Microsoft needed to have a good E3 conference this year, and guess what: it kinda did. Sure, there may have been some dodgy-looking games, as well as an absolute over-abundance of slow-jam covers over slo-motion footage - pro-tip: if your production company suggests this, fire your production company - and quite frankly the most appalling set of 'real' players ever put together to demo a game. But there was enough hardware and software on show to convince, on the surface, that Microsoft at least has a plan to get back on top.
Xbox One S opened the show, and Phil Spencer's introduction of it set the tone: calm, confident, assured. Phil, in fact, was so sure it was going to work that he didn't seem to mind that the t-shirt he was wearing was about 15 years old, and the new Xbox One S looks like a Virgin Media wi-fi router. Still, it's got some interesting new upgrades: 4K video, etc, etc, and the simple fact that it's much smaller than the monstrosity which spawned it is going to win it a lot of admirers.
The conference started at a fair old pace, and before Phil could go on about the machine starting in price at $299 he was replaced by Gears of War bossman Rod Fergusson, on to demo Gears of War 4. Rod's maroon jacket made him look like a guy whose clothes you take in a first runthrough of a new Hitman level, but forget that: he was here to show off Gears, and the fact that it's cross compatible with Windows 10 via Xbox Play Anywhere. Which is cool. The game itself looked OK, even if it had some of the worst faux tough-guy voice acting of all time (rumours that it's actually a horror game seemingly confirmed by the fact you'll have to spend all your time with these perma-quipping assholes). That said, it should be a laugh, like most Gears games are.
There was then some nonsense about Killer Instinct, "the most popular fighting game on Xbox One", and its "incredible guest characters", like, er, Rash from Battletoads. Gotcha. Anyway the point was that General Raam from the original Gears was coming. Yay.
Following that bombshell we saw Forza Horizon 3, which simultaneously looked beautiful and interesting while appalling everyone with the first of about twenty-five breathy slow jam covers, this particular one being of Wicked Game. Regardless, it looked pretty good.
There was some noise about ReCore, which looked OK, before Final Fantasy XV turned up and nobody, not even the two dudes up on stage, had any idea what was going on. It looked like a boyband was scrapping with Cthulu, but not anywhere near as cool as that sounds. Afterwards, one of the developers said "That was great", and there was a split-second of silence until someone actually laughed and they quickly left the stage. Not that great, then.
Patrick Bach then appeared to promote Battlefield 1, saying pretty much exactly the same things he said last night at EA Play. "Most dynamic battlefield we've ever created", "Dynamic weather, an ever changing world", all of that. You know the drill by now.
Mike Ybarra, head of platform engineering, stepped up to chat about Xbox Live and its new features, like XBL Clubs and Looking For Group on Xbox Live, and although these things were supposed to make it sound like it was making it easier to find players for specific games and modes, what it actually sounded like was some sort of weird Craigslist for video games. Onwards.
There was then some Minecraft stuff, which peaked with John Carmack turning up and being the most normal of all the people on stage despite wearing a VR headset, before Chris Charla, [email protected] bossman, started showing off all the games we wish they'd actually show more of: Cuphead, Inside, all of that noise. We Happy Few, perhaps the most chillingly British game since leaving the fate of the EU to people who unironically endorse 'banter', looked interesting, in a kind of paranoid, 60s/70s, Bioshock-y sort of way.
CD Projekt Red followed, promoting Cyberpunk 2077. Only joking, it was that Gwent game instead, which we know is what you all actually wanted. Disappointment in that aside, it should also be said that Damien Monnier from CDPR was the only person who didn't look and sound like a robot during the whole show, and his actual, proper enthusiasm was nice to see.
What next? Well, there was some Tekken 7 stuff, which looked OK, even if Harada himself then turned up wearing his signature 'yir da not taking the divorce well' sunglasses. Much more interesting was Dead Rising 4, which saw Frank West reappear with a hair transplant, a nose job, and a big exosuit. The trailer had loads of nonsense and was scored by Jingle Bell Rock, and as such was pretty much the best thing there.
Kamiya made an appearance, taking a break from his Twitter mission to drop more blocks than Tetris, to show off Scalebound co-op. He looked bored, and the demo wasn't much more interesting, an annoying and noisy affair where not much seemed to happen and the main character sounded like he should have been eaten alive by the thing he was fighting.
It wasn't quite as bad as the Sea of Thieves demo though, which was played by some of the most odious, shit-eating, faux-excited bastards in the entire know ultraverse. There are people out there that have won the lottery and still haven't been this excited about anything. The players' over-the-top reactions to anything and everything was meant to convey joy and danger, but what it actually did was convey the amount of money they presumably were paid to act like this, and took the shine off what looks like quite an interesting pirate sim.
State of Decay 2 followed, and so did Halo Wars 2, but forget both of those (although you can cross off the 'available now!' bit of your bingo card, because there's a beta for Wars 2 out, yes, now). Phil Spencer then came back out to talk about the big one, the elephant in the room, the reasons we're all asking questions on Twitter. No, not his jacket: Project Scorpio. Turns out it does exist. Scorpio has got all manner of very cool stuff in it, we were told, like 8 cores and a great GPU, and it would do 4K gaming and be out 'holiday 2017'. Crucially, it also would be the most powerful gaming console ever. Which sounds good, but didn't they say that last time as well? And between Xbox One S and Scorpio, where does that leave your original Xbox One? Shhhh, don't worry. It's an ecosystem now. Yes.