How Microsoft and the Xbox One can win the battle of E3 2015

We want new hardware, new features and an AR update. We don't want much...

Microsoft Xbox One

Here's the easiest way for Microsoft to win E3: show an Xbox One that isn't the Xbox One.

The console has certainly changed for the better since belly-flopping at reveal in February 2013. It has clawed back some semblance of the brand's once-sturdy reputation for putting games first, with a software library that musters few outright classics but is stronger as a body than the competition's offering.

It has managed - via the unlocking of Kinect's GPU reserve, plus good old-fashioned graft on the part of talented first-party developers - to render the PS4's horsepower advantage largely unnoticeable without the aid of in-depth frame-by-frame analysis.

Xbox One

It's a dramatic turnaround, to say the least, but Xbox One isn't out of the woods yet.

It's still, on some level, that sinister, all-seeing obelisk that tried to take your pre-owned games away. It needs a fresh start if it wants to seriously knock lumps out of PS4's colossal sales lead.

Forget cute Windows 10 features, like streaming Xbox games to PC and tablets, nice as they are to have. A sexy new look is requisite to mark a psychological break from the wayward thinking of yesteryear.

There's a precedent, of sorts: the Xbox 360 Elite, a updated model equipped with a roomy built-in HD and an HDMI port, came out a couple of years after the original console, when Microsoft was still living down the Red Ring of Death overheating controversy.

The battle was a little more in Microsoft's favour back then, of course - a gauge reset is all the more pressing with PS4 an estimated nine million units ahead.

New Xbox One controller

The leaking of a new breed of Xbox One controller with a 3.5mm headphone jack is hopefully just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately we may have to wait a little longer for an Xbox One Slim though, because the recently announced 1TB version looks like it's still sporting the same 1980's VCR aesthetic.

Microsoft also needs to start talking in earnest about crossover with its forthcoming HoloLens headset.

I have doubts about the lasting impact of currently in-dev virtual or augmented reality devices on the industry. The experience of wearing a headset is too uncomfortable over long periods, the technical investment for developers is steep, and many of the established genres don't really benefit for the introduction of VR.

But then again, you could say much the same about the Wii's motion sensitive features or Microsoft's original Kinect sensor, and they didn't exactly vanish under the carpet.

HoloLens

If I was a Redmond exec, I'd be looking at Sony's Morpheus headset for PS4 with mounting horror. It is, after all, the likeliest candidate for the status of first truly mainstream VR device.

Lord only knows how much PS4 sales might pick up if Morpheus is suffered to spend months in the wild without a rival.

Alas, it's unlikely that Microsoft's augmented reality solution (which is more of a domestic and internet-browsing tool, in any case) will match or beat Sony's toy to market in early 2016.

But now is absolutely the time to start hyping up the headset's Xbox compatibility - certainly with reference to the HoloLens edition of Minecraft, a potential killer app, and perhaps also to this year's Forza Motorsport 6.

Racing games full of lustrous licensed motors always do well out of new graphics hardware - indeed, they suffer for arriving mid-console generation - and the history of Forza offers one obvious opportunity for HoloLens in the shape of AutoVista, its Top Gear-infused showfloor mode.

Forza

An interactive VR simulation of a Ford F-150 Raptor would certainly be a pleasant, though confusing addition to my flat's kitchen.

Moving onto the games themselves, Microsoft's fortunes have been frustrating to witness of late.

Sony has arguably handed it an open goal - PS4's first-party line-up is extremely lean, with most of its games due to arrive after 2015, but it commands the larger installed base and thus the loyalties of many third-party studios.

At this stage, it can probably afford to wait things out, trading on remasters such as the Uncharted compilation and cushy DLC deals with third parties, while Xbox One throws brand new exclusive after exclusive at the wall.

Currently known-about Xbox games that might break that deadlock at E3 are few.

Tomb Raider

One of them is the timed exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider, Microsoft's flagship third-person action-adventure this year. The preceding Tomb Raider fell short of expectations, but then, Square Enix's financial plight back then meant that expectations were absurdly high - and the delaying of Uncharted 4 leaves Sony short of a strong counter.

Microsoft would be silly indeed not to double-down on that advantage - live conference demo aside, the announcement of a special edition console should warm up pre-orders nicely ahead of the holiday season.

A surprise Gears of War release in late 2015 would be helpful, too. A reboot of the first game appears to be on the cards - the idea presumably being, as with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, to train up a new team, game engine and select features before embarking on a proper sequel.

It's an unexciting but sensible move - current-gen console owners have proven very willing to buy spruced-up remakes, albeit partly thanks to a dearth of actual new games - and again, Sony doesn't have a project in the same genre to pit against it this winter.

Halo

It doesn't have an exclusive FPS in the field, either, to pit against the formidable Halo 5: Guardians. 343's next shooter should clean up for Microsoft and Xbox, even given the lingering stink over TMCC's networking performance.

You may notice that much of the foregoing consists of looking at what Sony doesn't have and how Microsoft could exploit it.

This is symptomatic of Xbox One's most fundamental problem, I think, one that extends beyond events at E3 - it's playing catch-up not just in terms of numbers but in terms of rhetoric and perception.

Microsoft needs to start surprising us again, be it in terms of a new game IP - Rare and Lionhead both have secret somethings in the can - or a breathtaking demonstration of what HoloLens can bring to the world of console gaming.

When you're behind in a race, there's only so much to be gained by measuring your stride.

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