Two weekends ago I was lucky enough to score tickets to one of the many Xbox One events being held around the UK, getting a chance to preview several launch titles and sample the new Xbox controller on the Shoreditch High Road. My GND colleagues have already covered the PS4, so here are my thoughts on the One ahead of its impending launch.
My verdict on the One controller is that it looks and feels like a mix between the 360 and original Xbox controller - perhaps not the best thing at all in regards to the latter for those of you who remember that monstrosity, as the smooth shapeliness of the 360 pad have this time been replaced by flat surfaces and sharpish edges. It’s clearly a consistent design decision made with the squareness of the console taken into consideration and definitely not as bad as the OXB pad, but I do prefer Microsoft’s last controller. Size-wise the pad is smaller than the 360’s where you’ll feel your supporting fingers tucking in behind the middle of it, but comes in at around the same weight.
The good news is that finally - finally! - the Xbox D-pad is actually worth using now as a viable replacement for the left stick in games that support it, and along with the face buttons they are slightly flatter, but feel good to the touch. The LB and RB buttons are basically the same, with the left and right triggers being slightly pointier on their tips and more compact overall. As can be expected, they still feel great, especially with the new rumble feedback coming from within the triggers rather than the middle of the pad. Forza 5 has taken particularly good advantage of the improved rumble so that using the triggers for brake and acceleration feel hefty as you race around each corner and accelerate into straights - as to whether FM5 is worth the upgrade, I’ll get to that later.
My main concern with the pad is with the sticks, as they are now slightly smaller than the 360’s - with the likelihood that your thumbs will sit dangling off the top of them significantly. The concave ‘cups’ for your thumbs are still there for grip, but the sticks are a lot lighter to the touch. In other words, they feel like PS3 sticks, and while Microsoft have purposefully stated that they’ve been designed that way for greater responsiveness, the same complaints I have with Sony’s previous sticks - that they feel flimsy and are actually unresponsive - are now present with the One. Not to say that I had any major control issues with them in-game, but for 360 veterans it is definitely something to get used to in the longer term.
The size of the console itself is worth talking about, too, as personally I can’t say I’m too fond of the design - it’s just a large box, essentially - and did remind me of an old top-loaded VHS player. Harsh, but that was my first instinct. Compared to the 360 Slim it may even be larger in every aspect: wider, taller, and longer…and if you choose to plunk your Kinect camera on top, the overall package is pretty hefty. Add to it the fact that MS recommends against placing the console vertically, it’s something to consider when you’re imagining the full picture of your gaming and TV setup at home.
Unfortunately my attempts at assessing the new One dashboard along with its multimedia features were met with MS representatives asking me to minimise back to the games, so I’m unable to cover that aspect of the machine.
Now onto the games…Dead Rising 3 may well be an exclusive and a big factor to consider for hardcore fans of the series, like me, when it comes down to choosing between a PS4 and an Xbone. And on the face of it, you can’t argue with what it offers: no loading screens as you traverse an open world, with three times as many zombies on screen at once compared to DR2. But these new features all come at quite a cost to performance: a frame rate that peaks at 30fps and struggled all through the demo, and all locked at 720p resolution, to boot. As far as ‘next gen’ goes, colour me unimpressed.
The new Killer Instinct was promising with great graphical detail, with it even reminding me of when I first laid eyes on Soul
Calibur 4: ultra sharp detail on both characters and background, but as to whether it will be a successful series reboot, particularly to the newer generation of gamers who didn’t get a chance to play the original and for whom the series remains a mystery, remains to be seen.
Battlefield 4 looked and played ultra smoothly as one could expect, and it’s a noticeable step up from the current gen systems. Coupled with MS’s reliable Live service, you’re going to be in with a winner here. But I must say that Forza 5 just doesn’t seem worth upgrading to a One as yet, especially given there are fewer cars AND tracks compared to 4 - with extras likely to be made available behind DLC paywalls. It certainly looks good and there’s a nice motion blur the developers seem to have added to try and set it apart from 4, but looking close up and still being able to see pixellation on, say, steering wheel and dashboard details, wasn’t too inspiring. Forza fans may be in for a slight disappointment here especially if they’re after sweeping changes to the existing formula.
Ryse is certainly pretty to look at but, at its core, seems to have very simple beat ‘em up mechanics with a fighting system that tries to emulate but simply isn’t as good as that seen in the Batman Arkham games. I’d save this one for a rental (*ahem, and just as well you CAN rent games for the One after earlier controversial ownership rights MS have since reneged on, thankfully).
As for the new Kinect, my time spent chatting with MS representatives made it sound promising with improved tracking and on-paper improvements, but I certainly didn’t see any way that it enhanced any of the games on show, with unreliable motion controls for steering in Kinect Sports Rivals making me wonder why controls weren’t simply mapped to the controller. The jury remains out on this one.
As with the launch of new consoles, my initial advice for those who haven’t pre ordered an Xbone as yet would be to exercise patience and restraint: there’s certainly potential there regardless of the recent controversy over launch titles not quite hitting the ideal dual 1080p and 60fps benchmark in performance. For those still on the fence about whether they should go for a PS4 or a One, my experience of the One didn’t leave me all that excited at all to be quite honest. If your friends are getting Battlefield 4 on a One and you’re already imagining spending hours and hours on that, go for it…same with if you’re a Dead Rising fan who doesn’t mind sub-par technical performance and absolutely need to gorge on Capcom’s latest offering. But all in all, go with your gut if you HAVE to get one right now…but I’m certainly leaning towards Sony this gen, and still waiting for MS to convince.
By: Will Ooi