Microsoft’s Xbox brand is a migrating bird. Once aloft on the tumultuous winds of insular experiences powered by Kinect and Live platforms, the weather is changing with a new leader at the helm. Phil Spencer is winging a huge 180 as leader of the Xbox division, talking in PC-friendly language about the unification of the Xbox experience across the console and Windows 10 PC platforms. So what does this potentially mean for PC gamers? Besides hopefully never dealing with Windows Live again, it means we’ll be seeing more Microsoft games hit both the Xbox and PC. What remains unclear is exactly to what extent. The Xbox One is valuable to Microsoft, and to have 100% day and date parity between it and Windows 10 would diminish the need for a console, so the language around Xbox ‘exclusives’ and whether or not they’ll ever land on PC, while inspiring, is still pretty hazy.
But what about the Xbox One exclusives already available or due to hit soon? How likely are they to land on the PC too? I don my thinking cap and speculate.
There’s not much in the way of hard evidence indicating a PC release for Gears 4, but the biggest clue is the remastered release of Gears of War coming (presumably) sometime this next year. Why put out the first game, throw some marketing and money behind it, all for a remastered version of a game that didn’t even play out in full on PC? I’d bet it’s not strictly a friendly gesture, but a stopgap between the Xbox release of Gears 4 and eventual PC version.
Why it’d be best on PC: Unreal keeps looking better and better on the PC, and Gears 4 would no doubt follow suit. Throw in some long term support for a multiplayer mode and there’s potential to keep a player base longer than any console can.
PC players are a stubborn bunch. Even so many years after the original Halo came to PC, it still stands as one of my favorite multiplayer experiences. Halo 2 came after, hampered by the clunky Windows Live shell, effectively snuffing out a chance for a long term community to form. After a free-to-play Halo was released in Russia using Halo 3 code, players started to mine the data as attempt to rebuild Halo 3 on their own. With the recent release of Halo 5 on Xbox One, the question grows. Why isn’t one of the best shooters made by the same folks behind Windows on the PC? Turns out, the wait might be over soon. When GamesRadar asked 343 Industries franchise director Frank O’Connor about a potential PC release, he said, "There is plenty of chance that Halo 5 could appear on the PC,” though the statements were later washed over by a PR representative. So it’s not an outright confirmation, but based on his casual delivery, there’s no doubt in my mind that Halo on PC is definitely a regular conversation at Halo HQ.
Why it’d be best on PC: For any competitive scene to properly cocoon, the PC is the place to be. And think of the mods. Forge mode, a built in creative suite, is interesting enough on its own, but a single Halo game could live forever on the PC if Microsoft cracked it open just a tiny bit.
Forza might have the haziest evidence. Back at GDC 2014, a DirectX 12 demo showed the ease with which games could be ported to the PC, and Forza was the guinea pig. It looked great, ran great, and sent everyone’s mind-rims spinning. We all leapt to the conclusion that Forza was coming to PC, and it’s not a completely unfair leap to make. If it’s easy to port, then why not port it? PR had to calm everyone down with Xbox exclusive incantations, and while there are no longer gobs of car hope rolling about, I’m still not convinced it’s impossible.
Why it’d be best on PC: Racing games do exceedingly well on PC, especially enthusiast racers that lean towards straight up simulation. Eccentric driving peripherals have a home on PC whereas on consoles they might not get official support. Give the fantasy PC version some cool car customization tools and watch the magic happen.
Remedy Entertainment, renowned for Max Payne and Alan Wake, developed an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for their next game, Quantum Break. It’s no surprise why; the game was created in parallel with a TV series that later got assimilated into the game itself when Microsoft pulled the plug on its Xbox entertainment division. The game is a massive production, a risky, high concept narrative production and definitely needs the support it’s getting from Microsoft, it’s just that Remedy has roots planted firmly in PC gaming, and to see any game of theirs miss our favorite platform entirely would be a massive bummer.
Hope yet remains. Sam Lake, Creative Director of Quantum Break, has expressed a desire to see it on the PC, and Phil Spencer simultaneously killed and created hope in one fell swoop for three games in a PC Gamer interview at E3 this year, saying "In the case of things like Scalebound or Crackdown or Quantum Break, you know, just to be completely honest with you, we started those games before we really looked at expanding into Windows in the way that I wanted to bring as part of becoming head of Xbox.” He continued, “Going to those teams mid-cycle and saying: ‘Hey, by the way, I want to add a platform,’ didn’t really feel like necessarily the best way to end up with the best result for the game. They had a path that they were on. It’s not to say those games could never come to Windows, but right now we’re on the path to finish the great games that they’ve started, and I want that to be the case.” So it might be a hot minute before we see Quantum Break on the PC, if at all. Cross those fingers. I’m confident.
Why it’d be best on PC: Quantum Break looks amazing. I’d love to see it in 2560x1440 at 60 fps. And even though I’m sure it plays just fine with a controller, just like Max Payne, it’s so much easier to pull of cool action movie stunts with the precision a mouse gives.
As per the Spencer quotes, putting Crackdown on PC seems in line with their new philosophy, just a bit late to the party. All we really have to go on is Microsoft’s changing philosophy, but it seems Crackdown would make a great PC game. Open world, destructibility, and mad modding potential. It’s hard to look at Crackdown and not think of Just Cause.
Why it’d be best on PC: Microsoft can’t ignore the lifespan an open world game like GTA gains from mod support on the PC. Though we’ve yet to see exactly what the new Crackdown will play like, we do know it’s going to be a destructible physics playground, which sounds like quintessential PC fodder.
Scalebound feels like another game that would benefit from a staggered PC release. While I’d love it day and date with Xbox One, I can understand that developing for the PC isn’t especially easy, more so if the mandate is to make it for a specific platform initially. But it’s a brand new title and might have a hard time finding a massive audience on the Xbox. We don’t have much to go on other than hazy Spencer quotes, which aren’t a confirmation, but a roundabout acknowledgement from Microsoft that they’re at least considering the possibility of porting more games to PC.
Why it’d be best on PC: From the small bits we’ve seen of Scalebound, there’s quite a bit happening on screen at once. Gigantic beasts, open expanses, systems on systems—it would no doubt benefit from a powerful PC. I can’t imagine it’ll run on Xbox One without making a few compromises in resolution and framerate—especially the framerate. Imagine it buttery smooth on PC. Oof.
Keeping a new franchise exclusive to a platform is a risky endeavor. And if the game is unique enough, it has potential to become a viral sensation on PC. ReCore isn’t an indie game, but based on what we’ve seen, it might behoove Microsoft to release a game with as much immediately apparent character on the PC. Beyond Good and Evil and Psychonauts are two similar games that didn’t set the world on fire when they were initially released, but gathered momentum over time. Whether or not it actually shows up on PC is an unknown, though one of the developers listed it as an Xbox One and PC game on their portfolio for short bit. Honest mistake or valid information? Too early to say, but I’m personally assured it’ll show up.
Why it’d be best on PC: Hard to say at this point, considering we don’t really know much about the game. If anything, it’s easier for a game to sell over time on the PC, and games that experiment with narrative, mechanics, and the like have a better chance to find a niche, fiercely loyal audience.