Xbox One - First Impressions
It's been a long time coming but, finally, the next-generation of consoles is here. Microsoft has gained the upper hand in the UK by releasing the Xbox One the week before the Playstation 4,but just how good a system is it? We take a look at some of the most significant changes and improvements and figure out the best and worst of the bunch.
While no one wants to admit to being shallow, it's tough not to notice that the Xbox One isn't the most attractive of consoles. Bigger than its two predecessors, it's immediately reminiscent of a 1980s style VCR. It weighs a surprising amount, too, but at least that somehow adds reassurance when considering the rather hefty asking price.
Much has been muttered about the initial patch that's required before using the console, but I didn't find it too bad. Obviously mileage will vary depending on one's internet connection, but even an hour after launch, I found it speedy enough.
The same can't be said for game install times. Unlike the Playstation 4 which promises players that it can play games instantly while installing, the Xbox One requires an initial waiting period.
Some games don't take long to be playable, such as Ryse which only needed to be installed to 3%. Others, such as Forza 5, can take an irritatingly long time to be ready. Long gone are the days when consoles and new games were immediately playable, it seems.
Fortunately, while at times the future might seem a little slower, it's also still quite impressive. This is most noticeable when it comes to Kinect 2.0 integration. Previous owners of the Xbox 360 and Kinect will know of the many issues surrounding its technology. As a heartfelt cynic of the Kinect sensor with it mostly collecting dust under my TV, I wasn't too excited for Kinect 2.0's presence. Kinect redeems itself though, keeping its initial promises in the end. It's possible to control pretty much everything within the console through voice commands, from turning it on to skipping ahead in Netflix or telling soldiers to march forward in Ryse. It's not quite perfect, frequently requiring a slightly louder voice than usual.
It also requires some exact language with launching game titles requiring their full name, rather than simply "Xbox Forza" for instance. It's a marked step forward though and I can see such finer improvements being patched in the future. More impressively, Kinect 2.0 recognises the player's face, enabling one to be logged in automatically simply by being in the same room as the console.
This is most eye catching when a number of people are in the room, and Kinect 2.0 still manages to distinguish between the people and their respective profiles. For the paranoid, there's always the option to disable Kinect but do expect to lose the ability to auto login. That's how integral the motion sensor is.
One of the most useful Kinect features ties into the built-in game DVR functionality. Certain games will auto record clips, such as at a pivotal moment in the story or when an achievement unlocks, but the most fun is had by recording one's own clips. This is done by simply saying "Xbox Record" with the previous 30 seconds captured for later editing. A surprisingly competent editing tool is available, enabling players to easily share their favourite moments with others.
The Xbox One continues the media centre feel with plenty of other features. As with the Xbox 360, there are plenty of apps to use such as Netflix, Lovefilm, 4oD, and numerous more. Skype is now tied into the system and combined with Kinect proves quite the powerful video calling app. Thanks to the system being near whisper quiet the majority of the time, it's an ideal streaming device for that downtime in between gaming sessions.
A new Snap feature enables users to multi task more efficiently, watching TV in one window while playing a game, or browsing the internet with Internet Explorer while streaming a service. It takes a little getting used to but its potential is quite useful.
More significantly, it's possible to plug a TV set top box into the console using the HDMI in port. In the long term, this will mean that one can control all their media devices through the one system and through Kinect. For now though, it's quite flawed. Lag issues have been reported by Sky users, and there's no sign of the built-in TV guide that's available in the US. Eventually, the plan is that the system will tie into streaming services that the user already owns, enabling them to search for a title across every format they have at their disposal. As it stands, it's all untapped potential.
That's a key phrase for the Xbox One. Its potential is impressive but there's that sense that it lacks some important features to make it a truly killer system. A cynic would wonder if the finer details were postponed in order to guarantee the system a pre-Christmas release. At many turns, the system gives with one hand and takes away with another.
For instance, there's a significant revamp of the achievements screen. It's much more colourful and attractive to look at but it's also not as clearly laid out as before. It's not as easy to compare achievements with friends too. The revamped controller feels more tactile thanks to its enhanced rumble features, and has a much better d-pad than before, but its triggers are clunky and occasionally awkward to hit in the heat of the battle.
Besides being less intuitive than before, the dashboard also lacks some important features. Rather bizarrely, there's no way of seeing when a friend logs on. There's a new favourite system to help players focus on their best friends, but even that doesn't actively display when they log on. The Party system is clunky to say the least, surprisingly so given how effective and superior it was on the Xbox 360.
It's those little things that let the Xbox One down somewhat. It's no doubt a powerful system but it needs some refinement. It's the kind of refinement that will no doubt come over the months, through patching, much as was the case with the Xbox 360.
While not the kind of issues that should stop a keen next-gen customer from buying it, it'd be wise to temper those expectations. It's going to take a little while for the Xbox One to catch up to such heady heights.