Very recently, only the other day infact, I had the incredible privilege of a hands on demo with Microsoft’s next generation home console – the Xbox One, now unbearably close at just over one month away from it’s mid-November release. This wonderful opportunity let me get to grips not with only the new hardware but, also a generous selection of four hotly anticipated release games: Ryse: Son of Rome, Forza 5, Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3. Each of the exciting titles were emblazoned across a row of perfectly aligned sleek TV’s, their presence dominated the store where the event was held. Before some hands on impressions are posted about any of these games however, I felt it prudent to start by discussing the hardware itself.
First and foremost we were introduced to the console, sadly photos and touching were prohibited, but visibly the system is a significant size. Slyly spotting an empty PS4 shell on a shelf behind the counter, I politely asked to hold it as to weigh up the difference, the Xbox One was noticeably larger than it’s next gen rival. After discounting it’s proportions the appearance is somewhat unremarkable. Microsoft has obviously opted for a simple black box design that looks perfectly serviceable, whilst it’ll fail to win awards for beauty it’ll happily blend in next to any TV . It’s only distinguishable feature is the ludicrous amount of vents on show, at least 50% of the system is covered in them. Obviously a decision inspired by fear of overheating problems similar to those that plagued Xbox 360’s early models causing the infamous red ring of death. Kinect was also present but neatly tucked away so difficult to visibly measure – regardless it wasn’t functioning at the event.
Honestly though at a certain point a box is just a box, it’s nothing more than the black plastic wrapping housing the witchcraft factory that powers the tantalising experiences that propel themselves upon your TV screen. There’s one piece of hardware that does matter more than anything else though, and that’s your conduit for interaction – the controller. Let’s get it out in the open now, I’m something of a Xbox 360 control detractor, it’s form factor never did it for me, it’s D-Pad constantly disappointed, the LB and LT never stuck like L1 and L2 and those letters embroidered in their beautiful amber like casings couldn’t invaded my memory the way that Dualshock’s quirky shapes did. With all that in mind, Xbox Ones control is marked improvement over it’s predecessor, it is beautiful.
The control has lost it’s cold hard white plastic edge instead it’s more smoothly curved and it’s new handle shape allows it to sit comfortably in the hands. Thumbstick placement feels much better and the continued tradition of concave thumbsticks feels like the right choice. Fingers are no longer interrupted by the niggly battery pack but are instead treated to a gorgeously smooth rear end as Xbox plays catch-up with Playstation finally implementing USB rechargeable controls. Testing the thumbstick accuracy was a complicated task without an FPS up for demo, but shooting mechanics in Dead Rising 3 felt really precise – satisfyingly sharp. Even the bulky Xbox home button has been moved to a unintrusive position at the controls top blending into the design sublimely.
Form factor and general comfortability are both great improvements that made me really appreciate the Xbox control for the first time in a long while. The star of the new Xbox controls however, are neither of those things, no the real killer addition is the touted impulse triggers. Although the feature was only implemented fully in the Forza 5 demo the triggers felt incredibly responsive ushering in rumble that is unlike anything the current gen offers. Slamming on the breaks at a tight corner made the rumble respond in such an alien way, firing the vibration from the front of the control to the back, or left to right.
Since Microsoft’s E3 press conference the one aspect of the console I wanted to explore more than anything was the system UI that could suspend applications and start new ones in a flash. Understandably this wasn’t on offer, in fact none of the menu’s were. The small glimpses I caught were at the end of demos’ or the time I accidently pressed the Xbox home button – which did lightening quick suspend the Dead Rising 3 demo in a very Vita like manner. The short glimpses confirmed that an advanced variant of the Windows 8 tiles setup would be the foundations for system UI.
After only a short time with hands on the pad standing in front of the Xbox One it has impressed me. Sure console design is somewhat underwhelming as the block of fans sadly resembles a futuristic VCR but, as I say it’s just the box. The control is the most impressive aspect of the hardware as it takes it’s popular seven year old predecessors design and refines it with apparently forty improvements, it’s new comfortable curves are enough to convince me. UI looks promising from the few fleeting glimpses I managed to catch. What matters most though are the games. You can catch hands on impressions of every demo on offer here over the course of the next week. The links below will update as they become available so you can bookmark this page for ease.