As you’re no doubt aware, the Xbox One is officially out today, and the PlayStation 4 is due to be released in a week. There’s certainly no denying that since these consoles were unveiled, the PS4 has been hotly anticipated, whereas the Xbox One has suffered something of an uphill battle – it was hampered by Microsoft’s always-connected DRM and policies towards indie game developers. However, following a public outcry, Microsoft switched its stance, and effectively ended the majority of the issues gamers had with the next Xbox.
And with all that now out of the way, we can judge the Xbox One on the qualities by which a games console should be judged: Namely, the games, media features, operating system, and the controller. So, with those factors in mind, should you buy an Xbox One?
Xbox One launch games
History has taught that, in the end, quality games are what sell a console. Media features, apps, and tidy hardware are all well and good, but if there aren’t any games worth playing, buyers will migrate their entertainment habits elsewhere. The Xbox One launch games are at least as compelling as the PS4’s (which admittedly isn’t saying very much). The multi-platform titles, such as Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, should perform a little better on the PS4 due to its (somewhat) superior hardware. Sitting in your bed at two o’clock in the morning, though, you likely won’t notice the difference.
As for the exclusives, notably Forza Motorsport 5 and the free-to-play cash-shop-based Killer Instinct are really no better or worse than the PS4’s Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall – which selection you prefer comes down to your taste in genre more than anything.
Unfortunately, I found the Xbox One’s Crimson Dragon (pictured above) to be a trial of patience, and one that I failed after the first training mission. The controls are extremely frustrating, and the glowy graphics look worse in practice (to the point where it had to be mentioned) than they do in official screenshots. Out of both console’s launch day exclusives, the PS4’s Resogun – a hybrid of Defender and Super Stardust HD – is probably the best title with the widest appeal, but only just so.
As for launch window games, neither console is particularly compelling, although the PS4 does have an edge when it comes to the indie scene. Microsoft and Sony cater to different gaming audiences, though, so you should know what to expect down the line at this point.
The user interface and Kinect
The Xbox One user interface is similar to that of the Xbox 360 and Windows 8. Metro is the main inspiration – squares and rectangles as far as the eye can see and the screen can scroll. It’s perhaps too busy, but if you’re used to dealing with Windows 8 or the current version of the Xbox 360’s Dashboard, you’ll feel at home. The PS4’s interface is similar, though you can “minimise” the boxes-on-boxes-on-boxes aesthetic.
The big draw of the Xbox One’s interface is the Kinect, though. Yes, gesture control is back and works as well as it did on the Xbox 360 (if not better), but we learned how tiring that is on the arms last generation. The Kinect’s real focus this time around (at least at launch) is its much improved voice control. You can navigate through any level of the UI using voice commands, and you can even use some commands while playing a game or watching a movie.
The voice recognition is easily the Xbox One’s most impressive feature, outshining the admittedly competent PS4’s camera to a significant degree. However, it is not without its hiccups. It’ll ignore you for seemingly no reason, and it will misunderstand what you say more than you’d like. Hiccups included, though, it is by far the most impressive voice control we’ve had in affordable consumer electronics that isn’t Siri. Despite its impressiveness, you may find yourself using the controller to navigate menu options like normal after the initial wow factor of the voice control wears off.
Alongside the voice control, the Snap feature will impress, as it summons a picture-in-picture style display that snaps to the side of your main focus. It allows you to multitask, so if you hook a cable box up to your Xbox One, you can, for example, watch the footy while playing FIFA 14 – certainly distracting, but an impressive feature. (Incidentally, bear in mind that the OneGuide programme guide and full TV integration isn’t coming to the UK until early next year).
The Snap can be invoked through the Kinect’s voice command, so you won’t have to stop your play session. Again, though – like the Kinect’s voice control – you might find that while the Snap feature is impressive, it’s not practical in every situation. It’s quite difficult to watch the latest episode of your favourite TV show while you’re also trying to pay attention to the game you’re playing. If a game requires you to grind for one reason or another – score, experience points, in-game currency, etc. – the Snap feature will shine.
As with the PlayStation Camera, the Kinect will also make switching between users and logging into your personal home screen much easier, as it can identify your face – even when you just casually walk by. The new Kinect has enormous potential, but right now you’ll find yourself using the controller to avoid (frequent, at times) voice recognition hiccups, and the “watch TV while you play games” feature is as distracting as it is neat. Although the Kinect isn’t poorly implemented at launch by any means, after the initial wow factor wears off, it feels a little gimmicky. If further developed, the future is where it’ll shine.
The Xbox One gamepad is quite similar to the Xbox 360 gamepad, though it is a little more aesthetically pleasing – it’s both smoother and sleeker. As is the case with the PS4’s DualShock 4, the start and select buttons are gone, replaced by a menu button and a view button. The bumpers and triggers are integrated more into the overall silhouette, whereas on the Xbox 360 gamepad, they were separated buttons. Your eyes will notice the difference between the two, but your hands likely won’t.
The controller still uses two AA batteries, so make sure you didn’t throw away your rechargeables hoping Microsoft would catch up with the times. There aren’t any gimmicks on the Xbox One gamepad – there’s no touchpad like the DualShock 4 – but that’s probably for the best, as that touchpad probably won’t be utilised much.
One sticking point for the Xbox One gamepad is that it gets dirty very quickly. In particular, the analogue sticks seem to attract gunk off your hands in the same way a PC gaming mouse would collect after years of use. After just a couple of days with the Xbox One, you wouldn’t want to use that controller without taking a few cotton swabs to it. The DualShock 4, in comparison, was much less unappealing to touch. Joking aside, our hands weren’t any dirtier while using the Xbox One compared to using the PS4. We have two controllers, and they both collect gunk quickly. Even if we just happened to be extra gross during Xbox One testing, the DualShock 4 withstood our potentially hazardous mitts.
Xbox One at launch day
Although the Xbox One has (somewhat) inferior hardware to the PS4, this isn’t likely to be noticeable as the consoles launch. However, it’s unclear what will happen when the current generation matures, and whether the PS4’s stronger hardware will create a performance gap between the two consoles.
The Xbox One gamepad feels like Microsoft’s best controller yet, though you may want to give it a spritz and a swab every now and then. The Kinect, TV, and Snap features are very impressive, but their long-term practicality is up in the air.
In the end, the Xbox One is a fine console (and has superior media capabilities compared to its competitors), but at launch, there isn’t enough compelling software to make the console a mandatory purchase. If you’re a fan of the exclusive Microsoft franchises, then there’s no reason to avoid purchasing the console. However, if you don’t have the cash right now, the games simply aren’t compelling enough to have you rushing out to grab your console as soon as possible. And, if you wait a while, you might find that £429 price tag comes down a bit…
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