2014 In Gaming: Microsoft

By Adam Ma on January 27, 2014, 11:41PM EDT
XBO

Microsoft sits in an unusual spot right now. Over six months ago their console was the laughing stock of the industry, touting features that no one seemed to want, attachments that many found suspicious and a price point that sat stubbornly higher than the competition. There was plenty of back-peddling and spec announcements to help clear up some of the confusion about what the Xbox One really was, and until the holiday season it's safe to say that most were willing to bet as the PS4 as the console of choice.

But that hasn't really been the case. In fact in the face of a console launch virtually identical to the competition the Xbox One has seen better sales over the PS4 over the month of December, which means there are quite a few out there who believe in Microsoft's long-term planning. The PS4 may be ahead, but Microsoft isn't far behind. All it needs is that little extra push.

Though notorious for their ability to secure exclusive DLC for multiplatform games just supporting multiplatform isn't enough. There has to be a plan to bring a spread of unique exclusives that will justify the system, something that will keep gamers interested in looking elsewhere.

So what is Microsoft hoping to entice us all with over the next year? Let's take a look.

Halo Something

Getting the obvious out of the way sounds like a good idea to me, and nothing is more obvious than a new Halo title. It's almost shocking that the XBO didn't launch with a Halo 5 (or similar entry) but apparently they're saving their big guns for down the line. That being said there's a lot to pay attention to when it comes to another Halo release, particularly on a next gen console.

How out-of-control will 343 Industries get with their setpieces is the first concern as the temptation to push the visuals of the XBO to the limit must be there, but there's a very fine line between distracting and enthralling and 343 is still fairly wet behind the ears when it comes to handling the franchise. It will also be the first Halo to be launching on design that's almost completely apart from Bungie's development legacy, and though we're likely to see many elements of the game remain intact (jetpacks, assassinations, the HUD) there are still loads more changes that could be made to Halo which could seriously push the game ahead of the FPS pack.

60 FPS and dedicated servers have already been promised for the may-not-include-Master-Chief sequel and though there's no doubt we'll be seeing more information closer to E3 we can only hope that the franchise continues to evolve.

Quantum Break

Live action videos mixed in with player gameplay hasn't been cool since the 90's, and even then it wasn't really cool, but if Quantum Break is hoping that technology has come far enough to make such an experience more enjoyable who are we to argue? Though it's still somewhat unclear what kind of genre Remedy Entertainment wants their game to sit in the mechanics behind Quantum Break look solid enough to pull it off.

A time travel experiment has gone wrong, and three young individuals now have the ability to manipulate time in different ways. Only one character, Paul Serene, has been revealed to have the concrete power of future sight where it's possible to see the outcome of actions that have yet to occur. Kind of looking at a Prima strategy guide while working your way through the Water Temple, only much cooler. In fact there's a lot of room here for Quantum Break to impress, even if the title ends up being an interactive story there's a lot to be said about the strength of good narrative.

Sunset Overdrive

Wall running, an open world, killer mutants, over-the-top acrobatics, improvised weaponry, and what's likely to be a third person camera angle are just a few select elements of Sunset Overdrive that may give you a better idea of what Insomniac's latest game is supposed to be all about. If we were to use another word on that list it would be 'expression', which is clear if you've taken the time to check out the short teaser trailer released at E3 last year.

Information on what Sunset Overdrive is all about has been light, but the colorul background and creative weapons we've had a brief cutscene glimpse at seem promising. Plus, when has Insomniac ever really failed to deliver?

Fable Legends

Playing as either a hero or a villain in a story can be pretty subjective and these days games like to throw morality wheels around like it's free candy, but we shouldn't forget that when it comes to action/fantasy games Fable did a lot of work in pushing choice as a gameplay mechanic. Though the series has a reputation of promising more than it can deliver (no thanks to one particular individual) Fable pushes quite a few boundaries in design and this newest game looks to be no different.

The same option of stepping on either side of good or evil will be present, but this time players will be able to work in a party of up to four as they crusade about the world likely attempting to stop (or overthrow) some terrible evil. It's rather vague stuff for the time being, but given the trend of previous games there are a lot of things we can infer a new Fable would want to implement. A proper open world? Shared player housing? Co-op attacks? We'll just have to wait and see.

Project Spark

Spark isn't exactly a game as much as it is a tool used to create games, movies, or just art in general. An engine of design, fuelled by the imagination of whomever is holding the controller. Or smartglass, the program isn't picky.

As a result Project Spark is difficult to measure as something gamers would want or use, let alone find generally useful. On one hand player generated content has made games like Little Big Planet into remarkable success stories. We know the demand is there, but whether or not Spark will have enough options to match the minds of gamers isn't something we'll be able to tell until launch, and how easy it is to use will be just as defining a factor as how many things you can do with it.

The promise of power in the design tool is a force to be reckoned with, letting players effect the the actions of individual model on an unprecedented level. World topography , npc behavior, and actions of background creatures like animals can all be mandated by the player, and even the kinect will play a role in helping capture unique character movements to create a more unique design experience.

Cobalt

It's not exactly exclusive if you include Mac users, but you can at least take solace in knowing that PS4/Wii U owners are locked out from playing the in-progress title. Which is kind of unfortunate because who wouldn't want a sidescroll shooter that comes with multiple game modes, a level editor, and its own little adventure mode. If you're a particularly anxious individual you can feel free to check out the beta which is currently on PC, but the more patient can wait for the game to swing around on Xbox 360/One sometime in the (hopefully near) future.

Fantasia: Music Evolved

Another somewhat artistic game in that it is impossible to lose, involves the kinect's motion controls and is meant to be emotionally evocative more than it is anything else. Not that any of those are bad features for a game following one of the biggest visual and musical experiences in Disney history. You can bet with Harmonix at the helm that there's going to be an incredible selection of stimuli to wrap players up in a delightful sensory overload.

Players take on the role of the Sorcerers Apprentice, where moving your body in relation to the rhythm with the song will bring life to empty and desolate worlds while at the same time earn new items and unlock features that will let players progress further. Though it's easy to be wary when it comes to dealing with motion controls Harmonix is a developer that has a great record of designing games that require both precision and accuracy, well suited to handle a music title that requires so much attention to detail.

Kinect Sports Rivals

Thought you could escape the Kinect sports series? Think again, as it's the best way Microsoft has to show off that their little motion-sensing baby is not only adept in voice commands but is able to handle motion controls spot on as well. All the usual sports are likely to be there, probably with a few unusual ones thrown into the mix as well. Want to bowl? Play tennis? Target shoot? Breakdance fight?

Alright, the last one wasn't an announced feature but we can only hope and dream here.

D4

It stands for Dark Dreams Don't Die and is a clever (forced?) play on words to also reference the fourth dimension. Players step into the shoes of a private investigator whose wife has just been murdered, experiencing such an immense sadness that his mental trauma manifests in the form of limited time travel; which is a pretty good deal considering you've now made it your mission to uncover the circumstances of your wife's death and the identity of her killer.

Time travel will be limited in that players can only do it when the ability is activated, and activating the ability requires intraction with very specific objects turned up during investigation. Cel-shaded graphics should give the entire game a very comic book/graphic novel feel, which makes the title sound like a very serious version of Pheonix Wright; and that's just fine by me.

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