Did you get an Xbox One for the holidays? Wondering what to play on it? Even though the box itself looks like it was designed in the 80s, Microsoft’s brand new gizmo feels like the future, with its voice controls, facial recognition and TV interaction. Despite its goals of living room dominance, the One’s still primarily a gaming system, and at the moment it has more exclusives than the PlayStation 4. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has more games worth playing, though. Below you can find our thoughts on most of the exclusives that are currently available for the Xbox One (including one or two games that also have Xbox 360 versions.) If you want to read up on the best third-party multi-platform games for the Xbox One, check out the third-party publisher section from our piece on what to play on the PlayStation 4.
Dead Rising 3
Zombies are inherently ridiculous and an easy source of comedy, but most zombie games treat them with the utmost seriousness. That’s boring. Dead Rising 3 isn’t an outright farce—it’s tense and dramatic when it needs to be—but it’s not nearly as dour as most zombie games. That lighter tone, combined with the diverse weapon-crafting system and the overwhelming number of zombies on-screen at any given moment, makes Dead Rising 3 one of the better zombie games of late, and probably the best exclusive for the Xbox One.
The new version of the classic zoo simulator is a strategy game that kids and adults can enjoy. It’s less interested in the business side of managing a zoo than in taking care of the animals in your exhibits. There’s even a mode that does away with money and focuses solely on interacting with the virtual animals. The Xbox One version excellently incorporates the new system’s more advanced Kinect camera. Occasionally you’ll feed elephants by sticking out your arm, and when you smile at a monkey it might smile back. The Xbox brand might be synonymous with aggressive action games marketed to young men, but Zoo Tycoon is a pleasant repast for all ages.
Peggle 2 came out a few weeks after the Xbox One, and currently it’s only available on this system. That will almost definitely change in time, because the game’s publisher, EA, is a fan of money, which they will make a lot of once this guaranteed smash is released for smartphones and tablets. Until then, though, you need an Xbox One to play it. It’s perhaps the best pure game on the system, as addictive as the original, with that same dangerous combination of frustration and a sense of accomplishment found in the best games.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Of all the games for the new consoles, the photorealistic Ryse looks the most like what you’d expect a “next generation” game to look like. Combat consists of repetitive swordplay—it’s brutal and acrobatic, and can be a real-life stress reliever, but it barely changes over the course of the game. Ryse is beautiful but hollow—it only looks like the future.
For a cutting edge piece of technology the Xbox One is oddly preoccupied with the past. The largely on-rails shooter Crimson Dragon is a “spiritual successor” to Sega’s old Panzer Dragoon series from the 1990s. It isn’t directly connected to the narrative of those older games, but it’s made by some of the same designers. It’s a bit of a bore, with simplistic shooting and repetitive missions, and a leveling-up system with rewards that don’t sufficiently match up to the effort required. You can cut that time down considerably through real-money microtransactions, which are especially annoying after you’ve already paid $20 for the game.
Killer Instinct is the second hoary ‘90s relic unearthed for the Xbox One. Rare’s street fighting game was a brief success for Nintendo, but only a vocal clutch of diehards has been clamoring for its return. The new Killer Instinct is free-to-play, meaning you can play every mode with a single free character. The other five launch characters can be purchased separately or in a bundle. So it’s a fighting game with only six characters that have to be bought through microtransactions. Yes, the core game is free, and more characters will be released in 2014, but for now this is a game with too few characters and an annoying pricing system. Also Killer Instinct has always felt a little unnecessary in a world with the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises, both of which heavily influence Killer Instinct’s design.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza Motorsport 5 is another gorgeous entry in Microsoft’s series of complex racing simulators. Along with Ryse, it best shows off the console’s advanced graphics capabilities. It might not be the visual leap you’d expect from a new system, but it’s a nice looking game. The user interface and actual driving are still a little obtuse and geared for the serious racer, and car fans will enjoy the variety of real-life vehicles that can be unlocked or purchased. They won’t enjoy the microtransactions that once again encourage extra expense on top of the game’s full retail price. Forza 5 also removes certain features from the last game, making it feel like a step back for the franchise.
This is one of the less hyped launch games for the Xbox One, but it’s also one of the better ones. Blame the lack of attention on the limited interest in cartoony golf games. Powerstar Golf is no Hot Shots Golf, but it tries hard to emulate Sony’s cult classic. Despite its kitschy aesthetic and breezy, simple-to-play nature, there’s enough depth to its mechanics to satiate more discerning digital linksmen.
Twisted Pixel’s inane Spy Hunter homage is the bottom of the Xbox barrel. Its sense of humor is as crude and witless as a talk radio host’s, and both also share a misplaced sense of pride over their own supposedly edgy comedy. LocoCycle is a dull mess that spins through the same combat moves and enemy types for far too long. Every individual level is excruciating to trudge through, and there are like five of them total. The jokes came first when Twisted Pixel designed this game, and the jokes are awful. It’s an egregiously dumb and insensitive misfire.