Last Thursday night at the 2013 Xbox Comic-Con Media Showcase, I got my first hands-on time with the Xbox One. I was pleased — well, mostly pleased. Having manned home base during both E3 and Microsoft's initial Xbox One reveal for the past few months, the extent of my experience with the console has been second hand. I read the accounts of my colleagues. I looked at pictures. I watched gameplay videos. I was a well-informed spectator.
And now like so many gamers attending the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, I've touched Microsoft's upcoming console. I've felt the sleek contours of its controller. I've squeezed its responsive triggers. I've played fifteen minutes of Crytek's Ryse: Son of Rome.
I've cultivated a slightly more informed opinion, and that opinion is "hmm." Perhaps I should elaborate.
I'm quite impressed with Ryse: Son of Rome, despite the negative press the game's been garnering lately. Sure, the portion of the game we've seen and I've now played focuses heavily on pressing the face buttons of the new Xbox One controller in time, the battles I fought were rather satisfying, in a completely brutal sort of way.
The graphics are pretty intense, and there's a ton of stuff going on throughout the demo — little events and interactions easy to miss in the heat of battle. I get the feeling the demo I played barely scratched the surface of Crytek's Xbox One title.
I'm also pretty impressed with the game's producer, Justin Robey. If I were a game developer, I'd be him, and it would be awkward for everyone involved.
What I am not impressed by is the Xbox One. The design is great (I love rectangles), the controller is a near-perfect evolution of the Xbox 360 pad and I'm sure we'll eventually see some of its power and cloud computing enhancements come into play.
For now it just doesn't feel like a next-gen system to me.
Maybe it was my game choices. Along with Ryse I played a couple rounds of the new Killer Instinct, where the bulk of the system's power seemed to be dedicated to producing spectacular special effects. It's very frantic and pretty, but nothing that couldn't run on an Xbox 360 without trimming away much in the way of gameplay and visuals.
Graphics aren't everything, of course. It's just that I'm used to seeing a more dramatic step up from one generation to the next. When the original Xbox gave way to the Xbox 360, there was no mistaking one system's games for the other's. Even the worst Xbox 360 launch titles were distinctively Xbox 360 games, plastic-looking textures and all.
I don't expect I'll feel the difference between the two system until I get up to my virtual elbows in Xbox One's guts later this year. I'm beginning to understand why our first introduction to the Xbox One focused on cable TV and streaming video and second-screen tech — it's the experience between and beyond the games that will define this console, and until I have a chance to sit down with that bit, I'm standing by my "hmmm".