Microsoft finally showed its hand. Well, some of it at least. The May 7 Inside Xbox event was taken as an opportunity to showcase the work of 13 global developer partners that are hard at work engineering and optimizing games for Xbox Series X. I don't know about you, but after what feels like an eternity of tech talks and incomprehensible specification sessions hosted by Microsoft and Sony, it's great to finally see some next-generation games in action.
Would I have liked to have seen what 343 Industries is cooking up with Halo Infinite and the types of experiences the other 13 first-party studios are working on? Absolutely. Does their absence in any way dampen my excitement? No freaking way. The powers that be may have determined that we have got to wait until July for that particular platform showcase, but I'm perfectly content with this type of presentation in the interim.
Microsoft confirmed that there are hundreds of third-party studios working to wrap their heads around the Xbox Series X hardware right now while working from home. It wouldn't be a stretch to assume the same is true of Sony right now. As a result, this showcase is a narrow indication of the types of experiences publishers will be investing in at the turn of the generation – a period that is traditionally used as an opportunity for developers to explore new ideas, concepts, systems, and mechanics that might otherwise be considered a difficult sell in the later years of the cycle. Exclusives or not, it's nice to see a blend of ambitious new IP, high-performance PC games, and legacy franchises all come together under one banner for a presentation that was about as cohesive as you'd expect it to be given the circumstances.
The generation has more to offer than better graphics
One thing that should be clear by now is that the Xbox Series X and PS5 are not going to offer the type of seismic leap in graphical fidelity that we're typically used to seeing at generation turns. The jump from Xbox One X and PS4 Pro is going to be incremental in the grand scheme on things. The next-gen systems are, on paper, powerhouses that share a lot of common ideals and architecture – spotlighting an intention on changing the way we play rather than the way games look.
That's a difficult sell when we can't get our hands on these games and won't be able to for the foreseeable future. Still, it's good to get a better sense of what the baseline across both systems is likely to be from a selection of third-party developers that run the gamut from small independent outfits to gargantuan AAA studios. The best way to think about it is like this: if developers are able to run games on Xbox One on Low graphical settings and Xbox One X on Medium, then Xbox Series X would appear to switch it up to Ultra-high.
In games like Bright Memory Infinite, we get to see what happens when Bulletstorm collides with Devil May Cry in 4K, with ray-tracing elevating visual fidelity and a fixed frame-rate holding the game slick and steady. Footage of this game has been online for a little while and it always looks stunning, the type of thing that I would never have expected a console to be capable of delivering without severely dialling back on that fidelity. And yet, here it is. It's the type of game that should help you imagine the possibilities offered by the Xbox Series X. High-end performance, at a level that might even be considered a luxury in certain PC gaming circles, running from a box underneath your television.
Inside Xbox Recap
Looking for a more comprehensive recap on the Inside Xbox showcase? Here's every game announcement at the xbox Series X may event.
The Ascent looks like a big-budget dungeon crawler that's picking up where Human Head left off with its infamously cancelled Prey 2 in the aesthetic department. Scarlet Nexus is a hyper-weird JRPG set in a "brain punk" world that I can't wait to see more of. I don't even know where to begin with Chorus, the space shooter balancing movement at a 100mph with a redemptive story between a pilot and a sentient ship – the Ace Combat meets Control between the stars experience that nobody thought to ask for. I'm so here for games to embrace their ability to be weird and wonderful, something we'll hopefully see more of this upcoming generation – as is further evidenced in the fun trailers for Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2.
Dirt 5 looks gorgeous, the spiritual successor to Motorstorm I didn't know I needed; with Codemasters promising a lot of flexibility in terms of graphical and performance tinkering to help you tailor the experience so that it works best for you. First-person puzzle adventure, Call of the Sea, also looked gorgeous, but on the other end of the realism spectrum – it's a puzzle game with a distinct visual aesthetic that I can't wait to get lost in. The Medium and Scorn show that the investment in horror on the platform is going to continue for the foreseeable future, while the Serious Sam cross Dino Crisis action offered by Second Extinction has already arrested the attention. Of course, the major players are here too, with EA and Ubisoft present and accounted for with early teases for Madden 21 and Assassin's Creed Valhalla.
A taste of what's to come
In this showcase we see a mixture of games that are pushing the boundaries of graphical fidelity and performance to the boundaries of Ultra-high, alongside games that are leaning heavily on style to make a statement. Do these games all look state of the art, like many are hoping to see from the likes of Halo Infinite, and whatever else the first-party studios have in the works? Not necessarily, but then both Microsoft and Sony have been fairly clear that the reason for upgrading isn't necessarily because of graphics. It doesn't work like that anymore.
Instead, it's going to be faster load times and smoother performance. It's going to be expanded worlds to explore and more intimate moments between characters within them. The next-gen will be about quality of life improvements across the entire platform, that's how it seems to me at any rate. Showcasing that isn't easy, and I understand why it might be difficult to get excited by this type of presentation. Think bigger picture, and you'll begin to see the potential. We're finally seeing new games in action, and I'll take that over hearing about teraflops and SSDs any day of the week. We've got a broad outline of new games to get excited about. We're seeing new ideas and energy from new and veteran studios, alongside graphical and framerate performances with what appears to be on-par with the best that commercial PCs can offer. If this is our first taste of what the next-gen will offer, it's only made me eager to see even more.
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