This year has been all about the Xbox One X for Microsoft. Its premium-priced, 4K console hangs over the gaming landscape like one of those giant alien spaceships that hasn’t announced its intent yet. While the chances of XOX vaporising the White House are slim, it has given the platform a much needed boost, with what is legitimately the most powerful console in the world right now.
But it’s not the only thing to happen in Xbox’s year, promise. Over the months we’ve seen new releases, some farewells and only the biggest game of the year drop on to Microsoft’s platform. Guess what that is? Go on.
But let’s work our way through the year in a reasonable and sensible way (focusing mostly on Xbox exclusive stuff), starting with February’s release of Halo Wars 2 and the arrival of GTA 4 on backwards compatibility as a gentle warm up. A light stretch, if you will. In the same month we also got the year’s first ‘we’re not talking about Halo 6’ comment when 343 Industries confirmed it would have split screen but little else.
Moving into March, Microsoft chested up to Twitch and YouTube by launching its Mixer streaming platform on console. Initially launched earlier as ‘Beam’ on PC (but later rebranded in May) Xbox’s bespoke streaming platform is, as Mixer co-founder Matt Salsamendi describes it, “a journey to connect gamers all across the globe in the most interactive way possible.” It not only lets people watch and stream games direct from the Xbox with near zero latency, but adds layers of interactivity where you can interact and vote on gameplay events (spawning creatures in Minecraft, say).
The year picked up in April, when we got a first look at the specs of what would eventually be called the Xbox One X. Still Project Scorpio at the time, it was more or less a conceptual console made of rumours and leaks. All of which turned out to be true when Microsoft gave Digital Foundry all the internal info and a demo. It was… kinda cool to find out the six teraFLOPs whispers were true but only Digital Foundry and devs really understood any of it.
Me watching the Project Scorpio specs video and failing to understand most of it pic.twitter.com/QYX8EoTLaWApril 6, 2017
Generally, the response and twitter reactions, were split between the idea that ‘more’ has to be better. Somehow. Unless it’s spiders. There’s definitely a limit on spiders.
May saw a flurry of shrugs with the aforementioned renaming of Beam to Mixer, the Phantom Dust Remaster consolation prize after the teasing and slow death of a possible sequel. We also saw some Halo news with Combat Evolved inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame, and, more importantly, 343 Industries confirmed that Halo 6 at E3 was so not a thing that was happening.
Which leaves the rest of the month as little more than a gentle access ramp into June and E3, which is where the bombs started dropping. If by bombs you mean a final name, and shape for the Xbox One X. Looking back it seems weird that, at this point, while confirmed, the console was still little more than an idea; a promise from Microsoft. Until June all we had was a code name, some FLOPs and the promise it would be expensive from Phil Spencer. Now we had a name. The internet loved it obvs.
Overall Microsoft’s E3 was a confident one, focusing hard on the graphical strengths of its new machine with games like Metro Exodus, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Anthem and, most prominently, Assassin’s Creed Origins. Forza 7 was also very prominently used to show off all Xbox One X’s graphical tricks, as well as an actual real life car. “I’ll never forget when we announced the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS on stage at E3 in June” understates Bill Giese, the creative director of Forza Motorsport. “For the first time in history, a car was revealed alongside a game. Working with Porsche has been a dream come true, and they were integral to helping us deliver a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
There were also strong showings from State Of Decay 2, Ashen, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and the announcement that original Xbox games were being added to backwards compatibility. The back pat thing was a particular highlight for Kevin Gammill, Xbox partner group program manager after “playing Original Xbox games such as Fusion Frenzy and Knights of the Old Republic with my twins boys on our Xbox One X. It was only after hours of gameplay that I told them these games are over sixteen years old.” According to Gammill that’s because, “our engineering team really took advantage of the power of Xbox One X by improving the pixel count as much as 16X.”
The overall reception to the show was ‘damn, that new thing plays games pretty’, although a lack of new or exclusive games was criticised by some. Crackdown, Cuphead and Sea of Thieves did get release dates/windows, although only Cuphead has hit the mark so far. Then there was also the announcement that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds would be coming to Xbox as a “console launch exclusive”. Cue weeks of vague phrasing, and Microsoft dodging questions about timed exclusivity like a ninja backflipping through a hail of arrows.
After so much E3-ness things were relatively quiet for a month or two as everyone digested the new games and hardware. In fact there was nothing particularly big on the Xbox front until August when Crackdown 3 was delayed. Balls. For a game first announced in 2014 and then rarely seen after, that big E3 showing had been exciting. Especially with the promise of a proper big exclusive to launch the Xbox One X. It was the standard explanation from Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis who stated “we want to make sure to deliver the right game, with the right quality, and at the right time”.
August brought good things though, with the Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition revealed at Gamescom. Essentially a collector’s edition One X, the rest of the year has been defined by a rapid rotation of ‘its out of stock. IT’S BAC… gone again’ stories. And, while this year introduced us to a new member of the Xbox family, it also took one away as the original Xbox One was officially discontinued.
Moving into the final part of the year saw a few Xbox exclusives arrive, with Cuphead releasing at the end of September and Forza Motorsport 7 shortly after, to start off October. It was a good pairing, with both games widely regarded as one of the best examples of their respective genres. “Stands tall among the best 2D shooters of all time” was our opinion on Cuphead. While as far as Forza 7 goes GR+ thought that “there’s no other racer as good at what this does.” Also in October we got our regular ‘no Halo 6 news’ message from 343, with Bonnie Ross stating “you’re not going to hear much from us for a while.”
Moving into the final gasp of the year saw the Kinect finally cease production. While it’s easy to raise an eyebrow at Microsoft’s stubborn persistence to keep it going as long as it did (especially after the Xbox One S dropped the connector port), that little camera is probably one of its most influential creations. Just not with games. The new iPhone X basically has a tiny little Kinect in the front for its face unlocking, made by the same company that was behind the Kinect, PrimeSense. Elsewhere, scientists and hackers have torn that thing apart over the years to make automated mapping systems, self assembling satellites, low cost mocap and more. The legacy of Microsoft’s device will live on forever.
November finally brought the launch of the “world’s most powerful gaming console"
November finally brought the launch of the “world’s most powerful gaming console.” The reception so far has been a solid ‘okay/10’. It’s an amazingly powerful machine, and one of the cheaper 4K Blu-ray players around, but the lack of exclusives that worried people at E3 was felt at release - with most third party games simply receiving varying levels of 4K buffing via a patch a week or two later. However, games like Assassin’s Creed Origins and Forza 7, that received more specialist attention, look amazing, and 2018’s where we’ll hopefully see the X get into its stride.
Which just about rounds off the year for Xbox. I’m kidding! December 12th saw one of the biggest games of the year arrive on Xbox One. Having become the most played thing on Steam, PUBG (to its friends) had a damn good go at doing the same on Xbox, with creator Brendan Greene announcing it had a million players in the first 48 hours:
Over 1M players tried @PUBATTLEGROUNDS within 48hrs of launch on @Xbox Game Preview! This is humbling, so thank you all! It’s the start of the road on console for us. We‘ve lots to improve & update over the coming months & w/ your feedback we’ll make a great game together!December 15, 2017
The same panicky, stressful gear collecting/hiding multiplayer action has translated well on to Xbox, as you can read in our PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Xbox One review. Despite some hugely variable frame rates it’s a remarkably similar experience to the PC version. And, in all fairness, the PC version hasn’t been the best optimised game around. We’ve already had one patch to improve performance so expect 2018 to keep that up.
And that definitely does round off Xbox One’s 2017. And it’s not been a bad one either, with shiny new 4K hardware to play with - it’s what that means for 2018 that will be the really exciting thing though. There’s Crackdown, Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 from MS to show what the X can really do, and we’ll see the first batch of games that started development after the Xbox One X was a thing, meaning games built from the ground up to use all those FLOPs, rather than having things patched in later. See you next year.