Xbox to Dominate Christmas 2015?
Microsoft needs a successful holiday season to gain momentum and close the gap on the PlayStation 4 and with the planned line up of games and services Microsoft are finally hitting their stride.
October and November will see Halo 5: Guardians and Rise of the Tomb Raider both exclusive to Xbox One release and whilst Halo 5 will be the monster seller of the year no doubt it’s the Christmas exclusive deal they have with Tomb Raider that is the biggest surprise of the year. Following on the success of the brilliant Tomb Raider reboot it’s sequel looks like another sure fire smash and whilst it’s not a platform exclusive it will only be on Xbox One this Christmas.
Halo 5: Guardians
Halo is Microsoft’s crown jewel, it’s sure fire mega hit and one it desperately needs to succeed this time round. Halo CE and Halo 2 effectively carried the original Xbox and Halo 5: Guardians has the same weight of expectation resting on its armour plated shoulders. A successful critically acclaimed return to form for Microsoft’s premier franchise would be real shot in the arm for the console and would propel it to a blockbuster Christmas period. A Luke warm reception would on the other hand be nothing short of disastrous.
343 Industries are pulling out all the stops to make sure Halo 5: Guardians is the Blockbuster smash hit of the year. For the best part of this year there has been near constant promotional campaigns building the lore and background none more so than the excellent Hunt the truth web series that followed the journey of a reporter as he uncovered the truth behind the ONI plot to discredit the Master Chief.
Radical shake up of the standard Halo formula is a much-needed shot in the arm for a series that has traditionally stuck very close to its core gameplay mechanics. By introducing squad based gameplay whether that is solo and with AI or with your mates along with new Spartan Abilities there is a growing feeling that Halo 5: Guardians will not only build on the excellent work 343 industries put into Halo 4 but put Halo back on the top of the pile of First Person Shooters.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Halo may very well be this year’s biggest Xbox Exclusive but Microsoft obtaining exclusive rights to ROTR this Christmas is a massive deal. Tomb Raider was once seen as a Sony staple title and with the runaway critical and commercial success of 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot it’s a fair guess to assume that ROTR will be every bit the worthy successor. I was never a huge fan of the previous Tomb Raider games but I loved the way Tomb Raider fused the sense of adventure and exploration with frantic gunplay all showcased in a well written mysterious setting. I was instantly hooked in a similar way to Alan Wake which Tomb Raider was certainly influenced by. The Story, the supernatural elements and the small but well written cast of Character all came together and made one of my personal highlights from the past few years.
Having Tomb Raider also helps to flesh out the Xbox line up which as usual is a little shooter heavy with Halo and COD falling within a few weeks of each other. Whilst many will obtain both titles the majority of marketing dollars will be thrown at Halo missing out on Rise of the Tomb Raider will be a big mistake.
Forza is Microsofts premier racing franchise and Forza 6 is by far the biggest and most ambitious racing game out this year on any console. With a metacritic score of 88 and a user score of 9 it’s clear that Turn 10 have built a simply breath-taking driving sim and with the planned DLC heading well into next year the best may be yet to come. As with Rise of the Tomb Raider Forza 6 helps to round out the Exclusive offerings for Microsoft racing games may not sell the sort of numbers that a AAA shooter may but games like Forza can build really strong and passionate communities.
The level of depth is quite remarkable with Forza 6 featuring more than 450 lovingly recreated cars that have accurate cockpits and damage models for you to race around 26 world-famous locations in stunning 1080p 60FPS. Perhaps the biggest leap forward from a visual spectacle is the stunning rain effects that not only look astonishing but also radically alter the handling of your chosen car.
Multiplayer is well catered for as well with up to 24 cars being on track at any one time and a full career mode to work through there is no shortage of gameplay on offer.
Xbox New Experience
One of the biggest frustrations with the Xbox One is its slow and poorly designed user interface that makes even the simple process of snapping an app a chore. Everything takes far too long and it’s so frustrating to even snap your friend’s app or start a party. The overall layout feels dated and finding the content for games is a real pain in the arse requiring cumbersome navigation that was clearly designed with Kinect in mind. It’s always surprised me that Microsoft a company so experienced in creating user experiences could get it so wrong.
Windows 10 brings with it a fresh look and feel along with considerable performance improvements when navigating the dash and accessing applications especially via the new guide button and home areas. The Home area will improve access to all the game content such as DLC and add-ons for the games you play most frequently instead of needing to head into the store and searching. The home area will also contain your achievements, DVR clips and detailed information on your current game.
The guide button will actually be useful now and functions in a similar way to how it used to on the Xbox 360. Instead of having to double tap and navigate to party, friends and messages they will all be available directly on the guide button.
Also new is the community section that expands on the pretty bland friend’s app and aims to make sense of all your friends’ social activities as well as highlighting trending content and updates from Developers on their games and content. Presently the social side feels very poorly executed with no real interaction outside of Xbox Live with is a big miss. Adding the capability to post your awesome clips, screenshots or updates to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter would increase visibility of your achievements and clips.
Avatars are returning………………..
Cortana joins the party as well and promises to become your personal gaming assistant. For those of us using Cortana on other devices she will be synchronised with our personal information, calendars and preferences but will come with dedicated gaming capabilities. “Through voice commands on Xbox One, Cortana will assist you to more quickly find great games, new challengers and friends on Xbox Live, or accomplish common tasks. Cortana can also help you get achievements by surfacing videos and information to help you succeed.”
Perhaps the biggest single feature with the New Xbox Experience is the addition of Backwards Compatibility for your Xbox 360 titles. When I moved from the 360 to the Xbox One knowing I was going to lose access to my 360 library was a big hurdle as having 2 consoles was simply not an option. This is something that has been holding back the more casual gamers from making the leap to the current gen console. Being able to take those games and experiences with you will smooth that transition for many gamers and remove one of the last remaining hurdles.
As part of the preview program I’ve been playing some of the 360 games on my Xbox One and the experience really is seamless. So long as the developers opt in to the program nothing else is required from them it’s all down to Microsoft to do the rest so the list of compatible titles is growing daily. The major publishers EA, Activision and Microsoft Studios are fully on board and all their titles will be making their way onto the program by the time the update is available.
SO there you have it a far from final list of all the cool stuff coming our way in the lead up to Christmas whether you’re a hardcore gamer, Vault Raider or casual gamer Microsoft have listened and addressed some of the lingering issues with the Xbox One. More work is required next year but a blockbuster Christmas period will see the momentum Microsoft are building continue to increase and we as gamers are the ones who benefit.
Happy gaming guys and girls