September sees the console world’s finest racing series make its second outing on the Xbox One, with Forza Motorsport 6, and to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the series, it looks like developer, Turn 10 Studios, have gone all-out to ensure that this year, gamers will be treated to the biggest and best Forza yet. Powered by the team’s new ForzaTech, Forza 6 is set to raise the bar for racing games, with its unparalleled visual quality, an even greater level of customisation, the return of three screen set-ups (thankfully) and a wealth of additional content and features that are sure to patch things up with those who felt that Forza 5 was just a bit too light on content when it was released back in 2013. With twenty-six locations, over four hundred and fifty Forza Vista compatible cars, twenty-four player online races, night time racing and rain (the developer even studied each area to accurately map where puddles would form on the tracks), with Forza Motorsport 6, Turn 10 are throwing down the gauntlet to their rivals, so go on, Polyphony, just try to top that.
But that’s not all though, in October and November, Xbox One owners will be treated to brand new entries into both the Fable and Halo series’, so it really is no wonder that Microsoft happily declared their E3 line-up to be the strongest in Xbox history. To top it off, aside from the mightily impressive HoloLens which releases this year (though rumoured to be at a price point somewhere between $900-1200), Microsoft have also secured themselves Crystal Dynamics’ latest Tomb Raider title exclusively, and given the quality, as well as the popularity of the last one, that will no doubt turn out to be a very important piece of business in terms of securing hardware sales throughout the Christmas period. Last year saw an impressive upturn in the fortunes of the Xbox One, and this year, it’s likely to be a turnaround of a Lazarus-like scale. Of course, nobody expects any less, Sony’s software offering for PS4 owners is rather poor by comparison, but naysayers are predicting doom for Microsoft’s device should they not overturn the entire deficit by the end of the 2015. Sure enough, Sony have Project Morpheus, the excellent looking Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian and Guerilla’s Horizon, but to dismiss the quality of the Xbox One’s key titles during the 2016 calendar would be foolhardy at best.
Truly one of the standout titles from the press briefings at this year’s E3 was The Coalition’s (formerly Black Tusk Studios) Gears of War 4, at least from a visual perspective anyway. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Gears 4 was an intoxicating mix of highly detailed environments, character models and sublime lighting effects, arguably making it the best looking title that anyone showed off, and yet it’s still almost 18 months away from its launch window. Whilst I have seen negative reactions to the video, there was simply no getting away from the fact that The Coalition have taken the game into a new direction, giving this entry (from what was shown), something of a survival-horror feel, as players find themselves steeped in darkness and scouring the abandoned villages of a decimated world. Yet it is a game that still acknowledges its roots, and that is vitally important in maintaining the current fan base, but with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition set to remind gamers everywhere exactly why they fell in love with the series in the first place, Gears 4 may just find itself free enough to take it to a whole new level.
One of the surprise announcements at the Microsoft briefing was the Keiji Inafune helmed exclusive, ReCore, and whilst it was only a brief announcement trailer, Microsoft have since given us a few details on the game. In it, the player takes on the role of Jewel, who traverses a desolate, post-apocalyptic world with her robotic companion, Mack. The ultimate goal of her adventure, beyond merely surviving in a hostile world, is to return humanity to the planet. Vying to stop her though, is a faction of robotic adversaries, but these opponents will prove to be a valuable source of robot cores, which, as glimpsed in the announcement trailer, can be taken and inserted into other dormant robots to bring them to life. Players can use cores to upgrade existing ones, or to create new companions, adding an element of strategy to the game. On top of this though, the game world will evolve as it is pounded with violent sandstorms, which will apparently alter both the maps and with them, the gameplay. Set for release during Q2 next year, this may very well prove to be a surprise hit, and a very important title in Microsoft’s plan to ensure that the Xbox One is the best console on the market.
Finding success in Japan isn’t simply proving to be an elusive goal to Microsoft, it is undeniably a lost cause, but that hasn’t stopped famed developer, Platinum Games, from creating an entirely exclusive title for the Xbox One. Kenn Lobb has been fuelling the rumour mill, fervently talking about the quality of the developer, the experience that they are creating with Scalebound and the mighty and majestic dragon companions that players will find within the game. We’re going to have to wait until Gamescom to really see anything on this title, but rumours suggest that Platinum could be creating an open-world, action RPG that Lobb hopes will find its way into the pantheon of the truly great games. Expect more on this as and when new details emerge.
Speaking of important additions to the software line-up, Rare, as we have been waiting a rather long time to find out, are indeed developing real games again. Phil Spencer had spoken some time before E3 to say that he didn’t want their name becoming merely synonymous with Kinect Sports, and evidently, he was serious about that too. Sea of Thieves is a rather intriguing looking title, and one that will support another jewel in the Microsoft crown, cross-platform play with Windows 10 users on PC. Very little is known about the game, including the release date, but it is set to be a first-person, sea faring adventure, so yeah, expect it to be a bit like all of the good parts of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag crammed into one delicious whole, devoid of all the other tedious gameplay sections, you know, the traditional assassin parts. If you head over to seaofthieves.com and sign up for the newsletter, you might just be kept in the know, and besides, given the multiplayer nature of the game, there’s undoubtedly going to be a beta for it at some point, right?
Now, onto a topic that’s closer to my heart, Remedy Entertainment and their gorgeous looking, time-bending adventure, Quantum Break. Heavily story focused, as one would expect, and powered by a combination of the team’s own Northlight Technology and Dimensional Imaging’s incredible Di4D capture system, Quantum Break looks set to take the concept of digital actors to otherwise unprecedented levels, and other than packing a boat load of high octane third-person action, it’s also set to revolutionise how developers relay their narratives through the medium. Combining high quality, episodic videos, Quantum Break will further expand upon the television show structure of their last masterpiece, Alan Wake, and in doing so, they will give us what is sure to be one of the strongest highlights of the 2016 release schedule. Personally, I think it will likely be the very best than any system has to offer, but then again, that could just be me, I am biased after all. With Gamescom just around the corner though, and a new gameplay demo waiting in the wings, we’re sure to have more information on this incredible looking title, as well as this next one…
Crackdown is set to be arguably the most important title of 2016 for Microsoft, sure Titanfall and the Forza Motorsort series have made limited use of the cloud, but Crackdown is set to be the all-encompassing showcase for just how much it can enhance gaming experiences on the Xbox One, and most likely, Windows 10 PCs too. Helmed by original creator, Dave Jones, Crackdown is set to offer an unrivalled sense of verticality and most importantly, destruction. In fact, a demonstration of how cloud processing can take the brunt of CPU intensive processes depicted procedural destruction being applied to a skyscraper that was being blown apart, this was shown at the Build Conference in San Francisco, and the footage was actually taken from a very early build of the game. The software used to power this was developed by Jones’ new company, the Edinburgh based Cloudgine, who may very well be developing the software to ensure that all future Xbox One games can utilise cloud features effectively, whilst the development team behind the game itself – its arts and assets – are still to be named, with Dave Jones overseeing the whole project, there can be no doubt that we are looking at one of the most promising titles of this generation. And in terms of Microsoft’s cloud ambitions, there can surely be no title as important as this, so whilst a plethora of VR headsets launch to make 2016 the year of that virtual reality returned, Microsoft will slyly unveil the one technology that has the potential to be truly game changing, and quite frankly, Sony have nothing to combat that with.