The big reveal
First things first, Tuesday’s grand unveiling of the Xbox One could have gone more smoothly for Microsoft. With the gaming up in arms about the lack of games shown and in many ways the show raising more questions than it answers, the company have catching up to do at E3 to make themselves, and how their shiny new product actually works, crystal clear.
Despite the less than Oscar-winning presentation, one thing is clear – the Xbox One does far more than just play games. This is no surprise of course, the Xbox 360 has been moving to dominate the home entertainment sector for years, with countless partnerships with sports brands like ESPN and, in the UK, TV through Sky.
What is clear from the announcement event straight away is that Microsoft haven’t finished telling their story, and Tuesday’s show clearly wasn’t aimed at us (by which I mean geeky, hardcore gamer-type people).
Specifications shared so far are a clear step up from the 360, most notably the 8gb of RAM to keep lots going on at once.
There was a lot made of the fact that the eight core processor runs its two operating systems simultaneously, making it quick and easy to switch between the two, but I can’t see it being an every day feature, just as snap mode on PC isn’t at the moment.
Kinect is something I haven’t got around to this generation. There’s something which doesn’t really bother me about ‘flailing my arms around’ as my good friend Andy likes to say (read his top ten things to note about the Xbox One).
With Kinect 2.0 included as standard with all consoles though, it will be something which won’t be as forced as it will just be another gameplay feature rather than something which needs shouting about. Imagining the occasional squad voice command or casual gesture to flick through menus lazily makes me think of a few instances where I might make use of it.
The controller remains much the same as the 360’s, which is a very attractive prospect. I’ve never got along with the Playstation’s Duel Shock design, I’ve found it uncomfortable and awkward, and the addition of a touch-screen in the version 4 model doesn’t go far to change that.
Added sensitivity to rumble control could prove to be great for adding immersion and atmosphere to games, particularly tense moments in horror titles, and the supposed 40 innovations which are included under the hood are sure to make sure the controller has the responsiveness to keep up with the pace of modern titles.
In terms of the other companies’ offerings, you might ask why I’m already so sure Microsoft deserve my money rather than Nintendo or Sony.
The simple answer is that they have all made money out of me in the past, and the difference between them most of the time is attitude. Sony are a solid company and make good products, but in terms of gaming they have never had iconic games or characters which I have really latched onto.
Nintendo have iconic characters in droves but have become something of a caricature of themselves. Not that a bit of Mario now and again isn’t good fun, but having grown up with it (endless secondary school lunchtimes lost to link-cabled fun on Game Boy Advance) it’s something I tend to prefer to just look back on with fond memories.
Microsoft have stuck to their guns in the past, and continue to do so with radical changes in the latest Windows release such as taking away people’s Start Menus (another thing which doesn’t really bother me).
With their consoles this proves to be no different, and the Xbox One appears to crap in more random and potentially unnecessary features than a Swiss Army knife. The reason I’m un-phased by this though is that I have started to get to grips with some of the multimedia functionality on the 360, and I believe it’s something which is set to grow.
Browsing a web page might still be a bit cumbersome without a keyboard to type in pesky web addresses, but the integration with Windows and Kinect should make the experience much easier than before and therefore less of a pain when you try to do something and then give up and decide to do it in half the time on your phone.
Smartglass returns too, and will most likely play more of an integral role in the machine than its trial run on 360, and there have been a lot of bold claims from Microsoft such as “lag-free” and “instantly”, which despite the obvious exaggeration suggest these sorts of basic interactions will be handled more quickly and easily before.
The unanswered questions
It’s fair to say that the games focus the company are insisting the console has, which is ‘simply the best gaming console we’ve ever made’, still needs to be justified at E3.
Microsoft have given themselves a mountain to climb in terms of not addressing the countless pre-announcement rumours: always online, pre-owned and backwards compatibility to name the big three.
Luckily, the hard work done from numerous games journalists across the world has forced a little more information and clarity, but in terms of making it easy for the consumer they haven’t got off on the best foot.
For me, I can think of only one or two titles I’ve bought pre-owned this year and what secret plan Microsoft has in store at E3 for pre-owned will probably involve a fee of sort, but if it goes to supporting the people who spent the time making the game rather than flagging high street retailers who capitalise on high profit margins with inconsistent trade-in prices, it can’t be too bad.
Like many devices, the Xbox One may well work without the internet, but really the integration with ‘the Cloud’ among other things means that you will want to keep it plugged in all the time anyway to make sure everything is up to date.
As for backwards compatibility, this has been clearly confirmed as not possible due to the differences in architecture, but really how often do you play old games on a new console anyway?
The vast majority of the launch presentation may have oversold the TV aspects of things, but it will still be games which drive the console along, and already there are some attractive reasons to get in early to the party in the form of Battlefield 4 and Xbox exclusives aplenty.
Being late to the party with the 360, this time I’m reserving my place at the start of the queue.
Of course, you can fully expect to find me eating these words after E3, be sure to pop back then for a, hopefully, fully formed impression of what the console has to offer.
James Michael Parry