Xbox @ Gamescom 2015: Expectations, hopes, speculations
E3 2015 might be behind us, but Xbox is preparing a second blast of major reveals at next month's Gamescom convention.
I'll be joining our Managing Editor, Richard Devine, on the ground at Gamescom 2015, bringing you all the latest and greatest offerings from Xbox and beyond. In this article, I've pulled together some of the biggest known game reveals, as well as a healthy dose of speculation on what else we can expect.
Games, games, games
Phil Spencer's "games first" mantra will continue at Gamescom. We're going to see major reveals of Crackdown and Scalebound, and fresh footage of Quantum Break. Gamescom might have bigger footfall than E3 (as it's open to the public after the initial press day), but E3 still reigns supreme when it comes to global media attention. As such, I wouldn't expect any more bombshells like Xbox One's backward compatibility. We'll probably be treated to new info on the dashboard refresh, Windows 10's impact on the Xbox One, and other minor features. We might even see fresh titles hitting the Xbox One backward compatibility line-up.
Microsoft have acknowledged that they need to do better in Europe, where Sony's PS4 enjoys a reported 70% share. We could see some European specific announcements, such as the highly-requested region-unlocking of languages, and perhaps Europe-specific bundles or price cuts.
After the shock of Xbox One's backward compatibility, I still think the Xbox team could surprise us with another huge announcement. Either way, backward compatibility will be a hard act to follow. I expect Gamescom to be all about the games.
Crackdown is coming, and it's likely to blow the lid wide open on the "cloud processing" argument. At the Xbox One's reveal, Microsoft touted the 'power of the cloud' as a method for developers to pass off calculations to the internet, freeing up local resources for processing graphics. So far, Xbox One's cloud has been used to govern the A.I. creeps in Titanfall, and provide analytics and dedicated multiplayer servers. I'd argue that we have yet to see anything truly impressive.
We now know that Crackdown Xbox One gameplay will be shown during the event.
Crackdown for Xbox 360 was an open-world third person shooter and emphasised player freedom and comic-book style graphics and combat. The CGI concept teaser from last year's E3 looks like an evolution of the originals, complete with cell-shaded graphics and incredible firepower.
The concept trailer shows buildings being felled in abundance, spraying debris in a way that appears to be dynamic. At Build 2014, Microsoft showed how dynamic building destruction can be achieved by offloading physics calculations to the cloud utilizing your internet connection. Xbox head Phil Spencer confirmed that this demonstration was early work for Crackdown on Xbox One. The demo presents a lot of unanswered questions. How much bandwidth will it require? Will the game need an online connection to run? And so on.
Crackdown could be our best example of how cloud based physics calculations will work, but the engineering process still seems to be in its infancy. Microsoft appears to be hard at work to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed to support games like this. For example, Duke University and Microsoft Research recently managed to reduce the bandwidth needed for cloud-collaborative rendering by up to 80%.
While I doubt we'll see third-party developers adopt the technology (due to multi-platform constraints) the tech remains an exciting prospect for future Xbox One exclusives - and Crackdown will be the first example.
Scalebound skipped over E3 2015, and we now know that the game will enjoy a full reveal at Gamescom 2015.
Very little is known about Scalebound. We know that it utilises the Unreal Engine. We know that the word 'scale' in its title is indicative of its design intentions. And we know that it isn't like Capcom's Monster Hunter series. The game will feature gigantic enemy monsters, and your survival will hinge on joining forces with huge dragons.
The game is developed by Hideki Kamiya (Resident Evil, Devil May Cry) and Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising). It's a full-blown Xbox One exclusive and hopes to offer "action at a whole new scale." Kamiya gave hints towards the game's nature at last year's Tokyo Game Show (via VG247), noting that Scalebound would represent the accumulated knowledge of everything they've learned working on titles like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising.
Kamiya also noted that the game is on a 'higher-level' than anything Platinum Games have made previously, and won't feature a linear structure like Bayonetta. It's not a stretch to speculate that Scalebound will be open-world.
Two things known for certain is that Scalebound is "making good progress", and will be revealed in full on August 4th at the Gamescom Xbox briefing.
Quantum Break is an upcoming physics-bending shooter from Remedy - the studio behind Max Payne and Alan Wake. The game was delayed to 2016 due to an overly busy holiday season for Xbox exclusives, but also to add further polish.
There's more information on Quantum Break than any of the three heavy hitters travelling to Gamescom. We've seen extended gameplay footage; we've got behind-the-scenes documentaries and a wealth of information that points to the game's nature.
Quantum Break follows the exploits of Jack Joyce and others impacted by the effects of a failed time experiment. Time is unravelling at the seams, which forms the basis of the player character's time-bending powers and the tense plot. In the gameplay trailer above, we're treated to high-octane slow-motion set-pieces, time-manipulating combat and meticulously crafted graphics. The time freezing aspects force Remedy to impart heightened amounts of detail and polish on the game's assets.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions that could be blown wide-open at Gamescom. Quantum Break's levels are broken up with live-action cutscenes similar to those found in parts of Alan Wake, albeit on a grander scale. We know that player choice will be a factor in the way both the TV show and the game plays out, something that Remedy's Sam Lake describes as building your own Quantum Break "director's cut". I expect Quantum Break's TV segments to be detailed a bit further at Gamescom, perhaps with some examples of how player choice works.
We've seen how Jack Joyce can use his powers to create pockets of frozen time, allowing him to stop bullets and enemies in their tracks. We've also seen how he can manipulate time to dash between cover, allowing you to flank and avoid enemies. Sam Lake said that more powers would become available as the game progresses, so we may be treated to the reveal of some of these previously unknown abilities.
I suspect Quantum Break will debut all new gameplay at Gamescom to that end. Phil Spencer recently I saw Quantum Break running live on an Xbox One at last year's Gamescom - and it was by far the most jaw-dropping experience of the whole convention for me. There's a strong indication we'll get a solid launch date as well. This is one to watch.
The debut of Lift London?
Lift London is a 60-strong first party dev team that has yet to reveal any projects.
The Lift London website coyly states: "We've got a fantastic team, with hundreds of years of experience and billions of pounds in sales between them. Now they're all collaborating and communicating on… well, we can't tell you what we're working on just yet." There's a possibility we could see the fruits of Lift London's labor at Gamescom.
Microsoft CVP Kudo Tsunoda recently visited the studio, and teased that he had been "playing amazing experiences" at "innovative" studios. Kudo Tsunoda is responsible for overseeing the development on several games, including Scalebound, Crackdown and Quantum Break, in addition to HoloLens and Kinect. The fact that Kudo Tsunoda visited the studio as recently as two weeks ago could indicate a Gamescom debut from Lift London.
At last year's Gamescom, Microsoft dropped a Lara Croft-shaped bombshell in the form of Rise of the Tomb Raider. It's hard to gauge whether the Xbox team will have a similar announcement on the cards, but it certainly seems possible.
- Expect heavy hitters like Halo 5, Gears 4, Forza 6, Fable Legends and Rise of the Tomb Raider to pick up fresh details, maybe even new gameplay footage.
- At least Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Forza 6 are available to play on the show floor, so expect hands-on impressions from myself and Richard Devine.
- A member from the Halo 'Evil Geniuses' pro-team recently stated that Halo 5 announcements at Gamescom would blow minds.
- This is complete speculation, but there could be surprises from older IP like Perfect Dark or Age of Empires.
- The ill-fated Phantom Dust parted ways with its developer a few months back, but the project isn't dead. Phil Spencer recently confirmed his committal to the game, but said it won't be at Gamescom.
- Expect another robust ID@Xbox showcase, with an in-depth look at one of the bigger budget exclusives (similar to Cuphead's showcase at E3).
- HoloLens recently toured Minecraft in London, so it stands to reason that HoloLens will be present at Gamescom too. Whether they have something new to show as part of the main briefing remains to be seen. It's probably more likely that it'll be the same demo, shown behind closed doors.
- There's always the possibility of another major third-party exclusivity deal as seen with Tomb Raider (Silent Hill with Kojima, please.)
- If I were Phil Spencer, I'd be looking to fill genre-gaps in the current line-up. PS4 has a potentially massive single player RPG on the cards in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn. As of writing this, the Xbox One can boast no such role-playing exclusive first or third-party. Hopefully, Microsoft has an answer to this.
- Expect fresh Xbox 360 backwards compatible titles hitting the Xbox One preview program. Microsoft will want to lead with some of the most highly requested big-name titles like Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim.
- Neither Sea of Thieves or ReCore will be on show at Gamescom, as confirmed by Phil Spencer on Twitter.
- We could hear about more features from the dashboard refresh, including background music. This could include fresh footage of Cortana and natural-language voice commands that are console-specific.
- Satya Nadella explicitly stated that the Xbox One can run Windows 10 universal apps in an interview with Mary Jo Foley. We could see this in action.
- There'll be a ton of third-party news from publishers like Ubisoft, EA, Activision, 2K, Bethesda Softworks and the remains of Konami.
It's a great time to be an Xbox fan
While I doubt Microsoft can top the backward compatibility announcement, they have every incentive to try. The gap may be closing in the US, but the Xbox One has struggled against the PS4 in most markets - this is particularly true in Europe. Sony isn't in attendance at Gamescom this year, giving Microsoft an open playing field.
It's perhaps unfortunate that Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider share a launch window with certain-blockbusters like Star Wars: Battlefront and Fallout 4. Regardless, the Xbox One is in a great position going into the 2015 holiday season. I believe backward compatibility will evolve to be the killer-feature the Xbox One needs in a battle for differentiation with the PS4. To that end, I hope Microsoft have managed to secure an awesome line-up for backwards compatibility at Gamescom. It will help market the console to sceptical European gamers attending the event in the lead-up to the holiday season.
If you've already made the jump to Xbox One, then we stand to benefit from these efforts to bring in fresh gamers. One thing is for certain, it's a great time to be an Xbox fan, and Gamescom will compound that sentiment.
Are there any games in particular you'd like us to get hands-on impressions with at Gamescom? Hit the comments below and we'll try and accommodate!
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!