I’ve never heard of Fan Expo in Toronto until a few days ago. I received a message from a friend saying that the Xbox One was going to be playable at the event. I immediately stopped what I was doing and tried to find a press report or article confirming this outrageous claim. A few minutes later, I received an email from Xbox themselves revealing the news – the new console would indeed be playable. So I went to the website and checked times and ticket prices, and then messaged around to see who would like to go. Luckily my days off are now Friday and Saturday, so everything fell into place. After a quick maintenance appointment at Ford for my car, the adventure would begin.
I managed to find 2 other people to come to the Expo, so we met up bright and early and went to the maintenance appointment. Once it finished we hit the road. After about a 45 minute drive, we parked at Yorkdale and took the subway to the convention center. Unfortunately with travel time, we didn’t get there until shortly after 1. The location they had set to buy tickets was on the complete opposite side from where we exited the subway. It was a little confusing, as they led you into a parking garage where massive lines were separated into cash and credit/debit. The cash line was moving faster, naturally, but it wasn’t an option for us. After finally getting tickets we headed for the entrance. Luckily, that specific entrance was exactly where I wanted to be. A quick walk to the left and there it was – the massive, populated Xbox One booth.
At this point in the day, it was nearing the peak of traffic. We made it in there shortly after 1:30pm. I took a quick run around the tent to see all the options that were available, and then jumped in to what seemed to be the most exciting line. In the middle of the stage was a tent. This tent held a special conference that changed each day. The event for Friday was an exclusive showing for Forza 5. They claimed that it was new content that was shown and so recording devices were prohibited. A video of Dan Greenwalt (the executive producer) came on first and he talked mostly about stuff that we already knew: Vista mode, the AI, cloud computing, Driveatar, etc. After that they did a live test lap on one of the tracks. The game looks absolutely incredible. The player was fairly experienced, and the speaker mentioned he’s been practicing for a few days now to get it right for this full day of demonstrations. Then the presentation was concluded and we were all given snacks and drinks, along with a black Xbox One labelled t-shirt and exited out the back.
Once I was back out on the floor, I wanted to get as much done as I could. One unique thing that was going on was a contest where at each point around the booth there was a special sticker you received after completing the event, and it was added to your lanyard. The lanyard had an Xbox One badge on it, which on one side said “First to play” and on the other side has a list of blank spots. There were 6 spots, each holding their own sticker. The first one was given to you when you got the lanyard, it simply said Xbox One. The others were Forza 5, Killer Instinct, Ryse, Dead Rising 3, and Spark. At each of the 4 corners they had demos set up, and a photo booth at the very end.
Since my goal was to fill up the card, I went to the first booth just as I exited the Forza tent. As I turned to my right, the first demo was Killer Instinct. I thought this would be the perfect title to be my first Xbox One title that I played. It would also be the first time I got my hands on the new controller. As I waited in line, they had a full console set up in a plastic see through enclosure. I took a picture and moved along. The line progressed fairly quickly since there was 2 demo stations set up and 2 players per match. I waited for about 10 minutes and then finally got to the demo. Since I was on my own, the guide asked for another solo player and the match began. I selected Sabrewulf. As I gripped the controller, I spent a few seconds pressing the buttons and triggers, getting a good feel for how everything is laid out. Initially, the only thing I had an issue with was the bumper buttons. They felt a little constrained and it took an extra action to be able to hit them smoothly compared to the Xbox 360 controller. The battle progressed nicely, as I button mashed and tried to learn as many moves as I could on the spot during the short time that I had. Unfortunately my opponent button mashed a little better than me, and he came out victorious. As I walked away, the guide presented me with the Killer Instinct sticker and I placed it at the top of my card.
The next booth I went to was Ryse. This is where I spent most of my day. Not because I was addicted to the game, but because the line took what felt like forever. There was only about 15 people in the line when I entered, but I waited for just over an hour and a half. The problem was that there was only one demo station, and even though two people played co-operatively, the demo was split into two areas. The first set of players went through the first area, which took 4-8 minutes (depending on skill), and the second area, which a new set of players would go through, takes 9-15 minutes. So averaging out 10 minutes or so between demos, it took a long time. But since I wanted every sticker for my card, I waited. Right before I played, I was able to see what the premise of the demo was and basic tactics and controls. It was the new colosseum mode, where two people can work together in a gladiator style environment to take out enemies, complete goals and keep the audience cheering. My turn was on the second round, so my experience was on the prolonged area. The game was visually stunning, with details that most people would never notice such as shadowing, crowds, textures. The level of detail in the characters when you battle was amazing. Close combat battles felt real and gritty. I didn’t get a chance to learn the combos or specific attacks, but the time I had with it felt really solid and I’m looking forward to getting it on launch day and seeing the final version once it’s all polished and the frame rate is locked in.
After finishing up with Ryse and getting my sticker, the next stop was Forza 5. They had 4 demo stations set up for this title, and the line wasn’t as long as the other booths. It only took about 5-7 minutes to get through it, and then I was playing. Simulation racing isn’t really my style, but I wanted to see how the force feedback triggers were. I wasn’t able to get any sort of feeling from the other two games, and I was told that it was heavily noticeable with Forza. They were right. It was an incredible experience like nothing before. From being so used to only having vibration inside the palm rests on the controller, having vibration on the triggers themselves added an entire new layer to the experience. From heavy acceleration to braking, you could feel the force from the actions you took. Braking in the corner and shifting through gears were completely different. After running through the one lap demo, I was anxious to see how it works with Call of Duty. Right after I finished the demo I got the Forza sticker, and I asked the guide if I could get the Spark sticker as well since I didn’t know how else to get it. He tracked one down for me and I was only one away from completion.
The last sticker was obtained from a photo booth that was set up highlighting Dead Rising 3 and Ryse. You were given costumes to wear and either dress up as a zombie or gladiator, then post behind a green screen backdrop where they would edit in the actual front game cover art with you on it. I was determined to get a Dead Rising picture taken, but when we got in line the machine had broken down. We waited for about 45-60 minutes and had no luck. They told us that it could be a while, but I really wanted that picture. We ended up needing to leave but to time constraints so the chance never came. I asked the attendant if I would at least be able to get the sticker and he said no problem. Now that my list was completed I was able to send in the photo to Xbox as an entry for a contest they were running through Twitter.
As we left the convention center with our loot, I was fairly impressed at how the day went. I wasn’t able to see as much as I would have liked to, but my main goal of trying out as much of the Xbox One as I could was fulfilled. Even if Xbox isn’t at the event next year, I’ll definitely still attend.