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Xbox One: Hands-On First Impressions

Here are my first impressions of the new Xbox One console and a couple of its launch titles from a local Microsoft demo event.

I just recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with the new Xbox One console at a local Microsoft demo event, and have come away with some first impressions about the hardware, controllers, and games on display. 

While there were only two playable games at the booth, Forza Motorsport 5 and Killer Instinct, I was still able to gather some initial impressions about the hardware and software to share.

Hardware

The first thing that stood out to me about the Xbox One hardware was just how big the console actually is.  Without a direct comparison, I would surmise that the console is quite larger than even the original version of the Xbox 360 and falls more in line with the dimensions of the first PS3 model, albeit with a far more rectangular form factor.  This increased size may prove to be a slight problem for gamers with more crowded living rooms, especially when considering that Microsoft has stated not to stand the console on its side due to the design of its disk drive.

Controller

The second design change that became apparent when using the Xbox One is the design of its new controller.  Those of you who have become accustomed to using the Xbox 360 controller will be happy to know that this new gamepad retains a very similar shape and form factor as its predecessor.  However, there have been a few changes made to its design that indicate to me that it will ultimately turn out to be the superior controller.

First off, the gamepad is simply more comfortable.  I have never been a fan of the Xbox 360 controller, preferring the symmetrical control sticks, superior D-pad, and more angular design of the PS3 remote, so I was happy to find out that Microsoft has made the handles of their newest gamepad more flat and less bulky.  Although the control sticks are still set in an asymmetrical configuration, the sticks themselves seem smaller with a more rubberized concave surface for easier gripping during gameplay.

Triggers and buttons on the Xbox One controller are laid out exactly as they were in the 360 remote, and seem to be a bit firmer to the touch, making inputs feel crisp and responsive. 

The only exception to this is the new D-pad, which to me still feels imprecise and lacks the tactile responsiveness of its competitors.  A new feature of the controller is the presence of rumble motors in each trigger to allow for more precise rumble sensations throughout the hands, and while it is certainly not a selling feature of the controller, it provides for an interesting variation on the traditional rumble mechanic.

Forza Motorsport 5

Having never played any of the Forza Motorsport games at length, I can’t exactly provide a detailed summary of the changes made to gameplay, but I can give some surface-level observations on the graphics and feel of the game. 

From a graphical standpoint, Forza 5’s car models look stunning and really illustrate the advancements that the next generation of consoles are ushering in with increased polygon counts and shading.  

Additionally, the lighting system has received a notable bump in fidelity, becoming most apparent in the game’s cockpit view where light reflections off the windshield from the sun provide more immersion to the player. 

The environmental detail seemed a bit lacking compared to the car models, but since the demo was limited to a single track, I was not able to get an accurate sense of the game’s true graphical capabilities.  The gameplay itself felt solid, running at a solid 60 fps and providing a level of simulation that seemed to mirror the Gran Turismo series.

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct impressed me quite a bit during my short hands-on demo.  Fans of Street Fighter will feel right at home with Killer Instinct, as the game possesses a very similar set of movement capabilities and attack types as that popular series. 

The game’s stylized and colorful presentation provides a great glimpse at the next-gen possibilities of the Xbox One, as the game possesses a level of texture detail and surplus of graphical effects that may have not been possible on the last generation of consoles, much less at the 60 fps that we see here. 

Fighting games are usually defined by the balance of their characters, and while the jury is still out on whether Killer Instinct has the formula to become a truly competitive fighting game, my early impressions are promising. 

Conclusion

It was nice to be able to get a small glimpse at Microsoft’s next-generation platform nearly 2 months before its official release.  While I would have liked to have seen more of the Xbox One’s launch lineup and new user interface, the system itself appears promising, with a nicely designed controller and a good variety of exclusives at launch.

Published Oct. 2nd 2013

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