As the launch of Xbox One X nears, Microsoft Studios is having its worst ever year

A screenshot from Crackdown 3.Microsoft

There's never a good time to have a bad year, but for Microsoft's Xbox division 2017 has been a particularly badly-timed stinker following the delay of Crackdown 3, which had been earmarked as a launch title for the new Xbox One X console.

Microsoft has lagged behind Sony's PlayStation 4 ever since Xbox One was first announced over three years ago. Under the guidance of Phil Spencer, Xbox has done a great deal to remedy its problems, but now more than ever was meant to be the time for a comeback.

Xbox hyped its incredibly-powerful, native 4K console Project Scorpio for a year before finally revealing it as the Xbox One X at E3 in June.

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The console, alongside last year's Xbox One S, is meant to represent a new era for the Xbox brand. A fresh start.

Crackdown 3 was meant to launch alongside the console on 7 November, but now the only big-budget game supporting the platform will be Forza Motorsport 7.

Racing games are always great for showing off the visual capabilities of new hardware, but a major console release needs more. It certainly can't help that this year's Forza is the seventh in as many years.

Microsoft isn't expecting Xbox One X to close the gap on Sony quickly, and will know its price likely means it doesn't even top the sales of Xbox One S this Christmas. Its purpose is to offer players a choice in a console's capabilities, and its price.

It still needs games though, and it doesn't have much this year or next. In 2017 Microsoft Studios has released to retail Halo Wars 2, and will release Forza Motorsport 7 and Super Lucky's Tale - which with all the respect in the world is not going to be a system seller. Even with digital games it has disappointed.

In the heyday of the Xbox 360, Microsoft published between seven and 13 retail games each year between 2007 and 2013. It released seven in 2014 and 2015, five in 2016 and just three this year.

Next year there will be Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Crackdown 3. It is certainly a huge improvement, but Microsoft needs a big hitter and a system seller.

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Considering the two major series Microsoft could look toward, they no longer appear to fit the bill. Halo and Gears of War have already made their Xbox One debuts, and didn't return with the same impact they once had.

Microsoft needs something different, an entirely new game on which the future of Xbox can be built. Ideally, such a game would have been ready for the release of Xbox One X, but there's only so much ground to be gained if you're already starting on the back foot.

This deceleration in releases, coupled with the delay of Crackdown 3 and cancellation of Scalebound earlier this year, point to Microsoft being in some trouble.

It could also be in a period of transition however. We saw it with Nintendo. They took a hit with Wii U, and eased off the pedal ahead of the launch of Switch. They're now enjoying not only their best year in some time, but arguably one of the best years any video game company has ever had.

Whether Microsoft has big plans for the future or not, it needs them, and they're overdue.

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