Bathed in electric green lights, enthralled by the staccato thump of shock-and-awe music, attendees at The Galen Center listened Sunday to Microsoft executives pitch the next phase in the Xbox's journey—from what in 2013 began as a controversial motion-controlled, next-gen media hub, to today's rededication as a gaming-foremost, super-powered 4K graphical monster.
The Most Powerful Game Console Ever
Meet Xbox One X, the official name for Microsoft's souped up Xbox One, formerly codenamed "Project Scorpio." It boasts 6 teraflops of GPU compute power, 12 gigabytes of DDR5 memory, and games capable of running at native 4K resolutions, which is all just to say that it's going to be a pixel-crunching beast.
"There is no power greater than X," said Xbox honcho Phil Spencer. "It's the most powerful console ever made."
And yes, also rather pricey: $499, or $100 more than Sony's own 4K-angled box, the PlayStation 4 Pro, which debuted last November. But if the battle in the 4K graphics space is currently about chasing enthusiast wallets, Microsoft is positioning Xbox One X as a box that justifies the extra outlay with raw specs capable of delivering much more than Sony's product to videophiles and 4K connoisseurs. If the narrative around the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's debut in 2013 centered on the PlayStation 4's superior specs, today's show was Microsoft taking the ball back.
Xbox One X will also make existing Xbox One games look better and load faster, uses a liquid-cooled vapor chamber to tame its doubtless nutty thermals (a first for a console) and still somehow winds up being the smallest Xbox console the company's made, including the Xbox One S. The Xbox One X will be available on November 7, worldwide.
Forza Motorsport 7 Looks Sick
How to show off all that power? With the world premiere of Forza Motorsport 7, a supercar extravaganza for Xbox One and Windows 10 that takes all the things we've come to expect from high-end racers—gorgeous cloudscapes, crisp terrain, dynamic weather like thunderheads rolling in and water beading on windshields—and kicks it up a whole lot more than a notch.
Players can rip through 30 "famous" areas with dynamic race conditions and collect more than 700 cars, including the 2018 Porsche 911 GTS RS. The game runs at native 4K and 60 frames per second on Xbox One X, and ships for Xbox One and Windows 10 on October 3. (The Xbox One X version will be available when that console ships on November 7.)
Assassin's Creed Origins Premiere
Though not console-exclusive, Ubisoft's long-awaited return to the Assassin's Creed-verse looked pretty slick during the show's world premiere gameplay demo. As rumored, the game will take place in ancient Egypt. It involves the story of a sort of Egyptian sheriff attempting to protect his community, a struggle out of which the company says will emerge the tale of the birth of the brotherhood of assassins.
Climb pyramids, fight in coliseums, gallop through dusty palm-treed lands, command birds to surveil and track enemies, fire weapons in slow-motion while mid-leap and engage an enormous open world that's been fine-tuned to resemble more a roleplaying than traditional action-adventure game. It's available October 27.
Minecraft Platform Interoperability
The promise of a master version of studio Mojang's sandbox builder, identical across all platforms, not just functionally but at the codebase level, is finally happening. With what Microsoft calls the "Better Together Update," the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One versions of Minecraft will converge with the Windows 10, Virtual Reality and mobile versions. All will hence run the C++ version, or what creator Mojang and Microsoft have taken to calling the "bedrock engine."
What's more, Microsoft teased something it's calling the "Super Duper Graphics Pack," a graphical update coming this fall that will include overhauled textures and lighting (including support for high dynamic range) for what amounts to an official vamp on the kinds of user mods that have made such things possible in the Java PC version for years.
Crackdown 3 Looks Nuts
Today's "best opener of the show" award goes to Terry Crews as Commander Jaxon. Brash and bombastic, the Crackdown 3 sizzle reel was too confusing to make much sense of. But this four-player campaign cooperative sandbox smack-around will be central to the Xbox One X's launch lineup when it arrives on November 7.
BioWare's Gorgeous New Open-World Game
BioWare's new "shared world" action roleplaying game, Anthem, has players (dubbed "freelancers") exploring a massive open world while donning exosuits dubbed "Javelins," differentiated by their abilities. In the demo, a player flew Superman-style through a lush jungle, encountering dynamic enemies, diving underwater and boosting around, then reemerging to tango with further indigenous hostiles. The game, which appears to blend elements of Destiny and Titanfall, supports up to four people playing together in squadrons. Look for it fall 2018.
42 games, 22 of those Xbox One exclusives
The press conference included a barrage of world premieres, including a mix of both platform and launch (meaning temporarily) exclusives. We learned of Metro: Exodus's existence, another post-apocalyptic open-world shooter from series developer 4A Games that's coming in 2018, and Life is Strange: Before the Storm, a three-part adventure that takes place before the BAFTA-winning original. Online tactical survival romp PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, released in March for PCs, is coming to Xbox One. Deep Rock Galactic, a co-op first-person shooter with procedurally generated levels starring "badass space dwarves," looked like Overwatch meets Minecraft (launch exclusive).
There was State of Decay 2, another zombie invasion survival game (exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10), and The Darwin Project, an arena-style survivalism game (launch exclusive). The Last Night's lovely animated 2D cyberpunk vistas was evocative of Flashback (launch exclusive). Rare offered another look at Sea of Thieves, its shared-world pirate plunderer (Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive). There's a new "Ori" game in the works, dubbed Ori and the Will of the Wisps, that's exclusive to Windows 10 and Xbox One. And Cuphead, Studio MDHR's long-awaited retro-cartoon-side-scroller that's exclusive to Xbox One and Windows, is finally going to be playable September 29.
I'm missing a bunch of others here, like Super Lucky's Tale, The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti, CodeVein and Ashen, but then it was a show designed in part to impress by deluging.
Original Xbox Games Are Coming, Too
Microsoft's claims about the popularity of backward compatibility are a bit vague, but it's hard to imagine the company wasting time and money getting nearly 400 Xbox 360 games to work with the Xbox One without a solid business case. And it's even harder to imagine today's revelation--that original Xbox games are in the offing (they'll look and play better, said Microsoft)--if the economics, to say nothing of the goodwill this sort of move engenders among fans, weren't solid enough.
Microsoft's View of the Immediate Future
All this said, the presser's montage of verdant other-worlds and collapsed civilizations felt a bit skewed toward brutality and bleakness. Microsoft's view of gaming circa 2017 clearly privileges platform exclusivity and visual muscularity, but also games whose central tenets involve smacking things around and general dollops of thematic sound and furiousness. For Xbox, gaming's future looks like much of its past, wherein players thrash, shoot and brutally skewer stuff. Some of this is doubtless the marketing need to cast Xbox One X in its most rambunctious light, but there was a sense of conceptual blur about the roundup that I worry fuels the (deeply mistaken) narrative that games are just boisterous toys for power fantasists.