Despite the controversies surrounding the Xbox One, there were long queues at Microsoft’s stand throughout E3 — and quite a few decent titles on show. Here’s a look at some of the key games.

Forza Motorsport 5

Top among the titles on offer was Microsoft’s flagship racer. Turn 10’s racing sim proved to be not only a fantastic showcase for the Xbox One’s visual capabilities but it offered some insight into the potential of cloud gaming.

Forza has always been easy on the eye, but the latest iteration is a cut above anything released in this franchise before it. The reason for this isn’t just down to the racing camera that delivers 1080p resolution at 60 fps, but that Turn 10 realised that visual perfection is an unreal quality. To that end, they’ve used what they’ve called ‘physically based materials’ to better represent the dream machines in their games.

What this means is that players will notice that the game’s lighting system reacts with each surface to show up not only sleek contours but intricate imperfections such as minimal flaking and wear and tear. Direct sunlight illuminates a car’s base coat, subtly playing with its paintwork, causing a volcano orange spray job, for example, to look candy red.

ForzaVista is back, but it’s been hugely expanded allowing players to poke around every nook and cranny of every car in the game. Turn 10 has mapped the interiors and exteriors of every car available to drive, although they remained quiet on the final vehicle count.

On the track, the frame rate is as smooth as butter and the draw distance is mind-blowing. As players hurtle around the game’s tracks they’ll also notice subtle visual ticks, such as particles hanging in shafts of light or direct sunlight bouncing off their car’s bonnet.

The big addition here is something called Drivatar. Every time the player competes in Forza 5, their tactics, faults and style of driving is pushed to the cloud. The cloud then generalizes how they behave on track, the vehicles they prefer to drive and the tactics they use — and creates their Drivatar. This is virtual representation of the player in Forza 5 and, once created, it will then appear in their friend’s games. It drives without you. It earns you points and XP. It essentially grinds for you while you’re offline. You could argue that this is simply a game playing itself, but it’s worth pointing out that the Drivatar is only as good as the person it’s profiling. If players want to get anything out of it, they’ll have to sink some serious time into the game.

Ryse: Son Of Rome

The last time anyone saw Ryse, it was a sword and sandals fighter that was played using the Kinect controller. It also looked as though someone had poured a truckload of dirt across the screen.

In its current format the visuals have received a massive polish and the Kinect interface aspect has been paired down somewhat; it’s now only used to register voice commands. In the hands-on available in the Microsoft booth, players control the game’s protagonist, Marius Titus, as he storms the beaches of Dover and lays waste to the Celtic barbarians he encounters.

Initially, the demo seems to pitch Ryse as some sort of ancient world corollary to the Call Of Duty franchise; as the player begins the beach assault, they’re forced to watch as a flaming projectile — which soars into frame in slow motion — slams into Titus’s troops and briefly drowns out the soundtrack with the blast from its impact. Titus is knocked to the ground and resumes fighting only after he’s shaken off the shellshock in manly-man fashion.

Ryse offers high-octane spectacle — the quick-time kill moves are particularly delicious — but in terms of its game-play, it’s a little hit and miss. Players use the face buttons to slice, parry and shield bash, but on the easiest difficulty setting, they’re able to spam one attack to progress.

There are a couple of interesting stages in the demo — such as when the player lines up Titus’s squad to form a Tetsuo — but on the whole one gets the impression that, if it’s possible to beat the game using one attack, fatigue and boredom may prompt player to quite Ryse.

Killer Instinct

Let’s be honest; before its announcement at Microsoft’s E3 keynote, Killer Instinct’s status existed somewhere between that of a much beloved arcade fighter and a punchline for the entire genre. This was a game in which players could toss their opponents into a never ending beat-down juggle where, provided they time their hits correctly, the poor sod they were hammering wouldn’t be able to lay a glove on them. It was unbalanced to the point of hilarity.

Killer Instinct on the Xbox One is a slightly tweaked beast. The move sets are simple and easy to get to grips with, but the Combo Breakers are far easier to execute. The flow of each fight, now, doesn’t depend on who got the most devastating series of hits in first.

Interestingly, Killer Instinct is free to play at the console’s launch; players will get Jago for free but need to pay for any other fighters they fancy — with a discount offered if they purchase them all at once.

You could argue that this is naked profiteering. Then again, you could frame it as bespoke fighter purchasing. It’s your choice.

Project Spark

In a nutshell, this is the Xbox One’s RPG answer to Little Big Planet. However, rather than being a game level builder, Project Spark is a tool set that players can use to build their own games and share them with other players.

You can start from scratch or opt to use a set of pre-loaded options to build landscapes and populated them with characters. In seconds they’re able to construct caves, forests, rivers — practically any type of topography they can imagine. They can also populate it with creatures, to which they can assign reactionary behaviour and minimal AI. They can then go on to construct quests and missions within the worlds they’ve created and proceed to share them online.

While this sounds very simple in practice — and it is — the potential housed in Project Spark is quite simply mind-boggling as evidenced by the fact that the developers see the launch title as something of a jumping off point. Right now, the overriding genre in Spark’s game creation is fantasy, but there’s no reason why other genres couldn’t be implemented too, according to the developers. It all depends on whether players invest in the IP.

Crimson Dragon

Once upon a time this game was called Project Draco and, like Ryse, it was a Kinect title. Now, it’s called Crimson Dragon and, while the Microsoft personnel at the booth couldn’t confirm whether Kinect was still part of the package, I can confirm one can now play it with a control pad.

Crimson Dragon imagines a future in which humans have colonised other planets in the cosmos but fallen foul of an alien epidemic. Those who’ve survived have partnered up with giant, flying dragons (as you do).

The game is essentially a rail-shooter in which the player controls a reticule and directs the attacks of their flying mount. It has to be said that the game looks stunning, but one has to wonder whether looks alone are enough to sustain interest here. If it’s marketed as a cheap, short download, it may be in with a chance.

Kinect demo and controller demo

Both the Xbox One’s new controller and its hands-free sensor were being showcased on the stand, which was useful, since most of the games on display didn’t really give players a sense of either of them. In most of the game demos, the Xbox One’s controller had its rumble pads disabled and there weren’t any games that exclusively utilised the new Kinect module.

So it was that the only way to gauge the potential of either of them was through tech demos. The Xbox One’s control pad feels like a more evolved version of its predecessor. The buttons are more flush against its surface, the twin sticks fit more snugly against the player’s thumbs and both the shoulder buttons and the D-pad respond to the slightest pressure. The controller’s battery pack is also flush against its undercarriage and overall, it feels lighter and more moulded to the player’s grip.

The biggest additions are the four sets of rumble pads, situated in the triggers and the surfaces that rest against the user’s palms. In the demo, we were shown how these motors could be used to simulate a human heartbeat, the sensation of steady machine gun fire and the sensation of starting the engine of a car. It was pretty base stuff, but it delivers a glimpse of potential.

Kinect, of its part, has been robustly improved. Instead of mapping a stick-figure skeleton, the Kinect module can now pick up muscle texture, facial expressions and even monitor heart rates. Industry pundits have been quick to point out how these capabilities could help in the development of fitness games, but it’s also likely that Kinect could play a deciding factor in building a bespoke entertainment experience for every Xbox One user. If this sounds too intrusive, don’t worry; Kinect can be disabled and it isn’t required to be on at all times, said the nice man at Microsoft’s booth.

Dead Rising 3

The final marquee next-gen experience available at Microsoft’s stand was Dead Rising 3. Unfortunately this was a strictly hands-off experience, but the brief demo imparted more than a few features.

Players take on the role of one Nick Ramos, a bloke who finds himself stuck at the centre of the zombie apocalypse. Details about his past weren’t forthcoming, but that’s hardly a problem, because the central appeal of any Dead Rising game is the prospect of cutting up zombies.

To that end, Dead Rising 3 looks like it’ll succeed with aplomb; players can use Ramos to unleash almighty hell on the undead, especially once he’s given the room to craft a couple of items such as hammer with a table saw strapped to it or flaming sword made by combining a blade and some gas.

The tone of the game is quite different to previous instalments in that a good deal of the zany humour has been drained completely. While it’s hardly po-faced, Dead Rising 3 feels like the narrative stakes are significantly higher than those in previous iterations. Also the size of the environment has been increased quite considerably, lending the game a sense of oblivion.

Yet, this is still a game where players can use a table saw to cut a zombie in half — literally. Dead Rising 3 may be a lot darker than its predecessors, but it hasn’t lost its sense of humour.

© Guardian News Service

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