An Exclusive Dilemma

Exclusives. They mean a great deal to many people but not everyone feels the same way. Some think they are insignificant as it’s multiplatformers that are normally the most popular titles.

Others think them as needless restriction on the player and that the games should be like home movie releases. Imagine a world where you can’t watch a Paramount Blu-Ray on a Sony Player or the latest Disney release won’t work on your Panasonic.

Seems crazy but that is the situation we are in with video games and it’s because of this that we have another, more vocal opinion. Those that believe a system lives or dies on the quality and quantity of its exclusives.

Xbox One has always had a lot of criticism in this area. It’s generally considered to not have that many and should you question the number (there are actually quite a few after all) then further caveats are introduced; indies don’t count (no matter how great they are) and “play anywhere” means there are no true exclusives as they are all on pc (and everyone always seems to have a rig powerful enough to run them better).

Those comments are normally from fans of the other systems. The problem is that, due to numerous high profile cancellations and studio closures, even Xbox diehards are starting to claim there aren’t enough games, though most I talk to admit they have a pile of shame they are already struggling to find time to play through. It’s these voices that have hit home with Xbox head Phil Spencer.
He recently said in an interview with Bloomberg “We need to grow and I look forward to doing that. Our ability to create content has to be one of our strengths.”

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Microsoft has committed to increasing investment in first party titles by creating or buying games studios to expand their exclusive portfolio. Now while I think it’s great that Microsoft’s is going to be giving us more games, I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive.

A large complaint thrown at Xbox is its reliance on its three tent pole franchises; Halo, Gears of War & Forza. Each now has its own devoted studio (343, The Coalition & Turn 10 respectively) and had numerous sequels and spin offs. The problem is that while people moan that these are the only exclusives Xbox cares about, the actual complaint should be aimed at us consumers.

This generation had seen several big “brand spanking new” IPs come exclusively to the Xbox One. Unfortunately, they did not get the attention they needed, and in some cases deserved, from the purchasing public to be considered a success.

Released alongside the original Xbox One console, Ryse was the graphical powerhouse in the launch line up. Sadly, its reputation was already damaged from an E3 trailer where it became known for its prevalence of QTEs. In reality they weren’t compulsory and were just used to perform gory finishers on your fallen foes but the damage was done. This combined with some rather harsh review scores meant that a lot of folks wouldn’t even give it a try. If they did they would have found a rather enjoyable brawler in the vain of God of War (though not as grand and mythical) with a great story, excellent character performances and surprisingly fun Kinect functionality.

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Then there was Sunset Overdrive, an awesome game. It was a bright, colourful, open world extravaganza. After a previous generation of Gears of War inspired brown grittiness, it was an retinal explosion of humorous cartoony action. Playing like a crazy blend of Jet Set Radio and Contra, fused with 4th wall breaking references, Sunset Overdrive reviewed well but for some reason just didn’t connect with the average consumer.

Coming from the same development studio that created Max Payne & its sequel, along with Xbox 360 exclusive Alan Wake, Quantum Break had a lot of expectation.

Expanding on Max Payne’s Bullet-time feature with all new time manipulation gameplay mechanics, the game also introduced an actual tv show into the proceedings. Starring X-men’s Shawn Ashmore and Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, the show proved to be the most interesting and also most divisive design decision in the game. Where some saw it as nothing more that intrusive live action cut scenes, others appreciated the studios attempt to meld the two media types together. The tv episodes would also reflect your choices made during key moments of gameplay.

Speaking of games with good pedigree, ReCore was created by a team that included Mark Pacini (director of the Metroid Prime series) and Keiji Inafune (designer of Mega Man, producer of…a ton of Capcom greatness). Though only a “budget” title, it had a great story, character models and solid controls. Plus, its use of platform traversal made the game something different in the Xbox library. Unfortunately, it launched with some off putting technical issues mainly regarding its loading times, though these were ultimately resolved and its graphics upgraded with the release of the Definitive Edition (which was also free to owners of the initial release).

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All of these games were new IPs, each had its own unique twist on its genre and each failed to sell sufficiently enough to greenlight a sequel. So yes, while I am genuinely excited that Xbox will be gifting us with more exclusives, more new IPs, I can’t say I’m confident that the player base will give these titles a chance to shine. My fear is that we will see a studio formed, a game ignored and a studio closed. But hey we’ll always have Halo, Gears of War and Forza, right?

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