From:Shea John Driscoll,  Digital Sub-Editor, ST, posted on 10 June at 10:09 AM
10 June at 10:09 AM

E3 2014: 5 things you must know from Microsoft's Xbox conference

Microsoft got E3 underway early on Tuesday, showing off a host of video games for the Xbox One. But beyond the announcements and glimpses into games of the near and distant future, what did the conference mean? We give you five key takeaways:

Games are firmly back to the forefront for Xbox One

The Xbox One dreamt of being the hub of your living room, but that dream is dead. Microsoft debuted the console pitching entertainment first and games second, but Tuesday’s E3 conference dedicated 90 minutes solely to games.

New Xbox head Phil Spencer promised “gaming first” when he took over, and that’s what he brought, wasting little time in bringing out big guns like Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Forza Horizon 2. Strong third-party franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider showed off new entries, indie games had their time in the limelight and a slew of exclusive announcements ended the conference on a high.

I have my reservations about the actual content - shooting and stabbing is still shooting and stabbing, even set in the future, or done with four players - but with the focus of all three consoles now firmly on producing the best games possible, video game fans can’t possibly lose.

The Kinect peripheral is all but dead

Shouting “Xbox on” to turn the system on still gives me a kick, but that could be the most I’ll ever get out of the Kinect peripheral on Xbox One. The motion-tracking camera, which came bundled with all Xbox One systems, has been blamed for all the console’s woes - it allegedly pushed the Xbox One’s price to US$499, a full US$100 more than Sony’s PlayStation 4, which has caused Xbox One sales to lag behind the PS4.

Along with a Kinect-less Xbox One being sold in the US for the first time today, the E3 conference sounded the death for the chunky camera. I don’t recall it being mentioned by name, and the only software on show was rhythm game developer Harmonix’s brief plug for Fantasia: Music Evolved and a new downloadable Dance Central.

It goes out then, still begging for that one game to showcase its capabilities, to push it beyond mere novelty.

Xbox One’s exclusive line-up is taking shape nicely

I wasn’t convinced, even after Halo: The Master Chief Collection was announced, that the Xbox One’s line-up of exclusive games was going to be anything special. That release will collect Halos 1 through 4, putting together a comprehensive package of campaigns and multi-player maps that Halo fans will adore.

That followed the announcement of Ori And The Blind Forest, an intriguing, beautiful 2-D Ghibli-esque platform game that unfortunately looks like any of the hundred others released over the last five years.

Then Microsoft unveiled a remake of Xbox cult classic Phantom Dust. Still, I wasn’t moved. But the pair of reveals right at the end did the trick. Platinum Games - the best developers of action games in the world - with an exclusive that looks like Devil May Cry crossed with Monster Hunter, and a new Crackdown. A new Crackdown! With those in place, along with games we already know about like Sunset Overdrive, the Xbox One now has an exclusive line-up that looks appealingly robust, if still lacking something truly unique and spectacular.

Microsoft is taking a page from Sony’s book and pushing indies

Sony’s push to get independent developers to make games for its PlayStation platforms is well documented, and has served it well. The PS4’s library has been padded with a solid array of indie titles, with high-profile ones like Supergiant Games’ Transistor even making console-exclusive debuts.

Microsoft is now pulling the same trick. It showed off what will probably be a timed console exclusive in Playdead’s Limbo follow-up Inside, exactly what Sony did with Jonathan Blow’s The Witness in February 2013.

Will it work? Indie developers are nothing if not adaptable, and will release games on the Xbox One. But I doubt the ID@Xbox programme will get as much traction as Sony’ efforts to woo indies, having emerged so late in the game.

Nothing shows the Xbox can make up the gap

It was, overall, a solid conference, but is solid what Microsoft needs right now? The Xbox One is yet to launch in many countries, including Singapore, but the fact that the PS4 is outselling it must be worrying. I saw little to make it a must-have console, and nothing radically different in its strategy that could have turned the tide in its favour. Instead, it feels like Microsoft have belatedly reached where Sony was a year ago, and if the PlayStation has a home run of a conference at 9am on Tuesday, then the Xbox has more catching up to do.

Catch my next review then.

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