Finally, after several years of struggle, Microsoft has unquestionably earned a much-needed win.
The company came to E3 2017 prepared. Everyone knew that it would announce a new console, codenamed Scorpio, which we now know as the Xbox One X. New hardware always gives an advantage to whoever has it, and Sony, having recently released PlayStation 4 Pro, had nothing to bring.
Yet it wasn’t just the hardware that gave Microsoft its victory. The Xbox team outmaneuvered its rival at almost every turn. When Sony’s show ended, and the lights turned on, a shockingly disappointed crowd shuffled away.
It’s about game…but what kind of games
That’s not to say Sony had nothing to show. It brought numerous major exclusives including God of War, Days Gone, and Detroit: Becoming Human, and Spider-Man. These are heavy-hitters that offer either serious pedigree or a hugely popular franchise.
Just one problem. Most of them don’t look very good.
Spider-Man looks set to be the dud of the show. Though gorgeous, the game’s lengthy trailer focused on scripted events and canned fights. It even showed several dreaded quick-time events, where Spidey’s success or failure boiled down to hit X when it appeared on-screen. It felt like a remastered game from 2011, not an all-new title. Days Gone and Detroit: Becoming Human did not look so dire, but they did look generic, with both failing to show the possibility their concepts promise.
Then there’s God of War. Which looked superb. Sony might’ve had better luck if its conference was nothing but that trailer looped for an hour.
Microsoft, by contrast, brought heavy-hitters like Forza Motorsport 7, Metro Exodus, Sea of Thieves, and Crackdown 3, all of which looked solid. But it’s not the headliners that gave Microsoft the edge. That honor instead goes to its extensive list of PC ports and second-tier exclusives. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, The Last Night, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, State of Decay 2, and The Artful Escape offered not just exciting trailers, but a breath of experience.
Xbox is fudging the numbers a bit by counting titles that are exclusive to both PC and Xbox. And that’s the point. Microsoft seems to have found a new, successful exclusive strategy. It puts less risk on developers leaving the door to the PC’s massive audience open, but still ensures gamers craving to play these titles must do it on a Microsoft platform.
Microsoft’s lack of VR suddenly looks like a strength
There was one thing notably lacking from Microsoft’s press conference. Virtual reality. Its absence looked like major weakness, as it not only meant Xbox had nothing to show in VR, but also removed a potential selling point of the Xbox One X.
Then, Sony showed its VR games. The roster included Starchild, Moss, Skyrim VR, Monsters of the Deep (a fishing game in the Final Fantasy universe – seriously!), and Bravo Team. All of them drew, at best, tepid response, and for good reason. Aside from the wonderfully ludicrous Monsters of the Deep, all the titles looked like something we’d seen before. Many, like Starchild and Moss, didn’t even take advantage of virtual reality. Both appear to be platformers. That can work in VR, but it’s certainly not the most ambitious use of the technology.
Some might think the mere existence of VR titles an advantage, but imagine if the time and effort devoted to those titles had been put elsewhere. Instead of a roster of underwhelming VR games, Sony might’ve shown innovative and beautiful indie titles.
You know. Like the games we saw at Xbox.
Have the tables turned?
So, does this mean it’s time to abandon PlayStation and jump into Xbox’s loving arms?
Well…that depends on how deeply you’re entrenched. Switching teams isn’t free, and at $500, the new Xbox One X console does nothing to reduce the cost of entry. You could buy the more affordable Xbox One S, but you’re not going to want to if you already own a PlayStation 4.
Still, unless you’ve bought a PlayStation 4 Pro, an upgrade is in your future — and will probably come sooner than you realize. UHD televisions are dropping in price rapidly, and once you buy one, you’re going to want to purchase a 4K console to go with it. That gives Microsoft the opening it needs to woo gamers back to their side, and its defeat of Sony at E3 2017 comes at just the right time.