Microsoft has opened up an Xbox One pop-up shop in Toronto ahead of the system’s launch. On Tuesday, Microsoft allowed members of the press to run around the shop and check out demos of upcoming Xbox One games. Here are some short previews on a few of the games available to demo at the pop-up shop, which opens to the public on Thursday, November 7. It'll stay open until December 27, with all the games previewed here, along with a few more.
The formerly Kinect exclusive, Xbox 360 successor to Panzer Dragoon has been freed of its motion control shackles. Or maybe it’s been shackled to a controller? Either way, the game plays pretty much like Panzer Dragoon, or, if you weren’t one of the five people who owned a Sega Saturn, like Star Fox.
It’s an on-rails shooter, where you ride on the back of a dragon, shooting lasers, fireballs and windblasts at other dragons and alien fauna. The game has a weird sci-fi fantasy thing going for it, with the dragons as the aliens that rule planet Draco, which humans want to colonize. They’re being infected by a disease that makes them go crazy, everybody wears standard space-marine armor, but occasionally there will be another soldier with an anime haircut instead of a helmet. It’s an odd balance, but it works, making for a cool visual style that hides the fact that the game started its life on 360, and it sometimes shows.
Some bosses take you into a free-flight mode, which functions pretty much like all-range mode in Star Fox. You fly around a giant boss, looking for weak points to shoot at as your wingmen help out. Wingmen can also be the AI profiles of people on your friends list you’ve summoned to help out, so no more blaming Slippy for messing up your run.
Crimson Dragon is a digital-only launch title for Xbox One, from Microsoft Studios.
Peggle is Peggle and will always be Peggle. You fire a ball at some pegs, watch it bounce around, get points, and become hopelessly addicted. Peggle 2 delivers on all those counts, and actually manages to add some freshness to the mix. The wider screen allows for more space for your Peggle Master (a helper character that gives you magic powers) to hang out in the corner, and get some extra animations. The new Yeti master, Berg, shakes his butt when you do really well, complete with pixelated censoring.
Another new addition are bumpers which line some boards, bouncing your ball around. It’s small, but it adds a little dynamism to the few stages I saw them in. The additions, which also include 5 new masters, sound small, mostly because they actually are. But Peggle was already great, and I can’t wait to become addicted all over again.
I have to be honest, I’m not a car game guy. My primary racing game experience is with Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed and various Mario Karts. The last “real” racing game I played was Gran Turismo 2 on PlayStation. Nevertheless, I braved Forza 5 and found that...it’s a racing game.
It’s a really pretty racing game, absolutely gorgeous in fact, but as usual, I didn’t quite feel the appeal. The demo featured a rewind function that pulled me back to an earlier point in the race, which helped the one time I crashed, spun out, and went from second place to eighth, but I imagine that it isn’t a commonly used ability in regular gameplay.
What I took away from Forza 5 was its use of the Xbox One’s impulse triggers. When I pressed the brakes while driving, the triggers would rumble more and more the harder I pressed and there was always some slight rumble to the triggers as I held down the gas. It felt visceral, in a non-violent way, though I can’t imagine any other context in which rumbling triggers would make any sense.
Fighting games are notoriously hard to demo. A fighting game is usually judged on how tough it is to figer out, how complicated it is to master, what the balance is like, and how deep the bonus modes go, and a short, 5 minute session isn’t really going to tell you any of that.
Killer Instinct was no different, but my 5 minutes were at the very least better than I expected. KI is an update of Rare’s SNES “classic”, which is mostly considered to be just another poor Mortal Kombat clone these days. The new Killer Instinct takes some pages out of the new Mortal Kombat’s book as well, with long juggle combos and a very “X-Treme” attitude. Specifically, an announcer who never shuts up and always sounds like he just smoked a pack of cigarettes in hell.
The game itself is hard to judge for now. Combos seemed fairly easy to do, but so did the combo breakers, which essentially just rewarded random button mashing during the match. But of course, that can really only be proven with more extensive play. The fact that the base version of the game is free, with all the characters running $20, and a deluxe version for $40 is a great business model, and one I hope more fighting games adopt, I just wish it wasn’t in a game I have so many apprehensions about.
Kinect Sports Rivals:
Kinect Sports Rivals is easily the Xbox One’s prettiest launch game.
The Kinect sensor works a bit better, and you can play while sitting so you don’t look like a madman, twisting your arms and stomping your feet in front of the TV, but I still found that it didn’t quite work without making more exaggerated movements than I thought I’d need to make. That didn’t really matter though, because I was wowed, genuinely wowed, by how much prettier the game was than pretty much any next-gen title I’ve seen.
The difference from the rest of the next-gen line up is colour. Next-gen lighting effects (the real graphical jump that the Xbox One and PS4 will provide) take some of the edge off of the oversaturated primaries the game was using and leaves everything with a semi-realistic palette that still looks distinctly cartoony. The water was a vibrant blue, with amazing transparency, and I realize I sound like the world’s most cliched graphics evangelist, ranting about water effects, but they really are something great.
How much better the Kinect sensor remains to be seen, but if you’re picking up an Xbox One at launch, download the demo for this one, just so you can see that next-gen looks better when it isn’t brown and grey.
Dead Rising 3:
Going in, I was worried that Dead Rising 3 would lack the humour and general upbeat spirit that endeared me to the series in the first place. Going out, I was more worried about the game’s world than anything else. The demo had me, as zombie-outbreak-survivor Nick, hunting for some Zombrex (the famed zombie antidote) after an inopportune bite. So off I went into town, gleefully rampaging through zombies with a steamroller-motorcycle hybrid I built on the spot. Not having to search for crafting benches both makes and breaks the series’ trademark crafting. On one hand, crafting any two items I find on the ground is fantastic. On the other, it sort of inspired me to try and combine everything, which mostly had me standing around with a cinder block in one hand, longingly staring at a shotgun wishing I could combine the two.
The other worrying thing I noted was that the game’s open world made traversing by foot a bit of a chore, which left me using mostly vehicles to get around, and missing out on the various melee weapon combinations. It isn’t helped by the fact that the absolutely massive zombie hordes are a nightmare to plow through without a car.
On the bright side, one of the melee combinations I used was a fire spitting dragon head with umbrella wings and katana gloves, and the guy next to me was fighting off the zombie hordes in a full suit of knight’s armor while using an axe tied to a car engine. So you know, the comedy is still there.
Ryse: Son of Rome:
Look, neither of us want to do this. Launch lineups are pretty much always subpar, and, just a guess here, the PS4 and Xbox One don’t seem to be exceptions. But Ryse...well, Ryse is special. First announced as a first-person action game for the Kinect, Ryse was meant to show people that the peripheral could be used for hardcore games. But Kinect was repositioned as the Wii 2.0, and the game never came out.
Ryse has been repositioned as a hack-and-slash, God of War style action game set in ancient Rome. Of course, just like God of War, the game tends to skew towards the old ultra-violence. At one point in the demo, after slashing at my enemy maybe five or six times, then bashing his head in with my shield, he ran at me again and I was given an execution prompt. When enemies are low enough on health, you can hit RT to exectue a canned animation and, well, execute them.
My soldier chopped his left arm off when the game told me to hit X, then it asked me to press Y. I decided I was done murdering this man. But without any orders from me, my soldier spun behind him, knocked him to the floor, sliced off his right leg and then curb stomped him back to the ground. I was pretty much done with the demo at that point, but pressed on. Eventually I found myself in a turret section, with confusing auto-lock-on that someone made it both terribly confusing and insultingly easy, and later a boss fight, which was solved by pressing X with the occasional hit of Y to stun the boss.
The game looks pretty good, better than most of the other launch titles, which are ports of current-gen games, and some scenes in the cutscenes could have passed for photos. I just wish the game could pass for more than a gratuitously violent slash-fest that plays itself.