Now more than ever, consoles are in a strange place. With platforms like Steam ensuring access to a growing library of games in perpetuity, a traditional 8-to-10-year console life cycle starts to lose meaning. The rise of short hardware iterations with iOS and Android has muddied the waters further. Consumers are comfortable swapping out devices. as circuit boards shrink and screens grow.
Earlier this month, Microsoft invited me to Sydney to check out the Xbox One X – the company’s answer to the changing console landscape. On offer were a suite of games that made use of the system’s higher specs, running at a crisp 4K or a smoother framerate.
Our full opinion of the One X will have to wait until the system is released, but here are some of my thoughts on the games present.
Turn 10 know how to make good looking driving games, and Forza 7 is no different. You can head on over to the full preview for a more in-depth look.
But the long and short of it? It’s a damn fine-looking game. They also had the Xbox One X version running alongside the PC – something you rarely see at showcase events like these. It was a smart move though, as both are nearly on par. If you have an eye for detail though, there are some sharper specular reflections on the PC version, with wet roads looking especially nice.
If you don’t know anything about Gears of War 4, I highly recommend you read Luke’s review.
What was already a sharp game looks even nicer on the One X. The bump in resolution has had a noticeable effect: textures look cleaner, and edges less aliased. I was hoping to see an increase in framerate, but the game still aims for the tried-and-true 30 FPS.
Coming from New Zealand’s own Grinding Gear Games, this loot-driven hack-and-slash RPG hit PC back in 2013. Following a spate of successful expansions, it eventually found its way Xbox One in August.
The One X version looks nice: spell effects stack and pop-off without any slowdown, and the resolution adds an appreciable level of detail to the randomly generated, pre-fab environments. Some UI elements like your inventory screen take up a little too much of the screen real estate, but you’ll only be looking at this intermittently.
This one was actually on PC at the event, but I figured I’d include it because the original game is such a cultural touchstone.
I don’t remember much about the original Age of Empires, except the cheat to spawn a sports car with a rocket launcher, and the one that let your catapults throw villagers and cows. Also, the priests that would yell “wololo!”
It’s a bit weird seeing sprite-assets – which at the time, were a technical limitation – realised at such a high resolution. Extra frames have also been added to their movement, meaning your troops now fluidly glide around the map.
The MIDI soundtracks have also been remastered, in all their percussive glory; there’s a depth and richness there now. Some audio cues on the other hand are grainy, like they were maybe re-using the original samples.
Lara Croft’s latest adventure hit Xbox One nearly two years ago. Since then, I’ve built myself a PC that can run the game on the highest settings with no sweat – so seeing the One X handle it relatively well was pleasing.
Like Gears of War 4, the framerate was still locked around the 30 mark, which it managed to maintain even in gunfights and larger locations. UI and other HUD elements looked grainy however, like they were upscaling lower-resolution button prompts.
I can’t speak to the power of the Xbox One X here, because Cuphead would look gorgeous on any device its running on. The game was also one of the busiest at the event, with multiple journalists and devs trying their hand at the fiendishly difficult, hand-drawn platformer. I managed to get some time with the game, and I’ve come away with one thought.
Cuphead is hard.
If difficulty-curves that are more akin to brick walls are your thing, Cuphead has you covered; I saw maybe one other attendee manage to beat a boss. Encounters are lengthy, and work in phases. One moment you’ll be engaged in forced-scrolling, bullet hell fights with a dragon, the next you’ll be hopping between the clouds avoiding sentient fireballs.
It can be disheartening, and frustrating, and overwhelming – but it’s also fun.
One of the major things the PlayStation 4 Pro lacked at launch was a clear reason for its existence. Sony did – and at times, still do – a poor job of communicating the benefits that some games would have over their base versions.
I’m not yet convinced that the Xbox One X will dodge that bullet either, but events like this – and seeing an ever-expanding list of supported games – fills me with some confidence.
The Xbox One X launches November 7.
Keith travelled to an Xbox One X press event in Sydney. Flights and accommodation were provided by Microsoft.