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A “Scientific Analysis” of How Much Gameplay was Shown at the Xbox Series X First Look

Deploying facts and logic to get to the bottom of the controversy!

Update 5/11/2020: based on feedback, some context for how this piece was written might be necessary. Please see: Scare Quotes.


This week we were all treated to a taste of what to expect with the upcoming ninth generation of consoles courtesy of Microsoft’s Inside Xbox program, which promised to show us, for the first time ever, actual gameplay running on (or, technically, “optimized for”) the boldly named Xbox Series X.

By the time you’re reading this, you’ve likely run into a few places covering the latest controversy™℠®© about how there was very little gameplay, and most specifically how a certain game really had none of it despite being called a “Gameplay Trailer,” but I won’t get too much into that.

Instead, I thought it might be beneficial to conduct an experiment, do some research, scout out a survey, or whatever really, and get to the bottom of just how much gameplay was really shown in general. I’ll break down each game in just a moment, and will reveal what my method was to conduct this totally legitimate approach to scientific inquiry (facts only), but first, I’ll just get to it:

TL;DR: 5 minutes, give or take, of actual gameplay across all trailers.

Most of these trailers had what appear to be gameplay sprinkled in between cinematic scenes–and some had essentially no gameplay at all. It’s hard to be totally exact, and much of this is due to the limitations of the scientific equipment I used.

Method of Analysis:

I tracked the amount of gameplay that was on screen by using the stopwatch function of my bleeding-edge iPhone 6s. There is to be a margin of error due to me missing the button a few times and because I was eating pizza with my other hand–but this is the cost of science. I also resorted to a “time calculator” on the internet because no one can really do math with time–I mean, 1 minute equals 60 seconds? Who the hell came up with that kinda math? Aaanywayyyy….Let’s get to the games!

Bright Memory Infinite


Titanfall? Oh, wait no, nevermind”
Total gameplay: approx. 1:30

Bright Memory Infinite (not to be confused with Halo Infinite) had a trailer run time of about 1:41 and most of it appears to be gameplay. It obviously looks incredibly clean and I expect that it was all scripted and that this is not the result of someone actually playing–but there’s little reason to doubt that this isn’t what the game will look like. This trailer was probably the closest to an actual gameplay trailer from the whole event.

It’s important to note that this was one of many trailers that featured a disclaimer describing this footage as being of a “game and console in development” and that “in-engine footage” was only “representative of Xbox Series X visual quality.” Cool!

Dirt 5

“Cars!”
Total gameplay: maybe six to ten seconds?

Yet another game that had the disclaimer stating this was only “representative” of what the final gameplay will look like…but really, racing games look pretty good these days and who’s to doubt the final version won’t probably look similar to this?

Madden NFL 21

Total gameplay: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

There were maybe a couple seconds of some pretty modern-looking graphics of a guy in a helmet tackling another guy in a helmet. I think this is supposed to be a sport? Not sure. Anyway, it was preceded and then followed up by a guy in a hat who I’m told is *checks notes* a “professional athlete.” Whatever that means.

The trailer also said something about being able to FEEL NEXT LEVEL–which is about how I felt after my third slice of pizza and another can of coke.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2

“Yes, mommy, please bite me. I’ve been such a bad girl.”
Total gameplay: approx. 34 seconds or so?

Okay, this is all the yes. I happen to really enjoy the janky mess of a first game and I am all about this one. At first I rolled my eyes at the tired trope of “happy music” set to horrific scenes, but oh, it’s just too much fun otherwise and I just can’t wait to take my vampiress for a trip around town to devour people…totally not an actual fantasy of mine.

I do wish this one had some more substance to it as it is yet another trailer with brief moments of what is probably something very close to gameplay interspersed between cinematic montages. Whatever–the talent behind this is trustworthy and it looks like a much better version of the first game. Oh, how I want this one right now. Bite me hard.

Scarlet Nexus

“My power is PSYCHOKINESIS!”
Total gameplay: approx. 25-30 seconds.

Hey! The Xbox is still trying to get that Japanese market. This one looks fun and there’s about 25 to 30 seconds of what looks like very honest gameplay, possibly even unscripted. If anyone is concerned that the Xbox Series X can’t run this…I dunno what to say.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

“Can I play as that bad ass lobster??”
Total gameplay: none?

I don’t think anyone is concerned that a new Yakuza game will fail to deliver and it’s one of those series I know I have to play, but I just haven’t. It looks like a combination of great story telling with just an absolute absurd sense of humor of the kind I simply adore; so hey, this one probably didn’t need any gameplay.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Total gameplay: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Yeah…this thing. I personally don’t care for Assassin’s Creed. I think the series is lame and this trailer doesn’t change any of that. This is the one everyone’s complaining about and, well, rightfully so? It’s called a gameplay trailer (STILL) and there’s like five seconds of some stuff that looks like something that might be in the gameplay–but there ain’t no real gameplay here, folx.

To me the more fascinating thing was what Creative Director Ashraf Ismail had to say about what Xbox Series X brings to this title:

Assassin’s Creed has always been committed to new technologies in order to push the most immersive experiences we possibly can and so to have something like incredibly fast loading times means that we can remove some of that friction from the immersion and create a game that’s much more immersive.”

Ashraf Ismail, Creative Director for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

That’s THREE times the immersion!

Second Extinction

“Dinosaurs are alive? No, we must do something about that.”
Total gameplay: around 30 seconds

Somewhat similar to Bright Memory, this one had a fair amount of gameplay, mostly disjointed jump cuts, but still enough to get a sense for what it will play like–which is probably like a slightly better Dinosaur Hunt. (Okay, it’ll probably be more than slightly better than that.)

The Ascent

“Maybe I’ll enjoy this more than RUINER?”
Total gameplay: approx. 30 or so seconds.

This one looks pretty good, aside from the usual cyberpunky “oh the poor working class are like slaves” kinda stuff which is just so played out at this point and has really left behind the purer Gibson-esque roots of the genre–but maybe this one will prove me wrong. The gameplay shown here looks trustworthy and quite appealing. Bring it on!

The Medium

“Akira Yamaoka? YASSSSSS”
Total gameplay: 15 seconds or so?

This one is mostly cinematic flair, but hey, it looks good. Totally down with this vibe and the Bloober Team did a pretty fantastic job with Blair Witch, so I’m excited to check this one out.

Chorus

Don’t bore us, get to the….
Total gameplay: maybe ten to 12 seconds or so.

This one also looks promising–the gameplay here is cut in between some cinematics, but there’s nothing here that I’d doubt the Xbox Series X (or even a base Xbox One, to be honest) couldn’t handle.

Call of the Sea

“Oh, Harry…”
Total gameplay: approx 50 seconds.

This one looks like a good time, and that little thing at the end definitely makes me wonder what they’re gonna do with this take on what is likely to be another puzzley-walky-simulator thing. Mostly short moments of gameplay that jump in and out in total montage style here (as everything else has largely been)–but there’s nothing unreasonable here. It’s not like this is Assassin’s Creed or something.

Scorn

“The lawyers representing the H.R. Giger estate would like to have a word with you.”
Total gameplay: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I love H.R. Giger’s work, so this is definitely one I’ll be looking forward to. There doesn’t seem to be any gameplay in this trailer, but whatever. Video games look great these days, so is there any reason to think it won’t look like this? Still, would’ve been nice to see what this game intends to do aside from intellectual property theft.


So out of a roughly half-an-hour presentation of “next-gen gameplay,” there was really only about five minutes of anything we might actually consider gameplay. There’s a lot of thought and discussion to be had about what we ought to expect from events like this which really, in all honesty, are nothing more than single components inside larger marketing strategies. Regardless, there probably should be a bit more honesty about what we should expect to see out of a trailer or a reveal event like this. There’s also the fact that there’s a damn global pandemic and we’re all working from home, so there should be a lot of credit given to those who played a role in putting this all together.

It seems right to say, however, that the whole Assassin’s Creed issue might’ve been avoided had they said something along the lines of “this trailer represents our vision for the game and we’ll show you gameplay at a later date” or whatever.

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