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Microsoft's E3 2013 Press Briefing: Silent But Deadly

Few real surprises reared their head at Microsoft's E3 event, but at least we know how much the system will cost now (a lot).

Going into today's press conference, Microsoft swore up and down that this would be the event where the console maker brought the games. After its tepidly-received Xbox One unveiling event, Microsoft knew it had some ground to make up with its core audience, the folks who were less interested in sports partnerships and ways to make their cable signal feed into their gaming consoles. In this regard, Microsoft did not fail to deliver, at least as far as quantity is concerned. In terms of quality? That may be more up for debate.

NEXT. GEN. HORSIES. (Also, Kiefer Sutherland)
NEXT. GEN. HORSIES. (Also, Kiefer Sutherland)

The show did at least open with a bang, with a traditionally baffling and ludicrously weird trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The trailer was replete with the kinds of Kojima-isms we've come to expect from the franchise (bizarre asides, nonsensical character descriptions, operatic levels of weird melodrama), albeit now with the added bonus of horsies that can be ridden--stealthily, no less! Kojima even briefly joined Don Mattrick on stage to praise the power of the Xbox One, before shuffling off almost as quickly as he arrived.

Before Microsoft got too heavily into the Xbox One business, it interestingly diverged into a bit of Xbox 360 news. Namely, it unveiled a new version of the system, form-fitted to more closely resemble the look of the company's new system. The big surprise? It's reportedly available starting today. Granted, it's questionable how many people really need to be buying new Xbox 360s at this point. Perhaps this is a tacit acceptance of the fact that people will have to keep buying new Xbox 360s to play their existing libraries, after their old units eventually overheat and explode? Or maybe it was just an excuse to give the World of Tanks guys some stage time (as that game is headed to the 360).

From there, it was effectively a cavalcade of games. Crytek's Ryse was given a lengthy on-stage demo next, showing off the newly upgraded Xbox One visuals, as well as a long series of quicktime events in an ancient Roman setting. Once deemed a Kinect exclusive, it appears this is no longer the case, what with all the button prompts and whatnot.

Ryse was one of only a few games to get more than a couple of minutes of stage time. Most of the games most heavily pushed were of the expected lot. Battlefield 4 showed off a new battle sequence (after a long delay due to audio issues at the event, which plagued several other demos as well); Capcom debuted Dead Rising 3 as a darker, less overtly silly looking sequel exclusive to the Xbox One; Forza Motorsport 5 offered a genuflecting demonstration of an in-game McLaren (while also unveiling its new "Drivatar" features); and Respawn Entertainment showed off its mech-and-jetpack multiplayer shooter, Titanfall (which actually looked pretty great). And, of course, there was a new Halo game trailer (for a 2014 entry in the series), as is generally custom.

Nope, we still have no idea just what the hell is going on in Quantum Break.
Nope, we still have no idea just what the hell is going on in Quantum Break.

All of those are unquestionably big games, but few were truly surprising. The new games that did manage to surprise were, regrettably, given little stage time. Rare's unveiling of its new Killer Instinct game was primarily relegated to a brief trailer and a stunningly awkward live demo featuring two Microsoft producers--who, by the way, were primarily there to show off new SmartGlass connectivity. Remedy's Quantum Break was given a bit more on-screen time, though the premise and mechanics of the game remain maddeningly opaque at this point. In fact, the only truly surprising new game to get a lengthy demo was Project Spark, a creation-focused game from Microsoft Studios that looked a bit like the company's answer to LittleBigPlanet. Though the demo occasionally veered into Medieval Moves demo levels of banter awkwardness, the game showed a lot of potential in its focus on user-generated content.

There were other very cool looking games too, though few of them got much time on stage at all. Insomniac's new parkour-meets-weaponized energy drinks shooter Sunset Overdrive looked patently insane (albeit in a potentially very entertaining way); The Witcher 3 trailer reminded us why The Witcher is a franchise we still care very much about; we received only a terribly teasing look at Capybara Games' intriguing new roguelike, Below; Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futatsugi's new game, Crimson Dragon, had a brief (and regrettably audio-less) trailer; and Swery 65's new game, D4, even got a super brief mention. Two things I never expected to hear mentioned on a major press conference stage: Swery 65's name, and the word "roguelike."

Between all those games, there was little time for system-related housekeeping. Apart from that too-long-running SmartGlass demo, Microsoft spent very little time talking about the Xbox One hardware or UI. That's fine, considering how much time was dedicated to those things at the unveiling event. That meant that news like the elimination of Microsoft Points for the new console's digital store, as well as the system's price point, were essentially breezed past. However, the slightly rushed way that Microsoft unveiled both the price and release window for the console came off a bit less like a result of limited stage time, and more a way to brush past a bit of bad news. The revelation that the system would come this November was hardly a surprise, though the price of $499 was perhaps a bit more so.

I realize this is hardly expected to be some big, millions-of-copies seller, but I would have liked more than like 10 seconds of Below footage. It looked cool!
I realize this is hardly expected to be some big, millions-of-copies seller, but I would have liked more than like 10 seconds of Below footage. It looked cool!

Which isn't to say that people didn't expect an expensive console. Still, $499 definitely puts Xbox One on the high side of what was expected, and the revelation that the price had not been adjusted for European currency was a real kick in the junk for that whole audience. In pounds and Euros, that price roughly translates to something like $660. Yeowch.

While Microsoft unquestionably delivered the games today, I am left wondering if those games made the argument for the Xbox One that the company hoped for. There were big tentpole franchises, some new reveals, and some genuine indie curiosities, but at a price like $499, and based on some of the initial responses I've seen, it doesn't seem quite like Microsoft made believers out of those who took issue with the Xbox One's first presentation. Fortunately, we'll have the opportunity to see many of the games shown today up-close and personal from the E3 show floor. Here's hoping that some of these games show better in-person than in all-too-brief stage demos.

Alex Navarro on Google+