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Monday, May 20, 2024

The Xbox Direct Delivered the Optimism Xbox Fans Have Waited For

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I went at Microsoft pretty hard for the company’s baffling no-show at December’s massive Game Awards event. As such, it’s only fair I give them credit where credit is due: its first-ever Developer_Direct – aka Xbox Direct for those of us who don’t have the patience to type that damn underscore every single time – was a success. The 40-minute broadcast wisely mimicked the hostless format that Nintendo pioneered and Sony smartly stole, and as a result we saw five games, got four release dates, and perhaps most of all, took away some optimism for the months to come.

Microsoft managed to pleasantly surprise everyone by dropping a new Tango Gameworks rhythm-action game on us called Hi-Fi Rush. It immediately looked like a delightful mashup of Sunset Overdrive, Ninja Gaiden, and Guitar Hero. Even better, Tango released it right after the Direct ended, making this one of the first same-day announcement+release combos in quite some time. It’s not a stretch to say that such a surprise would not have been possible without Xbox Game Pass, where word-of-mouth can build up over time, and a game’s success is not as heavily dependent on a pre-order campaign and months of marketing hype.

Meanwhile, Redfall was the headliner, closing things out with a deeper look at Arkane’s vampire-themed FPS. It still clearly retains Arkane DNA, but it’s also decidedly different from the studio’s previous emergent-gameplay offerings like Dishonored and Prey. Instead, you’ll do a lot of shooting with a lot of cool weapons and against a lot of wild enemies, from vampires that shroud the battle arena in darkness to huge bosses that almost resemble Strikes from Destiny. It’ll be out on May 2 – which should be just enough of a head start before multi-decade-old franchise juggernauts like Zelda, Diablo, Street Fighter, and Final Fantasy clog up the Summer (not to mention Rocksteady’s long-awaited Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League).

We saw five games, got four release dates, and took away some optimism for the months to come

In fact, the only real disappointment of the day was from Forza Motorsport. Not the game, mind you. Once again, it looks incredible. The Forza series has never been lacking visually and the rebuilt-for-next-gen-only reboot (i.e. there will not be an Xbox One version) wowed us with its paint reflections, dynamic day/night cycle, and realistic dirt accumulations on its 500 cars. And that was just in the compressed 1080p livestream. It’ll look even more glorious in its native 4K/60fps. Instead, the letdown took the form of Forza Motorsport’s release date, or, more accurately, the lack of one. Given that Microsoft made it clear up front it would be focusing on four games for this Direct, and that all four of them were expected in the first half of the year as per the company’s decree at last Summer’s Xbox Showcase, it was fair play to expect to learn exactly when we’d get to play each of them. But unfortunately we didn’t even get a season to expect Forza in – a generic “2023” was all we got, all but confirming that the next-gen racer will slip to the second half of the year.

In summary, if Microsoft takes away anything from its first Direct, it should be these two things:

1) Keep using this format for non-E3 showcases. It works. Never break out the overproduced, overly long Inside Xbox format again.

2) Keep underpromising and overdelivering. It was made clear that Starfield would get its own Direct later and not be a part of this one. That helped calibrate audience expectations going in, and those expectations were exceeded when Hi-Fi Rush hit the screen, and then again when it released on the same day.

Ryan McCaffrey is IGN's executive editor of previews and host of both IGN's weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He's a North Jersey guy, so it's "Taylor ham," not "pork roll." Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.

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