Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Xbox One: First Impressions

The Console

The new generation has finally made it. I picked up my One on Friday and haven't really stopped playing it since. First I'll cover some bells and whistles included in the new machine, then give a few words on the games I picked up. To begin with, let me say that it's quite impressive. I never bought the Kinect for the 360 because most of the games it was made for were created for kids. However, some of the hacks and off-label uses that were generated by have made their way into this iteration of the device. One cool feature is that it recognizes who is playing and will sign you in automatically. All you have to do is be visible in front of the Kinect's camera and it will sign you in, no questions asked. Instead of picking a single gamer profile to use as an automatic sign-in, assuming you have a family of gamers, it will simply recognize who is present and sign them in on its own. 

The box itself is a little bigger than the 360, but I much prefer the disc feeder in this one to the tray used in the 360. It makes discs harder to scratch and also easier to retrieve when ejected. The real place the new system shines, however, is in the voice commands. Simple statements like, "Xbox go home," return you to the Dashboard. Once there, you can start any of your apps or games by stating the name listed in the lower left hand corner. For example, "Forza Motorsport 5" will trigger Forza without touching a single button other than turning on the machine. While I wasn't sold on the Kinect as part of the package since I never used one with my 360, you can definitely mark me down as a convert now that I've seen it in action. 

the games

killer instinct

Killer Instinct comes with the console, although it operates in much the same model as today's MMORPGs and mobile games. You are given one character for free: Jago, shown above at right. The rest must be purchased either singly or in a group. It's a gorgeous fighting game, but I haven't really had the time to get into it with Forza 5 and Call of Duty: Ghosts staring me in the face. Many of Jago's moves are similar to those used by Ken and Ryu in the Street Fighter franchise, so he was a cinch to pick up being the SF aficionado that I am. The fireball is the same. The Sharyuken is the same. The only differences are some kick combos that I was lucky enough to figure out on my own. However, there is a move list provided if you're one to learn moves rather than just button mash until you figure things out like myself. I have yet to decide if I'm going to purchase the character pack for this game, but it's certainly tempting given the quality of the trial. 

Call of Duty: Ghosts

This game was a bit of a disappointment as anyone who has read about it knows it's not an Xbox One exclusive but rather a port with "upscaled" graphics from the 360 and PS3 editions. It looks a little better than Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 2, but it isn't a generation ahead. That said, it has a unique story line in which the countries of South America have banded together into Federation against the US. Don't worry gamergeeks, you learn this all in the first 30 seconds of the intro so I'm not spoiling any of the plot you don't figure out immediately. You're part of the resistance against the Federation and help try to restore the United States to its former glory in the campaign. 

There are also several new additions that I can't wait to try. One is called Squad Mode where you build your own squad and use it to take on other squads from around the world. You are able to train your squad members in various specialties to get the most well-rounded group of killing machines this side of Fort Hood. Finally, there's multiplayer. I'm not the biggest fan because I don't really enjoy getting massacred by a bunch of 8-year-olds with mouths like first-year Navy recruits, but I've given it a run, nonetheless. I just tried out Free-For-All because it requires the least amount of dedication (and I don't feel like I'm letting down squadmates with my lack of acumen), but there are twelve different multiplayer modes including Team Deathmatch, Cranked, Blitz, Search and Rescue, Search and Destroy, Infected, Kill Confirmed, Domination, Hunted, Free-For-All, Team Tactical, and Ground War. Don't ask me what all those mean because I haven't tried them all yet, but once my friends get around to picking up the one and Ghosts, I fully intend to explore each in its own right. For now, suffice it to say that this is a pretty good Call of Duty game, but my socks are still on my feet. They weren't blown off by the next round of CoD. 

Forza Motorsport 5

Finally, we've come to the place where this next-gen console REALLY shines. Forza 5 is every bit the newest breed of game. Although you don't have to beat them all to finish the game, there are 596 races in this gorgeous piece of gaming glory. This is clearly worth the $65 it costs, not to mention the jaw-dropping graphics that come inside that cute little green box. Aside from the human characters that appear in the pit, and they're are realistic as anything from Call of Duty, this game appears as photorealistic as anything I've every seen. 

One of the main changes in gameplay between this and the previous versions of Forza is that you only need to place in the top 3 spots in order to earn a gold medal. It is no longer required to win a race in order to consider that level conquered. Another one of the unique additions is the "Drivatar." Once you've completed three races, the game learns your driving style and uses it to enter you into races even if you aren't present to take part. You can win credits and XP from these races. It's the first time short of hiring a driver in Gran Turismo that I'm aware of where you can let your machine sit alone without even being home and improve your standings. One thing that bothered me was the inability to switch cars before loading the next race. I still haven't figured out a way to choose a different car or race without waiting for it to load the next track, which is a considerable amount of time. It's a minor inconvenience, of course, but one that adds up over time to drive you nuts. All in all, loading issues aside, this game completely lives up to my expectations and I can't wait to wake up tomorrow and play some more. I'm hooked. While the other two titles mentioned here are enjoyable, Forza 5 is full-on addictive, so beware. You've been given fair warning. 

the math

Objective Score: 8/10. I suspect this will rise to a 9 over time, but this is just the first round of games. One's a free/pay-to-play addition that comes with the console, one's a port, and one was built from the ground up for this console. As more games are designed for the One, I would imagine they will provide as much jaw-dropping wow power as Forza 5.

Penalties: Not enough original games that make full use of the console's capabilities were available on Day 1, or at least not enough with high enough scores on Metacritic to justify dropping $65 to play them. 

Bonuses: This is clearly a fantastic machine, as showcased in Forza 5. I look forward to seeing what they can come up with when the next Halo and Gears of War games come out. I suspect they will be amazing. 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. Again, I expect this grade to rise over time, but for the titles that are currently available, I just can't give it a 9. Come talk to me in six months :-)