I’ll be honest: I’ve never been that big of an Xbox fan. As a brand, it often seems to prioritise things that just don’t interest me all that much: shooters, sports games, multiplayer, technical performance. Sure, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my favourite games of all time, but games like that seem like the exception to the rule on Xbox, especially in recent years.
But the first episode of Xbox 20/20, a monthly showcase of what’s in the pipeline for Xbox Series X, has me more excited about Microsoft’s new console than I ever thought I would be. Instead of leading off with the Xbox marquee titles that we all know are on the way in some form or another—the Halos and the Forzas and the Gears of Warses—the debut Xbox 20/20 showcase focused on third parties.
I saw a lot of comments online questioning this decision, and suggesting that these are the sorts of reveals that should come after the big hitters, as a sort of supplement to the games Microsoft expects to sell its new console. I disagree; we all know those games are on the way, and we pretty much know what to expect from them. Halo will be Halo; Gears will be Gears. By kicking off the lead-up to Xbox Series X’s launch with a showcase of third-party games that look genuinely interesting and teasing a much wider range of games that Xbox is typically known for, Microsoft is making a bold—and promising—statement about what it wants to do with the next generation.
Sure, being third-party, most of the games in the showcase probably won’t be exclusive to Xbox (or might be timed exclusives, at most), but if anything, that just makes me more excited. Xbox has been clearly trying to shift away from the whole console war thing—as it is, you can play Ori and the Blind Forest and Cuphead, both published by Xbox Game Studios, on Nintendo Switch. Xbox’s goal seems to be less “buy our console because it’s the only place you can play this cool thing” and more “wow, look at this cool thing, you play it wherever but if you play on Xbox it might look nicer and run smoother.”, which is an attitude I can really get behind.
(They probably could have done without obsessively describing every bit of footage as “actual gameplay”, though. “Gameplay” is a rather vaguely defined word at the best of times, and it’s whipped the gamers up into a very pointless storm of Discourse™ about what should or shouldn’t be allowed to be called “gameplay”. Sigh.)
Anyway, here are some of the highlights from the Xbox 20/20 third-party showcase:
Bright Memory: Infinite
Bright Memory: Infinite is a combination of first-person shooter and action game, of science fiction and Chinese culture. It looks like a game that will really push the boundaries of what an FPS game can do and the kind of story it can tell, which is all the more impressive for the fact that it comes from a one-person studio.
The DIRT has a long been a go-to when you want all the speed, adrenaline, and, well… dirt of rally racing without getting too bogged down in the hardcore simulation side of things (that’s what DIRT Rally is for). DIRT 5 looks to really push the opportunities offered by the next generation’s more powerful hardware to create the most picturesque scenes to drive through. It also brings back four-player split-screen, something that was seemingly lost to the mists of the PlayStation 2 days, which should make for a great party game.
Flight combat games are enough of a rarity these days to be excited for about Chorus for that alone, but a fascinating sci-fi setting and what seems like a captivating story are the real draw for me. Chorus follows an ace pilot and her sentient starfighter “on a personal, redemptive journey to challenge a relentless foe and take down the dark cult that made her”; that’s more than enough to get my attention.
I can’t remember the last time I was as unsettled by a trailer as I was when watching that of Scorn, and that immediately piques my interest. Scorn is described as “an atmospheric first-person horror adventure game set in a nightmarish universe of odd forms and somber tapestry”—nightmarish is certainly what I see in the trailer, and that’s exactly what I want from a horror game.
Bloober Team have really made a name for themselves with smart, introspective horror games like Layers of Fear and Observer, so I’ll look forward to pretty much anything they put out. The Medium looks like a Bloober Team whose creativity has been fully unleashed; a psychological horror about a medium who can cross the boundary between the real world and the spirit world.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
This is a lesson on how to make a trailer. I had no idea what I was watching until the game’s logo popped up, yet I was so captivated by the juxtaposition of macabre and comical that I couldn’t look away for even a second. I’ve never played the first game despite its acclaim, but this trailer really put Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 on my radar.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is already out on PlayStation 4 in Japan, so nothing here is exactly new, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. Yakuza as a series has raised the bar for storytelling, character, and humour in videogames, and Like a Dragon‘s shift to a JRPG style of game complete with turn-based battles—a riff on the main character’s love of Dragon Quest—will make this one of the more curious entries.
Call of the Sea
I get slight Firewatch vibes from Call of the Sea, but seen through the lens of ye olde pulp adventure stories. A woman searching for her missing husband finds herself on a mysterious island full of puzzles, danger, beautiful sights, and more than a few secrets of its own …
Xbox One struggled to really make ground with Japanese developers, so to see a game as decidedly Japanese in style and aesthetic as Scarlet Nexus featured in the Xbox 20/20 is a promising sign indeed. I’m not sure what “Brain Punk” means, but Scarlet Nexus‘ strange monsters and psycho-kinetic action are looking fantastic.
As well as the above, the Xbox 20/20 offered a glimpse of Madden 21, a cyberpunk action RPG called The Ascent, a cooperative dinosaur-killing FPS called Second Extinction, and a new trailer for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. You can watch the full showcase below.