The Xbox One: Our First Impressions
It has been an agonizing wait but Microsoft has finally revealed their next-gen console gambit in the form of the Xbox One.
This sleek new bit of black kit leverages Windows, the cloud and Kinect to create a powerful and potentially compelling all-in-one entertainment experience, finally bringing TV, gaming, music, movies and the internet together in one box in a way that Microsoft has striven for ever since they conceived Windows Media Centre Edition.
Microsoft chose to reveal the Xbox One at a glitzy stage show on their Seattle campus streaming it worldwide over Xbox Live, Xbox.com and Spike TV. The main focus of the show was, frustratingly, not games though.
The hardware is certainly there with an eight-core 64-bit processor and 8GB of DDR3 RAM at the heart of everything the Xbox One does. This is supported by a 500GB hard drive, Blu-Ray drive, USB 3.0 and Wi-Fi Direct making the new console a pretty potent package.
The software giant chose to focus very much on Kinect 2 and how it unifies everything the Xbox One does as well as the TV features that they hope will revolutionise the way that we consume television.
First of all, Kinect is now a necessary part of the Xbox experience and forms a central part of the way the Xbox One is controlled. With the refined Kinect sensor now functioning in 1080p it can transmit 2GB of data per second, read slight wrist movements, heart rate and even emotional states as well as being able to recognise individual users.
Using multiple power states the Xbox One can be ‘turned on’ with a simple voice command and Microsoft has also put in work to make the voice interface much more conversational allowing for a much more natural feel to the commands.
The new operating system is designed as a combination of Windows and the classic Xbox 360 OS with a new engine that allows instant switching between games, TV or other apps like Internet Explorer with gesture or using the new “snap” voice command. This is a very slick feature and it is quite compelling for anyone looking for a complete home entertainment solution.
Microsoft has also been working hard with TV partners to offer unique options such as fantasy team integration with the NBA and NFL giving instant notifications when your fantasy team players achieve something of note.
The new TV guide offers the traditional times but it also allows you to see what is currently trending across live TV and on-demand services allowing you to connect instantly with what is popular or what your friends are watching.
Integrated into all of this is Skype, one of Microsoft’s most intriguing purchases of late. Xbox One owners will be able to instantly Skype friends over Xbox Live in 1080p to discuss TV programmes, and live sporting events while watching them at the same time. Also Xbox Live users will have the exclusive option of 1080p video conferencing on Skype.
There’s even a new ‘premium’ Halo TV series in development at 343 Industries in collaboration with Steven Spielberg.
All of this does seem pretty cool but what about the games?
Seven games featured in the press conference.
EA Sports’ Andrew Wilson jumped up on stage to show off their new Ignite next-gen game engine which will power FIFA 14, Madden 25, UFC and the return of NBA Live all in the first 12 months of the Xbox One’s launch.
With a neat demo video EA Sports demonstrated how the new Ignite Engine will introduce 3D crowds, dynamic sidelines and some of the most realistic physics ever seen in sports games. They also announced a new strategic partnership between EA and Microsoft that will begin with Xbox-exclusive content for the FIFA Ultimate Team mode.
Forza Motorsport 5 made its first appearance demonstrating Turn 10’s uncanny knack of producing exquisitely detailed cars and equally detailed racing physics to go with it. It will be good but it didn’t really add the kind of flavour to the show that gamers were looking for.
More promising was the unveiling of Remedy’s brand new IP, Quantum Break. This is exceptionally intriguing especially given that the trailer they showed was a combination of live action and game footage with no real gameplay to speak of. It’s nice to see new IP coming and we hope that it will appear on time unlike Alan Wake. It still wasn’t quite enough to get the juices flowing.
The final stroke of the show was the arrival of Activision’s Eric Hirschberg to unveil Call Of Duty: Ghosts. This wasn’t as earth-shattering as they hyped it up to be. A ‘Behind the Scenes’ video talked about the new game engine comparing character models between Modern Warfare 3 and Ghosts and showing off how well the next-gen Call Of Duty can render dogs in particular which will form part of your team in the new series.
They also announced that navigating the game’s maps would be much more detailed with players now able to mantle up higher objects and lean round corners. It’s worth noting that these are both features that are available for players in a variety of FPS games using the Unreal Engine 3 on the current generation such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored.
More interesting was the notion of interactive smoke, more realistic fluid dynamics and AI animals such as fish that run away when you swim near to them.
The Call Of Duty: Ghosts game trailer was also a bit disappointing showing off several clips from the previous ‘Behind The Scenes’ video in a more cinematic manner and it again was noticeably light on gameplay footage.
Probably the most intriguing part of the press conference from a gamer’s standpoint is the Xbox Controller itself. It didn’t receive that much time but Microsoft noted that it features no less than 40 improvements including ergonomic refinements, an integrated battery unit and dynamic force-feedback triggers which could provide some interesting features for developers to exploit.
All in all it was a bit underwhelming. Microsoft had certainly upped the ante on Sony in terms of glitz and having an actual unit to show made the Xbox One seem altogether more real. At the same time the lack of gaming substance certainly left us wondering what the new machine can actually do beyond realistic renderings of Lebron James and the latest superfast Pagani supercar.
More is to be revealed on the gaming side of things at this year’s E3 and Microsoft needs to be on top of their game if they are to prove the Xbox One’s gaming credentials to what has become a very cynical gaming community, us included.
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