Microsoft showed off an amazing array of games at its Xbox Games Showcase today to prepare fans for the holiday launch of the Xbox Series X game console. The company didn’t disclose the launch date or price of the new hardware, as it focused on just the games today.
Microsoft forewarned us not to expect launch details, and other things leaked, like the grappling hook in Halo Infinite. But if you add it all up, and subtract the letdowns and surprises related to the leaks, it was a pretty good show of force for the Xbox family.
The video of Halo Infinite gameplay didn’t disappoint. It showed an expected grappling hook (dubbed Grappleshot for branding purposes, maybe) that gives Master Chief more mobility. It showed off the ambitious, beautiful open world on a Halo ring. The action was intense against crowds of enemies from The Covenant and the Brutes from The Banished. But I didn’t think the facial animation and the motion of the human, The Pilot, was really that good. As some have already pointed out, there’s a reason Master Chief always wears a helmet.
If the presentation had any other flaws, it’s that The Banished leader was hard to understand. He bragged the Ring was under his control, that the humans were scattered and easy to defeat. He said they fight together to honor the will of Atriox, the leader of The Banished. He challenged the Spartan to “die well,” but I didn’t get the real hook for the story, so to speak. Why are we playing?
Halo Infinite was the highlight of the show, of course. But Microsoft provided some excitement at the end with its tease of a remake of Fable, the role-playing game coming from developer Playground Games, which also makes the Forza Horizon series. I think the opportunity with Fable is to create something that lives up to Peter Molyneux’s original promises for the franchise when it first debuted in 2004. Among the promises that never made it into the final product: You would age throughout the game, or if you planted an acorn, you could watch it grow into a tree. Microsoft didn’t promise this at all, but revisiting this franchise must surely dredge up these kinds of memories.
The big disappointment was that Microsoft didn’t show any gameplay from Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, the big game coming from Ninja Theory and a sequel to 2017’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. All Ninja Theory’s creative director, Tameem Antoniades, said was that it is set in Iceland and that a development diary would be posted soon on YouTube. We’re still waiting for that video. (Update: Here it is.)
I thought that Tetris Effect Connected had some very cool multiplayer, where you could have three people playing at the same time, sharing blocks and moving them across multiple screens.
The trailer for Tell Me Why, the new narrative game about trans siblings from Life Is Strange creator Dontnod Entertainment, set up what looks like a very interesting mystery story. It had some outstanding graphics. Meanwhile, As Dusk Falls from new studio Interior/Night also had an interesting narrative set over decades about two families colliding together — but with a more comic-like Telltale art style.
Stalker 2 from GSC Game World returns to the post-Chernobyl region of Russia as the scene of a post-nuclear-fallout shooter. The graphics with floating ash and moving lights looked pretty awesome. But we didn’t see any real action. By contrast, Smilegate’s CrossfireX looked like an intense Call of Duty game. But the problem with CrossfireX is that it looked a little too much like scenes we’ve seen before in Call of Duty gameplay and cinematics, like grabbing someone who is dangling over an edge and pulling them up.
I liked the look of State of Decay 3, which brings zombies to the new console. The cinematic suggested that we’re going to have a much better-looking game, and that’s a must in a sea of zombie games out there. The next Forza Motorsport looks awesome, with some amazing attention to detail that will look like you’re watching a race on ESPN.
Rare’s Everwild looks more like the fanciful art of a Nintendo game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Switch. Of course, the game doesn’t have a launch date. But it sure looked like the opposite of realistic graphics, like stepping into a painting.
Obsidian’s Avowed is a nice surprise. It’s a new fantasy role-playing game from the maker of The Outer Worlds, and it looks like it lives up to the high standards of its previous sci-fi and fantasy games. Let’s hope it’s like Skyrim on the Xbox Series X, but it might be a bit early to say that.
Psychonauts 2 looks like it is shaping up well, and it should make fans of the original happy. Double Fine Productions is developing the sequel, and it looks like they’re getting the necessary resources from Microsoft to pull it off well.
I thought The Medium was a good technical achievement, showing how you could move from a dream world to the real world almost instantly. That was a real demonstration of next-generation computing power and graphical achievement.
Matt Booty, the head of Microsoft Studios, said that the event showed games from nine of 15 internal studios, and that more content would come later. In the case of Hellblade 2, that would be quite welcome. The third-party presentations were short, but they also looked good. So Microsoft looks like it will be a real contender with the Xbox Series X in the console war with Sony’s PlayStation 5 this fall.
There are some things that make me hesitate from saying this was an unqualified success. Microsoft didn’t disclose launch dates on most of the titles, though it did say that Halo Infinite would be a launch title and that should help the fact that the console is launching during a pandemic that isn’t good for any business, particularly one that is dependent on the disposable income of consumers.