#XboxE3: Microsoft announces two new versions of Xbox One

#XboxE3: Microsoft announces two new versions of Xbox One

LOS ANGELES – Microsoft announced a new, slimmer, slightly-improved game console Monday. Then it stole its own thunder by announcing "the most powerful game console ever built" will be coming holiday 2017.

I'm not sure what it's thinking.

The Xbox One S -- the S stands for slim or sleek or something -- will be 40 percent smaller than the current Xbox One. It will support 4K graphics and up to a 2-terabyte hard drive, be equipped with an IR blaster (for TV remote functionality if you use it as a cable box), and come with an improved controller. It’ll start at $299.99 for a 500-gigabyte version and climb in price as the hard drive gets bigger. It's slated for an August release, though you can preorder now.

The "most powerful console," dubbed Project Scorpio for now, will also be part of the Xbox One family. It is supposed to have eight processor cores and run at 6 teraflops, fully supporting 4K and high-definition virtual reality with no hiccups – and it will be fully compatible with all available Xbox One games.

No price was announced, but I have no doubt it won't be cheap. So it leaves me to wonder:

-- How many gamers who haven’t bought an Xbox One yet will skip this console generation entirely and wait the year and a half for the more powerful version?

-- Will they drop the price on the regular-sized Xbox One as soon as the S hits store shelves?

They may be shooting themselves in the foot here.

Those who already have an Xbox One will be happy to know, however, that a few new features are on the way this fall. You’ll be able to play your own background music; the Cortana software will now handle all voice-recognition functionality; and you can pick what language you want to play in, regardless of region.

Players will also be able to form their own clubs for common interests, and look for groups to help accomplish a personal goal. And Microsoft is adding Arena, a tournament platform for anyone who wishes to try playing competitively. EA Sports has committed to taking part.

If you really want to personalize your controller, that’s an option now too, courtesy of the Xbox Design Lab. But it’s really just a function of picking out what colors you want things to be, from the body to the button, for $79.99. Go to xboxdesignlab.com if you want to build your own.

But as far as games go, Xbox gamers have a lot to look forward to, especially given Microsoft’s new “Play Anywhere” initiative. Basically, a good chunk of games going forward – such as “Gears of War 4” – will not only offer cross-play with Windows 10 PCs, but also you get the PC version free if you buy the Xbox One game and vice versa.

Let’s talk about the games that were shown, starting with the aforementioned “Gears of War 4.”

If you’ve played the series at all before, this latest title will look incredibly familiar. It’s the same-old third-person cover shooter we’ve all come to know and somewhat love, with the addition of a ricocheting-saw-blade gun and a much bigger focus on working with the environment to take out the enemy. The game-play footage shown looked polished and extremely playable, but it didn’t really surprise.

“Gears of War 4,” scheduled for release on Oct. 11 on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, will feature cross-play on every game mode, including the new “horde” mode.

 If you’re a “Killer Instinct” player, the free-to-play fighting game that moved from the arcade to Xbox One, the only news of note is that a new special character, General Raam, the end-boss from the original “Gears of War,” is coming to the game this week.

“Forza Horizon 3” was announced next. The latest iteration of Xbox’s hallmark racing game will be set in Australia this time around, and allow four players to join together instantly – even mid-race – for cooperative gameplay. Off-road vehicles, with lots of dirt, dust, Outback greenery and water to drive through, will be a big part of it.

I thought it looked pretty good, but I can never tell how good a racing game is without feeling how the vehicles handle for myself. I did note at least one of the demonstrators was driving from a realistic perspective inside the vehicle, which is a plus for me, so maybe I’ll check this one out when it drops on Sept. 27.

“ReCore,” an action-platformer featuring an athletic young woman named Joule and a team of helpful robots, will be out a few weeks before that, on Sept. 13. I’m really not sure what to say about this one. They showed us gameplay footage, but it was in bits and pieces, so it’s really hard to form an idea of how controlling the team of bots will actually play out. Something about it put me in mind of "Enslaved: Odyssey to the West," a short but sweet action-platformer from 2010, but I don't really know where I'm going with that idea. They have no relation to each other. I just get this vibe they'll end up feeling like similar experiences.

The game that looked most interesting to me was "We Happy Few," which looked akin to a "Bioshock" clone set within a clown dystopia. Yes, a clown dystopia, though frankly all the characters looked more like mimes to me, but they talked, so clowns it is.

The main character, who skipped his dose of Joy, a drug, has woken from the shared delusion where rats look like candy-filled pinatas and everything is cheery and bright. So he's being hunted. It's from a first-person perspective but it's hard to tell if this will play out as a shooter or a basher like "Condemned." It's coming July 26 to Xbox Game Preview.

I'm exhausted, so let's just rush through the rest of the highlights:

-- "Halo Wars 2," a top-down real-time strategy game set in the Halo universe, will introduce a new faction, "The Banished." It's coming Feb. 21, 2017, but you can take part in a beta this week, now through June 20.

-- They're still working on "Sea of Thieves," an open-world pirate adventure where you realistically have to work with others to really properly operate a ship and go do whatever. You have to raise the anchor, lower the sails, have a navigator calling out direction to whoever is steering -- as they can't see much from the wheel -- and even patch up holes in the boat to keep from foundering and sinking in combat. No idea when this one will release.

-- "Scalebound," coming in 2017, will still have you as a boy (or girl) and a dragon. But now we know it'll have four-player co-op. It could be good, but it reminds me a bit of the cooperative "Lost Planet" multiplayer that tended to fall apart easily.

-- "Dead Rising 4" was also announced, with the return of the veteran zombie-slaying photojournalist Frank West, coming this holiday season. It looks the same as always, with a new over-the-top assortment of weapons to play with.

-- Speaking of zombies, "State of Decay 2," is coming in 2017. It's a cooperative survival horror game, and the trailer alludes to the idea of building shared communities with other players in order to enhance chances of survival.

-- "Minecraft" is getting a few updates. "The Friendly Update" will allow cross-play between PC, iOS and Android, and eventually consoles. Players will be able to create their own dedicated servers to share with friends. There's now VR support. And texture packs and some other add-ons are coming.

Anyway, that's the big stuff. Some other games were shown but aren't Xbox exclusives, so I won't cover them here.

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