Hands-on with console exclusives at the Xbox One Tour
The Xbox One is fast approaching its Nov. 22 release date, and Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to convince gamers to make the switch to the next generation of console gaming. As part of its promotion, the company is hosting several special events around the world and inviting anyone to get a taste of the new console's lineup firsthand. Gizmag caught up with the Xbox One Tour in Dallas, Texas where some of the most hyped-up, exclusive titles for the console were available to try, such as Dead Rising 3, Killer Instinct, and Ryse: Son of Rome.
The console itself
At the Xbox One Tour, the games were definitely the star of the show, so only beta versions of the console were available to run each demo. Unfortunately this meant there were no opportunities to explore the Xbox One's revamped dashboard or system menus, but I was still able to see the upgraded visuals and had plenty of hands-on time with the controller.
Holding the new controller feels nearly identical to holding an Xbox 360's. It's a little lighter and slimmer, but most of the buttons are in the same location, and it took me no time at all to start playing with it comfortably. The two thumbsticks have been redesigned so they're easier to grip, and the disc-like D-pad has been replaced with a cross-shaped one that seems much more precise. The Start and Back buttons have also been replaced by Menu and View buttons, which serve almost the same functions, but are much easier to press.
One feature of the controller that has noticeably improved is the haptic feedback. While the Xbox 360's entire controller vibrates all at once to signify an explosion or an earthquake, the Xbox One controller is capable of localizing the vibrations to more specific points on your hand, thanks to a couple extra motors near the triggers. The most common example of this is in shooting games, where pulling the right trigger causes the button to shudder simultaneously, almost mimicking the kick of the gun. It was a distracting sensation the first time I noticed it, but the feeling soon faded into the background and ended up adding to the games' immersion.
Many of the titles that were on show represent some of the best graphics that will be available on home consoles, but it was still hard to shake the feeling that this wasn't much of a dramatic leap in visuals from past machines. Most of the games seem to have the same amount of detail applied to them as titles that have been released this year, like Grand Theft Auto V. In many games, the main improvement seems to be in the draw distance (i.e. how far in front of your character the game renders objects and the environment). That's not to say the visuals weren't impressive on their own, but we'll have to see if game developers are able to get more out of the hardware over the next few years.
In the meantime, onto the games!
Crimson Dragon has gained a fair amount of attention since it was first revealed, particularly since it shares the same director and overall design as the Panzer Dragoon series, which still has a strong following. The new title certainly is gorgeous to watch, and a lot of care has gone into designing the dragons and other fantasy-inspired creatures in the game. Sadly though, the actual gameplay seems to fall flat.
It's an “on rails” shooter, meaning you don't really control the dragon's path, but instead dodge incoming projectiles while aiming a targeting reticule that locks onto attacking monsters. Players can also swap a dragon's weapons and upgrade their abilities, though most of these features were unavailable in the demo I played. This type of gameplay has worked well in the past, but in Crimson Dragon it just came across as tedious.
I played through one of the early levels twice (the only one available) and even though the game gave me high marks each time, I never felt in control of the action all that much. I'm almost certain I could have achieved the same results by closing my eyes and pressing the trigger buttons repeatedly. One part also had me collecting a string of glowing beacons by guiding the dragon into them, which was likely meant to give players a break, but only served to remind me that I was playing a video game – and a boring one at that.
Later levels in the game might offer more variety and challenge, but the short gameplay I witnessed didn't make for a very engaging experience.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Microsoft has been pushing Ryse as the launch title that best shows off the new console's graphical abilities, and it's easy to see why. Of all the games I tried out, it was certainly the best looking, thanks in large part to its realistic graphics and animation, especially during combat.
The demo restricted me only to the game's Gladiator Mode, which tasks players with defeating increasingly difficult waves of barbarians inside the Roman Colosseum. After choosing from a selection of special powers – including the ability to slow down time, regain health from kills, and push back enemies, amongst others – I was dropped into the arena with just a sword and shield, as well as a few environmental traps.
Combat took some time (and one death) to get used to, since it relies mainly on anticipating when each enemy in a group is about to attack as they surround you. Except for some stronger foes later on, most of the grunts can be dispatched by parrying their blows and slicing at them until a skull symbol appears over their heads, indicating when you can perform a finishing move to take them out for good. Except for the gruesome executions, which usually involve chopping off a limb or two before dealing the final blow, the rhythmic fighting system reminded me of Batman: Arkham Asylum in many respects.
Overall it was entertaining, but I could see this getting monotonous over the course of a few hours. The story mode adds some scripted action sequences and a legion of soldiers to command through the Kinect, so hopefully the extra variety can keep the game interesting.
Dead Rising 3
There are many Dead Rising fans who will pick up an Xbox One just for the latest entry in the series, and fortunately, it seems they won't be disappointed. It may have a darker color palette and a grittier tone, but the newest installment still retains the signature over-the-top feel that the franchise is known for.
The brief demo I played thrust me into a zombie-filled playground with a full inventory of offbeat weapons at my disposal and no goals except to cause as much mayhem as possible. This time around, full-sized vehicles have been added to the arsenal, and you can hop into almost any of the abandoned ones you see on the street, including police cars, motorcycles, and even a backhoe. Just like any good zombie movie though, the cars won't provide much protection, as the undead will attempt to pull you out the windows and even cling to the roof as you try to drive away.
The developers have said the Xbox One hardware allows three times as many enemies to be rendered on screen at once compared to previous games, and it certainly shows. In more crowded areas, seemingly thousands of zombies can be seen in every direction with large groups appearing like a grotesque tidal wave when they lurch towards you all at once. The gore appears more detailed than previous games as well, since enemies split apart more precisely when you hack at them, exposing organs and bone underneath. That said, the game did freeze for about ten seconds right after I crashed a car and hurtled through the windshield into a throng of waiting enemies.
The demo didn't give me enough time to explore the story or new vehicle crafting modes at all, but Dead Rising 3 was easily the most entertaining game there and already looks like a worthy reason to pick up an Xbox One.
Kinect Sports Rivals
Of course, it wouldn't be an Xbox event without the obligatory Kinect game. Like its predecessor, Kinect Sports Rivals is a collection of motion-controlled games that are mainly intended to show off the new Kinect sensor's capabilities. The finished game will have several sports that make full use of the gesture controls, but Wake Racing was the only one available for this demonstration.
The controls are meant to replicate the act of driving a real Jet Ski: holding both hands out with clenched fists activates the throttle, opening your hands hits the brakes, and turning both hands at the same time adjusts the steering. For the most part, the game responded accurately to my movements, so the improved Kinect seems to be doing its job.
Even with the gimmick of motion controls however, this portion of the game makes for a rather bland racing experience. There are a few jumps and specific sections of the track where the water is distinctly rougher, but otherwise it played just like any other game with high-speed watercraft races. Hopefully the other sports in the collection can pick up the slack.
There hasn't been a new Killer Instinct game since the early days of the Nintendo 64, so fans of the series are understandably excited to see the series reappearing. I doubt those fans will be disappointed, since the classic characters look better than ever and the gameplay remains firmly focused on stringing together outlandish combos.
For the demo, I was paired up for a few matches against another attendee that had also never touched the new game before, but said he'd played the older games. Of the eight characters slated for the full release, only Jago, Glacius, Thunder, and Sabrewulf were unlocked. Once the first match began, I was immediately taken back to that fiercely competitive feeling from playing in the arcades in my youth. Unfortunately, it also took me back to that frustrating feeling of being absolutely decimated while trying to feebly pull off the few combos and special moves I could remember.
Like most fighting games, Killer Instinct is near-impossible to just pick up and play. You might be familiar with the controls and even the characters' moves, but it still takes some serious practice to get the timing just right in a fast-paced fight. To the game's credit however, it truly recreates the classic title with some excellent visuals, and it's still incredibly satisfying to land a devastating stream of blows on your opponent.
On the plus side, the game will be released for free with only Jago unlocked and additional characters available for purchase, so anyone with an Xbox One will be able to try it out. Other than the die-hard Killer Instinct fans though, most people probably won't play it for more than a few rounds before quietly moving on to something with a shallower learning curve.
Forza Motorsport 5
The Forza Motorsport series has provided some of the best looking racing games since the original Xbox, and the newest title looks ready to carry on that tradition. The graphics look almost photorealistic, and except for a trail of guide arrows on the track, you'd be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the game and video footage of an actual car race at times.
The demo only provided the bare essentials of a racing game: four cars to choose from, one track, and a team of AI opponents. I opted for the McLaren P1 since it's the car featured in most of the promotional materials, including the box art. Even with so few elements in place, the realism of the race seemed spot on, right down the tense feeling of slamming into another car and sliding off the track. It takes a lot of finesse and patience to push past the other racers, and remaining focused is made all the more difficult by the gorgeous scenery around every turn. Probably my favorite part of the whole race though was seeing the sorry state of my once-beautiful car after I'd passed the finish line.
Sadly none of the Xbox One's cloud features appeared to be activated at the tour, so there was no way to try out the brand new Drivatar system, which creates an AI driver based on your driving habits and automatically pits it against other players online. In general though, if you liked the past Forza Motorsport games, there's a very good chance you'll like this one as well.
Only weeks away
We're a few short weeks away from officially beginning the next generation of console gaming, and there are already a few standout titles launching on both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The PS4 also appears to have a solid lineup to choose from, but it seems like we might have to wait a few years to see what the new hardware can really do. So far, the Xbox One has a decent selection of exclusive games under its belt, but it's clear that the console's most defining titles have yet to be revealed.