Playfire @ Eurogamer 2013: The Machines

Eurogamer Expo may be all about the games, but just forget them for a second. The thing we were most excited to see and experience this weekend was next-gen hardware. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are now just a few weeks from release, and the excitement in Earls Court yesterday was palpable. People can’t wait to get their hands on the new age of gaming – some literally ran from the entrance to the game they were most looking forward to playing. We didn’t run. Okay maybe we jogged. Quickly. We are so unfit.

Let’s get the disappointing news out of the way first, though. We didn’t see a PlayStation 4 up close. I know, I know. We were really disappointed, too, and we’ll have a search for one tomorrow, but we reckon Sony are keeping the machine itself locked away so people can’t see it at the moment. Luckily, Xbox One was on show at Microsoft’s first-party booth where we managed to get a couple of races of Forza 5, in which we suffered a hideous defeat to the impressive AI.

It’s a shame about not seeing PS4 in the flesh, then, but we still got to play with the controller and we were mighty impressed by it. Playing Assassin’s Creed 4, we got a great idea of how the new features are integrated into gameplay. The main big thing to mention is how useful the touch pad really is. Acting as a big button, clicking the touch pad brings up the game’s huge world map. Navigating in Assassin’s Creed 4 is a major part of getting around the game world in your ship, the Jackdaw, so having your map readily available is super useful. 

Not only is it simple to access your map, it’s even easier to move around, swiping the touch screen to view other parts of the world not currently in range, and using pinch gestures to zoom in and out to view the world on a larger or more detailed scale. It’s really responsive, and there was no feeling of latency to the touch controls. Rather than feeling tacked-on, the touch screen functionality really serves the efficiency of the gameplay, so you’re not spending loads of time in the map using the controller’s joysticks to navigate around, and can instead just whizz here and there with a swipe of the screen. It’s really nifty, and we’re excited to see what other developers do with it from here and beyond.

Another thing we were hesitant towards was the new DualShock’s triggers and joysticks. On the current PS3 controller, the analog sticks are too loose for us to get the best aim when moving around, and the triggers don’t necessarily feel like you’re pressing anything substantial when you shoot, accelerate, or whatever it is you’re doing. 

Thankfully, that’s not an issue now. The new sticks are much smaller, but slight indentations allow your thumb to sit nicely inside. There’s also a tighter resistance to them when you move around, which increases your accuracy. It’s much more like Xbox, which arguably has the better analog sticks, only the PS4’s controller’s sticks allow your hands to hug the extended hand grips.
The hugging nature of the controller also comes into effect with the new triggers. Whereas PS3 controllers had an awkwardly curved feel to the R2 and L2 buttons, which wasn’t ideal for resting your hands on for extended periods of time, DualShock 4 is much less pronounced and allows your fingers to fit snugly within them. This is good news for both grip and comfort, and you’re hardly likely to slip off the triggers when you’re shooting dudes out of a helicopter or flinging a car around a circuit. 

With Xbox One, the improvements are equally numerous but in different ways. The first thing we noticed was how similar it is to the Xbox 360 controller, but how little that really matters considering the solid design of the 360 pad. It’s really snug in your hands, thanks mainly to the removal of the awkward battery pack that sits in the center of the 360 pad. With Xbox One, your unused fingers can rest on the back of the controller, where the battery is now built into the controller itself. This also makes it slightly lighter to the touch.

The triggers feel tighter and more responsive than ever. The bumper buttons have also been altered, and although the size is pretty identical to before, the clicking of them feels different to the 360. We’re not entirely sure if we like the difference at the moment, but the functionality is still perfect. One of the most impressive improvements was the vibrating triggers, which now give a much deeper feel of what’s happening in game. 

Playing Forza, RT and LT rumbled separately as you brake into tight corners and ran over the bumpy chicanes. It’s not something that completely revolutionises the way the game works, but you’re much more involved in the handling of your car when the controller feeds back so much information. Of course, when we managed to crash – which was a lot – the entire controller rumbled as normal. We aren’t very good at racing games :(

Oh, and we also saw the Xbox One up close. Here’s a bad quality picture for you all to lust over. It looks pretty hefty, eh?

We’ll have a lot more content for you over the next few days. Tune in tomorrow for a report on our exclusive behind-the-scenes Watch_Dogs demo, in which Ubisoft showed a single player mission. In the mean time, are you at the show? What are your impressions of PS4 and Xbox One? Comment away!

Joncol, Ben (radMonkey) and the Playfire Team