Speaking of games, Microsoft has done a good job of pre-empting critics with a solid lineup of exclusive first-party games. There is the obligatory car racing game in Forza Motorsport 5, a genre that is rolled out with any new console launch to show off graphical capability. There is also Ryse: Son of Rome, an action-adventure brawler set in ancient times – be sure to check out individual reviews of both in the coming days – as well as a few family friendly downloadable titles, such as Zoo Tycoon.
The Xbox One also has the best next-generation launch game in the form of Dead Rising 3, from Capcom Vancouver. More than just pretty graphics, the zombie thriller showcases the console’s processing horsepower by shoving more characters on screen than has perhaps ever been seen before. While other launch games on both new consoles do a great job of polishing up eye candy, Dead Rising 3 is a hint of the much bigger things to come.
Kinect aside, these core games play well with the new controller, which features a few slight modifications from the Xbox 360’s model. It’s slightly bigger with thumbsticks that are just a tad bit smaller, and the triggers also vibrate now. On the downside, it still takes AA batteries rather than being rechargeable and it feels a little more plasticky than the 360’s controller.
That uncertain future
Perhaps the most interesting and potentially worrying of the launch titles is Killer Instinct, a reboot of the classic fighting game. It’s available as a free-to-play download, which heralds the arrival of intriguing new business models on the Xbox One. The core download is as scanty as it comes – players get just one character to play, with the idea being that if they like what they see, they can spend money to download additional content.
New characters are $5 each while a deluxe pack featuring eight of them runs $40. But even then, the game lacks a story mode and has fewer features than similar releases in the genre. All told, fans of this type of game look to get better value from a full game in a retail store at $60, which they can ultimately resell to recoup some of that cost. While there’s no certainty that Killer Instinct’s pricing experiment will work, it does raise the spectre of publishers trying to sell lesser-featured games that can’t then be resold, which is that bothersome vision of the future that gamers revolted against earlier this year.
Therein is the bigger worry – in the case of both Ryse and Forza, I had to install the games on the console before playing. As a result of the used game backlash, Microsoft is allowing those discs to be resold as they always have been. But the mandatory installs seem just a shade removed from a day when with a simple flip of a switch these tradeable games can be DRM’d into oblivion. Again, there may be benefits to such a new paradigm, but no one has convincingly argued them yet.
As it stands, the Xbox One is a gateway between worlds. Its ties to the current generation of consoles – and how the business of entertainment content is transacted around them – are evident. Yet it also seems poised to leap beyond those well-defined limits and remake the console world the way Microsoft originally intended, but was forced to temporarily scale back.
The Xbox One is a device and a strategy that is eyeing when – not if – it will plunge its users into a new economy of entertainment consumption. The only real question is how long it will take gamers to accept that paradigm and go along with it? Will they ever? The Xbox One’s present is well known, but its future is more difficult to predict.