Xbox One’s new killer feature? Games, games, games

Photo: Rob LeFebvre, Cult of Mac

Microsoft brings the boom to E3 2014. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

LOS ANGELES — Microsoft has faced a perception problem ever since last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. At this year’s E3 media briefing, however, everything the company said, did or showed was aimed squarely at fixing things.

“We listened to you, the gamers,” said Xbox director Phil Spencer to the crowd gathered here Monday. “This year, we’re only focusing on games.”

The next 90 minutes brought a fast-paced, booming litany of games, games, games. The wristbands given to every attendee at the Galen Auditorium flashed with colored lights to complement the onscreen demos and video game trailers. The speakers filled the room with so much sound that the hairs on the sides of my head moved when the explosions happened. And there were a lot of explosions.

Microsoft has loads of catching up to do after last year’s disappointing E3 reveal of its next-generation console, the XBox One. While Microsoft focused on less gamer-centric features, like watching TV with your Xbox One and using Kinect’s gestural system, Sony’s PlayStation 4 stole the hearts and minds of gamers at last year’s E3 by giving the players what they really wanted — easy access to games.

Sony, which continues to perform brilliantly in its bid to capture core gamers, has since sold 7 million consoles, leaving Microsoft about 2 million units behind in sales. They’ve got to catch up.

Xbox head Phil Spencer had a lot of 'splainin' to do. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Xbox head Phil Spencer had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

This year, Microsoft’s head of Xbox Phil Spencer led off on a conciliatory note, saying that this new generation of consoles is the best ever, and even going so far as to include his two major rivals, Nintendo and Sony, in the speech. After a short chat, though, he introduced the assembled crowd of journalists to the games.

The highlights:

Halo 5: Guardians was teased, along with a new Master Chief Collection, an Xbox One exclusive disc that collects the previous four Halo games. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got a nice long demo full of future-war tech, first-person and multiplayer action, and some of the most gorgeous visuals I’ve seen on a screen that large. Car porn racing series Forza has been given a new free track (Germany’s famous Nürburgring) and a new spinoff game, Forza Horizon 2, an open-world driving sim that’s bound to knock your socks off when it comes out in September.

There was also a nice little teaser for the next episode in gaming icon Lara Croft’s story: Rise of the Tomb Raider. Open-world sci-fi hit Crackdown, too, is coming back to the Xbox One exclusively. That title, along with Halo and last year’s big game, Titanfall, could end up being another reason to own the console in days to come.

Assassin’s Creed Unity continues the saga of Ubisoft’s time-traveling brotherhood, this time setting the action in 18th-century Paris at the height of the French Revolution. The game gets a new four-player cooperative mode, letting you and up to three of your buddies sneak, fight and kill your way through a painstakingly precise recreation of the French city.

A few confusing moments came during Microsoft’s big press presentation, like the introduction to make-your-own-game Project Spark and the oddly flat trailer for Insomniac’s skater-meets-monster game Sunset Overdrive. But for the most part, Microsoft stayed on message.

The whole point of the presentation today was to reassure gamers that this is their Xbox, too, and that the main thing we do with our living room consoles is play games on them. Microsoft’s focus on the games, and its expressed interest in hearing from gamers, made the company seem less like a corporate shill and more like a kick-ass gaming company ready to bring the noise.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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