When you’re done messing around with the new Kinect, you might actually want to play some games, and the first thing you’re going to notice is the new controller. Considering the fact that the Xbox 360’s controller, aside from the clunky D-pad, is one of the most universally loved console controllers ever, I had reservations about tinkering with success. And, I’ll admit that I didn’t think much of the new design when I first picked it up; the grip forces the hands to pitch slightly toward one another, and that takes some getting used to. But after playing several Xbox One titles in multiple genres, and playing Ryse through to the end, picking up the 360 controller feels like a serious step back in time; it’s a toy compared to the elegant design of the Xbox One controller. The materials are sturdier; the matte black plastic gives it a serious look like the console itself; the D-pad is perfectly accurate; the triggers have even better contouring for comfort, with each one delivering independent rumble feedback; and the analog sticks have deep convex centers and a textured edge for grip—with the most precise control yet.
The launch library for the Xbox One is a big check in the plus column. Like the PS4, the Xbox One is home to all of the latest installments in the big, third-party franchises like Assassin’s Creed IV, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Madden 25, and FIFA 14, all of which represent a graphical upgrade over their Xbox 360 and PS3 counterparts. On the exclusive front: Though the PS4 boasts a deeper library through independent offerings, the Xbox One actually has more must-owns, with two AAA exclusive launch titles available now: Forza Motorsport 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome. (In this reviewer’s opinion, the only AAA must-own on the PS4 is Killzone: Shadowfall.)
In its fifth installment, Forza has officially raised the bar for all other games in the racing sim genre with 200 cars lovingly detailed to a photorealistic finish. Other racers have had more—Forza 4 had 500—but none have ever looked this good. The Xbox One’s new processing power also allows for more realistic racing physics than ever before, and the controller’s rumble triggers allow you to experience feedback in a totally new way; with your finger on the right trigger—the throttle—you’ll feel the peaks and valleys of the RPM gauge, and depending on how hard you hit the brakes with the left trigger—and how fast you were going—you might feel a smooth deceleration, a light tremble as the brake pads work to control the car, or an all-out grind indicating the car is on the verge of flying apart.
Ryse is arguably the most next-gen-looking game on any system, even if its gameplay and premise is decidedly old-school. You are Marius Titus, a Roman soldier whose mission is to quell a barbarian uprising—and eventually get revenge for the death of his family—with a sword, shield, and the occasional spear or turn at the Scorpion, a crossbow turret. The swordplay is the real heart of the game, though, and the combo system demands that you fight through each enemy or group of enemies with perfectly timed attacks and blocks; mistime one of these commands and you’ll not only lose life, but also miss out on the rewards of building a huge string and have to start a new one. It’s wildly addictive, and the execution animations, while limited, are amazingly detailed—the perfect reward for a well-fought battle.
Other exclusives of note include Dead Rising 3, a fun zombie romp, and Killer Instinct, a triumphant rebirth of the arcade and N64 classic available via download from Xbox Live. You can’t go wrong with either of these, but steer well clear of Lococycle and Crimson Dragon, both of which fall flat.