UPDATE: I've added some more impressions on Dead Rising 3, Contrast, Need for Speed: Rivals and Killer Instinct in the comments below.
As the title would suggest, I finally got my hands on some hot next-gen iron at Digiexpo. Sure there was a lot of interesting stuff there like the new Nokia tablet, 4K televisions and so on but the main attraction was surely the lines of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles just waiting to be played. Here are some of my thoughts after spending a few hours with both machines and their respective games.
First of all let's talk about controllers. The DualShock 4 is a massive improvement over the DualShock 3. Pretty much everything about the controller has improved. The pad is heavier and bigger than before and feels much more balanced in your hands. The DualShock has always felt a bit top-heavy in my hands, but Sony have managed to draw a lot of the mass and weight down to the grips. The thumb sticks have more resistance and travel than before and most importantly of all they've been moved further apart so that you can't bump your thumbs together anymore. The triggers are actual triggers now, and while they still don't feel as good as those on the 360 or Xbox One pad I had no issue with them while playing Killzone. While the controller has improved massively over the DualShock 3 I still do have some gripes with it, mostly regarding the features which have been added to the controller.
Using the touchpad to switch abilities in Killzone felt relatively natural, but I kept accidentally hitting the touchpad which resulted in my robot buddy doing things I didn't want it to do. I'm sure that your hands get used to not going near the touchpad at some point, but it definitely will take some getting used to. The second complaint I have are the replacements for the select and start buttons (I think they're now called share and menu). The two buttons are tiny, completely flush with the surface of the controller and tucked away in the corner between the touchpad and the circle surrounding the face buttons. I found it really difficult to hit these buttons with any sort of consistency and kept again hitting the touchpad accidentally. A third negative would be the light on the top of the controller. Even in a brightly lit expo hall I could clearly see the reflection of the colored LED on the screen. As someone who doesn't want any unnecessary light sources around me when playing games I would imagine that the brightly colored LED will grow annoying quite quickly unless a patch is released deactivating the thing. The final reason why I noticed myself preferring the new Xbox One gamepad which I'll get to in a minute is that the two grips have much less of an angle to them than on the DualShock 3 or any of the Xbox controllers. This means that your hands end up sitting at a pretty unnatural angle, which again may be something that you can grow used to but it's sad that Sony probably had to do this in order to make the already enlarged and elongated controller feel more compact.
Now the Xbox One gamepad on the other hand was pretty fantastic. It's a little smaller than the 360 gamepad, but at the same time manages to be more comfortable. The lack of the battery extrusion in the back is probably the major reason why the controller feels better in my hands than the 360 pad. All of the buttons feel nice, except for the bumpers. I didn't really play any games which required me to use the bumpers (or the D-pad for that matter) but while fiddling around with the thing I noticed that the bumpers only click in when pushed from the outside edge. If you do try to click the bumpers with the tops of your fingers they just sort of mush about. After playing a few laps of Forza 5 I noticed however that my fingers were resting so that the second joint of my finger was always on the outside edge of the bumper, even while using both triggers. I would imagine that you could learn to use the bumpers without actually moving your fingers up and down at all. The textured edge on the thumb sticks felt really great although I can imagine all kinds of finger funk collecting on the finely textured surface. And the impulse triggers were much more aggressive than I was anticipating. My first lap of Forza 5 ended up being a bit of a mess because my hands were constantly surprised at all the different vibrations going through my fingers under acceleration, breaking, steering lock etc. Overall the Xbox One controller feels fantastic, and the DualShock 4 is great as well as long as you're able to live with a few of nitpicky things.
Now on to the games. I only had a chance to play Forza 5, Ryse, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack and Rezogun at the show but I'm aiming to go back tomorrow or Sunday to at least test out Dead Rising 3 and Killer Instinct. One game which I didn't get a chance to play but which I was surprised to find there was Trine 2: Complete Story running on a PS4. The game is coming out at or near launch for the PS4 and features touch screen and 3D support. I talked at length about the game with one of the developers who happens to be an old friend of mine and he was clearly excited about the self-publishing possibilities on the PS4. Sadly the game won't be cross-by due to the change of publishers. Two other stand-out games which I didn't get the chance to play yet were Dead Rising 3 and Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the PS4. The amount of zombies being pushed on screen in DR3 is really astounding and seeing thousands of zombies in every direction really telegraphed the horror of a zombie apocalypse shown in movies like Dawn of the Dead for the first time. That Lego Marvel game on the other hand was probably the most graphically impressive PS4 game I saw at the show, which may sound a tad ridiculous but it's true.
And as for the games I did play. Well Forza 5 looked and felt great. The graphical leap is not a huge one over something like Forza Horizon, but I really sensed how every little detail from the suspension and tire simulation to the way reflections effected your driving had been improved upon. And as I mentioned earlier the trigger vibration really brings a lot of depth to the driving feel. Ryse was an absolute surprise for me. I've had zero interest in the game from the time it was announced up till now, but actually playing it sort of made me think about buying the game at launch. The combat was surprisingly entertaining and challenging and the Microsoft rep actually said that nobody had passed the demo at the show. That is until I sat down and completed it in my first attempt with most of my health. What may have aided me was playing five hours of Devil May Cry the previous night. The quick-time events only really came into play when finishing off enemies, but I only played the arena battle mode and I can imagine that the campaign will have more of the pre-scripted QTE nonsense. Still the game looked better than just about anything I played on either new console and if the campaign comes together in the end I'll definitely be buying Ryse at or near launch.
Moving on to the PS4 stuff I'd say that Resogun was the probably the game I had the most fun with. The game has the same sort of addictive nature as something like Geometry Wars where you just have to keep trying again and again to reach a new high score. Again not to brag too much, but I managed to pull off a new high-score on my second attempt. Well ok maybe I am bragging intentionally, but that's because I'm usually not great at these kinds of games. The game looks great and the controls are snappy. Killzone: Shadow Fall left me a little indifferent. To my eyes it didn't look that much better than the previous two games in the franchise and everything about the gameplay is totally predictable. The only real addition is this flying drone which you can order around the battlefield to create diversions and fight for you. The concept wasn't explained super well in the section that I played but it might end up being what raises the game over a sea of mediocre shooters. And finally Knack. Well it's a pretty entertaining and nice looking (although the build I played wasn't stable at all frame rate wise) platformer action game with the kind of annoying fixed camera you usually get in these sorts of things. What surprised me most was how difficult the game was. At least in the section I played Knack only has a few basic attacks (punch, dash, double jump) and I wasn't really able to effective fight the varied ranged and quick moving enemies with these attacks. Still I'm sure that the game will go down well with plenty of families, and I definitely got a real Kameo vibe from it like a lot of people before me have seemed to have gotten as well. And I really liked Kameo!
Oh and one thing I forgot to mention earlier on was a weird thing with red lights on the Kinect sensor. I didn't get any sort of clear answer from the Microsoft reps to this, but there were three somewhat faint red lights in the middle of the Kinect sensors hooked up in the dark room where Dead Rising 3 and Ryse was playable. I have no idea if these lights will be on at all times or if they're even going to be in the final retail units but if they are then they might make me want to unplug the Kinect when I'm not using it.
I'll write some more impressions of games I didn't get a chance to play yet in a couple of days. Go ahead and ask me questions if you want to and I'll try to answer the best I can.