Being jumped by a 6ft 4in zombie with glass lacerating his cheek and a giant hack saw sticking out his chest was certainly a more surreal welcome than expected to the UK Xbox One launch event last night. But at the least it got the blood pumping (a nicely warming sensation when it's five degrees outside).
For one evening only, Leicester Square was rechristened 'Xbox One Square' as fans flocked to London for the UK launch event of Microsoft’s next-generation console. A giant white orb emblazoned with the iconic X logo dominated the grassy park, whilst dance music pounded from giant speakers nestled between trees whose leaves glowed eerily from a score of spotlights scattered beneath their trunks.
Besides proving that it wielded the power to make trees appear greener, Microsoft also brought the characters from its launch titles to life. Zombies, Roman legions and even a McLaren supercar driven by the Stig circled the square, weaving amongst fans and the occasional panicked bar patron. Stumbling out of your local to find a man in an iron skirt and a horsehair helmet pointing a sword at your throat is a sure way to improve AA attendance.
So the atmosphere before kick-off at 7pm was electric. Unfortunately, however, the actual event itself had more than its fair share of organisational hiccups.
The hosts for the evening, Rick Edwards and Sian Welby, did their best to keep things running but floundered as technical issues messed with the show’s running order. Problems with the VT meant that Edwards would frequently throw his hands wide to the screens dotted around the packed square to introduce an exciting video, only to have a harried looking lady with a clipboard mime the act of cutting her own throat just off stage in front of him.
It was a real shame, considering the incredible job that Microsoft had done in setting the scene for the big event. The worst glitch by far came when footballer Andros Townsend took to the stage to play a fan at FIFA and the video link failed, meaning that for five minutes the crowd were reduced to twiddling their ice-cold thumbs whilst, essentially, two blokes had their own little round of virtual football privately on stage.
The choice of celebrities to endorse the games was also hit and miss. Some, like Townsend, were clearly plugged in to the gaming world and excited about the launch. Some, like The Inbetweeners’ Emily Atack, shuffled onto stage with a rather vacant expression. Indeed, Atack spent most of her time complaining about how fat she looked, adjusting her outfit, and vapidly announcing that she couldn’t play Call of Duty. She’s no gamer, but at least she’s an excellent poster girl for gender stereotyping.
Still, once the VT issues were fixed halfway through, things started to pick up. Strong performances from rapper Sway and chart-toppers Katy B and Plan B re-injected some of the party atmosphere and got the audience dancing to warm up their feet in the freezing cold. The unanimous response of the crowd to Katy B’s shout out “How are we all feeling tonight?” pretty much sums up the general feeling though: “Cold.”
Let’s hope that the actual console launch today is smoother sailing.
To see what we thought of Microsoft's coveted gaming device, check out our review of the Xbox One.