In what has become a tradition that draws the ire of many, every year I sum up the E3 offerings from Microsoft and Sony and decide who I feel emerged the victor. The judgements are impartial, unflinching, final, and ultimately pointless, but who doesn’t love throwing another keyboard onto the console war pyre? Let’s get it on!
The Xbox briefing began as we all knew it would, with a showing of the console at the centre of the much vaunted Project Scorpio: The Xbox One X (or XOX for short). Technical mumbo jumbo appeared to affirm the XOX as being the most powerful console in the universe, and its incredibly small form factor is a technical marvel considering the horsepower under the hood. It wasn’t until much later in the proceedings that Phil Spencer slipped in a price for the beastly console, with Australian retailers having it now listed and available for pre-order for the princely sum of $650 AUD ($499 USD). It’s odd that Big Phil didn’t really shout the price from the rooftops straight away, as all things considered it’s a fairly reasonable one. Be proud Phil, XOX looks to pack in a fair bit of value for both 4K and 1080p TV owners alike. Paint me excited. Also on the tech front was the announcement of backwards compatibility reaching back to the OG Xbox, however the fact they showed Crimson Skies and not Knights of the Old Republic made everyone a little sad and angry.
Microsoft definitely took a page out of Sony’s playbook when it comes to E3 pressers, ditching a lot of the boring corporate speak that has dragged down some of their briefings of yore and going straight for the jugular with a slew of games back-to-back. Some of them had a bigger impact than others, with a fair few multiplatform titles seeming to be there just to make up numbers. This included a gameplay trailer for Metro Exodus, which despite being a delicately thin and meticulously-scripted vertical slice, looks absolutely brilliant. At the very least, being able to breathe outside in Metro without air filters should prove to be… a literal breath of fresh air… for the series. Other multiplat monsters included the intriguing looking Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which hopes to reignite players’ love for the series by taking us to ancient Egypt, and might even let you play as a weaponised assassin Moses (doubtful but a man can dream). Middle Earth: Shadow of War also got a fair chunk of Xbox’s time, featuring an orc with more sass than a seven-year-old with a fidget spinner. It was a good showcase of the goofier side of Lord of the Rings which might do well to balance out some of the dreary grit of the game’s violent world.
Xbox have been openly lambasted for their lack of exclusives in recent times, so they deliberately sandwiched a bunch of exclusive titles anywhere they’d fit. Unfortunately for some perhaps, a lot of these were not AAA exclusives, however there were definitely some standouts among the assault. This includes the impressive looking follow-up to Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Perhaps having a bloke bang away on a piano while the teaser played was maybe a little too derivative of Sony’s E3 2016 conference, but you could have had a guy playing a five-hour washboard solo over the top and it still would have looked just as magnificent. Psychological thriller Tacoma, intriguingly stylish cyberpunk indie The Last Night, MMORPG Black Desert, Banjo-Kazooie clone Super Lucky’s Tale, and whacky 2D side-scrolling bullet hell shooter Cuphead also made up the exclusive ranks. The more well known exclusive State of Decay 2 looks a little janky and undercooked, and Sea of Thieves also failed to excite, however it was good to see some background as to how it might actually play.
Since we’re talking exclusives we should probably mention Forza 7, which was accompanied with the ridiculous showing of a real life Porsche because… that’s what gamers want to see? It’s certainly not my cup of tea, but the game looks incredible and is obviously Xbox’s poster child for showing off the prowess of the XOX. Forza took up a large portion of the start of the presser, and it’s odd that another big-ticket item was shown with very little fanfare in comparison. I’m talking of course about Crackdown 3, which despite Terry Crews’ hilarious shenanigans was almost swept under the rug as a reveal. Considering it’s one of Xbox’s few AAA exclusives you’d expect a little more milking, but they were content to show a few more snippets and then walk away from it.
During its crazy near 2-hour presser Microsoft managed to show off over 40 games, and claimed 22 of those were exclusives. Ending with BioWare’s multiplat third-person shared-world shooter Anthem was perhaps a misstep, although the game in general has everyone talking so associating it with the Xbox brand might be a ploy that pays dividends. So would Xbox’s giant enemy Scorpio strike fear in the heart of Sony on the eve of their own presser, or would it be barely enough to cause a quiver in Kratos’ luscious beard?
Sony’s conference commenced as we all knew it would, with a lengthy Indian-inspired hippie jam that had everyone reaching for the ayahuasca tea. Wait, no one expected that, bring back the Ori piano bloke. The odd kumbaya proved to be a lengthy prelude to Uncharted The Lost Legacy, featuring an alternate reality in which Drake now appears to be a woman. Next. Riding the Horizon Zero Dawn good will train was the announcement of what looks to be a standalone expansion to the game called The Lost Wilds. In all honesty I don’t need much incentive to make me return to that world, even some horse armour would probably rope me in. This was followed directly by a deeper look at a game that definitely turned some heads and leather jackets at last year’s E3, Days Gone. I was surprised by just how at how liberally it seemed to borrow from The Last Of Us and even Assassin’s Creed to an extent, but I’m sure there are enough mutated bears wrapped in barbed wire to give it its own sense of identity.
In a surprise move Sony seemed to have wrested a popular title synonymous with Nintendo from their iron grip (although the series did start its life on the PS2), and what I originally thought was Dino Crisis turned out to be a Monster Hunter game. Hopefully this is the beginning of Nintendo relinquishing its exclusives so I don’t have to pay $300 for Bayonetta 2 again. Continuing that Japanese-flavoured vibe, a remake of PS2 classic Shadow of the Colossus was revealed, making it a remake of a HD remaster of an original. MvC Infinite proceeded to look truly terrible, and Call of Duty WW2 gameplay was shown with nary a jetpack or boost jump in sight.
A few titles were announced for PlayStation VR, including the continual milking of a five-year-old RPG in the form of Skyrim VR. The PSVR portion is sure to have made someone happy (perhaps those who have always dreamt of fishing simulators in the Final Fantasy universe), but not this old dog; give me traditional controller input or give me death!
As was hoped we got an extended look at the new God of War, which shows Kratos doing his best to be a terrible father by teaching his son the gruesome tricks of his murderous trade. This is no playing catch in the backyard sort of affair, it’s stab that mythical beast in the face or go hide behind your mother’s skirt. Detroit Become Human was also shown, and it continues to tick so many boxes for me it’s like David Cage is actually designing it specifically for me. Cyberpunk dystopia with high concept themes making me question what it is that makes me human with true butterfly effect decision making? Yes, please.
Sony saved the best for last with an extended showing of another of their AAA exclusives, Batman: Arkham City Spoder Man. While it’s practically looting the gameplay mechanic store that Rocksteady runs in broad daylight, it really doesn’t matter when a game looks this slick.
It’s unsurprising that Sony didn’t really have too much in the way of surprises this year. Last year they went crazy with their reveals, so this year they doubled down and showed us they were serious about them and that they were actually releasing sometime in this century. So did they do enough to outshine Xbox?
While I’d love to give both companies a pat on the back and a participation award just for showing up, doing so would stunt their emotional growth; competition breeds excellence, and defeat is only a reason to try harder. To their credit, both companies let the games do the talking, which has proven to be a sure-fire tactic when trying to sell stuff to needy gamers. I really thought this year would be Microsoft’s, but despite the wondrous looking XOX and a slew of exclusives that are at least impressive in quantity, they failed to gain enough ground on Sony’s powerhouse AAA exclusive roster. If you scratch the surface of my fickle loyalties you’ll find that I bleed green, both because I’m Irish and love Xbox, but in the spirit of impartiality that I claimed to have begun this article with, Sony won the war this year. Again.