Microsoft’s next-gen hype train has been largely successful so far, taking the hard lessons of the disastrous Xbox One launch to heart and crafting a confident approach that has steadily drip-fed information to the public about the forthcoming Series X console. By comparison, Sony’s more conservative tech-spec info dumps had seemed tight-lipped and at odds with their PS4 ‘come out swinging’ tactics, presenting this generation’s big winners as being on the back foot in the new platform arms race.
Of course, there was a distinct sea-change after Sony made their content reveal on June 11. Months of secrecy and adjacent-product teasing in the form of the console logo and controller finally gave way to a look at the all-new PS5 – a dramatically different beast to the black boxes of the last three generations that even included a ‘digital only’ version. And that wasn’t all. With little to no fanfare, Sony got to work detailing the first and third-party games that would be available on their new platform during a slick presentation that gave us glimpses of sequels to Horizon: Zero Dawn, Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man (more of a spin-off than a sequel), amongst others.
Despite announcing monthly Series X updates in May, Microsoft elected not to have a June event (possibly why Sony chose that month for their reveal) which left the underwhelming third-party content (not bad games just non-exclusive titles) and mixed messages of the May event lingering unanswered while Sony hogged the limelight with an arguably safe but nonetheless successful presentation. On Thursday past though, after over a month of speculation and waiting, Microsoft got their chance to respond, and they revealed a wealth of games that will find a home on the Series X and, more impressively, on Gamepass.
SPOILERS: Microsoft did not confirm a launch date or price point for the Series X.
While Halo is still undeniably a jewel in the Xbox crown, the Infinite presentation had some ground to make up after the mixed reception for Halo 5 and the mystery surrounding the nebulous title. Microsoft wasted no time, positioning Infinite up front with a meaty gameplay reveal that tickled our nostalgia glands as Master Chief charged around a new Halo environment reminiscent of the original Combat Evolved. The presentation managed to be a little more than a rehash though by introducing a new enemy for spartans to combat in the form of the The Banished and hinting that the game would function more like an open world than previous entries. There was no mention of multiplayer, however it has been confirmed that PvP will be up and running from launch. Because, of course.
STATE OF DECAY 3
It’s exciting to hear that Undead Labs still have work to do in their zombie universe, even although this announcement cinematic means they’re still some time off from launching a sequel. The trailer suggested more of a single character affair than the ensemble cast we’ve come to expect but there was still evidence of the survival elements fans love and even a zombie deer. Which was nice.
Of course, with the advent of any new console there’s always a new driving game to showcase all the shiny new tech (the Sony event duly included a new Gran Turismo offering). Turn 10 are old hands in the driving game now and showed all of the assured direction we’ve come to appreciate from the simulator end of the Forza stable, up to and including native 4K resolution, 60FPS and ray tracing lighting effects. The most recent iteration of the franchise, Forza Horizon 4, will also receive a free Series X upgrade via the Xbox Smart Delivery System.
One of the highlights of the showcase, Everwild‘s animation-quality visuals and druid-style fantasy setting were a real show-stopper. The trailer doesn’t reveal much other than some beautifully choreographed magic with strong links to nature but it’s definitely a game to watch out for. Rare have taken their simple yet distinctive art style from Sea of Thieves and elevated it to a gorgeous level.
TELL ME WHY
Picking up the interactive story slack after Telltale’s messy departure, Don’t Nod Games have turned in several critically acclaimed titles including three seasons of Life is Strange. Their latest story, Tell Me Why, is launching at the end of August and will be available on Game Pass from launch. The game centres on two siblings returning to their home town to unravel dire family events in their past and stumbling into a bigger mystery.
ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS
Okay, so this isn’t a new title but Moon Studios was excited to announce that the popular platforming adventure would be receiving a staggering 120FPS upgrade on the Series X as well as improved audio technology for those eager to see what next-gen hardware does for current-gen games.
TETRIS EFFECT: CONNECTED
Xbox players haven’t had a chance to get their hands on Tetris Effect so far but that’s about to change later this year as the puzzle darling lands on the Series X and X1. As with most reveals, the trailer didn’t give too much away but it looks like this enhanced version of Effect will feature multiplayer, possibly like Tetris 99.
AS DUSK FALLS
While Microsoft may have conceded victory to Sony this generation in terms of sheer sales figures, they haven’t been idle preparing for the new platforms. The last year has seen them snapping up a number of studios to include under the Xbox Studios brand, but they also have been prominently supporting smaller developers to create more diverse games that will add variety to their content portfolio and As Dusk Falls is a gorgeous example of this. An interactive drama like Don’t Nod’s Tell Me Why, As Dusk Falls uses a beautiful motion-comic presentation of photo-realistic images to tell the powerful story of two families colliding one fateful day in the desert.
Pitched as a psychological horror game, The Medium harnesses next-gen horsepower to offer a distinctive dual experience. As Marie-Anne, players will be able to harness psychic powers that allow them to not only walk though the real world but the spirit world as well, accessing it at the touch of a button. Looking not unlike a spiritual (I know no shame!) successor to Silent Hill, The Medium combines third-person exploration, combat and puzzle-solving.
Long in gestation but still tantalisingly out of reach, the sequel to the beloved Psychonauts 2 made its second Microsoft appearance in the form of a music video. Jack Black (who worked with Double Fine on Brutal Legend) lends his voice to an in-game song that accompanies fantastic psychedelic gameplay footage reminiscent of some of the trippier Austin Powers transitions as Raz takes a journey through a mystery brain in a jar. Obviously.
Obsidian Studios were a recent high-profile purchase for Microsoft and featured prominently in the reveal event. First up is their open world co-op adventure game, Grounded. Borrowing heavily from Honey I Shrunk the Kids!, the game puts players in the miniature shoes of shrunken children as they try to survive the terrors of life in the back yard. Available in the Xbox Game Preview Programme from July 28, Grounded will receive a Series X optimisation update when the console launches.
Obsidian are famously known for their Fallout 3 spin-off, New Vegas, and look to be taking cues from Bethesda once again for their new title, Avowed. The short gameplay trailer owes a heavy debt to the FPS sword-and-sorcery antics of the Elder Scrolls games that will hopefully be infused with Obsidian’s signature storytelling.
From the creators of the Steamworld series, comes a third-person action-adventure set on a mysterious planet that requires players to solve puzzles to save it while battling foul squidgy enemies.
DESTINY 2: BEYOND LIGHT
Destiny fans aren’t being left behind as Bungie’s 10 year plan takes them onto the new consoles with a new expansion from November 10, introducing new play areas and classes. More importantly, Destiny 2 and all of its expansions – including Beyond Light – will be available to play through Gamepass! The MMO will also receive a 4K 60FPS upgrade on the Series X as well.
In a surprise announcement, beloved PC survival game Stalker is making a next-gen debut with this new sequel as a launch exclusive on the Series X.
WARHAMMER 40,000: DARKTIDE
Like the Stalker sequel, Darktide was an announcement trailer favouring cinematics rather than gameplay. From the developers of Vermintide, Darktide is a 4-player co-op action game that sees agents of the Imperium dispatched to cleanse the hive city of Tertium. With fire. And guns. And chainsaw swords.
Remedy and Smilegate Entertainment surprised with a fantastic looking single-player military thriller that looks to draw inspiration from the less crazy parts of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Two rival private military contractors wage war against each other because the world is only big enough for one group of super-attractive runny-shootey jar-heads.
NEW GENESIS: PHANTASY STAR ONLINE 2
PSO2 has been enjoying a renaissance on Xbox and this update/expansion will add new lands to explore, enemies to best and unprecedented character customisation for the MMO action-RPG, landing in 2021.
One of the game industry’s worst kept secrets was Playground Games involvement in a Fable reboot and the Series X showcase casually confirmed the new game with a CG trailer highlighting the series fantasy trappings and quirky, irreverent humour.
Microsoft doubled down on their commitment to indie developers by showcasing a vast array of smaller experiences that will be available on Xbox. Snowboarding sim Shredders, cutesy adventure Tunic and interactive time-loop thriller 12 Minutes are just some of the wide variety of games that will touch the parts of your inner gamer that the AAA crowd can’t sate.
So that was a glimpse of the Xbox games arsenal. In all they presented 22 console exclusives featuring 10 world premieres, most of which appear above. If you’re still hungry for more trailers, you can check out the Xbox third-party and non-exclusive content on their social media and YouTube channels.
Are you excited by the Series X line-up? Have Microsoft met Sony’s challenge? Let us know in the comments!