The day before E3 officially kicks off, or as some call it “Media Monday”, always boils down to a competition of sorts between two of the gaming industry’s titans; Microsoft vs. Sony. Every year this battle’s gravity can’t be compared to anything less than a heavyweight prizefight in Vegas. Unlike boxing, it’s ever rarely a draw. Fans, journalists, and industry professionals can pick a clear winner 99% of the time. E3 Media Monday 2016 definitely had one.
Microsoft, the champion of previous generation consoles has had its back against the rope since the first announcement of the Xbox One. In terms of next generation credibility, 2015 saw their latest platform rebound in a big way with Halo and Tomb Raider. Xbox’s 2016 E3 briefing from the Galen Center near USC opened with a strong flurry of jabs and crosses. Similar to the what was done with the Xbox 360, the Xbox One will get a slimmer redesign with features fans have been clamoring for; it’s 40% smaller and utilizes a built in power supply. No more spider killing brick sitting outside of your entertainment center. The publishing side appeared to go for the early knockout showing off Gears of War 4. There truly was only one word to describe it, incredible. The environment of the game is unlike any seen in gaming before and it pushes the limits of the Xbox can do technically. You’ll most likely need to upgrade to the new Xbox One S (Jobs just turned over in his grave) to get the full visceral experience of the game in 4k. Not a bad way to open a show intended to create as much hype as humanly possible.
From there, Xbox put up a solid few rounds of game after game. Forza Motor Sport‘s new Australia setting and social features were neat and if driving simulators are your thing, they don’t come better than on the Xbox One. New entries from Tekken, Dead Rising, and yes… Halo Wars were a wonderful sight for Microsoft faithful.
However, none of those things were the big surprises an E3 press conference needs in order to stand out. Even stealing the thunder with Final Fantasy XV wasn’t enough of a shocker to say this is Microsoft’s year.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the conference was also its most talked about piece. To close things out Microsoft officially announced the development of Project Scorpio. What’s said to be the most powerful gaming console ever designed is coming in 2017. All the talk about teraflops and 1070 GPUs makes this new system sound like an atomic bomb for the hardcore gamers and tech junkies who get excited over specs, but to the average consumer (who still hold a strong share of the gaming market); Microsoft has essentially said we just made you fork over $400 for the Xbox One, we’ll take another $300 for this better designed system coming August, then a year later you’ll sign over the rest of your savings to get this new better thing designed by Simpsons villain Hank Scorpio. Granted, Microsoft is making contingencies to insure those of us who won’t be ready for the box of the future can still enjoy all the Xbox One experiences they’ll deliver. One of the staples Microsoft consistently gets right is ensuring everything will work with everything. Their Xbox Anywhere is proof of that; buying a game for a console and knowing I can play it through Windows 10 on a laptop is huge for those who live on the road. It’s hard not to wonder what Microsoft’s goal is for Project Scorpio if it’s only for the those that consider themselves more than gaming enthusiasts. No talk of price has been mentioned but it’s not too early to speculate just how expensive this will be based on components alone.
Are we simply getting different sized portions of the same meal or will the games look and play so differently that it will feel like you’re missing out if you don’t go big?
I agree with the sentiment of Microsoft hitting a home run with Monday’s showing. The problem was it felt like a 1 run home run in the bottom of the 9th down by 10 runs. You applaud it and to an extent it gives you reason to smile, but it just isn’t enough to win the game.
Overall there was no shame in Microsoft’s game. They continue to build the good will lost during the initial message of the Xbox One. Backwards compatibility, improved social features, and partnerships with EA are winning over gamers who left for PlayStation slowly but surely.
Just around the corner at the historic Shrine Expo Center, Sony returned to the venue it first held it’s press conferences in. Here’s how you know you’re in for not only an informative conference, but a real freakin show. Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica music composer maestro Bear McCreary led a live orchestra playing one of Sony’s most beautiful theme’s to open the show. What does sony open the show with visually? Not the expected tease for a new God of War game but actual gameplay. What’s so special about that? It shows Sony can just let their studios work on the art they’re creating without show ponying it out for every little event. Wait till you have something more than a tease to show. In our age of demanded connectivity and insiders it’s becoming a rare feat in and of itself to keep secrets like that.
While everyone had speculated we’d see all the games the publisher’s first party studios were working on, none could have anticipated just how spectacular each one would feel. The post apocalyptic bounty hunter story of Days Gone could be the PlayStation’s next Last of Us. PlayStation hardcore, the guys and girls who camped out almost entire weekends previous years just to attend this event were rewarded with the announcement of Crash Bandicoot returning in a revamped game.
PlayStation press conferences are where long thought dead franchises come back for rejuvenating energy. Resident Evil showed what it’s next game would be like and if what fans saw was any indication it’s definitely returned to survival horror glory.
What made Sony’s presentation special in addition to the surprise announcements? Going in the opposite direction of what everyone thinks you’re going to do. Just about every prediction had Sony eating up most of the conference time hyping the upcoming PlayStation VR system. We knew it would be out in October for a $399 price point with most of the titles you’ve heard about on Oculus. What we didn’t know was that among the 50 launch titles slated was BATMAN ARKHAM VR. A game being built by the studio behind the best Batman games, Rocksteady.
Then the moment every one who loves gaming wanted to see happen… happened. Every entertainment industry has a name which transcends their art and even if you don’t listen to music, read a comic, or play basketball; you know who the Beatles, Stan Lee, and Michael Jordan are. Video Games have a similar name in Hideo Kojima. After over a year of controversy and outrage from fans when the iconic designer was stopped by Konami from accepting an award in December, Hideo Kojima not only took to the PlayStation stage; he gave Konami a symbolic DX crouch chop by showing a trailer for his new PlayStation exclusive game, Death Stranding, starring the Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus.
Perhaps the thing that sealed this year for Sony was the moment the Marvel and Insomniac Games logos came on screen to officially announce a partnership which will see one of the best gaming studios create a brand new Spider-Man game. Finally, Insomniac will do for Marvel characters in gaming what Rocksteady did for DC Comics; show the world comics can make the best video games in this new generation.
While 2016 saw this fight go into the 12th round, the majority of fans I spoke with at the end of the night agreed Sony delivered a knockout to Microsoft in a highly contested bout. Both these gladiators have laid out their road ahead. Two different paths, both vying for your entertainment dollar. The only question that remains is who will you choose?