Note: The original title of this article has been altered for space. The original title was, "How Microsoft's Surprisingly Strong Xbox One Video Game Lineup Gives Them An Early Edge"
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is out.
The long-time CEO leaves in his wake a company still struggling to adapt to a new era of hyper-connectivity, tablets, free software, and app-stores, but he also leaves the Xbox division with a surprisingly strong hand, despite the sudden departure of its former chief Don Mattrick.
The Xbox One had a rough start, but it’s looking stronger than ever as we approach its November launch.
After numerous policy and PR bungles following the next-generation console’s reveal earlier this summer, the software (and hardware) giant has steadied the ship. Now, as the dust settles, the picture that we’re left with is of a system well-stocked with both day one launch titles and a healthy 2014 roster.
Sony did a great job capitalizing on Microsoft‘s mistakes when the Xbox One and its various controversial policies were first announced.
Microsoft didn’t take long to backtrack on those policies and it’s a good thing they did. Having reversed used games restrictions, the 24-hour online check-in requirement, and opened the doors to indie self-publishing, Microsoft has basically taken the sting out of Sony’s jabs.
Now we see the full flex of the company’s marketing muscle coming to bear, with videos like this one landing, proclaiming that “all the best games” will be on Xbox One:
Microsoft has a much stronger hand moving into this November’s launch than initially expected. In fact, I think the Xbox One has an edge over the PS4 at least in terms of games. That lead narrows in 2014, but Microsoft still has a few aces up its sleeve next year and competition should be fierce.
Some of these are exclusives, and others will capitalize on the Xbox brand by offering exclusive content to long-time Xbox gamers.
A strong launch lineup coupled with Microsoft’s typically effective marketing (reveal screw-ups notwithstanding) will position the Xbox One much stronger this holiday season than I was predicting, making the first clash in the next-gen console wars much more uncertain and interesting.
Here are just a few games that give Microsoft the edge, at least very early on, in the next-gen fight for our living rooms.
(For a full list of launch titles for both consoles, go here.)
Dead Rising 3
Dead Rising 3 is one of the Xbox One’s strongest exclusive launch titles. Zombies have been done to death by now across film, television, and video games but people keep coming back for more.
AMC’s The Walking Dead will be returning for its fourth season just a few weeks before the Xbox One launches, and no doubt festive zombie fever will be in the air. In other words, Dead Rising 3 should hit shelves at precisely the moment people are most excited about the virtual slaughter of undead hordes.
Besides that, the game looks really good. Dead Rising is a fun franchise, and the third game promises more customization and much prettier graphics.
The ability to customize vehicles and use them to mow down hordes of zombies is basically wish-fulfillment stuff for a lot of people. I mean, who doesn’t want to steamroll these shambling corpses? Or lay into a zombie horde with a lightsaber….
This open-world undead sandbox looks great, and it’s one of Microsoft’s strongest early titles for the Xbox One.
The only major fighting release coming to any next-gen console at release, Killer Instinct is also one of Microsoft’s first real efforts at free-to-play.
Killer Instinct will be free with one playable character and will include options to either buy characters individually or in packs ranging from $4.99 for one character to $39.99 for 8 characters plus customization packs, costumes, etc.
So far, the game looks great. It’s going to be hard to compare it to earlier entries in the franchise given the last Killer Instinct came out in the distant land of 1996, but from what I’ve seen so far it looks pretty fun—a sort of hybrid of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
I’m not sure how the free-to-play model will work, but even if you went ahead and bought everything the game still comes in $20 cheaper than a typical $59.99 console title.
Running at a native 1080P resolution at 60fps, Forza 5 looks beautiful. For racing fans, it presents what appears to be a solid, next-gen entry into a long and well-loved franchise.
Sony’s Drive Club is free-to-play for PlayStation Plus members and it looks very pretty as well, but it also represents an unknown entity. The Forza brand is simply much better established, and that’s worth a lot.
I’m not a race car gamer, truth be told. Mario Kart was always my poison above and beyond any simulators. I do love driving in games like Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, and Sleeping Dogs, but that’s largely because it’s a fun part of a larger whole.
Still, Forza 5 brings a serious brand in a brand new skin to the Xbox One’s day one lineup.
Titanfall isn’t an Xbox One exclusive—it’s also coming to Xbox 360 and PC—but I still think it’s a strong selling point for the system.
While the game won’t be available until early 2014, I expect it to gain a lot of momentum between the Xbox One’s release and launch. This is partly because the game looks great and partly because it’s getting tons of positive feedback already—not just because of its next-gen graphics, but also because it plays so well.
“What’s important is that the game feels like it wants to be played, and played well,” writes the Penny Arcade’s Ben Kuchera. “It’s much, much faster than we’re used to from other big-name first-person shooters, including Call of Duty. It’s also a vertical experience, since you have the ability to double-jump, use your jet pack in a limited fashion, and run along walls before pushing off to get even more distance.”
It’s so puzzling to me, but very few games have really taken advantage of this sort of free-form movement, and that applies across genres. My biggest complaint about Guild Wars 2 was the slow, trudging pace of just getting from one place to the next. Now we have EverQuest Next which basically gives players parkour-style running, leaping, and gliding which, I believe, will make simply traversing that MMO way more fun.
There’s a place for slow movement in first-person shooters, too, but then you play a game like Tribes: Ascend where you can ski and use your jet pack to fly loftily across huge distances, and suddenly you wonder why more games don’t put more care into the basics.
Titanfall has wall-running and double-jumping and jetpacks and mechs you can ride on or pilot—in other words, it basically overhauls how we move in a first-person shooter in what I hope will be hugely positive ways.
It may not be an Xbox One exclusive, but for non-PC gamers I still think it creates a strong incentive to go with Xbox One, especially for the millions of gamers out there who love competitive shooters.
Halo for Xbox One
I for one am really looking forward to this Master Chief-meets-Obi Wan Kenobi mash-up. Master Chief plus Jedi powers makes me one happy gamer.
Okay, that’s not quite true, but the early teaser for the next Halo game does have a Kenobi-esque Master Chief in it, and if Dead Rising 3 can have lightsabers, why can’t Halo?
There’s almost nothing to go on for Halo just yet, other than a planned 2014 release. If Halo 4 is any indication, the Xbox One version should sell like crazy, and easily be one of the most highly anticipated titles of next year.
Sony has some franchises that could drum up serious gamer excitement—from a new Uncharted to a new God of War—but Halo is still one of the most successful exclusive IPs in the industry.
Here’s where Microsoft’s marketing arm comes into play.
Games that will launch on both PS4 and Xbox One will almost certainly play the same, look the same, and for all intents and purposes be the same. The biggest differences will have to do with the controllers and Kinect integration.
However, some games will be getting exclusive content for each system and much of that content will be exclusive only for a period of time. But Microsoft is very skillful when it comes to presenting the Xbox platform as the platform for games like Call of Duty.
Not only is there exclusive Xbox content for the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts game, Microsoft has long been the platform of choice for Call of Duty fans. Microsoft will work tirelessly to ensure that the Xbox One remains the dominant platform for first-person shooters, whether that’s Call of Duty, Titanfall, Battlefield 4, or Destiny.
Even EA’s Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is getting exclusive content and an earlier release date on Xbox One. And Microsoft is offering FIFA 14 free of charge with European Xbox One pre-orders, along with exclusive content for the title.
My guess is that Microsoft will be successful with this line of promotion and marketing. I doubt the earlier public relations errors will trickle over to many of the more casual fans who may only pick up one or two games a year, and many Call of Duty fans in particular will stick with their platform of choice. This is bolstered by games like Titanfall and a new Halo coming in 2014.
I think Sony has their work cut out for them in 2014.
The Japanese company has done a great job focusing on the core gamer segment, but their launch lineup doesn’t match up to that promise. Even with games like Killzone Shadowfall, there are simply too many unknown indie titles and too few new, original PS4 exclusives coming to that system by end of year.
I’ll have a follow-up post on Sony’s offerings and why I think they slipped up on launch offerings. I think it actually points, perhaps ironically, to Sony’s very real commitment to great games, both in terms of AAA titles and their unprecedented support for indie titles.
2014 will be just as important a test for both new consoles—not to mention the Wii U—as 2013′s holiday launch.
On a final note, I still think Sony offers the better package at the better price, games aside—and games are a hugely important factor in any buying decision.
At $399, you save $100 buying a PS4 and all you lose is the Kinect. Unless the motion sensor device and its games are leaps and bounds better than the first Kinect for Xbox 360, I’d say that’s $100 well-saved.
More to come.