Microsoft reveals the next generation Xbox, and blunders its way through it.
And that’s that. With that conference, all the chips are on the table, and we finally know what next generation will be like in its entirety.
And if this conference was any indication, then it, along with the Wii U’s dismal performance, prove that it will be a bloodbath, a thoroughly one sided victory.
When Nintendo was having its disaster of a reveal for the Wii U at E3 last year, I kept thinking to myself, it will be very hard for someone else to ever botch a console reveal like this ever again. But damn, Microsoft did it. Contrasted with Sony’s excellent Playstation 4 reveal conference back in February, this was a complete disaster. Even on its own merits, this was a complete trainwreck. It was further proof, if any was needed after the last two years, that Microsoft has lost the plot completely. They are no longer in the business of making games consoles. They are now making entertainment hardware, iPads for the living room. Games just happen to be incidental.
Let’s start at the beginning, though. The one thing Microsoft actually did right that Sony did not, was that they showed us the hardware: they actually showed the physical console. It looks big and black, but it looks good. It kind of looks like an oversized DVR (more on that in a bit), but it definitely looks sleek, unlike, say, the original Xbox, or the new PS3 models.
What they also showed off was the new Kinect (which uses some pretty sophisticated gadgetry to achieve zero latency, an impressive feat regardless of whether it interests you personally or not), which has the same design language as the console itself; and they showed off the new controller, which is a gorgeous, sleek thing of beauty. It retains everything that was good about the 360 controller- the shape, ergonomics, layout, triggers (now improved via something called ‘impulse’ triggers), and improves upon it with an all new D-pad, one that looks absolutely excellent. Seriously, that controller looks beautiful. I want to get my hands on it ASAP; hopefully there is some sort of cross compatibility on it.
They aso showed off the new Xbox UI (looks extremely familiar to the current UI, but with a new, ‘Trending’ area for social media features), some impressive multitasking (switching from playing a game to a movie to TV to music in a second was some seriously impressive stuff; multi window multitasking was also great, and it should make looking up FAQs or Youtube videos to figure out how to progress in a game much easier now); they also announced the new console name: Xbox One.
That is a complete disaster right there. I understand why it’s called that: one box for all your entertainment. But we now have Xbox 1, Xbox 360, Xbox… One? Not to mention how bad it looks from a marketing perspective (One is less than 360, and One is less than 4). It’s a branding error, and Microsoft really should have learned something from Nintendo’s problems with Wii U, and, to a lesser extent, 3DS.
Right around here, however, is where the conference decided to go down the shitter. Microsoft then proceeded to spend a painfully, inordinately, long amount of time on the Live TV and sports features of the system… which, while great, are not what we care about. And we should have understod it right then and there- they don’t care what we care about. They’re not making this system for us. This is, like I said above, a living room iPad (down to the swiping and pinching gestures used to navigate… no, seriously). They gave us a painfully thorough examination of all these features with sports and Live TV, before we got a brief explanation on the system’s specs, which, admittedly, are impressive: 8GB of RAM (Microsoft didn’t specify what kind, so Sony fanboys still have the GDDR5 to crow about), an 8 core processor, an x86 architecture, a Blu Ray drive, 500 GB of hard drive space… they didn’t tell us what the GPU was like, or what this would mean for backwards compatibility. Unlike Sony, who spent probably more time on specs than was necessary, Microsoft spent less time than needed. Of the two evils, I would choose the former.
There was a brief moment of hope then when Microsoft moved on to games- which turned out to be EA Sports. So yes, Madden, FIFA, NBA, all are coming to the Xbox One. Like we already knew. Apparently, unlike most first generation EA Sports games of every hardware cycle, these are all being made for the Xbox One from the ground up. We got to see some brief glimpses of each game running, before EA announced that Xbox would be getting exclusive content for the Ultimate Team Mode in FIFA. Yes, not even an exclusive mode. Exclusive content in a mode in a multiplatform game. That’s what it’s come down to.
The next step was Microsoft’s own games, and here they showed us Forza 5, which looked predictably awesome (and might in fact be the highlight of their entire conference), and for a brief moment, actually got me excited. They also showed off Remedy’s new game, called Quantum Break, which was… what was it? It had a confusing, garbled live action trailer, and then that was it. We know nothing more. Microsoft announced that they had many more exclusives (15) planned for the first year (though we don’t know how many are Arcade or Kinect games), and many new IPs (8). All of this sounded good… but why did we not get to see any of this?
What we did get to see was more Halo. And no, not a new Halo game. No, what we got to see instead was a new Xbox exclusive live action Halo TV series by Steven Spielberg… which, yes, sounds great, and is honestly something I would want to check out. However, it is not something I would buy the Xbox One for at all, and while I appreciate some genuinely interesting new content, I can’t stress this enough: I want games.
So the last thing we got was a game to cap off the conference: Call of Duty: Ghosts. After the typical ‘this is what we wanted to do with this game, and this is how Xbox helped us achieve it,’ as well as the usual ‘all DLC timed exclusive for Xbox One), we got treated to the first footage of the game. It looks great, albeit a bit familiar (and isn’t exactly a graphical stunner; but then again, when has Call of Duty ever been a graphical stunner?), and is clearly something that could have sold the Xbox… had it been exclusive (which again, it is not). And that was that, that ended the conference.
Where were the games? Why was so much time spent on the multimedia crap? Yes, I understand that Microsoft promised a hardware reveal today, with games at E3, but they didn’t even focus on the hardware all that much (their specs presentation was brief and rushed), talking instead about TV and multimedia crap. The Wii U reveal conference had more games than this; the PS4 conference did everything better than this.
With the Xbox One reveal conference, we were supposed to get the final piece of the next gen puzzle, and a console that would actually give the PS4 a run for its money and prevent a PS2 like monopoly. Instead, we got a console that, while technically impressive, makes the Wii U look good simply because of its completely unfocused approach, horrible branding, and lack of any compelling games beyond Forza being announced. With the Xbox One, Microsof had the chance to utilize all that momentum from the Xbox 360 and to turn it into something good. Instead, we get a company that will almost certainly, judging by this conference, succumb to the fabled third console curse.
They showed off the console, Kinect, and the controller (all three of which looked very impressive); the specs are great, and the multitasking looks incredible; Forza 5 was awesome looking, as always, and the Halo TV series genuinely intruiging.
Everything else: from the branding, to the lack of games, to the excessive focus on multimedia and TV, to the lack of any gameplay footage beyond Call of Duty, everything was wrong with this conference.
When your reveal conference is worse than the legendarily bad Wii U and PS3 reveal conferences, you know you’ve screwed up. Microsoft screwed up.