It's not every day a new console debuts and you get a chance to play with it months ahead of launch. Luckily, I was able to snag the opportunity to play a few Xbox One titles last night, ogle at the new vent-crazy console, and manhandle the new controller.
First, let's talk about the console itself. It's every bit as VCR-ish as it looks. The vents are everywhere. They're unsightly, and it's almost a given that dust buildup is going to be even worse in them than on the Xbox 360. The fact that Microsoft deliberately made it so it could not stand vertically is a clear reminder that they want you to hide this thing in a TV cabinet and forget about it.
I played a number of Xbox One games including Forza Motorsport 5 (with a steering wheel setup), LocoCycle, Killer Instinct, Dead Rising 3, and I'm going to tell you straight up, the graphics aren't much of a leap from the Xbox 360. Actually, you probably won't be able to tell the difference if you're sitting a good distance away from your TV. Some of the games ran at 1080p at 60 frames per second (Forza 5) and play buttery-smooth, but you can still see some of the anti-aliasing "jaggies" and lower polygon counts in others.
That said, these games aren't finished products by any means, so they could change when launch comes, but I wouldn't get my hopes up. Also, you have to remember that launch titles usually lack the graphical fidelity of games released a year, two years, and three years down the line. As with all consoles, it'll take time for developers to really push the hardware to its limits to deliver uber-realistic visuals and experiences.
The Xbox One controller is an entirely different beast. While Nintendo went the touchscreen route with the Wii U GamePad and Sony is adding a small touchpad to its PS4 controller, Microsoft chose to tweak the Xbox 360's already almost-perfect design with subtle changes and new "impulse triggers." The Xbox One controller does feel a little smaller, and the integrated battery does give your fingers more room to breathe, but the real improvements lie in the new thinner analog sticks with micro-texturized rims, tighter shoulder buttons (LB/RB) and the vastly improved D-pad is also a godsend when compared to the terrible one on the Xbox 360 controller.
The oh-so-fantastic impulse triggers on the Xbox One controller deserves lots of praise, though. They add an entirely new depth of rumble to gaming. See, Microsoft's added individual motors that send vibrations directly into the triggers. Dependng on how light, or hard you press on the triggers, it'll provide different levels of vibrations. If you think feeling a vibration in your palm is nice, wait until you feel it on you fingers. In racing games, acceleration can have different types of rumble. To put it simply: you feel the vibrations flow from one end of the controller to the other. It's truly an amazing feeling.
I wasn't able to try out the new and improved Kinect, but when I do, I'll be sure to update this story with my impressions.
The controller might be perfect, but the Xbox One is already finding itself stuck between two rocks— the publishers and the consumers. Microsoft's restrictions on how you can sell a used game, how you share a used game, and the online check-in requirement once every 24 hours is not sitting well with avid gamers. In adding those restrictions, Microsoft has sold its soul to the corporations that want more control over used game sales. Sony's pledged to do the complete opposite with the PS4, keeping it unrestricted.
As I said yesterday, I preordered an Xbox One. (I'm a multi-platform gamer.) But when Sony announced that $399 price for the PS4 and threw hard punches at Microsoft's used games strategy and Internet requirement, I threw my preorder down for the PS4 and canceled my Xbox One order.
Only time will tell how the Xbox One holds up, but something (that's Twitter and Facebook) tells me we're going to see the PlayStation camp suddenly grow much larger than the Xbox, come the end of the year when both consoles launch.
(Posted on location at E3 2013 in Los Angeles, California. All photos by Raymond Wong for DVICE.)