Let's talk about E3 2014: Microsoft's Press Conference / by Alec Kubas-Meyer

For most intents and purposes, E3 is over. Today is the last day, but there's not going to be much (if any) news coming out of the event, and the remaining previews could be interesting, but likely won't make any major impact on anybody's impression of the show. So let's talk about it. And let's go in order of appearance (at least for the big three). First up: Microsoft. Microsoft had a lot to prove. The Xbox One reveal was overshadowed by the always-online controversy and the way more interesting Sony conference. They stumbled out of the gate where Sony soared, and with the recent reveal of a Kinect-less system, the Xbox One seems to be less and less like the futuristic piece of hardware that the company envisioned (and that I had tepid praise for when I reviewed it back in November).

For better or worse, the Kinect was an integral part of that system, and it was part of the reason that it stuck out from its competition (I truly wish the PS4 eye had the voice-recognition capabilities of the Kinect). Now it sticks out as being notably less powerful (although the removal of Kinect will apparently lead to a marginal increase in graphical fidelity)... and that's about it. At the equivalent price point, there is almost no reason to buy an Xbox One over a PlayStation 4.

Microsoft had to change that. Because the only thing that it has to fall back on is its library. In that sense, Microsoft had a reasonably good conference, because it did focus on games, with announcement after announcement that made a decent case for the continued existence of the console.

But what struck me most was that the big titles generally excited me the least. The new Call of Duty game looks interesting, and much more like something I would be into playing than any of the most recent iterations, but the new Assassin's Creed (controversy aside) doesn't seem all that compelling (multiple assassins as a concept strikes me as odd) and Fable Legends looks like it would be a fun Wii U game with local multiplayer but less so online. I hope the new Crackdown will be awesome (the first sequel was meh) and expect good things from new Kamiya game, whatever Scalebound ends up being, but neither showed much to really latch onto.

Of the big-budget titles, only Sunset Overdrive really struck a chord, and the only thing I could think while watching that demo was, "I bet if anyone else were playing this game, it would look terrible." It was like watching someone who is really good at Mirror's Edge play the game and then attempting to replicate it.

(It could also be compared to that original demo of Bioshock Infinite, but since that wasn't "real" in the traditional sense (and I'm assuming Ted Price was actually playing the game up on stage), I don't know that that's right. But the ridiculousness of the trailer did look cooler than the game... as is often the case.)

But given that I greatly enjoyed Bulletstorm and am a fan of bright colors and weapon creativity, I'll probably like it. The rail riding thing strikes me as something I will be terrible at, however, so I reserve judgement until I actually get my hands on it.

The Master Chief Collection, on the other hand, seemed kind of sad to me. It's interesting for sure, and I know a lot of people are going to love it (especially the Halo 2 multiplayer), but it really read more as, "YOU GUYS LIKE HALO, RIGHT? HERE'S ALL OF THE HALO! PLEASE BUY OUR CONSOLE!" Unfortunately, it doesn't include Reach, which is the game I'm actually the most interested in playing (I missed it the first time around; same with ODST (also not in the pack, since neither features the Chief)).

So, Alec, what's all this nonsense about the "Decent case" if you're just going to complain? Well, let's get to the cool things, because there definitely were some.

(As a side note: Dance Central Spotlight sounds like it would be a lot of fun in groups, and I legitimately feel bad for Harmonix, since they're working on two Kinect-only games for a platform that no longer requires the Kinect. Microsoft kinda screwed them.)

But the things that really stuck out to me were the indie games. Microsoft has a poor history with Indie games, and the "ID@Xbox" system was meant to push back against that. Lowering the barrier of entry (each Xbox One is effectively a dev kit) and allowing self-publishing are great steps towards allowing developers to make games for all of the platforms. However, making it for all of the platforms doesn't really make a good case for the Xbox One, so there need to be some games just for Xbox. And while it's possible that Inside will hit other platforms, Ori and the Blind Forest is definitely Microsoft only (Xbox 360, One, and PC).

Those two games excited me in a way that nothing else at the conference (and few things at the show in general) did. Puzzle platformers are my jam, and both of those games look pretty swell, especially Inside. I mean, Limbo is one of the best games of the last decade, and everyone's been super excited to see what Playdead was doing next. The trailer may not have shown too much, but what it did show was about as cool as anything at E3, and while it may not be a system seller to many, it sets a good precedent (and combined with everything else, could serve as a tipping point for the kind of people who like puzzle platformers (which should really be everyone)).

It wasn't the most amazing press conference, but it did what it had to do: it focused on games, games, and more games. That may seem obvious, but it's more than could be said for its clearest competitor (we'll get to that tomorrow). I wasn't blown away by much of anything at the show, but I saw a clear future for the console that I didn't see last week. The Kinect-less console, even if I think it was a mistake from a vision point of view, has spurred interest in the consoles, and the big titles, whether I'm excited about them or not, will undoubtedly bring people in. Call of Duty DLC exclusivity is a big deal to a lot of people, and in this new world of third party ubiquity, those little bits of extra content are what differentiate from platform to platform.

Microsoft has given gamers a reason to care.

Grade: B-