Microsoft have long been on the back foot through this generation, struggling to keep up with the hugely popular PlayStation 4 and having to recover the goodwill of the gamers were turned off by the Xbox One’s original vision. 2019 for the company was another year of consolidation and preparation for the next generation of consoles.
Microsoft games released in 2019
As you can see, Microsoft have had hardly any first party games to shout about through 2019. Crackdown 3’s eventual release saw mass indifference and mediocre reviews for a game that had struggled all through its development. Gears 5, on the other hand, might had rolled eyes at being yet another entry in the long-running cover shooter, but surprised with a rejigged single player campaign and new multiplayer mode.
However, the company seems well set for 2020 and the next generation. Rebranding their internal studios as Xbox Game Studios in February was a small but symbolic move, as they brought their acquisition spree to an end at E3 with Double Fine joining their line up. There’s now 14 studios working on all manner of games – some still working to finish off projects from before they were acquired – and with a leaning toward narrative RPGs that offers something very different to their competitors.
One thing that helped to sustain Xbox gamers through 2019 was Xbox Game Pass, with a number of timed exclusives from indies and third parties heading straight into the subscription service, including the critically acclaimed Outer Wilds, Blair Witch Void Bastards and a handful of others. That’s alongside the steady trickle of AAA games from the last few years. Though Sony has PlayStation Now, it’s Xbox Game Pass that’s been able to grab all the headlines through 2019.
A huge part of that was the reveal of Xbox Game Pass for PC. Coming at a cheaper introductory price and with a smaller and different selection of games, it’s a compliment to the Xbox subscription. With the ability to upgrade your existing Xbox Live and Game Pass subscriptions to the all-encompassing Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for just £1, I’m sure there’s a lot of early adopters here.
OK, so there’s one more first party exclusive to talk about, with the PC in its sights. While 343 Industries have been hard at work on Halo Infinite for quite some time now, they’ve also been improving and retrofitting Halo: The Master Chief Collection. First there was the 4K update for Xbox One X and pledge to improve matchmaking, and then in the middle of this year, it was the reveal of a full PC port of The Master Chief Collection, starting with a newly remastered Halo Reach for both console and PC. Thanks to its release earlier this month, the full Halo series is now available on Xbox One, with 2020 set to see everything else come to PC.
But again, the real focus for Microsoft hasn’t been on 2019, it’s been on 2020. All of their moves, have been looking to the next generation and getting an Xbox controller into as many hands as possible. The long in development Project xCloud got its first public preview, with Microsoft expanding their testing just as new competitor Google launched Stadia. Though not targeting ultra-high quality 4K, Project xCloud has 50 games on it for free right now, with the plans for 2020 being to fold it into Game Pass for free, and to simply let you stream any games you own digitally (which you can also obviously play directly on your Xbox).
TheirXO19 fanfest in London was all about that future, leaning heavily on Game Pass’ reams of upcoming games, and showcasing games like Flight Simulator and Bleeding Edge alongside Project xCloud demos. However, their coup de grâce was the reveal of Xbox Series X at The Game Awards, coming out of nowhere. Though the year has seen plenty of vague back and forth over next-gen ambitions and technology, codenames like Project Scarlett and speculation over ray tracing and SSDs, Microsoft have shot first with the tower-like reveal of their next-gen console’s design.
It’s not been a slam dunk though, with many surprised by the size and shape of the Series X, which will make it difficult to fit inside many TV cabinets, or simply finding the name a bit clumsy. Don’t worry though, because the Xbox Series X is actually just called Xbox, and it’s a Series X model of Xbox. Clear as mud.
A few fumbles aside, 2019 has seen Microsoft lay solid foundations for 2020. With a handful more games to tide them over to the next generation, they’re positioned strongly with the emergence of game streaming thanks to Project xCloud, they have a well-liked game subscription service in Xbox Game Pass (with all of Microsoft’s first party games included), and if the Xbox Series X is well priced and can get some performance wins over the PlayStation 5, Microsoft could easily steal a lead on the next generation.