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X16 Spring Showcase - Event Impressions

We popped over the Atlantic to see what Microsoft has in store for us this spring on both PC and Xbox One.

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Phil Spencer describes 2016 as "the culmination of last year" regarding the plans to integrate the Xbox One and PC through Windows 10. This year we will see a greater focus on cross-play, and even more features and game releases across both formats. With Windows 10, players will get the best experience possible, whether they prefer to play on the console or push the PC hardware with dual graphics cards and expensive cooling solutions. Phil Spencer knows that Microsoft has a lot to prove since the flop with Games for Windows Live a few years ago and emphasises that the company is 100 percent dedicated in making Windows 10 the optimal gaming platform.

That they are serious about their commitment is reflected in the titles available to test on site. Quantum Break, Dark Souls III, Killer Instinct Season 3, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Pit People, Ori and the Blind Forest Definitive Edition and The Division are released on both console and Windows 10 in the spring. In the same breath as Spencer utters the phrase "we are committed" for the 67th time in two minutes, he reveals that even Forza Motorsport 6 will get a Windows 10 premiere.

The only timed-exclusive Xbox One title in place is, unless we missed something, Capybara Games' elusive indie adventure Below. A title that was announced three years ago and that they have been fairly quiet around since. First impressions after having ploughed through the intro to the underground adventure is ... not so great, actually. Visually, the game is marvellous; the graphics are pared down and stylistic, the lighting effects are to die for, and the viewing angle is a nice touch. The mysterious atmosphere is reminiscent of both Zelda and any Team Ico-production. The game starts with the main character waking up on a beach next to an anchored boat. Without further explanation about what is expected we start exploring the area. The rain is pouring down. Eventually we find a cave opening. With a lit torch we start to move down into the darkness.

X16 Spring Showcase - Event Impressions

We trigger a trap and gets pierced by nails. Restarting at the beginning of the cave, we avoid the trap, collect materials sprinkled over the ground, light a campfire, kill some insects with a few swift sword swipes. It's incredibly beautiful to look at, but it's not especially fun. What is the purpose? What is the point? The questions pile up, and when we put down the gamepad we don't know what to think about Below. With that said, Below is certainly not a game that fares well inside a noisy exhibition hall. With more time to dig in, it may very well be a fresh and cozy gaming experience.

Next up is the PC version of Quantum Break. As you surely know by now Microsoft announced last week that Remedy's ambitious (and constantly delayed) sci-fi epic would be released the same day on PC and Xbox One. As Phil Spencer said in his presentation, it's about providing the best experience for both console and PC owners and creating a gaming platform for both camps. Quantum Break looks really, really good on both formats (both PC and Xbox One versions were running alongside one another).

Some PC owners, however, have the opportunity to push their rigs far above what the consoles are capable of. You've probably seen the specifications and know that the game is a really demanding beast at the highest settings. Not even the computer that we're playing the game on manages to get close to the highest level of performance. Not even close. We're playing at 1080p with many of the effects, such as shadows, and volumetric lighting, set to medium. Perhaps it's to show what settings are comparable to the Xbox One version. No matter, the game looks really good with extremely fancy lighting effects, destructible environments and impressive animations. The adventure feels tightly directed and very ambitiously presented.

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X16 Spring Showcase - Event ImpressionsX16 Spring Showcase - Event ImpressionsX16 Spring Showcase - Event Impressions

However, there are two concerns, and these are highly subjective. Even in the game's first act (out of five), the action sequences suffer from the same kind of problem seen in many other third-person action games, namely abnormal amounts of enemies coming at you in wave after wave. Within half an hour the protagonist Jack Joyce has shot a lot of people. It's easy to get tired of this sort of game design, but hopefully Jack's abilities to bend time and space will keep the fighting feel fresh. The second concern came from our meeting with a heavily armoured, shotgun-wielding super soldier at the beginning of act two. It just felt like bullet-sponge.

A game we've seen in a previous guise is Ori and the Blind Forest. It will be released this month in an updated and expanded version with the epithet Definitive Edition. What makes this the definitive version, according to producer Daniel Smith, is a series of small improvements such as the ability to fast travel between different areas, two new special abilities and, and above all, a whole new area called Black Root Burrows. The latter is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the game and Daniel Smith is guessing that it gives the adventure around 40-90 minutes of extra play time, depending on how much you explore, and the difficulty you are playing on.

Another remake, but with a bigger emphasis on improved graphics, is Gears of War: Ultimate Edition (not Definitive Edition. Ultimate Edition. Big difference). Josh Kerwin, Global Product Marketing Manager, proudly says that every asset in the game has been taken apart and rebuilt and that each film sequence has been revamped and re-cut. The ability to play in 4K resolution is the big attraction to entice PC gamers, and Kerwin hope Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will be the gateway for a new generation of players and a good warm-up before Gears of War 4 (which he consistently refuses to talk about while also mentioning it by name).

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My game session ends with us getting shot to pieces in a war torn town square - the same place that we died about 214 times in the original back in the day. Except the visual overhaul, it feels just like when we played it ten years (!) ago, in both good and bad ways. Controls are tight and smooth, and the violence as messy as we remember, but at the same time the the whole duck-and-shoot mechanics feel nowhere near as fresh as when the game was new. It's now available to download from the Windows Store.

In addition to remakes and Windows 10 versions of existing games, there's the inevitable VR demos. No game event is complete without a bit of old-fashioned, vertigo-inducing virtual reality. With the latest version of Oculus Rift on our noggin, we get a guided tour through the Minecraft universe.

After that we're on the receiving end of some good old fashioned humiliation in Dark Souls III and Killer Instinct: Season 3. The former feels quite a lot like previous Dark Souls games in terms of both atmosphere and challenge. The pace is slightly turned up and the game controls a bit tighter than its predecessors, but otherwise there is not much that stands out. Aesthetically it's gorgeous, the tone is as depressing as ever and the refresh rate is in dire need of one or two patches. In other words, it's everything that we have come to expect from a From Software title. We must have died about 5,242 times on the same boss with a growing audience amassing behind us. Not good.

Finally, we've never been good at Killer Instinct, and our brief contact with the third season did absolutely nothing to change that. We played as the old Halo celebrity Arbiter, got beaten up good and hard. And that's about all we have to say on that. The new season is set to be released on March 29.

After a few hours with Microsoft's spring lineup it's clear that Xbox One and PC owners have an exciting time ahead, largely thanks to Microsoft's effort to unite everyone under a common flag. We can kinda understand the Xbox One owners who are disappointed that the games they bought the console for are suddenly announced for other format, but Microsoft's decision to expand its gaming venture and with Windows 10 gain a broader customer base for the company's exclusive titles, does not feel like anything but an entirely logical development. Now we just hope we don't end up with another Games for Windows Live fiasco, but Phil Spencer and his team seems to want steer far, far away from that particular crash site.



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