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Xbox Pavillion at San Diego Comic-Con: First Public Hands-On of Xbox One

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Written by Steve Geise

This year’s Comic-Con is the first chance for the general public to get their sweaty mitts on the new Xbox One in advance of its release this November. Microsoft has taken over a huge second floor ballroom at the Manchester Grand Hyatt nearby the San Diego Convention Center, and the results look pretty impressive. To the left, they have multiple Xbox One consoles running a handful of launch window titles, while the right side of the room is reserved for upcoming releases on the retiring Xbox 360.

I took the opportunity to kick the tires on the new console myself, and came away not all that impressed by its launch line-up. The controller will feel instantly familiar to legacy Xbox players, with subtle changes such as a retooled d-pad and minimal casing tweaks. It felt right, it felt just like what we’re used to, and should continue to be a solid performer for the new console.

I’m not all that keen on the even more Boxy design of the new console but it’s unobtrusive enough that it won’t draw much attention near your TV. The Kinect is new and improved, larger than the old unit and reportedly much more robust. Microsoft only had one Kinect title on display, a new take on the movie Fantasia that finds players moving colors around the screen to the music. From what I saw, it plays more like a tech demo than a full-fledged game, but we may have only been seeing a portion of the final product.

As for the other new games, playable versions of Crimson Dragons and a weird hybrid racing/fighting game were available, while on stage a developer was walking attendees through a sandbox game called Spark. They were all just secondary to the star attraction though, the swords-and-sandals epic known as Ryse.

In addition to multiple consoles running Ryse, Microsoft set up an elaborate stage where live gladiators occasionally came out and battled. They were watched over by a towering and rotating gladiator statue, while to the left another statue guarded a massive wall banner.

The game has marketing muscle for a reason: it’s a great showcase for the new platform. While it’s troubling that we only got the same very brief playable demo that was unveiled at this year’s E3, that demo is a thrilling if somewhat limiting hack and slash mission that finds our character leading his fellow warriors into battle, occasionally directing their mass movements like a real time strategy game, but mostly just button mashing to kill all the enemies swarming the highly detailed battlefield. The limiting factor is due to the timed button mashes that display on screen during finishing moves, such as pressing X at a crucial moment to deliver a fatal blow. Still, I had a much better time with the game than expected and have confidence in Crysis creator Crytek to deliver a polished final product.

Crimson Dragons finds players controlling a fearsome dragon as it flies on rails through lava-filled caves and shoots other dragons and assorted beasties. It reminded me of the old SEGA game Panzer Dragoon, controlled a bit odd with barely any steering via the left stick and a difficult firing reticule with the right stick. I noticed perceptible lag and choppiness in the draw time of the graphics, not a good sign with console release only months away.

The racing/fighting game seems more like a throwaway Xbox Live release than a key title, so I’m baffled why they brought it along. Players control a motorcycle rider who is being pursued by other riders, and he’s able to fight them off by button mashing as they drive by. It’s kind of fun in short doses, but certainly not a next gen showcase.

Spark bored me almost immediately. It looks like Minecraft with pretty graphics, and that’s just not my cup of tea. Players can build their playing areas with tons of customization, then set their virtual characters loose for some action, but of course the demo was mostly just how to build the landscape. I know Minecraft is hugely popular, but this one doesn’t look like a winner to me.

As we bid a fond adieu to the 360, Microsoft shared a few of the remaining big titles on the horizon, including playable versions of LEGO Marvel SuperheroesSplinter Cell: BlacklistFable Anniversary, and the next Rayman. I’m most excited about the LEGO game, and in sample play that excitement was justified.

Microsoft is also showing playable tablet/mobile demos of their upcoming Halo game, a top down shooter akin to the Tomb Raider multiplayer title that was only available via download. The game is only running on Windows tablets and phones, so not likely to get much of an audience unless it moves to other platforms.

The Xbox Pavilion will be open to all Con attendees throughout the remainder of Comic-Con this weekend.

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