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Microsoft Pushes the Reset Button with Announcement of ‘Project Scorpio’ at E3

Microsoft’s pre-E3 press conference was full of news, virtually all of it expected. Nevertheless, there were plenty of compelling reasons to get hyped for the next stage of the Xbox One’s lifespan.

The Xbox One S was confirmed, a 40% slimmed down edition of the console, launching in August at $300 for a standard 500GB HD package, while 1 and 2 terabyte hard drives will go for $350 and $400, respectively. And while that’s all well and good, what attracted more attention was the redesigned controller that is coming out simultaneously.

The new Xbox One controller is a marked improvement on what is already arguably the best design on the market. With improved range and texturing across the grips and thumbsticks, Microsoft is once more raising the bar on accurate and comfortable game interfacing — especially among console shooter fans.

If you’re still not happy, they have a supposed 8 million variation Design-Your-Own Xbox One Controller program launching sometime soon. Aside from obvious features like color choice, you can even have your name put on the custom design, forever ending arguments about whose controller is the one with the Coke in it.

The mid-generation console upgrade was officially announced as well, though it still goes by “Project Scorpio.” Microsoft is bringing in the heavy artillery in 2017. The console has eight cores and 320Gb of memory bandwidth, driving a whopping six teraflops of power for fully uncompressed 4K gaming. Yes, that suggests very strongly that the console won’t need to upscale to 2160p, which should quiet the persistent complaints about the Xbox One’s infamous lower resolutions on multiplatform titles. Microsoft went on to confirm that the new console will be fully backwards compatible with the Xbox One and S, which I truly hope wasn’t ever up for debate for a mid-generation console sales pitch.

VR support was a huge banner of the announcement of course, with hints of a VR Fallout 4 experience headed to the conole in the future. If Microsoft’s new hardware can truly deliver smooth 4K gaming on its hardware, it might just be enough to keep the promise of a viable VR experience as well.

On to the games!

Gears of War was front and center, with confirmations of Horde Mode and a return to the roots of the franchise. For swag enthusiasts, there will be a custom controller coinciding with the launch of the game. Killer Instinct will also feature Gears of War villain General RAAM as a new combatant.

Rare’s open-world pirate title Sea of Thieves showed up, looking predictably awesome. The cooperative pirate experince will allow you and your friends to man a pirate ship, and looks like it will rely heavily on cooperation between mateys to succeed in all of the swashing of buckles. There was little shown of what the actual grind of moment-to-moment gameplay looks like, but the game is brimming with promise.

Scalebound is back, showing off its titanic bosses and cooperative mode. PlatinumGames’ project is still looking suitably epic, and the design pedigree promises tight and challenging gameplay, despite having you on the back of a massive reptilian vehicle of fiery destruction. I’m still feeling a bit leery about it, but that could be residual scarring from Lair.

Mecha-Zelda ReCore debuted some gameplay, and it continues to look interesting while not especially exciting. Even the brief flashes of action sequences couldn’t distract from what appears to be a very linear and formulaic set of challenges based around swapping cores into your robotic companion. It’s beautiful, and very shiny, but only time will tell us whether the actual experience of playing is more than “use this new core to get through this new specific obstacle” ad nauseum.

Dead Rising 4 sees a return for veteran protagonist and fan favorite Frank West. It’ll show up for the 2016 holiday season, and will by all appearances continue to employ wacky combinations of weapons and apparel to slaughter the shambling hordes. If you’ve played any of the previous entries, you know what you’re in for.

Acclaimed Gran Turismo competitor Forza Horizon 3 takes place in a competitive open world, bringing the racing series’ jaw-dropping visuals and almost unparalleled driving simulation to it vast environments. Aside from the wide open spaces, this simply appears to be another strong entry for sim fans, with all of the expected technical bells and whistles.

Halo Wars 2 brings the universe back to the real-time strategy genre that spawned it. The cinematic trailer was uitably epic, and the actual gameplay looks solid, if unremarkable on the surface. Human and Covenant forces will face off once again on February 17th, 2017.

“Nobody survives alone” in State of Decay 2, arguably the most exciting thing in the press conference. The sequel to the amazing open world zombie apocalypse simulator is finally getting multiplayer, along with a solid graphical upgrade. The footage and chatter didn’t reveal much else, but if you’ve played State of Decay you’ll understand why fans are psyched for a cooperative follow-up.

Best of all, most if not all of these experiences should be hitting PC as well as Xbox One with Microsoft’s Play Anywhere initiative. That’s good news for long-time PC gamers like myself, and a good way to try and seduce users to finally relent to the controversial Windows 10 OS. The initiative will allow both achievements and saved games to be transferred between versions of a title.

All in all, it was a strong showing from Microsoft. It looks like this is going to be a good year for Xbox fans, and a pretty damned impressive next year, if technical specifications get you excited.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.

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