Black Ops 6 and other Summer Game Fest highlights

By Tom RichardsonBBC Newsbeat

Microsoft A scene from Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 shows two police officers training their guns on a man riding a motorbike, who's in mid-air jumping over a parked police car. Behind him a grand-looking building with two large US flags hanging from the large marble arches is visible.Microsoft

Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will be the first game in the series to appear on Xbox Game Pass

Gaming’s annual preview marathon took place over the weekend, with dozens of new titles on show.

Against the backdrop of an industry wrestling with layoffs and questions over its future, expectations of seeing many new blockbuster titles were low this year.

Microsoft capped off the main events with a successful showcase, and fans of Call of Duty got an extended look at upcoming, 1990s-set Black Ops 6.

It’ll be the first game in the series to appear on the Xbox Game Pass service, and its developers will be hoping to banish the memory of last year’s poorly received Modern Warfare III campaign.

But that was just the icing on a very busy cake.

BBC Newsbeat spent our weekend watching hours and hours of announcement livestreams so you didn’t have to.

Here are some of the highlights.

‘Xbox eatin’ good’

Microsoft CGI shot from Gears of War: E-Day shows a man in heavy, space-marine armour listening intently to another character, whose shoulder the viewer is looking over. It's a dark scene, lit only by a torch built in to the shoulder of the main subject's armour.Microsoft

Gears of War: E-Day is a long-awaited return for the tentpole Xbox series

Even though the lines of console exclusivity are becoming more and more blurry, showcase season wouldn’t be complete without a post-match debate about who ‘won’.

And most agreed that Microsoft put on a strong display.

It needed one. So far Xbox’s 2024 has been dominated by headlines about mass layoffs and criticism over the closure of four in-house studios.

Microsoft’s showcase didn’t dwell on any of that, but it did take the chance to remind us all that it now owns a big chunk of the AAA games industry thanks to its $65bn acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

Free to flex its merger muscles this year after finally sealing the deal, it kicked off with a montage from upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 6, which got its own dedicated preview straight after the main event.

From there it launched into an action-packed trailer for Doom: The Dark Ages, and the rest of the one-hour session crammed in a host of flagship franchises including Warcraft, Diablo, Elder Scrolls Online and the recently revitalised Fallout 76.

At times it felt like a greatest hits reel, and Microsoft seemed to drive that point home when it closed the main preview with footage of a new Gears of War game. The soundtrack of Gary Jules’s Mad World was the same song used in the influential trailer for the original 2006 game in the series. A full-circle moment.

Fans also got glimpses of Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, Fable, the Perfect Dark reboot and Ukraine-developed STALKER 2.

Critics would say the showcase could’ve been more varied – when you boil it down it was heavy on open-world action, RPGs and first-person shooters. But fans would point out those are the genres Xbox built its brand upon.

And there was also praise for the diversity on show – many of the titles seen featured female protagonists or people belonging to ethnic minorities as their main characters.

Microsoft’s gaming division has been accused of lacking direction recently, and questions will remain about where it wants to take the Xbox brand in future and whether all of its studios will survive.

But for one night, at least, it successfully steered the conversation back to its games.

SGF underpromised… and delivered

Riot Comic book-style image of a female character against a bright pink background wearing a skin-tight armour suit. It's purple, like her short, bob hairstyle and matching face mask. She's looking back over her shoulder and holding a futuristic blaster weapon with a green glow in one hand.Riot

Valorant – one of the most popular online shooters – is coming to consoles

Host Geoff Keighley warned fans ahead of this year’s event that the headline Summer Game Fest showcase would be a “light” affair with no big surprises.

And he was pretty much true to his word.

With the exception of a guest appearance from Remedy Entertainment’s Sam Lake announcing that new content for 2023 game of the year contender Alan Wake 2 would be released the next day, the event didn’t contain many drop-your-coffee moments.

With the exception of Civilization VII – an update in the long-running strategy series – and a new Sonic game, there weren’t too many appearances from well-known franchises.

But we did find out that popular online shooter Valorant is coming to consoles, got a brief glimpse of the upcoming Harry Potter Quidditch Championship, and a star-studded trailer for Killer Bean. We also saw the first set of games from horror movie studio Blumhouse, including a new title from Bafta-winning game director Sam Barlow.

Sony and Lego also revealed that their collaboration based on PlayStation’s Horizon series will also be coming to PC and Nintendo Switch, but not Xbox.

2024 could be the year of the indie game

Neoludic Games A painterly style screenshot from Tiny Bookshop, showing a small wooden caravan erected in the car park of a supermarket. Customers mill about in front of the stall and a cat sits on an armchair in front of it. On the screen there are various icons denoting different books and the number of each the player has sold.Neoludic Games

Tiny Bookshop was one of many, less adrenaline-packed titles on display

So far this year most of gaming’s real breakout success stories such as Palworld, Helldivers II and Animal Well have come from smaller studios.

And, for those people who did feel the otherwise well-received Xbox showcase was a bit samey, there was a range of indie trailerfests to keep fans busy.

As well as two dedicated showcases after the main event, there were also sessions dedicated to women-led games, titles from Latin American developers and Wholesome Direct – an hour celebrating “uplifting, compassionate, cozy games”.

Among Us developer Innersloth unveiled its new funding project, Outersloth, aimed at helping other indie developers to get their games out.

With headlines focusing on troubles at the triple-A end of the games industry, the struggle for indies to find funding can get overlooked. And Innersloth – a pandemic success story – got praise for paying back some of its own breakout success.

Thirsty Suitors studio Outerloop Games (no relation), is one of the first developers to get funding from Outersloth.

Co-founder Chandana Ekanayake told BBC Asian Network the project is “great” for indie studios “that are self-sufficient and looking to be able to succeed in the games business”, by giving them an alternative to traditional publishing deals.

Don’t believe (all the) hype

Rumours and wishful thinking are the fuel of the pre-showcase hype machine, and this year speculation was rife.

There were some pretty spot-on predictions, but not all of them came true.

Most notably, a rumoured Microsoft handheld didn’t make an appearance, but in a follow-up interview with gaming website IGN, Xbox boss Phil Spencer suggested there would be more hardware announcements.

Claims that we’d see new releases in the Resident Evil franchise didn’t come to pass, and there was no sign of Borderlands 4, even if we did see a short clip from the upcoming movie adaptation.

And if you braved the live comments sections during the SGF and Xbox showcases you might have wondered why people kept shouting “SKONG”.

It’s a reference to Hollow Knight: Silksong, the sequel to 2017’s mega-popular Metroidvania adventure developed by the tiny team at Australian developer Team Cherry.

There’s still one more showcase from publishing giant Ubisoft still to come, and all of the weekend’s shows can be watched again here.

Additional reporting by Bertin Huynh.

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