E3 2014: the morning after

Unfortunately, I can’t do the super-in-depth impressions of yesterday’s press conferences that I was hoping to be able to do; I’m home with my son who’s running a high fever, and there’s no telling how much time I’m going to have to formulate my thoughts – he’s currently trying to take a nap, actually, and there’s no telling how long he’ll stay down.  Even if I weren’t home with him, though, that Sony presser ran pretty long, and so I’m sorta wiped out.

It should go without saying that the Grim Fandango HD announcement knocked me out of my chair.  Grim is one of my all-time favorite games, and I’ve been hoping for some sort of HD remake for years – I even said so in my E3 2013 wishlist (see #5).  So the fact that it’s actually happening is freaking me out.  I don’t care what happens over the next few days – that announcement is the #1 highlight of the show for me, no question.

Microsoft gave about as good a press conference as one could hope for; all games, no bullshit, and their exclusive stuff doesn’t look half bad.  Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 both look terrific, actually, and I even got somewhat excited about the Halo Master Chief Collection.  I was also obviously excited to see Crackdown 3, though the trailer wasn’t exactly much of a gameplay reveal; and considering how terrible Crackdown 2 was, I’m still a bit wary – the thought of chasing after next-gen orbs is enticing, to be sure, but I need to see a bit more before I start saving up my money.  Reviving Phantom Dust is an interesting idea; I played a fair amount of the original game back in the day, though I worry about microtransaction abuse.  More importantly, Microsoft’s collection of indie titles look pretty great – Cuphead in particular has a fantastic look.  Inside, the new game from the creators of Limbo, was another highlight (even if it also looks a bit like Limbo 2).

Ultimately, I came away from their presser feeling a bit more optimistic about the Xbox One.  I’m not necessarily 100% sold just yet, but I’m a lot closer today than I was yesterday morning.

That said, Sony’s press conference was outstanding, for the second year in a row – even if there was a bit of a snooze-fest there in the middle, and even though there wasn’t nearly enough Vita coverage as I’d have liked.  Any fears I had about Sony dropping the ball, or being too complacent now that they’d reclaimed 1st place, were immediately wiped away.  Even without the Grim Fandango announcement, they threw one top-notch title after another for a good 45 minutes at least – and the Devolver Digital montage that immediately followed the Grim announcement was amazing, and I only wish I’d been able to focus on it a bit more.  (You gotta understand – I’m still quivering about the Grim thing.)   I’m having trouble remembering everything they announced, but certainly No Man’s Sky continues to look absolutely incredible.

As far as multi-platform games go, I’m certainly very pleased to see a new Tomb Raider – and while it wasn’t shown in any of the press conferences, apparently there’s also going to be a new Guardians of Light sequel, too, which is great news.  The next-gen-only Assassin’s Creed Unity looks a lot better than I’d anticipated, and 4-player online co-op is very exciting indeed.  I’m feeling a little weird about Far Cry 4; some of it looks absolutely incredible – like a first-person Uncharted – but the narrative stuff is, as always, what worries me.  I’m also really happy to see that EA’s new, Tiger Woods-free golf game is returning to the craziness of its early years – those new fantasy courses look ridiculous, which is great.  I didn’t necessarily lose my shit over either Dragon Age Inquisition or Witcher 3, but they certainly look promising.  Sony’s reveal of Batman gameplay footage looked absolutely insane – the Batmobile in particular is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  And having GTA V on the new consoles is good news; it’s not the Red Dead 2 I was hoping to hear about, and I’m not sure I’m going to buy it again, but being able to transfer my 360’s online profile to the PS4 is the sort of news that makes a double-dip a bit easier to swallow.

(Gotta sign off now – the kid awakes.)

 

The Xbox One: What Now?

Even after sleeping on it, I’m still trying to wrap my head around yesterday’s news that Microsoft will start selling the Xbox One without the Kinect in June.  There are so many angles to this story that it’s hard to know where to start.

Well, I suppose I should start with the most obvious question, being that this move seems tailor-made for me in particular*:  Am I now more likely to purchase one?  Well, it’s certainly got my attention, that’s for sure.  I’m still a very happy PS4 owner, even if the games aren’t quite there just yet, but I’m also a long-time Xbox loyalist, and I’m not against owning one – as long as there’s a good reason.  Bringing the price down goes a long way towards making the purchase easier/more justifiable, but it doesn’t solve all the problems the XBO has.

One of those problems – and, indeed, probably one of the biggest reasons why I haven’t bought an XBO yet – is that multiplatform games receive a noticeable, measurable performance boost on the PS4.  With this new, Kinect-less XBO, however, there are reports floating around that the XBO could now theoretically devote extra resources towards game performance, now that it doesn’t have to save those resources for the Kinect.

If this helps to bridge the performance gap with the PS4 as far as multiplatform releases are concerned, that’s also a plus in my book.  But this now reminds me of the early days of the Xbox 360, when it launched without a hard drive.  360s that had hard drives performed better, and games that were designed with the hard drive in mind obviously make life difficult for 360 owners without one.  So, then – what happens to XBO owners who already have the Kinect?  Would they not be able to get these hypothetical performance advantages?  Would the XBO be smart enough to turn the Kinect off if, say, Titanfall 2 or Halo 5 required the extra juice?

That obviously doesn’t concern me, specifically, since I’m not one of those people.  Except that now I can’t help but wonder if it might be better to hold off until Microsoft comes out with a new and improved XBO model in a year or two, with improved specs (and a Kinect-less design philosophy) that can directly compete with the PS4?  This is not unheard of, as both the 360 and PS3 went through a few redesigns, though those were mostly cosmetic.  But in this case, Microsoft – who is clearly trying to right its perceived wrongs as quickly as possible – might very well put out an XBO with specs that could go toe to toe with the PS4, thus ending the performance gap once and for all.

I still maintain that exclusive games are the key to getting my money, and right now the PS4 has the better-looking lineup – especially as far as the indie scene is concerned.  But if Microsoft is making this announcement now, a month before E3, one has to assume that they want their E3 presentation to be as positive, forward-looking and with as much emphasis on games as humanly possible.

So, then:  this looks like it’s going to be yet another really interesting E3.


*  In an interview with Forbes, Yusuf Mehdi, a senior officer at Microsoft, specifically says:

“People have been more satisfied with the Xbox 360 than the PS3, so in that respect people have less of a need to upgrade in the short-term due to regular updates for the Xbox 360…”

This is 100% true.  I still kinda mess around in GTAV on my 360 every once in a while, and I do intend to see that last bit of Mass Effect 3 DLC that I’ve not yet gotten to.  Meanwhile, my PS3 is currently acting as an extra BluRay player for the bedroom TV.  Given that we do not watch BluRays in our bedroom, and also given that we have a Roku in there as well, I literally haven’t turned my PS3 on since I moved it in there to make room for the PS4.