huge plus for gamers as you can simply login to a friends Xbox with your own account and play games without the discs despite ignoring the obvious problems associated with this, like I CAN LEND MY GAME TO ANYONE AS I BOUGHT THE DAMN GAME. However, this is then further flawed by:

 

  • An internet connection is required of every 24 hours for a system check for your own console or every hour if you are playing on your account on a friends Xbox One. This includes single-player games and if the console fails to get a connection, it essentially becomes an expensive paperweight. It will not play those games you have bought and want to play as offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection. In essence, gone are the days of taking your Xbox with you on trips, to university or anywhere for that matter unless you have the internet readily available.

 

  • The console is always on. It is designed to run in a low-powered yet connected state.

 

  • Kinect has to be Konnected. This has to be connected to the Xbox One at all times, although this can be apparently customized to the point where it can be virtually off by tweaking what the Kinect picks up.

 

 

For them reasons alone, I can safely say the Xbox One has not even close to tempting me with a purchase altogether never mind a day one purchase. Microsoft have appeared arrogant from the 360s success and that will ultimately lead to their downfall unless some serious changes take place between E3 and the consoles release. And the worst thing of it all is that my gaming decision to most likely not buy the console was made from pure stupidity from Microsoft and the decisions to put in place such nonsensical property-controlling rubbish. If Sony play their cards right, they can easily take back the crown of being the king of the modern day gaming console. They admitted their errors with the architecture of the PS3 despite being a more powerful machine and having the better first-party library than its 360 counterpart and Sony have already corrected that, with PC-like architecture in the PS4 that has also been analysed to be around 33% more powerful due to the superior 8GB DDR5 RAM and GPU than the Xbox Ones 8GB DDR3 RAM (to which only 5GB DDR3 will be used for gaming). If Sony improves their online features to include better chat and group chats similar to the XBL party chat as well then I can only foresee one winner and it wont be the console with One in its name.

 

My initial thoughts to the Dead Space 3 Demo

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Having seen an advert stating "Gain early access to the Dead Space 3 Demo" on Xbox Live earlier this week, I quickly and emphatically signed up using my EA origins account. I then patiently waited in anticipation for an email with the early access code and having seen the size '1.96gb', I was already excited over the possibilities that could be in store for me. Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are fantastic survival horror games in this current generation of gaming. Too few now exist, particularly and most notably with Resident Evil veering off its original path - a game series that I also truly loved.

Upon arrival of the main menu, I am greeted with a single player campaign option and co-op campaign option (aswell as a weapon editing mode which I will mention later). Personally, this addition does not bother me in the slightest - it gives you the option of what you want to play, but I would assume co-op does render the term 'survival horror', and any jump scares along the way, almost obsolete. Predictably, I chose the single player option.

On entering the game, Isaac wakes up in a destroyed ship, with frost on his face, on the planet Tau Volantis - a planet where the 'source' of the Markers is supposedly on. Once I had escaped from my ship in a cutscene, I proceeded to walk in about a foot or two of snow along the icy plains in my currently damaged suit in a violent icy blizzard. Visibility was rather poor at this point, so I treaded lightly and took my time - as you normally would in Dead Space games. Despite the game starting in an outdoor environment, it still felt like Dead Space. First thing I had to do though was change my gun reticle back to 'classic' - I prefer seeing dots spread with distance rather than being static. The Plasma-Cutter looked and sounded slightly different to the previous games. It did not feel as powerful so I was eager to test it out on some Necromorphs and I did not have to wait too long.

As I walked to what appeared to be a Mineshaft entrance, I was confronted with a Zombie-like Miner. He looked infected of somesort and he proceeded to run towards me. It was not what I wanted, but I repeated to shoot my Plasma-Cutter into his limbs. His upper body then exploded revealing three tentacles, whilst remaining attached to its human lower half. It sort of reminded me of 'The Thing' in a weird way. Just not quite as good. After I had dealt with him, I was then attacked by two. As I shot them, all I thought was how weak my Plasma-Cutter sounded and it felt like it was shooting air - there was no recoil or any real impact on their flesh. Not what I am use to from a Dead Space title. This was then hugely affected by the fps dropping to almost a slideshow for a few seconds. There was only two enemies on screen...I then decided to search this rather small mineshaft area as many paths were conveniently caved in with snow. So after a few item pickups from stomping on the deceased enemies and nearby crates, I exited the area.

I was quickly introduced to a quick-time cutscene, reminiscence of that to the beginning of one of the Uncharted games (2, I believe) where you had to escape from a bus/tram thing that was about to fall whilst in the snow. I pressed the buttons and crawled away with my mind saying 'please don't over-do this like RE 6'. I then entered a cave where I was introduced to our familar Dead Space foe, the traditional Necromorph, looking slightly different and not as scary or as detailed for that matter. I strongly felt Dead Space 2's Necromorph looked far more superior and horrifying. These still sounded quite fearsome and when they first popped out of the snowy floor, I did initially panic. Further along the way I came to a huge open clearing with some bridge-like structure to my left with a survivor, named Sgt. Carver, on it shooting and retreating from Necromorphs. My blue guide-trail led me to a small room with a suit station, changing me into an Artic suit, which looked more like a traditional suit with a coat layer over the top, but I digress. Then there was a workbench with a few new features. These now allow you to customise nearly any part of your guns from additional sights, extended clips to even changing the secondary fire completely - fancy having a Plasma-Cutter with a Flamethrower attachment? Yes, you actually can. I do like this customisation feature, but only time will tell how truly balanced this will be. However, you do need to find salvageable parts in order to start playing around with your gun. You can even make a custom version of a gun and save the blueprint so a friend can copy your design. Sounded pretty neat at the time.

After a few minutes of what was essentially me playing, I exited the room and proceeded to a nearby lift that would have allowed me to get closer to Sgt. Carver. This was shortlived as I was to be interupted by a cutscene (not a quick-time one though) of a spider-looking thing. Nevertheless, i proceeded to fire at the yellow tenticles and bodyparts as you do, Dead Space style. It took quite a beating before it ran away but I still felt that my weapons did not feel right. I cannot help but think why not keep the sounds from the last game - they worked amazingly. Maybe it was because i was outside in the snow, maybe not. Whatever it was, something was not quite right.

And then my nightmare was realised, I was greeted with human enemies saying "It's Clark, he's over there" and immediately chucked a grenade at me. I unfortunately thought "where's my beloved Dead Space gone?" It felt like Resident Evil 6 mixed in with the landscape style of Lost Planet. Maybe the developers read my mind because that human enemy was then torn to shreds by necromorphs before I retaliated - was this a reference to say 'we won't turn Dead Space into an action shooter with humans'? I smiled regardless. Still, the Necromorphs don't look as good as they did in one or two and neither does the blood, which looked like shiny dark red plastic-like stuff. I proceeded along to find a door way into some interior to be greeted by a freaky-looking head, with tentacles as feet, that scurried to a nearby deceased human body, bringing it back to life - just with a bit of a necromorph look about him and he pulled a gun and started to fire. That reference I had previously thought they had made was now proven to be false. I felt like Chris Redfield during RE 5 & 6 with the Las Plagas - and that is not what I wanted and I was not impressed. I come around the corner with my faith slowly dwindling away and see two people dressed in a similar suit to me shooting more Zombie-miners and a couple of them heads-with-legs (which I named 'Headwalkers'). I saved one of the men whilst the other died, but then the survivor turned against me and started firing away...I was confused because he did not shoot me until after I had saved his miserable life.

Shortly afterwards, I encountered the typical 'use stasis then kinesis' puzzle to dislodge an enormous drill that had blocked my path. The drill then fell out of position and magically started attacking me in a conveniently close-quarter arena-like area, whilst ordinary and anorexic-squeeling, teenage-looking Necromorphs (that acted very much in the same way as those babies) appeared. I was told that I had to use Stasis on the drill to reveal a yellow centre to which I then had to shoot. It then somehow flew in the air and spun for a few seconds more. I used stasis again, then shot the yellow centre, again. A couple of attempts later and the drill 'died.' Although I was assuming this was almost a boss fight with how the mechanics worked, it did instill a sense of panic due to the small proximity of the room and being with tons of necromorphs continually slashing me whilst running from a giant drill. I had to refill my health a lot and run to Stasis-charging docks a lot to overcome this initial threat. I was left from the battle with mixed feelings; I was panicking but the Necromorphs that were constantly hitting me stopped my attempts at shooting the drill, which got old and annoying far too quickly.

Unfortunately the nightmare was not quite over at this point. I then returned outside to another good looking but sadly unmemorable snowy outdoor environment to be presented with more mundane human enemies with the game encouraging me to use the new 'roll' (I don't remember it being in the other games) and 'duck and cover' mechanics to overcome a mundane shootout - again, like Chris' campaign in Resident Evil 6. They were wearing suits, like Isaac's, so they took a fair bit of damage. However, after a few kills a huge monstrous roar and a sound of sheer destruction came from behind me. I assumed it was going to be an environmental cutscene of something falling that would hurry me in killing my enemies, but infact I was pleasantly surprised it was a huge almost skeletal-like Necromorph that I had previously seen in the distance earlier in the demo - when it appeared fossilised. It came to the cliff-face, roared again, then started to suck us all in. I saw yellow within it so I prepared to ready myself only to be struck by its huge arm with the words 'Dead Space 3' appearing on the fading gameplay. It was a surprisingly decent ending to the demo that felt ultimately underwhelming for a sequel of one of the best survival horrors this generation. I hope I am truly wrong when the full game is released on February 8th (EU).