We found out the full technical specifications of the upcoming “Project Scorpio” Xbox One console on Thursday, and they’re undeniably impressive. Six teraflops of GPU performance, 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, and the ability to play games in “native 4K” — 4K resolution at 60 frames per second – is simply unheard of on a home console. Games originally released at 1080p or 900p resolutions will be able to run in 4K and will sport better framerates and loading times. All things being equal, numbers like these should make Project Scorpio the go-to destination for multiplatform releases.
The announcement lacked one key component: video games.
As impressive as Scorpio’s spec sheet is, the announcement lacked one key component. Video games. Microsoft has remained surprisingly quiet about how developers will support the new console. Even if it could run games at 8K resolution and project full-blown holograms, Project Scorpio and the entire Xbox One family cannot succeed without the exclusive games that will give players a reason to turn it on.
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both launched in 2013, with a selection of exclusive games that served to showcase the new consoles’ more powerful hardware. On Xbox One, games like Ryse: Son of Rome and Forza Motorsport 5 were beautiful and showed off a selection of the system’s new features like Kinect and enhanced haptic feedback, but they failed to deliver a compelling experience that wasn’t already available on the Xbox 360. PlayStation 4’s Killzone: Shadow Fall fared similarly, and is now regarded as the weakest game in the series.
In 2014, the consoles were still fairly evenly matched, with Titanfall and inFamous: Second Son offering beautiful visuals and hours of fun to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners, respectively, but Microsoft’s first and second-party software lineup quickly fizzled out. Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched with a litany of matchmaking problems. Project Spark withered away and died. Twisted Pixel, a studio Microsoft purchased after the success of its Kinect game The Gunstringer on Xbox 360, released LocoCycle to a critical mauling, and the studio regained its independence shortly thereafter. ReCore, developed by a dream team of Mega Man and Metroid veterans, was one of the most disappointing games released last year.
Conversely, the PlayStation 4 has seen “true” exclusives like Bloodborne, Uncharted 4, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Nioh, along with the console-exclusive Nier: Automata. Persona 5, just released this month, is only available on PlayStation systems. Each and every one of these games released to critical acclaim.
More pixels and smoother framerates might not be enough to help Xbox gain ground.
Microsoft’s problems with the Xbox One may have sprung from technical inferiority and a higher price point compared to the PlayStation 4, but the lack of noteworthy games tied to its name has not done it any favors. The company’s selection of first-party games, and even its timed exclusives developed by outside studios, simply haven’t been of the same quality as the PlayStation 4’s games. Formerly acclaimed series Halo is now something of a question mark, with Halo Wars 2 releasing to very little buzz, and 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians stumbling over a narrative that meandered.
The future, as of now, doesn’t look much brighter. Scalebound, which was expected to be Microsoft and PlatinumGames’ heavy hitter this holiday season, was unceremoniously canceled earlier this year. Microsoft has a bevy of upcoming games we hope, if not expect, to launch around the same time as Project Scorpio, including Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves. Yet they will have to be better — not just look better — than the next wave of PS4 exclusives, which may include the God of War reboot, Insomniac’s Spider-man, and The Last of Us: Part II.
If Microsoft is able to pair Project Scorpio’s horsepower with studios capable of delivering generation-defining experiences – as it did with Bungie for Halo and Epic Games with Gears of War – it could make a strong case for becoming the definitive destination for video games. We’re certainly excited for the big surprises in store for this year’s E3 presentation. But as it stands, more pixels and smoother framerates might not offer enough firepower to help Xbox gain substantial ground in the console war.
Without the content to back it up, 4K resolution and 60 frames-per-second will just be a constant reminder of what could have been.