For those who may not be in the know, there was a pretty notable shift within the gaming market at the tail end of 2020: in short, Microsoft sunk a cool $7.5 bil to acquire ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks, and by proxy its subsidiaries like Arkane (creators of DISHONORED) and id Software (DOOM, WOLFENSTEIN). This was, of course, done to bolster the Xbox catalog and remove a huge money-maker from the neutral board, doling out exclusivity rights amidst the company’s ongoing “war” with Sony after getting curb-stomped in sales throughout the last console generation.
And while I have long pledged my allegiance to the Sony clan (yes, I’m part of the problem) and generally view this transaction as a cynical “pulling a Disney” in video game form, I can at least admit that Papa Xbox hoarding its stake of creative licenses is doing its job and making me legitimately think shit, I might want to get the Series X.
Blessed be, O Capitalist Machine.
The major theme of this year’s corporate song and dance, if nothing else, focalized on Microsoft flaunting all its new toys, showing off how great of a library the Xbox GamePass is gonna have: in the span of roughly an hour, 30(!) different games (or at least, concepts) were touted to draw in the rabble and get people hyped for what’s to come in the console’s future. And for the most part, it’s probably the best showing the company’s had to date. I won’t be covering all of the games shown, considering a fair few are just kind of chintzy little additions to help pad out the event, but instead will highlight a handful of the more personally interesting or otherwise juicy bits of the conference.
Finally Setting Sights on STARFIELD
Since it was first announced in 2018, millions of gamers have held their ear to the ground and hopes high for Bethesda’s new space-faring IP to have any kind of news besides “Hey, it exists maybe!” Well, three years later with a smarmy Todd Howard delivering the deets while espousing that this simply wouldn’t be possible without his new Xbox overlords, the show proper opens with a “gameplay” trailer for STARFIELD, giving us not only confirmation that, yes, it’s still happening, but some vague snippets about the first brand new universe in the Bethesda line-up in 25 years, and even its planned release date: 11/11/2022.
Granted, this two-minute “gameplay” trailer has literally no gameplay attached and is labeled as alpha footage from what is assumingly the opening sequence, but, hey, at least it’s something; I guess that AC VALHALLA trailer from a few years back set a precedent in lowering the bar for what’s considered “gameplay.” And, as to be expected, the title will disappointingly be an Xbox exclusive upon release, so… take that as you will, Bethesda fans. I’ll be here sighing wistfully.
Shooting Soviet Super-Mutants in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2
Following off the showcase of STARFIELD was a trailer for a planned sequel I honestly forgot existed: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: HEART OF CHERNOBYL. Considering the last release of the series was all the way back in 2009, seeing this Ukranian trendsetter for the Survival Horror/Shooter genres make its grand return was a bit of a shock, though a pleasant one to say the least. The snippet itself is fairly meaty compared to a lot of the other announcements within the show, a campfire of Slavic compatriots swapping stories to a good five-minutes’ worth of in-game footage with exploration, combat against humans and twisted mutants alike, and seriously beautiful environment shots with a suspiciously METRO: EXODUS-y aesthetic. All in all, it looks like a solid title to hold out hope for heading into next year.
Rebranding a Brainsplatter Classic with BACK 4 BLOOD
Apparently not content with Gabe Newell’s inability to count to “3” and leaving their series on ice for a decade, it seems like Team Turtle, the folks behind the Valve zombie co-op classic LEFT 4 DEAD, have decided to flip the bird and partner with Warner Bros., making their own LEFT 4 DEAD third-quel, with blackjack and hookers. This project, BACK 4 BLOOD, looks to retain much of the DNA from the developer’s beloved duology: four-player co-op campaign, a zombie vs. human competitive mode to jazz up the action, and waves of funky-looking zeds to put down, all while amping things up in the visual department to feel more high-octane, and even cartoonish in its presentation (probably to render it “legally distinct,” but y’know). Given its release window firmly planted for October, here’s to hoping it delivers some fun, spooky mayhem for the season and beyond like its predecessors. God knows we miss it.
Bringing the Big Guns for BATTLEFIELD 2042
To be fair, I’ve never really been too invested in the “military shooter” genre since its inception, though through cultural osmosis have picked up on the fact that at this point, any sense of realism has been thrown straight out the window. This was made abundantly clear to me with the hot new trailer for the next entrant in the Battlefield series, what with parachuting tanks, players zipping around on wrist-mounted grappling hooks, huge skirmishes next to a tornado, and a guy riding an ATV off a building to take down a helicopter. And by touting a multiplayer experience that hasn’t seen rivaled since PLANETSIDE 2, this shooter with a supposed 128-person limit and “ever-changing map” looks like it’s gearing up to be just an excuse for the dudebros of the internet to have some fun with bullshit levels of military-grade chaos. But hell, if that idea doesn’t sound tantalizing.
Psyching Up PSYCHONAUTS 2
Considering two of the previous titles mentioned, I think I’m noticing a pattern of Microsoft resurrecting (or otherwise publishing) other people’s properties for profit. To be frank, though, I’m just glad PSYCHONAUTS 2 has a home now; prior to today, it’s just kind of been floating around, a game vaguely stuck in a nebulous haze after a successful Kickstarter six-odd years ago and not much info doled out in the meantime. But now, after years of twiddling thumbs and shaking hands, the sequel to Double Fine’s psychological, psychedelic platformer has been given a set window to debut, heading to GamePass and looking just as abstractly weird and colorful as the original’s outing over a decade ago.That being said, this long-awaited sequel to Raz and Pals making their way into people’s mindscapes for demented shenanigans will still manage to worm its way to Sony consoles down the pipeline, much to my (and many long-time fans’) relief.
Harkening Back Hallmark Status with HALO INFINITE
This one was kind of a no-brainer to show up somewhere during the event. It is, after all, the franchise’s 20th anniversary, and I highly doubt that Xbox would allow its golden child to disappoint on such a marketable special occasion. On a more serious note, the devoted ‘HALO’ section of the show gave lots of promise to those devoted fans of the franchise: not only are all the previous titles now being being put up across all of Microsoft’s platforms, with this newest installment set to drop during the holiday season, but that HALO INFINITE will also feature free multiplayer at a ridiculous 120 FPS. Whether or not that will actively boost figure numbers remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: HALO remains a signature part of the console’s identity no matter how many companies Microsoft continues to add to its collection, and it will not give that title away without a fight.
Over-the-Top Anti-Tease for THE OUTER WORLDS 2
I’m not even sure if this really counts as a legitimate entry, but it was entertaining nonetheless: a cheeky little jab by the folks of Obsidian who understand how much these kinds of social events manufacture hype and how formulaic and empty all these trailers really are. Still, it’s cool to know that there will be a follow-up to the hyperspace-Capitalism IP in the future… eventually!
Return for the Rats in A PLAGUE TALE: REQUIEM
Among all of the shorter teases during the showcase, this was one of the few that legitimately piqued my interest, mostly due to being such an avid fan of the original. A cult hit and a win for the “AA” style of title, it’s perhaps not that surprising to see how Xbox is willing to invest in Asobo enough to procure some exclusivity status for the sequel to a dark, richly atmospheric dip into medieval France. There’s honestly not much to glean from this trailer outside the requisite tidal wave of rats and our two child leads now slightly more grown from their past tribulations, but with how strong the storytelling of INNOCENCE was, I have no doubt that the part two of this sordid tale is in good hands.
Something that starts with F… I dunno, it’s fucking F O R Z A!!!
You’d think that, considering it’s an Xbox and Bethesda showcase, the last major game they’d devote time to would be something like… I dunno, Elder Scrolls, or even spending some more time promoting HALO considering it’s the series’ anniversary and practically the face of the console line.
But they didn’t. You wanna know what the folks at Xbox reserved time for instead, with nearly double the resources and showcasing? Wanna know what game got one of those forced and scripted trailers with people from the production playing it to sell you on just how fucking fun the game is gonna be? It’s motherfucking FORZA HORIZON 5, baby! Every other game I mentioned? Don’t even fucking bother, that’s baby garbage; I’m a man. And you know what men like? Driving expensive cars around in a big empty version of Mexico, drifting in the desert in 4KHD instead of regular HD. Hitting fucking piñatas and giant bowling pins with my expensive car while driving around in the jungle n’ shit. Making minigames where I hit more shit with my car. In 4K HD! In Mexico! They really want you to know it’s in Mexico! Your ultimate Horizon adventure awaits, motherfucker!
…And a little sneaky reveal for REDFALL
Perhaps, just to save face, the actual end of the show was a sneaky little reveal of a new Arkane project called REDFALL. And on first glance… I’m not sure how it’s gonna play out. I mean, it has potential for sure, feeling like a kind of vague mishmash between what Fortnite was before it became a behemoth Battle Royale and the movie FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. But it’s also just a clusterfuck of ideas in general with no real gameplay to back it up yet: robots, magic, vampires, mercenaries, cringy millennial dialogue like calling the guy with a raven “Edgar Allen Bro.” Who knows what it’ll even turn out to be once it’s released (supposedly) next summer, but… here’s to hoping it’s good, I guess.