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Xbox One at gamescom 2013: Microsoft’s house of cards stablises

Tuesday, 20th August 2013 13:09 GMT By Dave Cook

Xbox One was presented to the press at Microsoft’s pre-gamescom press event in Cologne. VG247′s Dave Cook goes hands on with the line-up and reports on the show.

The muggy Cologne air may be cooling as the clouds roll in over the horizon, but the sun is still shining on Microsoft’s Xbox One.

First, Phil Spencer and Phil Harrison talked attendees through some new strategies and policies, including another ‘u-turn’ in the form of ID@Xbox, the company’s spear-tipped charge into the indie, self-publishing arena. With Sony courting scores of independent talent on PS4 in a bid to democratise the console business, Microsoft simply had to follow suit.

It didn’t disappoint.

Two free dev kits per registered ID@Xbox developer, no application fees, tech support, access to the full suite of Xbox One features and more. This should have been included in the company’s strategy from day-one, but as they say, ‘better late than never’.

The battle is now on between Microsoft and Sony to snap up as much emerging talent and interesting projects as possible. This is now a talent arms race, and we, the gamers can only benefit.

While trailers for Fable: Legends and Fighter Within left the audience cold, news that every single Xbox One pre-order will come bundled with a copy of FIFA 14 marks a major coup for Microsoft in Europe; a territory in which it has long played second fiddle to the PlayStation – Britain aside. It will be interesting to see how this news impacts pre-order volume on these shores, and love or loathe the FIFA brand, a free £50 game is nothing to sniff at.

Kinect Sports: Rivals & tech demo

After the dust settled, members of the press were let loose on playable Xbox One code, and I largely enjoyed what I played. But first, a snag; I watched people playing Kinect Sports: Rivals, a game that seems to play well enough on Kinect, but that failed to scan one unfortunate journalist’s face and calibrate multiple times. He was stood about 4-5 feet away from the device, yet it kept on asking him to step back.

This may be an isolated incident, but Microsoft needs to make sure Kinect works for all if it is to bundle the device with each console sold. Kinect is still viewed as a golden ticket for the company. It has bet big on motion so it was unfortunate the only game on the show that functions solely with the device stumbled in the way it did.

Next to the Kinect Sports pod sat a Kinect tech demo that showed how the device tracking three journalists. The screen identified their faces and displayed their expression, whether their mouth was open and if they seemed engaged with what was happening on-screen. It also tracked the heart rate – BGM and IR – of one participant. How it did this I have no idea, and I’m not sure how I felt about it.

Next, the presenter showed off how Kinect saw and tracked the players from different skeletal perspectives. It showed a basic wireframe in ‘skeleton’ view, and increasingly complex tracking across ‘Orientation’ and ‘Muscle & Force’ views. The tech fuelling Kinect certainly seems to have been enhanced by a great degree, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares when the games start coming out.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Elsewhere, a Call of Duty: Ghosts session revealed it to be a marked improvement on – in my opinion – the weak Modern Warfare 3, but not a seismic shift in the franchise as a whole. Visually, on Xbox One the game is certainly not a giant leap in visual fidelity, yet the maps were bigger, denser and the ‘dynamic’ elements felt scripted. ‘That’ collapsible petrol station fell down the same way during each round of Search and Rescue we played. It calls the term ‘dynamic’ into question in this context.

The maps included Whiteout, set in a snowy village that has been battered by a large oil tanker run aground, the Middle Eastern town hub of Strikezone and the Chasm’s depiction of a ravaged American city, teetering on the brink of a colossal drop. The pace is faster than Modern Warfare and in-line with Black Ops 2, the knee slide is fun and the controls are the same as ever. I also had no idea how the lean move worked, and it certainly didn’t kick in when flattening against cover.

New perks included ‘Ping’, which creates a radar ping whenever you kill an enemy, with potential to highlight his buddies near by. I also saw staples Sleight of Hand and Scavenger in the mix. The mode we played was Search and Rescue, which is essentially Search and Destroy but with the option to pick up your downed comrade’s dog-tags to spawn them back into the fight.

The Call of Duty fan in me likes that the core hasn’t been radically overhauled, but I wanted to see more of that next-gen innovation we’re being promised by many developers. Finished, I decided to go for a little drive.

Forza Motorsport 5

I had the opportunity to play Forza 5 in a racing seat with an Xbox One wheel and pedals. The set-up was sturdy and fun, even if I’m utterly shite at playing racers with a wheel. The game itself looks stunning, running at 60FPS and featuring a slew of incredible visual effects. I decided to try the 2013 McLaren P1 that you’ll see on the game’s cover, and stuck the game into cockpit view to see how it stacks up. Gear-heads will fall in love with the attention to detail.

The driver’s hands struggle with the wheel, the brilliant sunlight over the Prague circuit painted lens flares and other effects across the dash and the whole thing just felt organic, tangible and authentic down the tiniest detail. It was a simple circuit race through winding streets and neighbouring parks with no AI opponents, but it was still classic Forza. Series loyalists will likely have a ball with it.

Ryse: Son of Rome

I teamed up with a German journalist to tackle Ryse’s co-op arena mode, which sees two players entering a shifting arena – the Crytek developer described it as a gladiatorial holodeck, with environments that shift per round. So between one mission and the next we were taken from a dustry arena floor to a barbarian encampment on the bank of a swamp. It’s a neat mechanic that ensures the game is shifting constantly.

Combat-wise, Ryse is something of a button masher, with light attacks mapped predictably to the X button. There’s not much depth to the attacks at hand, but that said there were very few QTEs. In fact, the only times I was prompted were during an execution attack and when a tougher enemy grabbed me. The enemy has a different coloured hue indicating which button you should press. It’s not intrusive at all. Heavy Rain this is not.

At the start of each round you pledge allegiance to one of four gods for certain buffs and rewards. Swearing an oath to Mars nets you bonus strength when executing foes, while Diana bestows more XP. End of round bonuses are offered based on how enthralled the crowd are, and this can be improved by fighting well, tearing through objectives at speed and taunting the crowd. It’s a neat mechanic that encourages pace and slight strategy between allies.

Overall the game looked nice running on CryEngine at 30FPS. I actually thought it was running at 60 initially but was advised otherwise by the developer at hand. The campaign was not on offer however, but I can see the arena mode being a nice little distraction as long as the range of objectives is varied enough. I killed a lot of similar enemies and poured fire onto a lot of similar enemy tents, so I’m hoping to do much more in the final code.

Dead Rising 3

Because some twats were hogging Killer Instinct, I had to move swiftly on to Dead Rising 3, which for me was the best thing at the show. I asked the Capcom Vancouver dev on-hand how big the open world is compared to the first two games. He told me that the combined play-spaces of both games could fit inside the game’s world multiple times without loading screens and constantly streaming. It’s impressive, dense and still hilarious despite some initial fears.

Case in point; I used the new vehicle blueprint mechanic to weld a steamroller and bike together to make a fearsome spiked monstrosity capable of flattening hundreds of zombies under its cylindrical front end in seconds. It was insane. The amount of zombies on screen at once is impressive, and only rarely did I see frame-rate drops when things got really hectic. That aside, I found little to fault the game.

I decided to play the game silly, so found a suit of knights armour and a claymore and started running around hacking down the undead to earn PP. The photo mechanic may be gone, but levelling up is still important as the character customisation menu holds many tiers of moves, combos, weapon and vehicle blueprints.

The Cyber Cat caught my attention. I was told it’s a robotic cat that jumps around the area at random then eventually explodes. It’s like the exploding sheep from Worms, only cuter. Maybe? I don’t know, but the point is that the game is very fun. Another example, I wore a football mascot’s suit – a big red bull – and a sombrero, hopped into a sports bike and drove through a fancy hotel.

Arriving at the top floor Jacuzzi, I bailed, sending the bike tearing through the horde. Picked it up again and ramped off the balcony down to the streets below to continue my slaughter. It’s massive, full of emergent fun and technically impressive. It’s a day-one release for me at this point, but of course that could change.

A good year?

Was this a good showing from Microsoft? Well, the ID@Xbox program is superb and it remains to be seen if it bears fruit in the long-term. I would like to see it do well, because I love indie talent and new ideas from all quarters of the industry. I just hope the hidden red tape and small print doesn’t mask any ghouls that could threaten the goodwill of Microsoft’s concept.

On the game front, I had no complaints although that Kinect issue still lingers in the mind. Harrison called this the biggest and best launch line-up he’d ever seen. I’m not that taken personally, but it’s not weak that’s for sure. It seems that Microsoft’s precarious house of cards is beginning to stabilise once more. I just hope there’s not some unseen blow around the corner waiting to topple the lot.

What’s your opinion? Lets us know below.

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37 Comments

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  1. Erthazus

    In my opinion launch games for Xbox is weak. you can get more of this on the playstation 3,4, PC, Xbox 360.

    and in PC you get multi title in better quality.

    Not enough exclusives and 500$ price tag? Holy shit. To play Ryse Son of QTE?

    good luck guys. My 500$ next year will be for Nvidia videocard.
    500$ for this POS. Lawl.

    #1 8 months ago
  2. redwood

    stabilized by a replacing those cards with bundles of cash :D

    #2 8 months ago
  3. deadstoned

    Microsoft’s had too many PR gaffs, continues to over promise, still delivering an overpriced console, delivers the exact same franchises and rather dull looking new IP. Microsoft are coming across very boring, playing things too safe except for their obvious service grab attempt which failed. Their games simply look dull, bland and uninspired. Same old, same old.

    To be honest even some of Sony’s new IP looks rather dull thus far, but we’ll have to wait for review scores. And of course wait for heavy hitters like stuff from Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica.

    That said all the 3rd party stuff looks rather fantastic!

    #3 8 months ago
  4. Zensi

    @1 Keep your idiotic opinion to yourself

    #4 8 months ago
  5. viralshag

    So you’re going to spend $500 on a graphics card that will add a little more shine to the same games you’re going to get on the Xbox One?

    I fail to see how that’s really any better than buying a next gen console? Let’s face it, even further down the line most of the time you’re going to be playing ports of console games that barely look that much better anyway.

    #5 8 months ago
  6. monkeygourmet

    Well, i’ve gone from being pretty pissed with MS’s direction, to alomost certainly getting an Xbone day 1.

    So, for me, I think MS has done a good job considering how much they fucked the launch.

    Sony, I think has rested on their laurels a bit since E3, they really need to come out swinging today.

    MS handed it to them on a plate and I really need to see more from them to be impressed.

    I want to see proof of WHY people are saying the PS4 is more powerful…

    #6 8 months ago
  7. Mike W

    Like I said before this conference was ok at best. It was pretty weak when you compare it to their E3 conference. There was really nothing new, except for fable and fighter within.

    #7 8 months ago
  8. naffgeek

    It’s a very safe line up but you can’t really blame them for that.

    The only game I really want is DR3.

    The compulsory Kinect thing still bugs the shit out of me and I think there will be a real distinction between the type of gamer that buys each next gen console.

    I am glad Microsoft haven’t been too stubborn to change their policies but I will still wait and see what reviews and multiformat comparisons say.

    One thought I did have is that if Xbox announce Oculus Rift compatibility then Kinect takes on a whole new light.

    #8 8 months ago
  9. naffgeek

    @4 Kind of contradicts the whole forum thing if he does.

    Also who died and made you king of opinions?

    #9 8 months ago
  10. FeaturePreacher

    I sure hope MS puts all those fart simulators and dating fmv titles from the amateur Indies in a place that they don’t pollute the real games.

    #10 8 months ago
  11. SlayerGT

    @Dave Did you get to fiddle with the UI at all?

    #11 8 months ago
  12. viralshag

    There can be only one…

    Opinion.

    #12 8 months ago
  13. undermyrules

    @5 its not that at all…the only problem is the man behind a console with the controller and the community behind it who called themselfs “real gamers” and say console is best…PC gaming was..is..and will be superior gaming machine with mouse and keyboard something that console can dream on…Graphics are just building the perfect experince to enjoy the game on max settings with AA x16 and 27 inc with 2k resolution…that is something my friend that console fanboys will never understand…casual gamers is your moto.

    #13 8 months ago
  14. Dave Cook

    @11 unfortunately not. They watch you like a hawk at these things so I couldn’t have a mess about. I really wanted to dig into those menus though, believe me.

    I also didn’t like the LB and RB buttons, they feel really odd.

    #14 8 months ago
  15. TF_PtMaster

    @Dave Cook

    ” news that every single Xbox One pre-order will come bundled with a copy of FIFA 14 marks a major coup for Microsoft in Europe; a territory in which it has long played second fiddle to the PlayStation – Britain aside. It will be interesting to see how this news impacts pre-order volume on these shores, and love or loathe the FIFA brand, a free £50 game is nothing to sniff at”

    I respect you, but…. Are you serious mate? How do you think people will take, when only 5 countries in all Europe is getting the Xbox One? And when you can buy PS4 and 2 games for the same price of the Xbox One in a territory owned by PlayStation?

    #15 8 months ago
  16. marijnlems

    @15 He didn’t say they’d definitely wrest control away from Sony, he just said that it’s a major coup and that he’s interested to see how it will impact pre-orders. I don’t see how that could possibly be controversial, seeing as FIFA is Europe’s best-selling franchise. Still, you’re right: one free game still doesn’t bridge the price gap, even if you were dead set on buying FIFA 14.

    #16 8 months ago
  17. SlayerGT

    @Dave no worries, thanks.

    #17 8 months ago
  18. PEYJ

    ‘the hell? No release date?

    #18 8 months ago
  19. Djoenz

    @14 Dave Cook
    “I also didnt like the LB and RB buttons, they feel really odd”
    An opinion of someone who actually held the damn thing. Interesting! !
    Also some ppl seem to believe next gen games will be native 1080 p and 60fps. . any words on that?

    #19 8 months ago
  20. MrWaffles

    The Xbox One team took so many U-turns their roadmap is starting to look lilke the Dreamcast logo.

    #20 8 months ago
  21. viralshag

    @13, Casual gamers? Why? Because we don’t go out of our way to add a few extra polygons to the games and get that much more accuracy out of your chosen method of input?

    At the end of the day, that’s really all the separates the two. Nicer graphics, WASD and cheaper games in some cases. Not exactly what I would consider separating the hardcore from the casual.

    #21 8 months ago
  22. Dragon246

    As I said so many times, MS can never be underestimated.

    I agree with Dave, a very stable show from MS. They used the biggest advantage they have over Sony, the powah of moolah.Fifa 14 deal is very good and will probably lead to thousands of preorders just for this.
    The deal should (conservatively) cost more than tens of millions of dollars. It must be said that this is probably the first time such an important 3rd party franchise has been a console free pack-in.
    However, since extraordinary steps are taken in extraordinary conditions, it probably says us that the news that came from mainland retailers about PS4 preorders exceeding X1s by 4:1 to 8:1 and more were true.
    This move will also be hindered by a limited launch of just 13 countries.

    The ball is firmly in Sonys court now. There are telltale signs that they are not announcing much of their planned lineup (every Sony studio except Evolution and SP and maybe Bend has UNANNOUNCED PS4 games in development ). While MS has announced almost their entire 2013-14 output, even going as much to show a CGI of Halo, a holiday 2014 title, Sony has been saving up stuff, simply because they had the upper hand without even showing them.
    Now I hope MS offensive forces Sony to show more of its hands.

    Arent we glad for the competition? We gamers benefit in the end.

    #22 8 months ago
  23. Djoenz

    @13
    Now console gamers are casual gamers? God you’re one massive nerd.

    #23 8 months ago
  24. Dave Cook

    @19 Forza 5 does 1080p / 60FPS. Ryse was 30 FPS. Dead Rising’s frame rate slowed badly at points but there is so much going on in that game.

    #24 8 months ago
  25. bradk825

    I wonder if North America will be getting a free game packed in too? If so, awesome. If not, kinda sad, but I understand that sometimes companies do geographics promos and it’s not the same everywhere.

    Even if the free game is also FIFA here I’d be pretty happy. It’s not something I’d buy, but I would definately play it if I had a free copy.

    #25 8 months ago
  26. undermyrules

    @23 you dont even have the knowledge of what nerd means and you use it in sentences…thats why we call you console peasnts…and thats why you will never understand what it takes to enjoy games because you think you have the best experience…now continue what you was doing before you reply me and dont bother explaining why you use console i dont care..

    #26 8 months ago
  27. Djoenz

    @27
    Haha dumb nerd. Console peasants? Good God nicely worded. Dumb pc elitist nerd you!

    #27 8 months ago
  28. pcbros

    I think Xbox One has a much stronger lineup than PS4.

    PS4 has Drive Club (Forza 5 is better, heck GT6 looks better), Knack (Wii U looking game) and a bunch of indie games I can get later on Steam for $3-$5.

    Xbox has Killer Instinct, Forza 5, Dead Rising 3, and Ryse.

    @1 – Enjoy paying $500 for a videocard that will be outdated in a couple of years. Keeping up with PC videocards is a rat race I avoid at all cost.

    #28 8 months ago
  29. sebastien rivas

    @ 22

    I agree with you, never underestimate a giant. Though fifa ain’t my cup of tea while I am european. Unfortunately the price tag is still something that makes my teeth grind. I wait and see.

    #29 8 months ago
  30. Doppleganger

    I dont consider my self a fan boy of any console but reason I want to get XBox One is the lineup of games.
    LOL @1 saying line up is horrible. Im sorry the PS4 is an attractive console but that system is suffering from gad awful games. Also Xbox One is the first console wheres theres actually minimum of 4 wanted games, for me this is a first for any consoles release.

    #30 8 months ago
  31. viralshag

    @27, You definitely strike me as a console peasant… I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

    The best thing about most PC gamers is that despite how much they knock consoles, a great majority of them still own one at least of them if not more.

    #31 8 months ago
  32. absolutezero

    I fucking hate people.

    Regardless of what you choose to play fucking VIDEO GAMES on.

    #32 8 months ago
  33. Djoenz

    @31
    You disappoint me Viralshag tsk I expected more from you.

    #33 8 months ago
  34. viralshag

    @33, :D

    I’m only kidding! I’m totes a console peasant…

    WHEN I’M NOT DOING SOME UBER PC GAMING, BRO!

    #34 8 months ago
  35. Djoenz

    @34
    Whatever floats your boat bro! I aint dissing pc gamers in general just those pc elitists that think they’re above other gamers just because they spent a shitload of monay for a rig to play in 2k shiny graphics with their heads glued to the screen for countless of hours which caused them to wear glasses cuz their eyes all fucked up.

    That guy is full of shit. Nuff said now im off to bed.

    #35 8 months ago
  36. sebastien rivas

    @22

    Yep I certainly love it.

    Throw me a 60 inch 4k standard and with a gold plated HDMI in the box and I buy ;_) (that was a joke of course)

    #36 8 months ago
  37. Francis O

    Too generic, all the games were racing, sports, or shooters.

    Killer Instinct is just trash…I was a huge fan of the series, but what is this stupid F2P model….just give me a full game with all the characters…not most then I have to purchase some later.

    The price tag is too high, and there are not enough exclusives that jump out at you. Ryse does not look that great, QTE…. Forza is ok, GT6 is right around the corner though.

    Overall, there are a bunch of multiplat titles, or titles you can get on current generation in the line up. A lot of ports as well.

    Microsoft’s Gamescom didn’t really do anything to change my impression of the system. Overpriced and lacking innovative titles that do new gameplay over current gen.

    #37 8 months ago