Ahead of the release of Sony’’s biggest exclusive for months, Microsoft wants you to know there are some pretty intense Xbox titles just around the corner too.
To that end it recently held a press event in London to show off three of its big new games — and it turned out to be a pretty eclectic grab-bag.
From the roller coster thrills of ‘ScreamRide’ by Frontier Developments to Undead Labs’ ‘State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition’ remaster and the beautiful platformer ‘Ori And The Blind Forest’ it was a broad sweep in tone and polish.
There was some news at the event - including a slightly earlier release date for State of Decay - but really it was a chance to get some hands-on time with the games and see how they’re stacking up ahead of release.
Here’s what we thought.
‘ScreamRide’ (March 3, 2015)
This is ‘Roller Coaster Tycoon’ meets Angry Birds and Trials. Split into three types of gameplay, ScreamRide takes the most exciting thing about running a theme park - building coasters - and makes that the focus of a surprisingly intricate blend of action, puzzle solving and engineering.
In ‘ScreamRider’ you take control of the roller coaster car, and have to guide it around the track (controlling throttle, ‘lean’ direction and turbo boost) in the fastest time without killing the riders. ‘Engineer’ sees you building coasters to spec, using a limited amount of track to fulfil the requirements (again, without killing anyone). Finally there’s ‘Demolition Expert’, which is about hurling riders in pods at a destructible range of skyscrapers, in a sort of Angry Birds/golf game hybrid.
While we played all three modes, plus the extensive level create section, it’s ScreamRider that we spent most time with. It’s the most immediately addictive and exciting of the three modes, and while it keeps to a simple, uncluttered visual style is fast, explosive and action-packed. The mix of racing and strategy is far more subtle than you might expect, and while you are (of course) literally on rails the game is less forgiving of mistakes than you might think. On later levels (which we skipped to, rashly) it’s almost impossible to keep the car on four wheels, and the addition of full community features means level sharing and challenges should keep you coming back.
It’s not the deepest game, or at first glance the most visually varied. But it should have the same mix of addictiveness, simplified, kinetic controls and funny rag doll physics that turned Trials into a phenomenon.
‘State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition’ (April 28, 2015)
If you’re a fan of the old game, you’re going to want this. With improved graphics, all the previous DLC, lots of new content (graphics, animations, playable characters) and more, plus a nice 33% discount for existing players, it’s hard to resist.
Our demo focused on the open-ended Breakdown mode, and it was a fun traipse through the brutal wasteland of Trumbull Valley, looting crates, building a base and (of course) destroying lots of zombie brains with tactically opened car doors. The graphics look sharp and rich, with a much longer draw distance improving your ability to avoid zombies in advance — and know where you’re actually going, which is handy.
The downside is that there isn’t a fundamental reinvention of the game here - and many of the rough edges are still present, including a few glitches here and there and a pervasive sense of last-gen-ness about the experience.
Still, if you’ve played Dead Rising 3 to death (ho ho) this is the next-best open world zombie game coming to the Xbox One.
‘Ori And The Blind Forest’ (March 11, 2015)
This action platformer is pitched primarily on its polish and beauty, and it looks like it’s going to deliver. It’s as sharp and playable as Rayman: Legends (one of the best, if not the best platform game of all-time), and is spectacularly well-drawn (as you can tell from the screenshots). Microsoft took time to highlight the game’s music too - and it’s true that the addition of a full orchestra to the score makes the whole game feel much more like a playable cartoon, which you sense was the intent.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to see much of it in person (grr). What we did experience made it seem like an high-quality, passionately-produced video game which will live and die by how (a) interesting and (b) saccharine the story and setting prove to be. (It feels like it could do with a dose of humour...) But we can’t wait to have a longer go.