Xbox recently held their first look for the Series X, showcasing gameplay of titles arriving on the new console. While fans eagerly awaited the reveal, enthusiasm waned shortly after. Tweets popped up stating things like “Once again all hype and no bite” and “This is the most lackluster next-gen announcement I’ve seen in a while.” The showcase left much to be desired. Not even the promised Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gameplay was delivered. Instead, a short cinematic presenting in-game models, but with pre-rendered environments was shown.
The first look failed to hook fans with next-gen mechanics and graphics. Companies must learn the difference between in-engine cinematics and gameplay, and those differences should be respected during marketing to avoid misinforming the public. Some titles looked interesting, yet didn’t seem like a generational advancement in terms of graphics and mechanics. Mostly cinematic trailers were shown, meaning quick cuts and editing to create marketable videos. That’s not to say it was all bad—only terribly underwhelming for a next generation console reveal.
Thanks For the Gameplay
The lineup featured various unknown devs and new IP’s, which should’ve been a good thing, but fell flat due to the inability to distinguish these titles from the current generation. That’s likely due to many being cross-generational and thus hamstrung in terms of technological advancement. Only time will tell whether these games deliver the promises made for the new era of gaming.
One of the first games shown was Bright Memory: Infinite, a sci-fi first-person shooter with wall running, swordplay, grappling hooks, and futuristic cars. Bright Memory had one of the most cohesive gameplay trailers, showing a full segment without interruptions. However, what was shown was in-engine footage made only to represent gameplay. It didn’t show enough to generate real hype, especially with the abundance of shooters already on the market, but it shows promise. Bright Memory is being developed by Zeng Xiancheng, the single developer making up FYQD Personal Studio.
Second Extinction takes familiar concepts and adds dinosaurs, a fusion certain to entice all sorts of gamers. The three-player cooperative first-person shooter takes place on an Earth overrun by mutant dinos. Left 4 Dead with dinosaurs is basically what was shown. The trailer showed clips of in-game gunplay, pretty environments, and raptors being blown into meaty chunks by shotguns. Second Extinction looks generic on the surface. It isn’t the first title to try dino shooting, but maybe the devs have some tricks up their sleeves.
Developer Out of the Blue’s Call of the Sea gameplay trailer leaned toward cinematics. Set in the 1930’s, players explore a mysterious island, discovering its secrets, but not much else is known. In-game footage showed the player-character traversing the world, spectating different environments, but not much else. In fairness, the first-person adventure puzzle game is focusing on ambiance and setting to tell its story, rather than combat. Though, some puzzle solving gameplay would have been appreciated by fans.
The Ascent is a co-op top-down RPG set in a Cyberpunk world. The trailer shows in-game cinematics along with gameplay footage. It doesn’t look bad, but out of place in a lineup like this one. It looks like something that should have been showcased in an indie game show.
Bandai Namco’s new IP, Scarlet Nexus, puts players in control of Yuito Sumeragi, a psychokinetic warrior capable of launching objects with his mind. The third-person action game takes place in the techno-futuristic city New Himuka, featuring odd-looking flowerpot enemies. The trailer features bits of combat interspersed between other scenes, but no extended gameplay segments. Regardless, fans of the third-person action genre and anime art styles alike should keep an eye on this game.
Dirt 5 was officially announced with a trailer showing cars and environments. In terms of actual gameplay, not much more can be asked of Codemasters. Racing games tend to speak for themselves. As fifth in the series of rally racing games, Dirt 5’s announcement surely had fans of the series jumping for joy. The graphics don’t look as impressive as expected, and are unlikely to improve.
Chorus is a single-player space aerial shooter arriving some time in 2021. The trailer shows a mix of cutscenes and gameplay, again using sequences of cuts and edits for an aesthetically pleasing presentation. The result is an underwhelming trailer and a big question mark in the heads of viewers who haven’t the slightest idea what the game’s about. Everything known so far: There’s a protagonist piloting a ship used to fight in space, and there’s some nice particle effects.
Madden NFL 21 is coming to Xbox Series X. Who would’ve thought? The new game will feature better graphics, though from the trailer it’s hard to tell what “better” means. While EA hasn’t confirmed Smart Delivery, it did promise that owners of the Xbox One version of the game would receive the Xbox Series X version for free. The trailer showed maybe five seconds of gameplay, but it’s hard to tell.
Scorn, an atmospheric first-person horror adventure game developed by Ebb software, was first announced in 2014 after the studio started an unsuccessful kickstarter campaign. Despite this, the game remained in development and gathered private investors to deliver the 2020 Xbox First Look—a wonderfully grotesque cinematic trailer. However, it was just that: A cinematic trailer without a hint of gameplay footage. Horror fans will still rejoice as Scorn does have the makings of a great horror game.
The Medium, developed by Bloober Team (makers of Blair Witch, Observer, and Layers of Fear), displayed a gorgeous cinematic trailer with a tiny amount of gameplay shown at the end. Players take the role of Marianne, a medium caught between the real world and spirit world. Bloober Team promises more information soon, and asserts that they are making this game in their vision of “deep psychological horror.”
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the newest title in Sega’s Yakuza series, which is already out for PS4 in Japan. Sega promises Like a Dragon will be an Xbox Series X launch title and support cross-save functionality between Xbox One and Series X versions of the game, as well as smart delivery. The trailer had only cinematics and no gameplay aside from the summons.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 is the sequel to the cult classic 2004 vampire RPG. Players take the role of a freshly turned thin blood vampire, rising through the ranks of the Seattle vampire underworld in whatever way they see fit. The trailer showed cuts of combat but not much else, and certainly nothing congruous. The graphics and character models look like something expected from an early Xbox One game, but like its predecessor, its gameplay will be the staying power if there are any.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla was the main event—the moment viewers were waiting for. However, instead of gameplay footage, viewers were treated with an in-engine cinematic trailer, showcasing in-game character models with CG environments and effects. Everyone left the Xbox First Look with no more knowledge of Valhalla than they did going in. What they showed wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t what was expected, and for that bad marketing is to blame.
It’s possible companies don’t have gameplay footage recorded yet, or they aren’t ready to show it to the world. Xbox may have even wanted to save the good stuff for conferences later in the year. However, the problem isn’t the lack of gameplay. It’s the fact that millions of viewers were sitting at home bored and stressed during the pandemic, enticed by the words “gameplay reveals.” Quite frankly, that’s false marketing getting by on the technicality that an in-game cinematic counts as gameplay.
The First Look reveals missed many opportunities, the main one being to deliver the promised content. Xbox is likely saving gameplay for later down the road. It makes sense from a business perspective. However, next time, please call it “Xbox First Look: Cinematic Reveals for Upcoming Games”. However, it’s worth noting that Microsoft is aware the show’s criticisms and claims to be taking them into consideration for the future.