We're in the thick of E3 2019; there's no turning back now. Don't bother dialing your phone and saying "Mom, pick me up, I'm scared." Microsoft had its press conference today, and we learned about the next machine in the system's bloodline. The gauntlet is down.
I say "We learned about Microsoft's next machine" with a small shrug because honestly, we didn't learn too much. Its code name is Project Scarlett (I'm hoping there's some kind of custom chip set code named "Rhett"), and it will support 8K resolution as well as framerates up to 128 FPS. It'll hit shelves Holiday 2020.
The reveal of Scarlett ultimately isn't as exciting as some of us hoped. We didn't get a real name, let alone a glimpse of the hardware. But Microsoft did one very smart thing when it pulled back the curtain on Scarlett: It also gave us a preview of the next Halo game, Halo Infinite, and announced Infinite is launching alongside Scarlett next Fall.
Microsoft clearly took an important lesson from Nintendo when the latter launched the Switch. System specs don't mean much, especially if you don't have any tech demos to show those specs in action (which Microsoft didn't). You can stand in front of an audience and say "8K resolution" and "120 FPS" all day, but they don't mean anything. I'm not even convinced our eyes can detect 120 FPS, and I'm worried peering at an "8K" image will somehow teleport me to the Cenobites' corner of Hell. That's why Microsoft was smart to tell us we can expect Halo Infinite on the same day Scarlett launches.
Halo Infinite is, in other words, in position to potentially be Microsoft's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Its debut trailer doesn't run at 120 FPS. It's not at 8K. That doesn't matter. Breath of the Wild started life as a Wii U project before Nintendo promoted it to become the Switch's killer launch app. When the Switch's weak specs caused our faith in the system to falter in January 2017, Nintendo laid out a breathtaking(!) trailer for Breath of the Wild as if to say, "here's what's waiting for you if you buy our system." To appropriate (and butcher) the words of political commentator James Carville, "It's the games, stupid."
Granted, a new Halo game might not wield the same emotional clout as a new Zelda adventure. The last mainline entry in the series, 2015's Halo 5, reviewed well and did solid numbers at retail, but Master Chief's strongest days as a gaming icon on almost on par with Mario are behind him. Microsoft clearly wants to change that, and with Halo Infinite headlining Scarlett on the day of launch, it might be able to. Infinite's debut trailer, which features a homesick space pilot resuscitating Master Chief and showing him the shattered remnants of the titular Halo, sets the stage for a potentially strong story campaign. 343 Games will have to pull out something truly special for the multiplayer, given the intense competition in that genre, but Halo was once the undisputed king of console multiplayer. It can grab that crown again if it truly believes in itself (OK, now I'm just lobbing inspirational posters at Microsoft).
Microsoft does need to remember one important thing about the Switch reveal, however: Breath of the Wild was just one page of the handheld console's success story. The Switch's first year line-up was excellent, period, and featured exclusives like Super Mario Odyssey. Breath of the Wild also garnered tons of social media discourse thanks to its excellent review scores—not to mention it plays very differently from any 3D Zelda game before it, which really piqued everyone's interest. If Halo Infinite proves to be the only must-have game in the Scarlett's launch window, and if its reception is anything less than "Wow!", people might find something else to spend their money on. The holiday season is filled with temptations vying for our time and money.
Stick with us; we'll sort out what's what soon enough. Make sure to visit our E3 2019 guide for information about show times, announcement summaries, and information!