Xbox One Review Part 7: The Gameplay Experience

By December 3, 2013
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TV! Video on demand! Blu-ray! Voice control! Motion control! So many features are continuously advertised for the Xbox One that it may be easy to lose sight of the fact that it is, for all intents and purposes, designed primarily for one thing: playing video games. With each successive generation of video game consoles, there are certain aspects of the experience that we expect to either change minimally or to stay the same: regardless of generation, a game has to be well built, it has to feel intuitive, and it has to be fun. Nonetheless, we also expect some evolution in the experience with the availability of new hardware, and so it becomes necessary to try and discern exactly what has changed, and stayed the same, about the experience of actually playing games on the Xbox One.

Variety of Games

A surprisingly diverse set of game types was available for the Xbox One from the launch date, including games designed specifically for use with Kinect, multi-platform blockbuster first person shooters, sandbox adventure games, third person action games, fighting games, sports games, racing games, etc. I was able to take in a few of them, specifically Dead Rising 3 (which will be fully reviewed as a part of this series), Kinect Sports Rivals: Pre-Season, and Xbox Fitness. The most traditional of these is definitely Dead Rising 3, one of the high profile launch titles that primarily uses a controller for play. Both Kinect Sports Rivals and Xbox Fitness primarily use the Kinect sensor and your body in order to play, with the former being a more traditional game, and the latter being a highly intuitive exercise program that is given more specific gaming tropes.

The variety of different gameplay experiences right out of the gate on the Xbox One is what ultimately separates it from its chief rival, the PlayStation 4. Variety, though, does not necessarily make the games good, so how do these different types of games actually play? Let’s explore that!

Kinect Sports Rivals: Preseason is a free downloadable demo, controlled with your body and the Kinect sensor with shocking accuracy.

Kinect Sports Rivals: Preseason is a free downloadable demo, controlled with your body and the Kinect sensor with shocking accuracy.

Kinect Games

The types of games that set the gameplay experience definitively apart from the PS4 or Wii U are the ones designed for use with Kinect, where your body is the controller. Although the full version of Kinect Sports Rivals won’t be available until next year, Microsoft released a “preseason” demo featuring one of the full game’s sports: water skiing. As someone who never owned a Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360, I went into trying this one with some hesitance, since I had general doubts about the overall accuracy of modern motion sensing without some kind of peripheral device (like the Wii Remote).

After going through a laughably cheesy introductory session that teaches the controls, it was time to do some water skiing. The game can be played sitting or standing (I had the most success with sitting), and you put your arms up as if you’re holding the handles of a water ski. Clenching your right fist acts as the accelerator, and moving your hands parallel to each other acts as a turn. When you go off of jumps, you can arch your back to perform a midair trick before crouching slightly to ensure that you stick the landing, and won’t be thrown off of your ski. After you’ve been going for awhile, a speed boost meter fills up that you can then use to give you a forceful push. At opportune moments, you can use the boost to tactically take a place or two in the race. How do you activate it? Simple: just say, “speed boost.”

This demo has managed to completely change my mind about the motion control capabilities of the sensor, since I was legitimately shocked at how well it actually worked. The game easily differentiated between my girlfriend and I, and it was actually quite exciting and fun to play. I’ll be very interested to see what comes of the full version upon release, with the other included sports like target practice, soccer, bowling, and tennis (the latter two of which will have to be amazing if it wants to be more fun and intuitive than Wii Sports and Wii Sports Club offerings on Wii and Wii U). The game is definitely stunning visually (especially the water effects), so it should be pretty cool to see what the full release looks like early next year!

A screenshot from Xbox Fitness from Beachbody's "Insanity" workout.

A screenshot from Xbox Fitness from Beachbody’s “Insanity” workout.

Xbox Fitness is another “game” that primarily uses the Kinect sensor, but instead of previous workout games like Wii Fit, this one actually licenses existing, popular workouts from some of the most well-known fitness personalities of today and converts them into Kinect games. One of the abilities of the sensor allows it to detect your heart rate, and combining that with the detection of your skeleton actually causes it to detect if you’re doing the specific moves of each workout correctly. If you slow down, it will tell you to speed up. If your arms aren’t going high enough, it will tell you that so you can correct it. Not arching your back? It’ll let you know. On top of all of that, your ability to get the moves correct will allow you to gain leveling points to increase your documented skill level, and can unlock achievements to increase your Xbox Live gamerscore. Pretty cool!

Beyond that, though, the coolest part about Xbox Fitness is that it’s free, and a multitude of popular and intense workouts are also free through the end of 2014. This includes Beachbody’s “P90X” and “Insanity,” Tracy Anderson’s “Metamorphosis,” and select burners from Jillian Michaels. Many of them are absolutely free through 2014 with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, though there are workouts you can purchase, mostly from Jillian Michaels, for a nominal fee. If you didn’t want to do that, though? There are plenty of other free alternatives to choose from, and they can definitely get your wind going.

Xbox Fitness may be the best kept secret on the Xbox One thus far, but if you’re looking for an incentive to get back in shape or have a New Year’s Resolution you want to fulfill, oddly enough you may be able to get closer to your goals with an Xbox One.

A screenshot from Dead Rising 3, with a full review coming soon.

A screenshot from Dead Rising 3, with a full review coming soon.

More Conventional Games

If you’re looking for just a classic, controller-only experience, then there is plenty of software to choose from. Unfortunately, I was only able to pick up one launch game with my console, and the one I settled on was Capcom Vancouver’s Dead Rising 3. The original Dead Rising was really one of the first games of the HD era on the Xbox 360, and the sandbox zombie title has managed to now persist through two sequels. I’ll be reviewing the game in full soon, but the actual experience of picking up a controller and playing it is at least as good as the Xbox 360 experience. The addition of new impulse motors in the Xbox One’s controller account for the biggest difference, simply because there’s a wider range of tactile feeling depending on your situation. You do a lot of driving in Dead Rising 3, for instance, and you get a lot of feedback across the controller depending on your speed, items you may hit on the road, running over a sea of zombies, or diving out of a car before it explodes. The same can be said for firing weapons and using melees, since the controller feels very responsive as a result.

Longer gameplay sessions also reveal the sturdiness of the controller’s design, since the finish on the controller itself is actually resistant to sweat that might come from your hands (at least for me). The feel of the controller takes a little getting used to, but when used in practice I found myself easily acclimating and getting into the experience.

A grab from Xbox One's Killer Instinct, a free-to-play fighter with upgrade options.

A grab from Xbox One’s Killer Instinct, a free-to-play fighter with upgrade options.

Being a fan of fighting games, I also wanted to see how the new controller and system fared with the hand-to-hand genre, and I was pleasantly surprised by Killer Instinct. Technically a free-to-play game with one character, the full game and achievements aren’t actually unlocked unless you sink some money into it to buy extra characters and/or stages. I’m not enough of a fan of the series to go that far, but as a trial run for a future installment of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or Injustice, the future looks pretty bright for fighting games on Xbox One. The controller’s new d-pad is far superior for these types of games than its predecessor, which allows for a slightly more responsive fighting game experience thanks largely to the redesigns present in the new controller.

Since we’re so early in the life of this new system, there’s a great deal of potential for these impressions to change. Depending on the prevailing trend of the times, or barring some unforeseen masterpiece that revolutionizes the way we game, the Xbox One is on a solid foundation, largely placed there by its immediate predecessor. Traditional games don’t feel overtly different in the way that they play to the way the Xbox 360 plays, and right now I consider that a good thing. There’s always a risk things will get worse somehow, but all of that is largely dependent on the game itself. So far, the Xbox One platform seems like a solid one on which to have a lot of fun doing what you’re supposed to do on it: playing video games!

In the next part of the Xbox One review, we’ll check in on how you can get social on the console via the next evolution in Xbox Live, and video calling on Skype!

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.