Microsoft’s press conference at this year’s E3 was always going to be the early highlight of the show. Going in, we knew the company was planning on unveiling the final consumer version of Project Scorpio alongside a slate of new games and other announcements. Right away, Microsoft gave us a name, Xbox One X, alongside pricing ($499) and a release date (November 7th).
That alone was enough to satisfy a torrent of news headlines and first reactions, and Microsoft followed it up by packing quite a bit of news into its two-hour presentation. Some of it bodes well for the Xbox’s ongoing comeback, while other announcements seem to further put the platform at risk as it struggles to keep pace with Sony and the more successful PlayStation 4 consoles. It’s far too early to declare which company “won” E3 this year. But we can certainly break down Microsoft’s biggest announcements by whether they help or hurt its platform. Let’s start with the positives.
RIGHT: THE XBOX ONE X IS MORE POWERFUL THAN THE PS4 PRO
Microsoft was quick to point out that the Xbox One X will be the world’s “most powerful game console.” The company isn’t exaggerating. Packing a 6-teraflop GPU and 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, Microsoft has bested Sony in the hardware department in a big way.
The company claims that Xbox games will now be able to take advantage of HDR lighting effects and native 4K resolution along with a slew of other performance upgrades that aren’t dependent on your TV hardware, like higher frame rates and supersampling for 1080p TVs. Only tentpole first-party releases, like Forza Motorsport 7, will likely be optimized for native 4K at 60 fps, but Microsoft says any developer that wants to take advantage of the extra firepower in the Xbox One X will able to do so either prior to their game’s launch or with a post-launch patch.
Some players may not be able to tell the difference between a game running on the Xbox One X versus the PS4 Pro. But for the first time in years, Microsoft is able to flip the script on Sony, which arguably took its early and continued lead in the console market by beating the Xbox One on both price and graphical performance.
This is a big deal for consumers who want only the best and don’t care that much about how much it costs or the fact that you’ll need a 4K TV to make the most of the visual experience. Microsoft seems hopeful that being able to tout its hardware as the best in the industry will be enough to win over an important and influential contingent of consumers.
RIGHT: CRACKDOWN 3 IS FINALLY LAUNCHING
After a roughly two-year quiet period, Crackdown 3 got spotlighted during Microsoft’s E3 press conference with a gameplay trailer and a release date. The game, due out on November 7th, will feature the same set of genetically enhanced supersoldiers policing a futuristic city of criminals. Plus, former NFL player and all-around likeable and amped up internet personality Terry Crews was also trotted out in the video to promote the game and lend his signature voice acting skills.
Sure, we don’t know whether any of Crackdown 3’s original promises of total city destruction will hold true. Microsoft has already confirmed that the game’s single-player mode won’t feature the seemingly revolutionary destructible environments that cloud computing platform Azure is supposed to provide. But it’s refreshing to see the game resurface at long last, and with the wildly fun and absurd heart of the Crackdown series seemingly intact.
RIGHT: SOME ORIGINAL XBOX GAMES WILL BECOME BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE
Backwards compatibility is Microsoft’s go-to gotcha card when it wants to gin up support with fans and really stick it to the Sony diehards. Because the PS4 is incapable of playing older games with software emulation — and Sony doesn’t want to invest like Microsoft has — the Xbox platform is the best way to play games from back in the day like Skate 3 and Red Dead Redemption.
At its E3 press conference, Microsoft took another victory lap in the backwards compatibility department by announcing support for some original Xbox games. The company didn’t tease a ton of titles — in fact, it just showed arcade flight game Crimson Skies — but we can assume there will be other big-name exclusive Xbox titles coming back from the dead. Personally, games like Fable, Elder, Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Psychonauts would be enough to sell me on the feature.
WRONG: FORZA 7 WAS ITS ONLY FIRST-PARTY BIG BUDGET GAME ANNOUNCEMENT
E3 is supposed to be the one time of the year that game companies pull out all the stops to convince consumers that the next year will be loaded with flashy blockbusters. For Microsoft Studios, the company’s in-house game development arm, that has traditionally meant announcing exclusive games that are supposed to make the Xbox a more enticing platform, especially in the face of an increasingly formidable lineup of PlayStation-only titles in recent months.
As far as new big budget announcements, all fans received during yesterday’s press conference was an official reveal of Forza Motorsport 7, a game pretty much everyone knew was coming. Microsoft didn’t tease the next Halo, which could have been an easy win. This isn’t to say Microsoft arrived empty handed. The company championed multi-platform titles like Anthem; first-party games we already knew were coming, like Crackdown 3; and a whole suite of mid-budget and indie games, including Cuphead and Tacoma.
Microsoft wanted to focus on the variety of games it has to offer. It did, except the big, bold exclusives felt noticeable absent. That’s not a great look if Microsoft wants to chip away at Sony’s lead.
WRONG: XBOX ONE X’S $499 PRICE TAG IS A TOUGH SELL
The Xbox One X may be Microsoft’s ticket to winning back the enthusiast market it lost when it fumbled its original launch in 2013. But the tricky truth is that resolution and frame rate metrics (and even a 4K UHD Blu-ray player) aren’t enough to sell a majority of consumers on a pricier console. To those not steeped in rain drop physics and dynamic lighting effects, 4K doesn’t mean all that much, especially when you don’t have a proper TV. Even Sony has had trouble justifying the existence of its $100 cheaper PS4 Pro, given how inconsistent the lineup of supported software titles is six months post-launch.
In a way, the launch of the Xbox One X at $499 puts Microsoft right back in its original predicament of offering a new home console and charging more than its primary competitor, all for features the mainstream gaming community may not want, at least right now. Of course, better graphics and performance sounds, on paper, far more valuable that the Kinect was back in 2013, when it was bundled with the original Xbox One. Yet Microsoft has handed Sony a potential victory: a console priced higher than the PS4 Pro. Price was arguably what set the Xbox One back at launch, and there’s a real chance it will do the same again with Xbox One X.