E3 2014: Microsoft Falls Back on its Greatest Hits... and Conker

On the heels of a rough launch for the Xbox One, Microsoft opts to play it safe.

News by Kat Bailey, .

For a press conference meant to set the tone for the next generation of Xbox, Microsoft spent a lot of time looking back. Way back.

It was an event that exhumed Crackdown; brought back ghosts of 2004 with Halo 2, and saw industry vet Ken Lobb take the stage to tease a reboot of Phantom Dust. It played almost like a greatest hits tape, reaching all the way back to the early days of the original Xbox. I honestly half-expected Project Gotham Racing to put in an appearance. (Man, that would have been sweeeeet -- Ed.)

For Microsoft, it was a performance that was both expected and little depressing. With the Xbox One lagging behind the PlayStation 4, they largely doubled down on the past, relying heavily on expected reveals of Halo, Forza, and Fable. Many of the third-party games were likewise the usual suspects from previous generations -- Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Dragon Age, and The Witcher among them.

Microsoft set the tone by leading with Call of Duty, a move that has paid off in previous years by heavily associating the Xbox brand with gaming's premier shooter. This year, Call of Duty looked old and creaky, trafficking heavily in military shooter clichés from years past. Not even the odd appearance of a giant mech or bionic arm was enough to elevate a series that is clearly beginning to show its age.

Later reveals weren't quite as dire as that of Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, but they nevertheless relied heavily on established brands and trends. Crackdown 3 and Phantom Dust are both blasts from Microsoft's past. Project Spark -- an interesting RPG Maker meets Minecraft build-a-game project -- featured a cameo by Conker of all characters, the foul-mouthed mascot that has long been a gaming punchline.

Where Microsoft showcased something new, they usually shined. Ori and Inside both featured memorable art. Though it got only a few seconds in an indie sizzle reel, Cuphead produced double takes with graphics that literally looked as if they had been ripped from a cartoon. The announcement that Platinum Games would be producing an all-new game exclusively for the Xbox One drew "oohs" from the audience. Demos for both Evolve and Sunset Overdrive were greeted warmly by fans and critics desperate for something original.

Assuming we remember Microsoft's press event in a month or two though, the moment that will most likely spring to mind will be the obligatory teabagging during the Halo 2 demo. During the event, I tweeted, "We're gonna party like 2004," and as it turned out, I was more right than I knew. Though there were sparks of originality here and there -- I really do think both Sunset Overdrive and Project Spark look fun -- there was a distinct sense of "business as usual" at the Microsoft press event. Content is obviously still king, but it feels like we've been playing most of this content for a decade now.

In some ways, it makes me wonder just what we're supposed to be expecting from this generation. At this time in 2007, we were getting our first taste of the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, BioShock, and Mass Effect -- all games that felt legitimately "next-gen" and pushed their respective genres forward in some way. If I wanted to sell someone on an Xbox 360, it was easy for me to point toward those games and say, "That's the future right there." Thus far, outside of maybe Titanfall, I haven't seen a lot of that from this generation.

The thing is, a Modern Warfare-style paradigm shift is probably still coming. Somewhere, I imagine that there's a game in development that will completely change our expectations for this generation. Unfortunately, that game was not at Microsoft's press conference, to their detriment.

In playing it as safe as possible, Microsoft's conference ended up distinctly last-gen -- hardly a good look for a platform holder looking to push the Xbox One as the console of the future. After leading the way for so much of the Xbox 360 generation, Microsoft seems content to rest on past hits. I'll happily buy games like Sunset Overdrive when they come out in the fall; but if this is what I should be expect from Microsoft for the next couple years, it'll be tough to recommend the Xbox One going forward.

This article may contain links to online retail stores. If you click on one and buy the product we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Related Tags

Comments 10

  • Avatar for sam-stephens #1 sam-stephens 3 years ago
    Microsoft Impressions

    -Yay, lot's of games. Not enough exclusives though

    -Advance Warfighter: The trailer is decent. It shows off the new features (double jump, boosts, those grenade thingies) well.

    -Assassins Creed Unity: The co-op was poorly demonstrated. Players didn't interact with each other in any way. They probably can't even. It looks very shallow.

    -Halo: The Halo 2 multiplayer session reminds me of just how well designed that game is. I'm kind of surprised that nothing of Halo 5 was shown considering how important it is to Microsoft.

    -Scalebound: Interesing. I'm not too excited considering we really don't know a single thing about how it plays.

    -Sunset Overdrive: It could be neat. It's definitely one of those games where it can be difficult to tell until the controller is in my hands.

    Overall I thought the press conference was decent, but underwhelming. There was too many cross-platform titles shown and Microsoft is still terrible at generating excitement through presentation.Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2014 by sam-stephens
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for standing8 #2 standing8 3 years ago
    I would have loved to see MS swing for the fences at this years E3 instead of playing it pretty safe. They are behind for the first time in a long time and through all of the competition, it should breed some very cool things for gamers and I thought MS would be bringing that heavy. I'm hoping Nintendo and Sony were expecting a big splash from MS and thus brought their aces this year.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe 3 years ago
    I still need to watch the full conference, but the glimpses of it that I have seen and the announcements I have read… yeah, it seems kind of underwhelming.

    Sunset Overdrive and Scalebound are the highlights for me so far. The rest… well, like I was saying in Mike’s article, the multiplayer additions for some of those games might provide refreshing experiences, but right now it certainly feels too much like the same old, same old.

    The thing that worries me is that the announcements from Sony’s conference and Nintendo’s digital event might not be better in terms of true surprises. Hopefully I will be proved wrong.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for #4 3 years ago
    "For Microsoft, it was a performance that was both expected and little depressing."

    Well, there you go. Sums up my takeaway perfectly.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for GaijinD #5 GaijinD 3 years ago
    I've actually been hoping for some kind of Phantom Dust comeback for years, so that's one thing I'm excited about. The first one went under the radar, and with the original Xbox no longer being able to go online, the best part of the game isn't really accessible, unless you actually have the means to set up a LAN party for an obscure first Xbox game.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #6 Kat.Bailey 3 years ago
    @GaijinD Yeah, it's nice to see Phantom Dust again.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #7 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    I'm glad to hear that Crackdown isn't dead. I've gone on record as saying that a new Crackdown would make me buy a XBox One, so give me a release date.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Stealth20k #8 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    I thought they did ok
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for Pacario #9 Pacario 3 years ago
    It does seem to be getting harder coming up with that next-gen, revolutionary title, and I'm not sure anyone has done it yet, despite the hoopla around Watchdogs and Titanfall. I've been playing some PSOne oldies as of late, and some of those games actually seem fresh by today's standards--if these companies are dredging up the past, while not the WAY past? Tomba, Einhander, Threads of Fate, Tail Concerto--these games (or at least their spirit) reborn for a modern audience would be sublime indeed.
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for HAMMERCLAW #10 HAMMERCLAW 3 years ago
    Well, the fanboy press and fanboy reactions seem more-or-less as expected; typical, and not at all hard to tell from which side of the divide they're coming from.
    Sign in to Reply