Xbox Oneby Khari Taylor
October 5, 2013
Xbox One Tour Test Drive Impressions - Saturday, October 05, 2013
Believe it or not, the Xbox One is only a month and a half away and Microsoft is already on the official campaign trail as we speak, making stops in major cities all over the world to drive home the message that the Xbox 360's successor is THE next-gen console to own this holiday. And when we say "drive", we mean it, as the majority of these impromptu events (in Canada at least) are literally being run out of the back of an Xbox One-branded van, which converts from an unassuming transport vehicle into a world of next-gen virtual wonders where for a few fleeting hours, anyone in the vicinity can simply walk over pick up an Xbox One controller and play a highly-anticipated Xbox One game.
While there are no doubt other Xbox One events planned in major Canadian cities within the next few months, with next to no details on those my brother and I took it upon ourselves to track down the nearest Canadian tour location, get some hands-on time with the console and report our impressions for you, our readers. According to Xbox.com/tour, our nation's largest city, Toronto is scheduled for three Tour stops, including two at Air Canada Centre and one in Toronto's North York area. We attended the North York venue, aiming for smaller crowds and more hands-on time, and were happy to get plenty of the latter.
Obviously, the first thing we wanted to get our hands on was the controller itself, which up until now we've only been able to see behind protective glass at the Toronto Eaton Centre. In short, we like it a lot. Microsoft didn't re-invent the wheel here or anything; the controller feels considerably lighter than the Xbox 360 and is noticeably smaller overall, yet there are some major enhancements that we both felt we would get used to quite easily. The shoulder buttons (LB and RB) are now almost flush with the finger-rests of the trigger buttons (LT and RT), allowing the player's trigger fingers to easily slide between the two of them, yet the ends of each are tapered enough that they can easily be distinguished from one another. The face buttons are larger and closer together, and the D-pad feels great, enabling a clicky, full 8-way motion without feeling overly loose or imprecise, two enhancements that will be more than welcome to fans of old-school shooters, arcade games and fighting game fans who prefer to brawl with a controller instead of a stick. The racing-wheel inspired threading on the analog sticks improves the feel and grip, making us wonder why such an enhancement hadn't been thought of sooner. But clearly, the most impressionable change made to the controller that made everyone who held it stand up and take notice was that of the Impulse triggers, as their individual built-in rumble motors put an added kick into the immersion of Forza Motorsport 5, one of the two games that was on display. This innovation literally tickled the fancy of everyone present as, as we all began to fathom the possibilities not only for racers but other game genres as well.
There were some small downsides. While the controller is more lightweight, it also has a more "plastic" feel when compared to its Xbox 360 equivalent, and the matte surface feels just a tad more slippery and less textured to what we're used to. The new top-ridge of the controller, while effectively separating the new "Xbox Guide" button from the rest of the face buttons (resulting in less accidental Guide button presses) and providing a better profile and visibility of the shoulder buttons, appears a bit cheap from an aesthetic point of view, and the flattened guide button lacks the embedded-jewel look of the Xbox 360's guide button, a more tactile, three-dimensional design choice that made the current-gen controller literally "stand out" from the competition. As said before however, we'll all probably get used to these changes just as quickly as the new enhancements, and you never know, the 3D guide-button might eventually make a comeback when MS revises the controller down the road (if fans make enough noise).
As one would expect, Forza Motorsport 5 made a strong impression, and as the only demo that was operational during the first hour (all the demos were running on Xbox One dev kits, not final retail units), everyone who showed up bright and early got a number of cracks at it. Forza 4 was a beautiful game on Xbox 360 that also ran at 60 frames per second, but it wasn't even necessary to have that game running side-by-side with Forza 5 to know that the difference between them is night and day. The framerate was rock-solid, the depth of field and immersion unparalleled, and the attention to detail on each car and its respective interior is simply stunning. My jaw dropped multiple times simply observing the smaller details, such as the true-to-life computerized dashboard of the McLaren P1, the five LED lights on the steering wheel of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta that lit up in succession as the car's acceleration reached the top of each gear, and the claustrophobic tunnel vision of the Audi 18 E-Tron Quattro. The demo featured six cars in total which ran the gamut from classic vintage to F1 class, and allowed players to race against 3 other cars of different makes within the same class, further teasing players of the countless gorgeous rides that they'll be able to begin working tirelessly towards unlocking and playing on November 22nd. There's no doubt that Forza 5 will be on many a gamer's Xbox One launch day shopping list (if it isn't already).
Naturally, the only game that could possibly steal the show from a game as beautiful as Forza 5 was the other game on offer at the tour, Microsoft and Double-Helix's reboot of Killer Instinct, which immediately drew a crowd of players and onlookers to every screen it was booted up on. KI is without a doubt, the most gorgeous-looking fighting game that we've ever laid our eyes on, even taking into account that the 2-player demo provided was an early build featuring only four characters: Jago, Saberwulf, Glacius and Chief Thunder - along with their character-specific stages. It's clear now why developer Double Helix chose to name their reboot of the classic arcade/N64/Super NES fighter as simply Killer Instinct, since once you've laid hands, eyes and ears on this next-gen fighter, all your memories of the original KI and KI2 will be all but obliterated aside from the elements Double Helix kept in, such as the brutally relentless combo-strings, the fantasy-meets-sci-fi-meets other-world nature of the fighters and the unmistakably audacious voice of the Killer Instinct announcer, who's bombastic cries of "C-C-COMBO BREAKER!!!" and "ULTRAAAH COMBOOOOOOO!!!" are still music to an OG fighting game fan's ears 19 years later. That said, good looks aren't everything and it's easy to talk a big game, but rest assured, after some extensive play with the demo we're happy to report that Killer Instinct is packing some seriously deep gameplay chops to back up its silky-smooth 60fps framerate and over-the-top flash. While it certainly is possible to mash away at the buttons and occasionally pull off moments of serendipitous brilliance, once players have scanned over the move-list and figure out how to string a number of them together, the on-screen game takes on a whole new level of excitement when such players are pitted against each other. With the ever-present threat of combo-breakers, cancels and over-powering Instinct Modes at players' fingertips, no victory is every guaranteed, and no single power move or technique is invulnerable. The game is just as fun to watch as it is to play, and with an animation-style that recalls the CG and stop-motion techniques that were popular in the heyday of the original KI and Midway's Primal Rage, blended seamlessly with a fluid motion and style that at once evokes Capcom's Street Fighter IV yet simultaneously puts it to shame, each fight is almost impossible to look away from once you've beheld it. We even noted that in addition to the dynamic soundtrack employed in each stage that builds up and recedes in intensity based on what takes place during the fight, (a feature also found in Forza 5) each fighter's selected colour schemes often took on a completely different look during battle, depending on how each stage's dynamic lighting and effects influenced them. For example, when a thunderstorm rolls over the mountain on Chief Thunder's stage, Saberwulf's silver, rain-drenched translucent fur refracts the moonlight and makes him appear more threatening as he takes on a darker look in which only the tips of his fur and his eyes shine. Meanwhile, the gold colour scheme for Glacius becomes darker and more brownish depending upon the amount of illumination in the environment. The lighting of each character also changes rapidly on the fly in reaction to special effects that occur on screen, such as the chi-energy and explosions that result from character's power moves, or light sources in the environment that characters pass by or destroy. Simply put, there is no other fighting game in existence that looks this good, period, and when Killer Instinct launches as a downloadable title pre-installed in every Xbox One at launch (remember, Jago comes for free), every other fighting-game maker from Capcom to Netherrealm will be put on notice.
The only negative we could find with Killer Instinct is that despite the game's Xbox One exclusivity and the excellent feel of the Xbox One controller's D-pad, every serious fighting fan present at the Tour were in agreement that a fightstick will still be the control input device of choice, as the positioning of attack buttons on the bumpers and triggers in addition to the face buttons in the end just doesn't feel natural. Assumingly, players will be able to customize the button layout to their liking and most casual players will be able to get by with the controller, but serious KI fans will likely want to start putting some cash aside for the inevitable Killer Instinct-branded stick or custom fightstick/fightpad options that will be eventually become available for Xbox One post-launch.
Unfortunately, aside from plenty of hands-on time with the above games, there were no units that allowed us to play with the Xbox One's Metro interface itself, as once again, these were dev kits with no Kinect functionality. However, the lone Xbox One unit with Kinect that was on display (pictured below) did give us a better impression of just how big the console is, and most of us came away surprised at just how small the console actually is in person. Built strictly for horizontal orientation only, the unit seems no wider than the original Xbox 360 when laid on its side, except being a couple more inches long in the back, and only a tad taller, and with the more compact Kinect's reportedly wider field of view and minimum distance reduced to just about one metre, I'm almost convinced now that the Xbox One might actually fit and operate properly in the constrictive area of my workspace as well as in my living room.
In conclusion, we came away from the Xbox One Tour Test Drive event both impressed and excited about Xbox One, making the wait for its Friday, November 22nd launch all the more excruciating, but this rare hands-on with the hardware should tide us over until the next opportunity. For those of you also in the Toronto area, that chance will be next week on Saturday, October 12th at the Air Canada Centre between 3pm and 7pm. Make sure to check the map on Xbox.com/Tour daily for all the latest information on upcoming Xbox One Tour stops and events in your area, and make sure to get there early!
If you aren't able to the tour, no worries, just stay tuned for our upcoming video impressions.