Four years is a long old time, huh?
It’s the time between England losing in one World Cup and losing in another World Cup. It used to be roughly the amount of time a console generation would last.
It’s almost as long as Pure Xbox has been offline. So, I thought it would be prudent to take a semi-brief look back over what has happened in the world of Xbox while everyone involved in the site has been away getting therapy in an attempt to try to forget Don Mattrick’s E3 presentations. It’ll be a whistle-stop tour, as nobody has time to write about the 846 incredibly-similar-but-sort-of-different racing games Milestone have released on Xbox One in that time.
In fairness, they will likely have released another dozen by the time you get to the end of this article. Get your preorders in now.
Xbox Game Pass
I’ll start with the best bit. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass has been a revelation for console gamers. The company wasn’t the first to attempt to provide a Netflix-style smorgasbord of titles for a single monthly fee. Far from it. But crucially, they learned from the issues that various competitors refused even to acknowledge, let alone attempted to overcome.
Making the Xbox Game Pass offerings downloadable in their entirety means gamers don’t need to worry about latency. Providing all first-party titles as part of the service on their launch day adds enormous value and means you’re not stuck just playing games that are so old that they’re only a fiver at retail. Keeping the titles in the library for a decent amount of time means there’s no need to worry about rushing to play everything before it expires. To top it all off, regular discount offers and being able to pick up a subscription at a cheaper rate along with your usual Xbox Live payment means that it’s almost a no-brainer. Even more so if you have a gaming PC that can run titles from the bundled Xbox Game Pass for PC selection.
They also dropped the phenomenal Yakuza 0 on the day it came across to Xbox, and the value of that inclusion is immeasurable.
If you were shopping for a console in the middle of a previous generation, you’d need a few games to go along with your new machine. Now, you can grab the console and a month of Xbox Game Pass and instantly have access to over a hundred titles, spanning every genre. Can you imagine being a kid at Christmas who gets an Xbox One with Xbox Game Pass? I nearly went loopy with indecision as a kid when I got an Amstrad CPC 464 that came with eight genuinely terrible games. 9-year-old me would have lost his darned mind at having such a vast array of top-quality titles from which to choose.
Let’s not lie. 39-year-old me would, too. One of the “action-packed” Amstrad games was a text-only version of 20 Questions named Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. I only mention it because I’m still very, very bitter about the whole deal.
Festive benefits aside, Xbox Game Pass has also provided an extra level of publicity for new indie games that feature on the service. If a previously unknown title catches your eye, there’s a chance that you’ll no longer have to weigh up the pros and cons of the asking price. The only outlay is the time to download the game and give it a spin.
I should make clear that I’m not discounting the fact that you don’t own the games and that they can leave the service at any time. But Microsoft has done a good enough job in communicating well in advance when something is due to go and for more significant titles, have provided discounts on a full purchase in the week that the game leaves the service.
For me, Xbox Game Pass is the absolute standout highlight of the last four years in the world of Xbox.
Games, or Lack Of Games
That previous statement doesn’t bode well for the games catalogue though, does it? After all, if a glorified rental and delivery service outshines all your game titles, then the games can’t have been that good, can they?
Yet, the statement still stands.
The fact of the matter is that the first-party output on the Xbox One has been lacklustre. Sure, there’s the annual Forza outing or the likes of more Gears or more Halo, and they’ve been good. But the list of even console-exclusive offerings outside of those three pillars has been pencil-thin.
Sea of Thieves was and is loved by those who fell for it at first glance but continues to be ignored by everyone who thought it to be bare-bones and uninteresting at launch, which appears to be a fair number of people. The likes of State of Decay 2, ReCore and Crackdown 3 landed closer to the middle of the review scale than the top and outside of those and the franchises I’ve already mentioned, it’s slim pickings. There isn’t anything to be found that would stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn or God of War for love nor money.
As a result, some smaller titles such as the exceptional Ori and the Blind Forest and Cuphead – now both available on other platforms – led the exclusivity charge. But when a company gets to the point that they’re hurriedly re-releasing formerly motion-controlled games like Disneyland Adventures without the motion controls, there’s a suggestion that they’re plumbing the depths.
When Microsoft announced at E3 that roughly 4% of the library from 2001’s original Xbox would be playable on their current system, people were crying in the streets that the folks from Redmond are just too, too good to us. Indeed, whether they’d like to admit it or not, the fanbase has been conditioned over time almost to expect the trifecta of Forza, Gears, and Halo to find themselves standing alone. So, they meet anything even slightly beyond that with rapturous applause and hyperactive fanboy screaming.
There are reasons to believe this will turn around in the future, with new studios joining the fray in the last few years and a new console to sell. With E3 lost to the coronavirus, I’m looking for a jam-packed digital presentation that unveils a cracking first-party lineup to help usher in the age of the Xbox One Series X. Given the positive moves Microsoft is making in almost all other areas, I very much expect that I’ll get it, too.
Whether you’re playing one of the two first-party titles or one of the hundreds of third-party efforts though, your games will look pretty darned lovely on Microsoft’s current lead console. The Xbox One X was released about 18 months after we bolted the doors shut and is still the most powerful console on the market. Beyond that, it doesn’t do anything massively more or less than the original Xbox One, so it’s tough to break it down any more than to say “Ooh, fast and shiny!”
Of course, Microsoft also launched the Xbox One S All-Digital. That the name shortens to “Xbox One SAD” says it all. It was an interesting experiment, but it turns out that nobody cared about a system that at launch, cost about the same as the somewhat happier full version that could also play the extended cut of Mrs. Doubtfire on Blu-ray.
One highlight was the Xbox One Elite Controller and its Series 2 successor. Despite the eye-watering price and luck-of-the-draw build quality, the Elite is easily the best controller on the market. With customisable back-triggers, D-pad, stick tension, interchangeable sticks, and trigger locks, it gave gamers the ability to build something that genuinely works for them. Along those lines, a special mention simply must be given to Microsoft for the award-winning Xbox Adaptive Controller, too. A relatively inexpensive and entirely adaptable system that allows people with varying disabilities to engage with games is a godsend for many. It’s to the company’s almost infinite credit that they brought such a device to market and are endeavouring to get other companies to make it work on their systems, also. Bravo.
I couldn’t round out this section without giving mention to one device that fell by the wayside. Indeed, Kinect was left in the wilderness to fend for itself. It didn’t survive more than a day before it was run over by an eighteen-wheeler that it stared at for five minutes and then incorrectly identified as somebody selecting the ‘Go Back’ button. By all accounts, the three people who gathered at the wake had a lovely time. One chap played a tear-jerking rendition of the Kinect Sports theme on a kazoo.
After almost a decade of barely-working “fun” experiences and games that had as much depth as a puddle, it shall not be missed.
And so, here we are. You’re reading this article on a shiny new site that stands on the precipice of a new generation. It’s fair to say that since we’ve been away at the Mattrick B-Gone Therapy Camp, it could appear that Microsoft has been taking something of a relaxed approach to things. On the surface, they’ve been going through the motions to stay at least semi-relevant in the console space. Behind the scenes, they’ve been not-so-secretly laying the groundwork to make a challenge for the top spot in the not-too-distant future. New games are sure to be announced very shortly.
Steps have been taken to ensure that yet another new console generation doesn’t mean that yet another game library from days gone by will be obsolete. Xbox Game Pass continues to grow. Third-party titles will likely still generally play better on Xbox than on competing console hardware. Cross-play with other platforms is coming to the fore in ways that we could never have imagined ten years ago. Phil Spencer loves Nintendo to the point that he wears his Mario jim-jams to bed at night while cuddling his Yoshi plush.
I heard that from a guy whose uncle works at Nintendo, so I know that it’s true.
The big focus in the future is naturally going to be the Xbox Series X. It looks like it’ll be pricey, but could power a small town and probably withstand a nuclear blast while still playing Gears 5 at 120fps. It seems there’s a real move to attempt to close the gap between console and PC in a meaningful way with the new system, rather than just get a little bit closer to top-end PC performance for a month or two.
I’ve not even mentioned the currently-in-beta xCloud platform which, partnered with Xbox Game Pass, looks to be a more than promising addition that could blur the lines in another direction.
In the time between this article and my last on Pure Xbox, it hasn’t been smooth sailing in the world of Xbox. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft are stood on much firmer ground of late and heading in the right direction. There’s certainly plenty of reason for Xbox fans to keep the faith, no matter how they like to consume their content.
So, what about you? Been up to much while we’ve been away?