Amid growing doubts over its next-generation strategy, Microsoft today told the world’s gamers when they’ll be able to get hold of the latest and greatest Xbox, and how much they’ll have to pay for the privilege: this November, and $499, respectively.
Though the Xbox One’s holiday-season launch timing is standard for new consoles, the price surprised many onlookers. Pundits including Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter had predicted a $399 debut, in line with the Xbox 360’s premium edition at its 2005 launch.
Microsoft also took the opportunity to dive further into the console’s innovative online features. The Xbox One’s DVR features go beyond just recording TV; it’ll automatically record key gameplay moments, and let you add commentary and titles before uploading them to social media or other sharing services. Live streaming of your games is also possible, thanks to the Xbox One’s integration with up-and-coming streaming TV service Twitch.
But the Xbox One’s software capabilities weren’t the main focus of Microsoft’s press conference. Instead, the company unveiled a veritable avalanche of in-development Xbox One games, ranging from a creative, kid-friendly riff on Sony’s LittleBigPlanet series to a violent and gory action game set on the battlefields of ancient Rome.
"We have more titles in development now than in any other time in Xbox history,” Microsoft Game Studios vice-president Phil Spencer said. Among the titles Microsoft demonstrated were new episodes in the Metal Gear, Battlefield, and Dead Rising series, together with versions of PC hits World of Tanks and Minecraft.
Although the Xbox One will launch without a Halo game, Master Chief fans won’t have too long to wait. 343 Studios’ Bonnie Ross introduced the next installment in the game, which will continue the “Reclaimer” story that began in Halo 4. It’ll be launched in 2014, Ross said.
The next game in the critically acclaimed Forza Motorsport series also made its debut. Turn 10 Studios’ Dan Greenawalt took the stage next to a polished and shiny Mclaren sports car to introduce Forza 5’s new “Drivatar” feature: a software simulator that’ll learn your personal driving style and can recreate it on demand.
“The next generation is about more than polygon count.” Forza’s creative director told the crowd. “While you’re at work or school, your Drivatar races against the world. And when you log in again, you earn credits for your Drivatar’s work.”
And Call of Duty? While this historical Xbox 360 powerhouse franchise wasn’t on show today, there was still plenty to make CoD fans smile. Respawn Entertainment, the studio formed after the mass exodus of Infinity Ward staff from publisher Activision in 2010, finally took the wraps off its first title, the spring-slated shooter Titanfall. Featuring giant robots, capture-the-flag style battles, and all the trademark explosive thrills of the Call of Duty series, it’s looking well placed to capitalize on the stagnating shooter market.
Even the venerable Xbox 360 -- now, in its eighth year, older than many of its fans -- came in for some love. A redesigned “smaller, sleeker, quieter” version of the console goes on sale today. Xbox Live Gold subscribers will enjoy a series of free game downloads over the next few months, beginning with Assassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3 this month.
Microsoft also plans to remove two of the major irritations with the Xbox Live service: its 100-friend cap, and its “Microsoft Points” currency. In future Xbox Live members will be able to have as many friends as they like, and transactions on the Xbox’s online store will be made in real currency.
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