The Great Console Wars are as inane as they are hilarious to witness. We’re talking not only about the younger generation, but grown men and women squabbling like children as they hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, getting up on their flimsy soapboxes armed with nothing but a rudimentary knowledge of the English language and a prejudicial sense of righteousness. So with reverence to the Console Wars, I feel it’s only right that I throw a bit of fuel on the fire and compare Sony’s and Microsoft’s E3 presentation. In endeavouring to uncover who did it better this year, I promise to be fair and unbiased, and my extremely unimportant decision will be passed down swiftly and without mercy. So before considering the verdict, let’s have a look at what the two big names in the Console Wars had on offer….
Braving the early hour and temperamental nature of Australia’s fibre to the node internet infrastructure, Microsoft’s Xbox presentation was the first cab off the rank at 2:30 am AEST Tuesday morning. Things started strong, with the unveiling of a new Xbox One Slim, which is 40% smaller than the original and therefore now only takes up the same amount of room as an Olympic swimming pool. The first game to be shown was a new entry into one of Xbox’s flagship franchises, Gears of War 4. The gameplay looks as solid and brutal as ever, but also quite standard fare for anyone familiar with the great granddaddy of stop and pop cover-based third-person shooters. A highlight is the new Buzzkill weapon that allows you to shoot buzz saws that ricochet off surfaces and slice enemies in half. Perfect for that DIY birdhouse you never got around to building. As well as having a revamped Horde Mode (something strangely absent from Gears of War: Judgment), Gears of War 4 will be the first title to take advantage of the very cool Xbox Play Anywhere scheme, where anything purchased on Xbox One can be played on any Windows 10-enabled device.
The next title to make an appearance was Forza Horizon 3, the newest entry in the very popular racing franchise that takes place exclusively in my home country of Straya. Finally within reach of being able to race a Bugati across the Nullabor Plains, I sculled a tinnie of Foster’s and did a victory lap on my pet kangaroo. ReCore, the brainchild of Mark Pacini and Keiji Inafune (of Metroid Prime and Mega Man fame respectively), had some gameplay shown, but…… there’s not an ellipsis long enough to express how on the fence I am about this game.
A brief trailer for the Underground expansion for ailing FPSMMOTPS The Division and a rehash of the previously seen Battlefield 1 trailer were inconsequential, and this was followed by a definitive lull in the pace as Phil Spencer discussed new features coming to Xbox, such as the ability to play background music and the fact that well-meaning Siri imposter Cortana would make an appearance on the Xbox One dashboard. While certainly nice, it wasn’t exactly high impact stuff. It was swiftly followed by some info on Minecraft expansions, with an awkward live gameplay demo of some new multiplayer features upping the cringe level to well over 9000. Still, the new features are sure to please the legions of Minecraft fans out there (RIP DOOM Snapmap).
A bunch of ID@Xbox projects were shown like Cuphead and Inside (from the creators of Limbo), but by far the star of this overly long section was MS-exclusive We Happy Few. It was shown to be a very twisted look at a sinister dystopia, with a rotten core hidden beneath a saccharin-sweet coating whose illusion can only be maintained via drug-induced euphoria. Count me in.
A multiplayer Gwent game (the addictive card game from the Witcher III) was announced followed by Capcom’s Dead Rising 4. DR4 looks to continue the over-the-top zombie-slaying madness that the series is known for, but with a distinct Christmassy feel (think crossbows that shoot candy canes). DR3 was a fantastic Xbox One launch title that took the cake as to how much zombie mutilation could be displayed on the screen at any one time, and I’ll certainly be following this next instalment to see if it can up the ante (flaming triceratops head says yes).
PlatinumGames’ Scalebound was shown off again, but I swear every time I see it my concerns deepen. I really hope Platinum can enact their vision for an experience that looks to be a cross of Eragon, Devil May Cry and a hint of Beats by Dre, but it looks a little messy in its current state. RARE’s pirate adventure/MMO Sea of Thieves also got a gameplay world premiere, but there was more terribly scripted dialogue and painfully forced interaction between the people playing the game than an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. Not sure what to make of this title yet, we’ll have to wait and see.
A cinematic trailer and gameplay snippet for real-time strategy game Halo Wars 2 was then shown, featuring a new Brute faction known as the Banished. The original was most notable for being the last game made by Ensemble studios (of Age of Empires fame) and a bloody fantastic RTS in its own right that miraculously played very smoothly on consoles. Halo Wars 2 will be developed in conjunction with 343i and Creative Assembly, and if you’re interested in seeing if they’re continuing the legacy there’s an open beta that’s going on right now that will continue through until June 20th.
Microsoft’s Xbox presentation ended on a high, with the unveiling of the ridiculously named Project Scorpio. Basically it’s a vastly upgraded Xbox One model that has more terraflops of GPU power than you can poke at stick at (six to be exact), and Phil Spencer claims it will allow true 4K gaming while maintaining the dankest framerates. It has 8 CPU cores, 320 GB/s of memory bandwidth and a fully pulsed pictogravimetric flux capacitor capable of unprecedented asynchronous telephony. Well, maybe not that last bit but it’s exciting nonetheless. What’s sure to be less exciting is its price tag, but we were assured that all the games that are developed for the new system would also be available for the vanilla Xbox One and of course the Xbox One S.
So there you have it. Some nice games and some impressive new hardware made this a good showing from Microsoft, but with the Sony presentation following only eight hours later, could a shock announcement of Wonderbook 2 upset the apple cart…?
The Sony conference commenced with a rousing symphony orchestra replete with Tibetan throat singing, which led quite nicely into a live gameplay video for the new God of War. Featuring some eye-melting graphics, it showed an older Kratos with a mighty and perfectly sculpted beard (seriously , give him a spiced pumpkin latte in a mason jar and put some ironic non-prescription glasses on him and he wouldn’t be out of place in the café district of Brunswick) teaching his son to hunt. As rumoured, the title will pit the player against creatures (and most likely Gods) inspired by Norse mythology.
Following this very strong entrance, game after game was thrown at the audience at a relentless pace until everyone was puking rainbows and throwing money at their computer screens. New IP Days Gone was revealed, a post-apocalyptic third-person adventure that channels a bit of TLOU mixed with Sons of Anarchy. The Last Guardian then made its 81st E3 appearance, but this time with a release date. We’re not talking a nebulous Q4 2016 window either, it’s an actual real date that can be found on any good Gregorian calendar (October 25th for those playing at home). With little to no preamble we also got to see more of Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerilla Games’ robot dinosaur hunting simulator that continues to impress.
Quantic Dreams’ (Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls) high concept sci-fi game Detroit Become Human showed off some intriguing detective-style gameplay and also hinted heavily at an extensive butterfly effect feature that gives weight to the decisions both great and small that you will be forced to make. Exploring similar themes to films like Blade Runner and Ex Machina, any game that intelligently questions the essence of makes us human gets a pass from me, and I’ll be following this one very closely.
What followed soon after was a VR showcase for Sony’s PS VR experience releasing October 13th, with the new VR headset destined to set you back 400 ‘Murican dollars. Personally I believe VR will eventually be relegated to the unsuccessful gimmick pile, but only a few titles were strictly VR-exclusive, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on too much. Two of the more impressive titles shown included a Star Wars Battlefront VR experience and a Batman VR game developed by Rocksteady. Weirdly enough FFXV is also getting the VR treatment, which I see as neither necessary nor likely to result in a cohesive gameplay experience. As part of this VR showcase, a highly surprising gameplay video of Resident Evil 7 emerged and made quite an impact. While many had predicted that RE7 would be announced (including DYEGB’s fearless leader Zach Jackson), no one could have predicted just how radically different (and awesome) it would appear. Some heavily atmospheric first-person exploration of a creepy house was on display, and all things considered it bears more resemblance to Outlast or PT than the Gears of War franchise which RE5 and RE6 seemed so content to imitate. It’s a bold shift in direction for the series, and you can decide for yourself whether its worthy of the RE name, as a demo comprising the first hour is available now on PS4.
You’d think that with all the massive titles I’ve just mentioned, Sony would be content with their showing and let everyone go home, but twas not to be. Instead, they dropped the bombshell that they would be teaming up with Kojima Productions, with Hideo Kojima himself then strutting down a walkway that lit up under his feet like he was bloody Michael Jackson in a Billie Jean film clip. Kojima then casually introduced a cinematic trailer for his new game starring Norman Reedus called Death Stranded. The trailer is incredibly cryptic and chock-a-block full of bizarre imagery, so much so that I think I know less about the game having watched the trailer than if I hadn’t. Expect the Internet to be clambering for every little morsel of information they can find on this one.
Now that Sony have signed a pact with the devil to gain the favour of Activision (just as Microsoft had done before them), there was always going to be the obligatory campaign reveal of the new Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. What was surprising then is just how awesome it was. With the original trailer becoming one of the most disliked videos on YouTube almost overnight, this gameplay demo featuring exhilarating space dogfights and dynamic and varied gun play definitely blew a mind or two (including my own), and will no doubt soften a few hardline detractors of the blockbuster franchise. It might even entice a few to dip their toes in one more time…
The show finished with a cinematic trailer for a new Spiderman game developed by Insomniac, and an extended look at some gameplay for the previously mentioned Days Gone.
So Who Won?
Essentially, comparing Xbox’s briefing to Sony’s is the equivalent of comparing box office sales when Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 released at the same time as Star Wars: The Force Awakens (this actually happened but you’d be forgiven for not knowing). Given the heat that Sony was clearly packing, it’s almost like Xbox were led out to die this E3. While Microsoft’s Xbox presentation was solid but predictable, Sony’s presentation was pure unbridled excitement, with no rambling interludes and plenty of meaty gameplay demos and some fantastic surprises. It had a sense of epic about it, like every new thing they were about to show was likely to make your brain explode. It was a presentation made for gamers, with no pointless waffling getting in the road of unveiling game after game after game. Xbox should take note, because much like last year’s E3 Sony are well and truly beating them at their own game. The future of console gaming is bright, but Xbox have found themselves as the definitive underdog in this war. Perhaps Project Scorpio will shift perceptions, but for now Sony can feel pretty safe at the top.