When the Xbox One debuted at E3 in June this year, nearly everyone was up in arms about a host of controversial decisions. Most of these have been addressed, especially the important DRM issue, but up until EGX 2013 we hadn’t had any time to grab one of the controllers and start experiencing the next generation for ourselves.
My primary console this past generation was the Xbox 360, more out of necessity than anything else considering the wave of quality PlayStation 3 titles of late, so I was keen to see for my own eyes whether or not I’d like this expensive piece of machinery.
With the photos we’ve seen from Microsoft of their new console, it’s difficult to get a scale of just how big it is compared to the Xbox 360. My first encounter with it was in a demo where the console itself was sealed away in a windowed closet. Even through the little glass window I could see that the Xbox One is pretty large.
If I was to compare its size to anything, it would be the Phillips CD-I, but that was generations ago with not much going for it besides having a CD player. It wasn’t until I entered one of Microsoft’s big shacks they had set up that I was able to get a closer look at the hardware itself. They’ve obviously learned lessons from the debut of the Xbox 360 as the console looks well ventilated, and yet there was barely a sound coming from the console unit. Sure, it is more box-like than anything released in the last generation, but it looks tough enough to last. I’m quietly optimistic that there won’t be a repeat of the Red Ring Of Death fiasco, but we won’t know until launch…
Possibly the part of the Xbox One that I got the most contact with, and the part owners will be getting to know a lot more about post launch is the controller. The build quality of this control pad is deeply impressive, with possibly Microsoft’s most ergonomic design to date. The Gamecube controller for me is still the best controller there has ever been since the dawn of analogue sticks, but this comes narrowly close to topping it.
One part surrounded in mystery is what the replacement buttons for the Start and Back buttons do. I’d assume that one brings up open apps like your average tablet device – represented with the two squares, while the other acts like the pause button, bringing up various options – represented by the three lines. Each of the face buttons is exactly like the Xbox 360 pad in terms of position and functionality, while the Home button is now located at the top of the pad – though I was told at all booths not to push that button [Ed - Something I did my accident... Oops].
As for the control sticks, they feel like they aren’t going to wear down to a slippery surface any time soon. The d-pad makes fighting games playable with precision for the first time on an Xbox console, with certain games on show taking great advantage of the redesign. Each one feels responsive, direct, and even pushing them in gives a rather satisfactory click. Triggers vibrating when firing a gun or driving vehicles are a nice touch that may provide a little immersion when playing games.
If I have one minor complaint though, it is the bumper buttons. They feel a lot stiffer, possibly as a workaround for the fact that gamers complained when the shoulder buttons on the Xbox 360 pad came loose. As a result, it was hard to tell whether or not I had thrown a grenade in frantic multiplayer shooters like Battlefield 4.
Weight is normally an issue with control pads, such as the fervour surrounding Sony’s decision to change the classic DualShock design into the Sixaxis. Displeasure then came mostly from the fact it was too light. With the Xbox One controller, there are no such issues about it being as bulky/heavy as the original Xbox pad or as peculiar as the Sixaxis. For me, the PlayStation 4′s controller is nice, but the clever additions to the Xbox One pad make it the better gaming device.
Our Editor-in-Chief, David Howard agreed with me with regards to the controller.
“My foray with the Xbox One ceased at the playing of FIFA 14 due to time restraints,” he said, “but it was enough time to get to grips with the new controller for the first time. It feels startlingly similar to the current Xbox 360 controller with regards to form factor which means that it remains effortlessly comfortable and a satisfying weight. The buttons felt familiar whilst the d-pad was noticeably improved.”
“The rumbles on the triggers were certainly something new but a nice touch, although the analogue sticks weren’t anything to shout home about. Unfortunately, the placement of both the Xbox button and the two shoulder buttons felt just out of comfortable reach for me. It made changing player on FIFA 14 actually challenging, and although this may change with prolonged use it put a dampener on an otherwise delightful controller.”
Expos demonstrate why Kinect just hasn’t become popular. Despite it being bundled with the Xbox One from the start, meaning that there is a guaranteed installed user-base, the new Kinect still doesn’t register gestures properly. While the only game that uses Kinect on show was Rare’s Kinect Sports Rivals, it alone demonstrated that Microsoft’s device had a few issues that needed ironing out. As for how it looks, it emulates the hard edges that its daddy unit (the console itself) has. The statistics about how it can capture specific joints in your fingers, how it can work in low-lit conditions, being able to use it a short distance from your TV, they didn’t really demonstrate any of this on the show floor. Not even voice communication was used in any of the other demos to demonstrate the voice feature – perhaps the one thing gamers might be able to use it for when sitting comfortably on their sofa/beanbag with a controller in hand.
Forza Motorsport 5
It’s funny to realise that Project Gotham Racing 3 was the automobile poster-child for the Xbox 360, a series now usurped by Forza Motorsport. For the longest time, Sony dominated this market with Gran Turismo, whose long legacy dates back to the original PlayStation. In complete contrast, Forza is the new kid on the block by comparison spawning both the Forza Motorsport series and the less realistic but more accessible Forza Horizon.
Cars make such a great basis for seeing how far technology has come. I still remember being amazed by how the cars in Gran Turismo 3 looked on the PlayStation 2. Forza Motorsport 5 doesn’t buck this trend as not only are the cars themselves gorgeous, but the interiors look really amazing too. Driving around the track is a boy racer’s dream come true, as the vehicle being driven was responsive for quick manoeuvres and had enough grip through tight bends.
One thing was clear though – this was an early build. Even though we were driving around one track, it showed a remarkable downgrade in quality when compared to the cars driving along them. As such, it does make me wonder about just how far the Xbox One can be pushed. Was it just because it’s an early build and the developers wanted to prioritise the quality of the car models, or is it a sign of things to come? Who knows at this point, but I’m sincerely hoping that it’s only a momentary setback.
The demo was a multiplayer one, meaning that undoubtedly I got creamed by veterans of the previous titles. The battlefield was huge, taking place at an abandoned factory surrounded by dilapidated vehicles and two bases. Our objective was to take and hold as many of the four capture points as possible in order to preserve tickets – a pretty standard Battlefield affair. Running on the Xbox One, it really did showcase the fact the brand new console can comfortably match PC gaming, with high-res environments and a constantly high/smooth FPS count. Four classes include the Assault, Engineer, Recon and Support, each acting the same as their Battlefield 3 counterpart.
Two things struck me about this game. It was incredibly tricky to shoot as the recoil felt insanely off. Even short bursts of fire had ridiculous recoil, raising your gun to the point where you need to refocus to fire. Fine tuning is most certainly required before release for all the guns. Battlefield 4 also doesn’t seem to be doing anything that Battlefield 3 isn’t doing already. Now this could be because of the choice of map, a rather bland contrast to the one we all saw in EA’s E3 conference, but we hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. What was shown at E3 was what we want, not “Battlefield 3 with better textures!”
Written by Editor-in-Chief David Howard.
This year’s footballing sim is something I’ve already regarded as “the best FIFA to date”, but I was fully aware that it felt as though the series had gone as far as it could on the current crop of hardware. New, more powerful machines were needed in order to process more physics, create a better atmosphere and provide a smoother looking game. Nothing on the current-generation FIFA 14, be that on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, told me that it looked poor or substandard but after playing just a solitary game on Microsoft’s new console has made it very difficult to go back.
There’s a hugely noticeable jump in the graphical smoothness, to a degree that, upon returning to the Xbox 360 version, my good friend and Editor of TheSixthAxis, Blair Inglis, exclaimed “oh wow! It looks like a PS2 game”. Although his reaction was hyperbolic he had a point. Many aren’t expecting the graphical leap to be as big as before and whilst it may not be, it is startling at the difference in quality between generations already.
Beyond the visual improvements – which included a stunning use of camera work, 3D crowds, aerial views of stadia, and advancements in animation – it’s difficult to gauge the overall improvement that EA Sports’ next-gen Ignite engine brings. It’s safe to say though that the versions of FIFA 14 that will release come the end of next month will be well worth your time.
Ryse: Son of Rome
One of the few non-third party titles for the Xbox One, the first impressions from E3 were that this was one giant quick time event. Thankfully, the QTE sections that plagued the game were nowhere to be seen. Showcasing the fact Ryse: Son of Rome can be played cooperatively, two platers become gladiators in a gauntlet challenge, taking on captured barbarians for the entertainment of the ancient Roman populace. Objectives changed on the fly, including such tasks as “kill X enemies” or “burn these two encampments”. While you couldn’t actually see the crowds in gameplay, the opening FMV showed both combatants arriving in the arena.
Combat was a combination of God of War and Dark Souls, combining the best of these two very different franchises. Both gladiators assisted each other in real-time combat that relied heavily on deflecting attacks to counter with your own to devastating effect. A skull would appear above enemies when vulnerable, resulting in reasonably gruesome butchery that is thrilling to watch.
The graphical fidelity has been a big talking point in recent days, with Crytek themselves saying that the game we saw at E3 is not the game we saw at EGX this year. This shows, as visually the game seems to have taken a drastic hit. I didn’t mind the resolution up-scaling that has been recognised, but I had a huge issue with framerate getting no higher than 30FPS and going down to around mid-20s when the action got heated.
If Double Helix carry on like this, add a few new game modes, etc., they might have one of the more exciting mainstream games shown at EGX. Given that I was a huge fan of Killer Instinct back in the day, reviving the series was bound to be a difficult undertaking, especially for a studio with not the greatest pedigree.
Being let in two at a time meant that this was intended to be a multiplayer demo and with four characters playable on the show floor, it was clear that each one had their own tricks. Jago and Sabrewulf were very similar to their old school counterparts, capable of massive combinations. It did seem like Jago controls perhaps a little too familiar to Ryu from Street Fighter, but this was the case back in the arcade version of the original. Thunder and Glacius are also capable of spectacular juggles, with Glacius’ ice armour proving to be quite devastating in the right hands.
The amount of detail in the character models and backgrounds are highly impressive; keeping a consistently high framerate essential for fighting games these days. It certainly looks like it wouldn’t run on an Xbox 360 as a result. While the freemium nature of this game is a worry for many seeking just to buy everything for a discounted price, this ambitious remake is certainly looking like it is on the right track so far. Hopefully it will come with plenty more additions to game modes and the revealed roster, but this is currently signalling a true return to form for the long-dormant fighting franchise.
Dead Rising 3
If you were to look at the E3 presentation of the now Xbox One exclusive Dead Rising 3, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a lot of what made the series shine had been removed for a more serious tone. To be fair, some games work using this method, focusing on survival at all costs rather than the comical mindless slaughter of zombies. But to erase that sub-genre of games would be rather sad.
Thankfully Dead Rising 3 is not only as crazy as ever, it’s perhaps gone even further into its state of insanity. Combining weapons and items to make even crazier tools of destruction has always been silly fun, but you can now do the same with vehicles. Combining a steamroller with a motorbike creates the Roller Hawg with flamethrowers for example. There is also the Junk Car that fires green flares and can be turned into a suicide bomb, and the Shock Dozer which is a little self-explanatory.
However, while the playground we were presented with had a lot of toys to play with, it didn’t present us with a heck of a lot else to do other than kill hordes of zombies. I mean, the town itself has a lot of places to explore, with a wide variety of objects, but even Dead Rising 2‘s prologue chapter indicate at least why this is happening. Perhaps there isn’t really a reason, since the people who play Dead Rising games don’t really need one – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Kinect Sports Rivals
Kinect Sports Rivals was not registering turns quite as nicely as one would like, while stamping your feet to activate your boosts didn’t work half the time. It does know when you want to pull off tricks when going over ramps, so that already makes it better than it has been before. It’s certainly improved from the other Kinect Sports games, but the problem is that we will not truly know how it works until the console launch when you can customise it to register your body movements. If you took the Kinect out of it and replaced functionality with a standard controller, this would have been a fantastic effort with a crisp clean style and hugely competitive multiplayer mode that rewards you for beating your rivals. Sadly, Rare have too much in Kinect for any of this to matter.
It all however came down to this: the dominance of the PlayStation 4 both in terms of games on show at EGX for the console and the PC games at the show that are coming to the console at some point far outnumber the ones coming to the Xbox One. Indie developers have flocked to Sony’s new console, while only a few have climbed into Microsoft’s newly opened indie friendly cradle. In turn, this has harmed the number of games coming to Xbox One versus the number of games coming to PlayStation 4.
Major publisher support however is pretty strong, with both in-house and third-party games providing a strong showing overall. Until someone guts the two consoles and deciphers who is actually the winner in terms of performance, we won’t know who has the better hardware really, but if the games list is anything to go by, Microsoft have some ground to cover. As a long-standing Xbox Live Gold subscriber, I sincerely hope so.