Xbox One – One Month Later
It’s no secret that the cost of being at gaming’s cutting edge is a prohibitively expensive one, but the damage isn’t merely financial.
A distinct lack of must-have software, a contracted user base and the fact that your old machines are usually still firing on all cylinders: you don’t have to be wealthy and dim to buy a new games console at launch, but it definitely helps.
To add insult to economic injury, in some fairly extreme cases – and the Xbox One is nothing if not an extreme case – you’re essentially paying a premium rate to act as a glorified beta tester.
Although a “console war” can begin in the hearts and minds of its disciples long before the hardware even exists, the battle only truly commences once the race has subsided… and constructing anything as preposterously complicated as a games console at high speed isn’t a recipe for smooth sailing.
Xbox One – Released Too Soon?
As a piece of kit the Xbox One isn’t a complete calamity, but its discombobulated history is laid explicitly bare.
The console was unveiled alongside a combative ethos; an ethos that was unceremoniously ditched while the machine was already in full development. One of the only things that Microsoft didn’t relent on was the positioning of the machine’s launch window, and at this stage it’s hard to know whether holding firm on that releases date was a wise move or not.
An extra month’s development, which would also have allowed for a sly peak at what Sony had been up to (bizarrely, Sony appear to have taken more cues from the Xbox 360 than Microsoft has) would surely be preferable to the PR migraine that MS is currently suffering through.
Patches have been mooted and alterations have been discussed, but when you consider that the first system update (which landed very quietly earlier this month) mended only the most trifling of issues – alongside a few half-baked promises that all of this “will get better” at some point – it’s difficult not to be reminded of when the PlayStation 3 was at its lowest (and slowest) ebb.
Xbox One – Kinect 2.0
Kinect 2.0 is the Xbox One’s only unqualified area of success, and the device is every bit as exciting and intuitive as the original Kinect tried and catastrophically failed to be.
Microsoft’s undying allegiance to the device makes sense instantly – the thing just plain works – and once you give in and realise that you’re supposed to do almost everything via voice control, the UI’s slightly cumbersome nature stops being a problem.
You may want to swerve any and all Kinect-centric fighting games at this point, but if you’re looking to show off your machine to a few friends, Kinect is going to play a rather large part in your presentation.
Xbox One – The Waiting Game
It has been well reported that Xbox One games like Battlefield 4 suffer slightly in comparison to their PlayStation 4 counterparts, but the Xbox One’s heaviest hitter – Crytek’s lobotomised but solidly entertaining Ryse: Son of Rome – looks as good as anything you’ll find on Sony’s machine.
However, there is a stark difference between Ryse and something like Killzone: Shadow Fall, and it’s all rather severe. Shadow Fall, which arguably represents the PS4’s current graphical apex, is ready to go less than 60 seconds after you’ve inserted the disc. Ryse on the other hand not only demands an initial 5-10 minute install, it then asks you to wait in excess of 20 minutes after you’ve booted the disc and selected the “Campaign” option, while another installation takes place.
That situation epitomises the Xbox One’s biggest problem of all: it’s not fast. Merely checking to see if your friends are online involves having to move past the over-sized eyesore that is your Activity Feed, and onto a friends page that oddly doesn’t specify when each of your friends was last online: you need to delve into another menu to see that.
There are a few mystifying barriers placed between you and your Achievements too, the most irritating of which is a circular dial which spins to “100%” whenever you investigate a solitary achievement immediately after you’ve earned it.
As with everything else though, these problems are softened (and occasionally outright alleviated) if you navigate these menus using Kinect exclusively.
Xbox One – More Questions Than Answers
Speaking of Kinect, if you aren’t hugely keen on using the device all of the time, you’d probably never think to say, “Xbox, go to settings” and would thus be forgiven for suspecting that voice control was your only way of accessing your settings. This is because the Settings menu is inexplicably buried in the “Games and Apps” section, which admittedly isn’t an issue once you’ve discovered it.
But why was such a bizarre decision even made? Why can’t you notify your friends when you’ve created a new video clip in Upload Studio? Why can’t you alter the volume of a snapped video app? Why can’t you choose to be notified when your friends come online? Why can’t you specify how much space a snapped app takes up on your game screen? Why do you need access your SkyDrive on a PC if you want to share any of that content?
Why can’t you ever see how much juice is left in your controller? Any why is there no kind of warning on the pad to indicate that you’re running low? Why will a disc play automatically as soon as it’s inserted, regardless of what you’re doing at the time? Why can’t you organise the pinned apps on your home screen? Why will the console shut down after an hour of inactivity on Netflix or Lovefilm, but will literally never shut down while you’re watching TV, even if the TV signal is cut off? Why does the power supply have its own fan that runs constantly while the console is in standby mode, when according to MS it’s only drawing 15 watts? By way of comparison: the PlayStation 4’s power supply is inbuilt, and silent.
Xbox One – ‘The Console Feels Half-Finished’
Put simply, the console feels half-finished: the whims and desires of its community clearly left languishing at the back of the production team’s list of priorities.
Party Chat – something that was essentially perfect on 360 – is now a splintered and utterly befuddling mess. It’s all done via Skype, but for some reason Party Chat and the actual Skype app are kept entirely separate. If you jump into a party and wonder why you can’t hear anybody, it’s because you need to physically “Enable Chat” in a menu first.
If you’re talking to a mate privately whilst playing Killer Instinct online (and your friend plays something else) be careful not to talk smack about your KI opponent: they’ve been quietly added to your party unannounced, and only you can hear them. And if you’re chatting to a few friends that are playing Battlefield 4? Enjoy the ceaseless barrage of game invites that’ll arrive every time that they switch servers.
The console’s impressive multi-tasking abilities allow you to bounce quickly from a game to TV to YouTube to your Achievements page (and then back to your game) without any visible drop in performance.
Snapping apps to the side of your game screen is a pretty slick process too, until you want to go back to your game while (for example) 4OD loads up, and you realise that it’s easiest for you to back right out of everything, select your game’s panel on the dash, and jump back in that way. What’s more, Netflix and Skype can’t currently be snapped at all.
The lack of Twitch support is due to be remedied imminently, but despite its wonderfully elegant design, Upload Studio isn’t much of a substitute.
Editing them may be a bit of a joy, but videos created in the program can only currently be shared via your Activity Feed, and in a disarmingly low resolution at that. Like everything else on Xbox One, it’s surely going to be a very different beast twelve month’s down the line. We hope.
So Microsoft’s latest living room behemoth is very much like an infant child; an infant child that’s certain to be (we pray) all grown up by the time TitanFall rolls around in March, at which point the Xbox One’s already sizeable install base is all set to skyrocket.
In the meantime, some of us are stuck here looking after a belligerent, screaming brat of a games console.
Pass the nappies.