Hands On: Xbox One & Launch Titles

The Xbox One is a sleek machine looking to replace your current-gen console, your DVD player, your CD sound system and maybe even your set top box. And you know what? It might just do it.

Just north of the bars and strip clubs of Kings Cross in Sydney, Microsoft held an exclusive hands-on preview of the Xbox One to showcase upcoming titles ahead of Australia’s 22 November launch date. I got to put my hands on the trigger-rumbling controller and dance about in front of the Kinect 2.0 camera with titles like Forza 5 and Kinect Sports Rivals but before we get into that, let’s talk about Dead Rising.

Capcom were there to show off Dead Rising 3 – a game that developers have been hard at work on for three years re-writing the game’s engine specifically for the Xbox One hardware. Dead Rising 3 is the first installment of the zombie survival horror series to feature an open-world environment, larger than that of Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2 put together.

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…an all-new dynamic lighting system plays across hordes of zombies…

Microsoft Studios are proud of DR3 and for good reason – the game looks incredible compared to the previous titles. The graphics shine in this game as an all-new dynamic lighting system plays across hordes of zombies trundling down Los Perdidos streets. There are no more load screens between areas and developers boast that the new engine can render up to three times the amount of zombies on-screen as previous titles, though both of these claims are yet to be tested.

DR3 takes advantage of an exciting piece of technology – Xbox SmartGlass. The second screen technology hasn’t currently been used for anything useful and DR3 plans to set the benchmark, letting you unlock exclusive missions, receive in-game phone calls straight to your device, locate specific items and (later in the game) call in air-strikes and drone support to help even the zombie-infested playing field. It’s obvious Microsoft Studios and Capcom Vancouver have put a lot into the title for launch, fans of the series (myself included) will no doubt be extremely impressed with the finished product.

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Although Dead Rising 3 does use the Kinect 2.0 camera for voice commands, it’s obvious what the device is really for… jet-skiing and rock-climbing in Kinect Sports Rivals! If you bought the original Kinect Camera (or had the pleasure of receiving one for Christmas in 2010) you would have received a copy of Kinect Adventures – a delightfully jaunty and arm-flailing-ly good time that was eerily similar to Nintendo’s Wii Sports. It’s back and with the new Kinect 2.0, it’s better than ever.

To kick off on the Kinect Sports Rivals adventure I had my face scanned into the game to create my own ‘Champion’, the updated version of Xbox 360’s avatars. The process took less than two minutes, I was asked to stand back as the camera observed my body shape and then to step forward so it could focus on my face. With a few quick turns of my head, I had created a very dapper looking Champion with my chin, cheeks, eyes and ears – it even added some of my freckles and picked a suitable hairstyle. From there, I was away on my jet-ski to cut some waves and race up a cliff-face in some tight-fitting (but flattering) spandex.

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During play, Kinect 2.0 felt immediately more responsive than the original camera. Although people had cleared the area around me, I didn’t feel the need to go to the edge of my play area to steer or climb like I would have with the original Kinect, instead I found myself moving subtly to maneuver through tight turns or over jumps. Although Kinect 2.0 might still feel unnatural to someone who prefers playing with a controller, it doesn’t feel awkward anymore – Kinect 2.0 is part of the Xbox One experience rather than just being another method of control.

Kinect 2.0 is part of the Xbox One experience…

An early build of Microsoft Studio’s racing title Forza 5 showcased the new design features of the Xbox One controller. The shape hasn’t changed all that much – the most notable change comes out of having the batteries inside the controller body, removing the protruding plastic rectangle at the back of the 360 controller. Externally, the body profile is smaller and there are no screws at the back – both subtle changes that feel like they better the experience of the console.

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Accelerating from the start line felt awesome as rumble motors in each of the triggers spun up to let me know I was accelerating too quickly. The staff member who handed me controller looked smug and explained the idea behind ‘Impulse Triggers’ – a method of contextual feedback rather than just shaking the whole controller. I’m not a great racecar driver, so whenever I hit grass or gravel the triggers would vibrate to let me know I’d strayed from the track. My right forefinger would shake if I revved too high, as would my left if I applied the brakes too hard on a turn. The I didn’t need to stare at the little red light above my speedometer to let me know if I was over revving as I could feel it in my fingers when I needed to speed up or slow down, I assume the same way real drivers might.

The thumbsticks are slightly smaller and made from textured soft rubber which feels good, the d-pad is a nicely placed plus-sign and feels good to spin your thumb on and the A, B, X and Y buttons are easy to reach if you’ve got a finger held down on the right trigger. The controller is a nice piece of tech that feels good to use – spending hours on your console hopefully won’t leave you feeling cramped and sore.

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…body profile is smaller and there are no screws at the back – both subtle changes that feel like they better the experience…

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance peruse the menu or connect multiple controllers without using the Xbox guide button, so the jury is still out on what the Xbox One will be like to navigate, but each of the pieces so far has fit into a neat all-encompassing entertainment package.

Shaped like a DVD player and with entertainment services like Xbox Music and video-on-demand built in (it even connects to your cable or set-top box), the Xbox One has its eye on the primary spot in your TV cabinet. Bring on 22 Nov!