On May 7, Microsoft held an Inside Xbox presentation, which gave viewers a first look at some games coming to the Xbox Series X. Its primary goal was to drum up excitement for Xbox audiences and potential newcomers by highlighting a slew of games they would be able to play. But though it showed off some promising IPs, many viewers had expected more from the hyped up event.
This week, Summer Game Fest, took a different approach to a reveal. With only a day’s notice, Geoff Keighley, creator of Summer Game Fest, announced a special showcase and interview. This turned out to be a conversation and demo from Epic Games the broke down its upcoming game engine, Unreal Engine 5.
This is an approach Microsoft could have benefitted from. While Microsoft has many strong games coming to its console and the Inside Xbox backed that up with titles such as Scorn, Call of the Sea and the long awaited sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, fans expected more from the first look at Series X gameplay it had promised. The games shown off may have looked nice, but the presentation was full of cinematics and brief trailers with little to indicate what actual gameplay would be like.
Especially glaring was the section on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which Microsoft and Ubisoft had promoted as if it were a true gameplay trailer. Instead, the trailer showed off some more locations and battles, but not gameplay as was promised. The game’s director Ashraf Ismail addressed the issue on Twitter.
Xbox executive Aaron Greenberg also acknowledged fan concerns, conceding that Microsoft set expectations too high for the event. While clearly a lot of work went into the presentation from Microsoft and the developers whose work was showcased, the event clearly wasn’t properly advertised. While it may have technically offered a first look at Series X gameplay, the way it was promoted understandably led many to anticipate more.
On the other hand, Epic Games’ preview of Unreal Engine 5 included a demo of real-time footage, providing a clear example of what the new software does. Since it was shown on a PlayStation 5, it also quietly displayed what the upcoming hardware will be capable of as well. While the demo isn’t a real game and it isn’t an indicator of what more complicated projects will look like once the engine is available next year, it clearly broke down what gamers can expect visually from next-gen.
Unreal Engine 5 is undeniably impressive. Models shown in the demo are made up of millions of triangles, using textures are are film-quality with 8K resolution textures. It also includes something known as multibounce illumination, which makes the light source instantly react to cast accurate shadows wherever it is placed. It also handles sound well, emulate real world spaces through convolution reverb from sound bites recorded within their real-world equivalents. Ultimately, the engine seeks to provide a more immersive and realistic experience for players, using robust features to make its game worlds feel more dynamic and believable.
This is what people expect to see from next gen: powerful technology that justifies the cost of the latest console. This demo, meant for the canceled Game Developers Conference, gave an actual glimpse of what we’ve only heard about in the abstract for so long. What Summer Game Fest demonstrated was an in depth look at what next-gen is capable of and a conversation with Epic that put into perspective what Unreal Engine 5 can do and what gamers can expect as a result.
Microsoft has been good about showing off certain aspects of the Series X, but gameplay is the fundamental core of the medium, not just console specs. While the company has been pretty good so far about showing off its upcoming console and implementing consumer-friendly features, the Inside Xbox was a clear misstep, and a misstep in the most important area. By announcing the event a week in advance and promoting it as a gameplay reveal, Microsoft let a lot of fans down. On the other hand, viewers went into Epic’s announcement with fewer expectations, and what it had to show off was impressive. While both announcements should have gotten gamers excited for next-gen, unfortunately, only one succeeded.
While Microsoft's Inside Xbox failed to deliver gameplay as promised, Epic Games' Unreal Engine 5 demo was able to deliver next-gen hype.