If it wasn’t already obvious, Microsoft’s presence at Gamescom this year was a last-gasp effort to sell us on the Xbox One X. Having already revealed the console back at E3 2017 – bewilderingly with no option to actually pre-order it – this latest presentation ended up playing out more like an extended infomercial than a press conference. It was similarly cheesy, too, with great wads of what felt suspiciously like feigned excitement throughout. What couldn’t be so easily concealed, however, was the lack of substance that marred its presentation. In its final sales pitch to prospective customers, Microsoft failed to convince that the Xbox One X is anything but an expensive niche product that there’s very little reason to own this fall.
For an hour and a half, the presentation meandered between expanding on information we already knew about and new information of very little consequence. Beyond the scores of rehashed E3 trailers, there was the remaster of ReCore, which was a puzzling game to tout given its middling critical reception, the confirmation that Microsoft is publishing PUBG — a decent scoop, though we’re still not sure the game isn’t coming to PS4, and the trailer for Forza 7, which looks admittedly gorgeous but not exciting for those uninterested in racing games. Cuphead was compelling and remains an exciting prospect, though as brilliant as it looks, it’s hardly the AAA blockbuster exclusive that really showcases what the Xbox One X is capable of.
Unbelievably, Major Nelson’s unveiling of the Project Scorpio Edition – a special edition of the console for those that ordered straight away, which plays even more into the infomercial analogy – complete with its vertical stand, turned out to be the only notable new announcement.
This really wasn’t Microsoft showing up, putting its best foot forward and wowing us in the process. From a business perspective, there was little to suggest the Xbox One X can do anything to level the playing field with Sony’s PS4. For the consumer, the key takeaways were few in number and far from impressive: old games look better, some new games (that may or may not be good) will launch next year, the limited edition box is pretty.
There was good news by way of Aaron Greenberg, who confirmed that one hundred Xbox One games (more by the time the console launches) are being revamped with enhanced visuals. The list includes games such as The Witcher 3, which hasn’t received similar support for PS4 Pro, thus giving the Xbox One X something unique overs its PS4 Pro rival. Void of any punchy exclusive content, it seems likely Microsoft will make a big push for older first and third-party games to benefit from enhancements on Xbox One X. That’s certainly a nice feature, though again, it’s hardly a major news drop that makes the hardware any more appealing.
Originally touted as a no holds barred iterative upgrade, my initial anticipation over the promise of the Xbox One X gave way to a head-scratching post-E3 and the realization that the Xbox family lacked new content. If the point of Microsoft’s Gamescom presentation was to beckon fence sitters like me to join team Xbox One X, it missed the mark. And if it intended to generate some excitement for Xbox One fans who have a lackluster holiday season to endure, it also failed. There’s still nothing tangible to convince anyone that the Xbox One X will prove to be the definitive home console moving forward.
Indeed, at the close of Microsoft’s Gamescom presentation, it’s still hard not to question who or what the Xbox One X is actually for. Bombarded with countless “world exclusive” and “the world’s most powerful console” taglines, I can’t help but recall an Al Nilson (SEGA of America, Director of Marketing ’89-’93) quote that I read in Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars:
“The name of the game is the game… nothing else matters”.
The mastermind behind clever marketing campaigns such as “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” and “Welcome to the next level,” Nilson knew how to put a spin on things. Crucially, though, he also knew with absolute certainty what the most important aspect of any console is: the software that it runs.
Whichever way you try and spin the mighty figures of its specifications and the beauty of its 4k resolution, Microsoft’s Xbox One X is still a beast without teeth. It is a console without the ends to justify its means. What use is hardware without exciting games equivalent to PlayStation’s Uncharted or Horizon Zero Dawn to look forward to? Microsoft surely knows that and understands the importance of forecasting future content, if only to give gamers a peace of mind. Yet, still nothing, which is highly concerning — is there anything new coming next year we don’t already know about? Aaron Greenberg did state Microsoft is “nonstop hitting fans with more and more exclusives,” but that sentiment is growing weaker by the day. There are precious few quality exclusives for the Xbox brand, and Microsoft’s presentation gave us precious few reasons to own an Xbox One X this fall. In fact, until we’re shown anything new, maybe not even in 2018, either.