Microsoft wants you to have friends. It wants you to be playing with others. At the company's E3 2014 press event today, developers hit the idea of cooperative and competitive multiplayer again and again. Xbox Live on the original Xbox was the one the first services that normalized online multiplayer for console gamers and as we enter the third generation of Xbox Live, Microsoft is doubling-down on the concept.
I was surprised to see four-player coop making such a strong return this year. For awhile, it was a big thing, since consoles like the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and Xbox had four controller ports built in. It was a bulletpoint feature for those consoles, so it was supported with titles like Mario Kart 64, Power Stone, and X-Men Legends. As online grew in popularity, couch co-op fell by the wayside and 4 player co-op fell with it.
Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series has always had a strong single-player campaign with additional competitive multiplayer, but this year's entry introduces four-player coop to the story campaign. Assassin's Creed: Unity is set in the French Revolution, allowing online players to form their own Brotherhood.
The onstage E3 demo showed off improved movement abilities, a detailed city, and huge crowds, but the stand out was seeing the the four assassins working together to infiltrate a mansion. Each assassin looked to have their own weapon loadout: the primary player used the classic Hidden Blade, but another wielded a heavy axe. This was the first time we've seen the coop play in action, so we're still missing details. Will you can able to customize your assassin? Are female avatars on the table? How will the campaign maps be balanced to provide a challenge in single-player and multiplayer.
The four-player action didn't stop there. Capcom's Dead Rising 3 will have new DLC in the form of Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha Prime, which feature four-player arcade action. In addition to DR3's Nick Ramos and Annie, previous heroes Frank West and Chuck Greene round out the cast, with a host of Capcom-themed special costumes. Dress up as Ryu and Chun-Li from Street Fighter, Felicia and BB Hood from Darkstalkers, Servbot from Mega Man Legends and many more.
Maybe you'd like to pit your four-player team against another player? I already previewed Evolve, Turtle Rock's attempt to improve on the formula it established with Left 4 Dead. Four hunters go up against one monster that controlled by another player. The E3 trailer showed off four new hunters and one new monster, but not much else. Fable Legends seems to drop the single-player campaign completely, with four heroes questing together in various combinations of live humans and AI. At E3, Lionhead revealed that the group can go up against a villainous player, who sees each area from above, like an odd version of Tower Defense. The villain can place traps and monsters to prevent the heroic group from continuing on and reaching treasure.
Perhaps you have more than just five friends? Insomniac's exclusive Sunset Overdrive features an eight-player multiplayer mode called Chaos Squads, but there developer didn't reveal any specifics. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will feature the same competitive multiplayer that the series is already known for, except with lasers, smart grenades, and jump jets this time around. Halo: The Master Chief Collection brings Halo Anniversary, a new Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 together on a single disc. That includes all of the multiplayer maps released for each of those titles and their split-screen coop modes. Players who pick up the Halo Collection can also participate in the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, featuring new arena-style competitive gameplay. Forza Horizon 2 has seamless drop-in drop-out racing action with over 200 cars.
Microsoft even played up the massively-multiplayer action with Ubisoft Massive's The Division. The new new onstage demo for the game was odd, bringing together MMORPG staples together with third-person shooting. The Division's demo encounter had team members gaining aggro on bosses and marking enemies for kill order, and each player had a specific set of skills that differentiated them as assault or support characters.
Then that are the games that only hinted at multiplayer action in their pre-rendered trailers. The original Phantom Dust was a third-person action RPG with collectible card game elements and that went on to become something of a cult classic. All we know at this point is Microsoft is developing a game with the name Phantom Dust, but a multiplayer-centric title is probably not out of the question. Likewise, Crackdown is returning on Xbox One; the E3 trailer showed off three agents working together to rain destruction down upon a new city. The trailer doesn't seem to be indicative of actual gameplay, as there was large-scale building destruction that I'd say is not possible in a game. I'm willing to be surprised.
Platinum Games did surprise me with Scalebound, an Xbox One exclusive that looked like Devil May Cry mixed with Monster Hunter. I expect it to be a multiplayer game, but its hard to draw a conclusion from a pre-rendered trailer.
The entire presentation felt like Microsoft was trying to justify that Xbox Live subscription we pay for every month. They want us playing online and playing together. If you want to play alone - my personal preference - Xbox One developers aren't leaving you behind completely, but it seems clear that multiplayer is the focus. My judge and jury is still out, but at the very least Microsoft is making my Xbox One purchase seem a bit smarter than it did last week, when I just had a game console I used to watch movies.