Microsoft’s latest Xbox Series X show was rumoured to be a night of “mic drop” announcements.
The event, held on Thursday, July 23, was touted to contain the kind of news and video game reveals that would make gamers salivate at the prospect of purchasing the US tech giant’s new console this winter.
However, the microphones were safe from gravity as, unfortunately, the show lacked any real excitement.
There was a strong start with Xbox flagship title Halo Infinite opening the show. One of the biggest complaints levelled at Microsoft has been the lack of in-game action that it has revealed to fans. But this legendary space shooter – in all its high-def glory – showed exactly what gamers can expect from the Xbox Series X. So far, so good.
But then Microsoft reverted to type. Despite the recent PlayStation 5 reveal being rightly lauded for showing actual footage of its new games, the rest of the Xbox Series X showcase was reduced to target footage that, again, left fans wondering just what this new console is going to be capable of.
There were blink-and-you’ll-miss-it snippets of action, but given the positive response to Sony’s similar show, it was a risky move for Microsoft.
It wasn't a complete failure. The games that were announced for the upcoming console still carried a measure of intrigue and excitement. The new Forza Motorsport racing game looks absolutely stunning. So, too, does Everwild, which is about the magic of nature and, from what I can tell, rescuing mythical woodland creatures.
Grounded, in which players control tiny characters trying to survive in a world where ladybirds and ants are now huge enemies, also looks fantastic. CrossFireX – a testosterone-driven shooter that had more explosions than a Michael Bay movie – is sure to appeal to fans of Call of Duty and Battlefield.
And the return of the Fable series, complete with voiceover from British actor and author Stephen Fry, was a great way to close the show. Even if it didn't show any actual footage of the game.
But bar a musical interlude from comedy rocker and actor Jack Black, the Xbox Series X showcase ploughed on in predictable fashion. Many of the titles shown weren’t even new games. Some were simply downloadable content extras for current titles or remastered versions that will look and play marginally better on Xbox Series X.
Repeated sentiments, such as “the most powerful console ever made” and “developers can now realise their true visions thanks to Xbox Series X”, punctuated the whole show. But this is marketing jargon, and there was rarely any tangible way of seeing this with most of what was shown.
“Built from the ground up” is another empty statement when you consider that every new game, no matter the platform, must start from somewhere.
Again, this is a source of frustration for those that are simply waiting for proof of this before pre-ordering the machine. And we still don’t know how much the console will cost when it is finally released at the end of 2020.
One thing keen-eyed observers will also have noticed, following each new game announcement, was that many of them were tagged as coming to PC home computers. Again, for a show that was supposed to trumpet the greatness of the Xbox Series X, and the experiences you only get on the machine, this seemed counterproductive.
However, in amongst the missteps was Microsoft’s potential knockout blow in the fight against Sony. Xbox Game Pass – a subscription service that gives you access to thousands of games – is set to provide even more value for money. For $9.99 (Dh35) a month, members will get to play every single game that the showcase featured. This is huge when you consider two things. Firstly, next-gen console games are rumoured to be even more expensive than the current ones, with a jump in the average price from $45 to $70. And secondly, Sony doesn’t currently have a competitor to this.
Given the slowing of the global economy, price points will feature heavily in the race to the top spot for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Consoles are now a luxury item that cost millions to make and the spiralling costs of development on games means that there’s no other choice but to put the cost of both up to a level that will keep a lot of gamers priced out.
But building on the success of Xbox Game Pass on its Xbox One, Microsoft just might have the understated ace up its sleeve that will propel it to the top spot.