Microsoft rolls out its big guns, but Xbox Games Showcase misfires

On paper, Microsoft ticked all the right boxes during its Xbox Series X first-party games presentation Thursday. Halo Infinite? Looked good. Fable announcement? Check. A Forza teaser? Nice and shiny.

But the best-laid plans need strong execution. And if the company was looking to make a strong case for people to buy the Xbox Series X this holiday season, it could have done better.

To its credit, the showcase had a very strong start and a solid finish. The extended look at the next Halo installment was exactly what people wanted. It harked back to the first game in the series, showed real-time gameplay, and ended with a nice tease. It also left some mysteries – like Cortana’s potential role in the game – unanswered. Could the demo have been longer? Absolutely – and we’ll have more on that shortly. But it definitely got the presentation off to a strong start.

Similarly, the wrap-up, with the teaser trailer for Fable and the announcement that the Xbox Series X will support over 100 games this winter, put an exclamation point on the system.

The problem was the middle.

Too much padding

Halo: Infinite
343 Industries

For an event meant to showcase the Xbox Series X’s strengths, there was a lot of padding. Obsidian’s Outer Worlds expansion and Grounded will both be out well before the new system. The shout-out to Destiny 2 made virtually no sense, even if an optimized version is on the way for the Series X. This was a showcase that should have looked forward, not backward — even if it involved a Bungie game.

DoubleFine’s Psychonauts 2 is bound to have lots of fans excited, but does the inclusion of a Jack Black song make them anticipate the game any more? It’s hard to make the case for that.

Ninja Theory showed zero footage of Hellblade 2, which made the company’s appearance in this program somewhat baffling. It was as if Microsoft was simply reminding us that the game was in development.

Rather than telling a story or showcasing how games would look on the system, Microsoft showed a lot of trailers and title screens. Only one title showcased what could make playing on the Xbox Series X a different experience than on the Xbox One – The Medium, which renders two worlds at the same time and has you seemingly switch back and forth between them in real time as you progress in the game.

Too many titles

Psychonauts
Psychonauts

The game plan seemed to be to showcase how many titles the Xbox Series X will have: 10 world premieres, 22 console exclusives, 100 titles at launch. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s better to have a dozen must-have titles than significantly more that players don’t grasp (or, worse, don’t care about).

Microsoft could have benefited from highlighting fewer games and showing more actual gameplay. This is where the length of the Halo Infinite demo becomes notable once again. It looked like pure Halo fun, which is great. But it was hard to tell what was new in this game, other than the introductory cutscene. What will Series X players get, beyond 60 frames per second and 4K images? Is the game open-world? If so, as rumored, there were ways to demonstrate that, but Microsoft chose not to showcase them.

Halo is the decision-maker for a lot of people when it comes to Series X. And it would have been a wise move for Microsoft to jettison some of the presentations it showcased in favor of a longer demo for that title. (It also would have been nice for the company to only show real-time footage, rather than pre-rendered scenes, with all games, as Sony did during its PlayStation event a month ago.)

It was a much better performance by Microsoft than its May 7 event, but once again, the company failed to capture and feed the enthusiasm of anyone beyond its most solid customer base. There are lots of unanswered questions about the system, some of which could be game-changers that quickly shift the momentum as next-generation systems race to market. But Microsoft needs to start answering those if it doesn’t want a repeat of the Xbox One’s performance versus the PlayStation 4.

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