With the pre E3 landscape dominated by news of delays of big third party releases and Sony first party titles pushed back or in doubt, Microsoft had E3 to lose; a very different position than last year. While MS’ 2013 outing was on balance stronger than Sony’s, there was still the specter of PR blunders over the XBox One looming at this time, and of course Sony knew it and took advantage, able to mask a weak software lineup with headline grabs and showboating. 2014 may not seem like a great gaming year, but of the big two, MS had their pre-show ducks in a row, or at worst, only slightly skew-whiff, able to point to Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and a Halo collection as sure fire 2014 exclusives.
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Smartly, Microsoft’s show was split into two halves, showing 2014 releases first and 2015 games in the second half, with indie games as a half time bumper. The downside to this was a show with minimal surprises. The world’s most bored sounding lady welcomed us to the show and brought out Phil Harrison, who reassured us this was all about games- the ‘new XBox’ as he put it- though starting of with Call of Duty Advanced Warfare didn’t really seem like a fresh start. As is the case every year, XBox One owners will have exclusive head starts on DLC for a game that looked a good deal more scifi than even the Kevin Spacey promo from last month suggested; with lasers and swarms of automated drones, this looked more like Killzone than CoD.

Our next known quantity was Forza, with the ‘announcements’ of the Nurburgring as free DLC for Forza 5 and Forza Horizon 2 was an excuse for the early morning live attendees on the US west coast to take a quick power nap. Still, Horizon, with an established handling model people like and a proven track record in strong online communities, looks set to trump Sony and Evo’s Driveclub.

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Delving deeper into the XB1’s exclusive lineup for the rest of 2014, Sunset Overdrive still looked bright and colourful, the spoofing of military shooters at the start of its trailer seeming a jibe at the traditional CoD appearance earlier. Fable Legends looked to be fun co-operative dungeon crawling, though paled in significance to EA’s multi platform Dragon Age Inquisition, shown in trailer form here and at the publisher’s presser.

We also had a demo of the Halo Master Chief Collection, which ultra HD-ifies the entire Halo oeuvre to date, with the same hot switching between old and new graphics that Anniversary did. A beta for Halo 5 multiplayer too. On a more family friendly note, Harmonix announced a return of the Dance Central franchise, Project Spark hopefully has had the problems of its closed beta fixed (and features the return of Rare’s Conker, for those who want their Little Big Planet style creation more foul mouthed) and 2D puzzle platformer Ori and the Blind Forest looks to be the kind of striking and heart string pulling game we all either love or love to hate.

Ubisoft have typically held off announcements of exclusive content and performances of stage demos for Sony’s show, but this year hopped ship and jumped onto MS’ bandwagon of mixed metaphors. Evolve was given a brief trailer, but Assassin’s Creed Unity had a fuller demo, with online co-op being the next leap forward off a building and into a hay bail for that franchise.

On the 2015 half of the show, Ubi also brought a lengthy Division demo, with people no doubt already comparing footage from last year’s show and getting aneurysms. I didn’t see a guy closing a door in this one to be fair, but perhaps I blinked. We did see a unit of players communicating in a way real players rarely do though, and random strangers never, ever do. Like a lot of Ubi’s lineup this year, this isn’t for the friendless.

Other titles either pencilled or inked in for 2015 and shown at MS’ shindig included Witcher 3, which still looks stunning, Rise of the Tomb Raider, which had a trailer centered around Lara’s treatment for PTSD after plowing through an awful lot of people’s heads in TR 2013. Disappointingly, she never declared ‘come and have a piece, you bastards!’ In her plum voice during the spot.

We also had a handful of MS exclusives to join Halo 5 in 2015. Killer Instinct will go into its second season, Crackdown will be, well, more Crackdown for better or for worse, and 2005 XBox Original Phantom ‘whut?’ Dust will return.
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All of it stuff that will not appeal to KP’s home audience of Japan when XBox One comes out here in September, then. As a bone to toss, Platinum co-founder and Twitter curmudgeon Hideki Kamiya was on hand to show off the much rumored PG exclusive for XBox One. The Scalebound trailer saw a very DMC Dante-esque hero in a three way brawl with a pair of dragons. There’ll be swords, style and difficulty for sure, but there wasn’t any gameplay to show.

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Finally, to indies. Perhaps aware that Sony would push independent development hard, MS went a different route, with a brief mention of the ID at XBox program and a sizzle reel in the middle of the show. Inside, from the people that brought us Limbo, will be a times exclusive on XBox, and looks similar mechanically, albeit with a more expansive setting under a totalitarian regime. Highlights from the indie sizzle reel included White Knight, Cuphead, Rand, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, and, of all things, Threes; stay tuned for a roundup on the site of smaller titles that caught our eye.

And that’s your show. There was little bad here, no embarrassing Kinect demo or awkward discussion of TV or video chat. With no surprises to speak of though, this was as expected; a setup for a strong 2015 showing, and not a great argument to get an XBox One right now, or even at Japanese launch.