‘Give us GAMES’ we yelled, with an agitated choral communion often found emanating from any group of people listening to Nigel Farage saying anything, as Microsoft held up a ball and chain, grinning inanely. After much scuffling, they brought us a TV remote and another fatuous pout, which inspired the same warble of dissent. ‘Give. Us. Games’ we replied, a little exasperated, already leering at a nearby Jack Tretton precariously half-clutching a microphone. This was one year ago at E3 2013. Eleven months later and Microsoft claimed they’d been working tirelessly to decode our message and had finally begun to decipher just what it all could mean. ‘GAMES!’ they cried at last! ‘Eureka! We’ve cracked it! We’ll bring GAMES to our E3 2014 Keynote!’.
And so they set about telling us. ‘We’re all about the games this year’, they cooed, with their heads wobbling perilously on their shoulders. ‘Games, games, games; that’s us!’ And we nodded with what we supposed looked like enthusiasm, but with a due sense of confusion and exhaustion secreted delicately amongst its folds. Probably. It’s fun pretending I’m the voice of the collective. Humour me? Go on.
The fact that Microsoft brought games to this E3 is pretty damn inarguable. A cool 90 minutes of nigh-uninterrupted game, followed by game followed by game, and while there’s the omnipresent, niggling fact that, that really shouldn’t be an achievement at a games conference, it certainly seemed to deliver on what they promised. I think. I say I think, because I either fell asleep, or slipped quietly into a coma for a little while. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t 2013, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it also wasn’t good. In fact, it kind of wasn’t anything.
I think the problem here is that when we demanded games, we also wanted the kind of shock-awe-excitement factor that typically comes almost exclusively with hardware, or OS, or fancy extras-based reveals as well. Instead what we got was an ordinary E3 keynote, but less so. There was nothing to throw our arms in there air at, nothing to share an aghast look with a nearby stranger about, but nothing to be elated and excited over either. No edge-of-your-seat moment, no ‘are they really…’ reveals, for neither astonishingly impressive nor for bafflingly catastrophic announcements. Which, in many ways, is something MS probably consider a win in this climate.
And don’t get me wrong, some of those games looked great. Despite opening with the thunderous snore-fest that was Call of Duty, presumably because it’s tradition and it was early in the morning over in LA, what followed was a pretty stellar line up. The sizeable Halo announcement, involving the Master Chief Collection, and the Halo 5 Beta, PlayDead’s gorgeous-looking Inside, the parodically charming and visually chaotic Insomniac sandboxer Sunset Overdrive, and at last the third installment of Crackdown, were all noteworthy additions to the showreel. Forza Horizon 2, Fable Legends, and Project Spark all brought up the rear provoking many a contented pursed bottom lip in the audience. But there was little emotion here. Little to tug on the heart strings and actually get gamers, Xbox owners and potential Xbox owners alike, really excited about owning this £400 piece of kit.
The complete absence of Kinect, even in an exclusively GAME-centric capacity, almost certainly spells the end of the peripheral. If MS wanted to keep anybody interested in the Kinect’s potential, after splicing it out of the picture last month, today was the platform. We think that’s a shame, but that, in itself, is a different story.
Perhaps I’m looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, but Microsoft are not incapable of these moments, and an emotional presentation of stand-out reveals is not impossible, as EA half-demonstrated immediately after the MS brief finished. I know they’re likely to have wanted to play this E3 safe after last year, but there’s safe and then there’s dull. Come on guys, make us feel. This is your opportunity each and every year to hold your target market’s attention and SQUEEZE until they go, ‘I need this console’. Microsoft’s E3 2014 wasn’t the hilarious calamity last year’s proved to be. It was safe, and steady, it was, in some respects kind of strong, but in many others entirely absent. A dim, distant hum with forgettable written somewhere in the margins that you probably wouldn’t read anyway. I want to love you again Microsoft, so, y’know. Help me out here.