Tag Archives: Microsoft

Five things you should already know about Gamescom | Opinion | Gaming

Gamescom 2014By now you may have heard that a European games conference took place this week, but if you haven’t had time to catch up on everything, here are the key facts.

1) Microsoft finally ‘beat’ Sony

Xbox One Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Edition
The 1TB hard drive with this custom console will be the draw for those who to shop digitally

They love to say it isn’t a competition and pat each other on the back (well…Microsoft have paid a few compliments to Sony this year at least…), but really it’s war.

As we approach a year since the latest battle between Sony and Microsoft began – sorry Nintendo, you’re benched – competition is fierce as each console has hit its stride.

MS began their conference strongly with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, including a custom Xbox One console (above), which interestingly is missing Kinect, alluding to one of the many things about where Xbox One is now which differ from day one.

The last few months may have seemed to be backtracking, and they are, but they are also offering a slew of new and exclusive games both in the rest of 2014 and beyond, while Sony’s initial momentum, and impressive initial sales numbers, appear to be slowing.

Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn't as 'indie-ish'
Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn’t as ‘indie-ish’

It’s not quite the tortoise and the hare, a LOT of people have and are buying a PS4, but there’s increasing feeling that the console hasn’t perhaps leapt the industry forward as much as it could have, focusing on power (as usual) rather than innovation.

That could change when Morpheus, Sony’s answer to the imagination-grabbing Oculus Rift, properly launches, but for now the company is focusing on its game streaming service: Playstation Now, as well as system updates and indie games.

The lack of triple-A franchises shown off prompted many to award the win to MS, who, by comparison, filled their presentation to the brim with exclusives and as usual got the multiplatform games out of the way quickly so they could show only exclusive games for the rest of the show.

2) Exclusives = arguments

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft’s latest outing is proving to be the latest argument-bait online

Slightly controversially, Rise of the Tomb Raider (above) was announced as Xbox One exclusive, though unsurprisingly only for a limited time, and there was plenty from the big MS exclusives: Sunset OverdriveForza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The mention of Tomb Raider itself was fairly quick and painless, but it’s been the subject of a lot of internet debate since the event, with some PS gamers feeling scorned for being ‘denied access’ to a franchise they have put time into.

The first game in the series famously made the first PlayStation (while destroying perceptions female protagonists in games for a decade), so you can sort of understand why people are miffed, but are so much anger and tears really justified?

The debate calls back to discussions around the Destiny Beta, which had three extra days on Playstation, not to mention the final game having timed-exclusive DLC.

With Bungie having worked with MS for so long on the  Halo series, it seemed to some entitled people that they deserve to play Bungie’s games forever more, as if they aren’t a business.

The subject of what ‘exclusive’ really means as a term is already blurred as it is, expect further musings on the topic before the end of the year.

3) Watching pirated films is easy

Halo Channel
The Halo Channel is one way MS is bringing its video and gaming content together

A feature which wasn’t present during MS’s conference but did come out during the week was the fact that they are increasing the number of video formats which the Xbox One can play, opening up people’s ripped DVD and Blu-ray collections to be played using the device.

If you’ve downloaded them from the internet (legal or otherwise – for shame!) then you’ll be able to enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa without awkwardly balancing a laptop on top of you or scrambling for the right HDMI cable to plug it into the TV.

Since Xbox was always intended to be the ‘hub’ of the living room this enhancement makes sense, and is supposedly in response to players’ feedback, plus there’s plenty more system updates coming to the One monthly, unlike Sony who have only managed a handful of steps forward with their software.

4) You can’t escape Assassin’s Creed

It's easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good
It’s easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good

Not one, but two games, and lots and lots of trailers now plague the internet in the wake of Gamescom, giving both current and past gen gamers something to brutally kill people in with their hands.

The franchise appears to be drifting apart, not unlike the fancy pirate-y ships which serve as a key mechanic in new announcement: Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Unity, which was announced ahead of E3 earlier in the year, ditches the nautical side completely and focuses instead on co-op play as it’s key USP.

At a total of seven main titles and a handful of handheld and other games, the franchise is reaching the stage where it is at risk of growing stale if it stands still and so it makes sense to pursue to different styles (and largely different markets) with these two games.

Due to its popularity, it isn’t a series which is likely to fade away any time soon.

5) Online multiplayer isn’t going away, but neither is single player

Come September, become Legend (lag permitting...)
Come September, become Legend (lag permitting…)

There’s lots of games coming out in the next year, shocker I know, but people seem to be coming down on one side of the proverbial playstyle fence or the other at the moment.

The fear is that as MMO games begin to gain momentum on consoles, developers won’t spend time developing ‘proper’ single player games.

It’s understandable, since more players mean more money, and we know publishers in particular like money, but is it going to happen? No, no it won’t.

No matter how social you are as a gamer, there’s always times when people feel like being on their own, and gaming has always been one of the safest havens when you are in that mood and because of that passion, single player will continue to be an important part of console experiences for a long while yet.

The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail
The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail

Even if Destiny and The Division are a commercially success, they will never match the renown of something like Skyrim as it has to many stories which people can share and talk about, for Destiny these experiences will be few and far between.

Different people like different things, and gaming now is more diverse than it ever has been, plus technology and innovation has made the escapism you can reach when you are absorbed by an amazing game is second to none.

James Michael Parry

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Six exciting things from E3 2014 | Opinion | Gaming

E3 2014We’ve been going on about E3 for years (seriously, it’s our most rambled about subject…) but this year’s show was something different and exciting – it wasn’t a disappointment.

After the tough time Microsoft in particular had last year, the general air of positivity to come out of this year’s show is genuinely astonishing.

Seriously, game announcements were tumbling out of people’s mouths so quickly people’s eyes started to bleed from all the shiny new-ness…

And so what do we make of all of this? We make precisely six (totally not a random arbitrary number) things which we’ve decided to tell you a little bit about, in no particular order.

It’s like Crackdown on crack

CrackdownIt’s always nice to see a game resurrected from the dark corners of the past (OK, that may cease to be the case if they release an HD remake of phone game phenomenon Snake), and Crackdown brought a smile to many a gamer’s face when it exploded on screen – multiple times – at Microsoft’s conference.

The original game in the series proved a hit, but its sequel didn’t set the world on fire. Now MS are bringing it back, with the number three conspicuous by its absence and complete with the original voiceover announcer.

Destruction made up a big part of the game’s reveal, suggesting it could be a big part of the game, which could make reaching the highest buildings tricky, knowing how trigger happy the title makes you – here’s hoping the buildings respawn, or at least there’s something to bring them back, perhaps a weapon in the vein of Red Faction‘s nanoforge…

Lots and lots of Halo

Halo 5: GuardiansOver 100 maps. One hundred. That’s how many multiplayer battlegrounds are included with Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

It seems ungrateful to complain, but we’ve never been much of a fan of re-releases. The plus side is that not only is this a re-release done well, the first to make us sit up and take notice since the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil.

All multiplayer modes, vehicles and quirks of each iteration are included, with both Halo 1 and 2 benefiting from a visual clean-up, but the Halo series isn’t just about multiplayer, unlike other shooters we could mention.

The clever way in which 343 have pulled this together is impressive. The release not only includes a Halo 5: Guardians Beta (and a TV series produced by Alien king Ridley Scott), but serves to tool up the protagonist of the new game as they begin their quest to find Master Chief following the convoluted events of Halo 4.

It is your Destiny

DestinyThough Bungie, developers of Destiny, may always be remembered as the team who originally gave the world Halo, they are going to great lengths to set themselves apart from their past with this new title.

There might be a few visual and gameplay similarities, but the ambition drives the genre forward into new territory. There’s a strong emphasis on coop play, though it isn’t essential for most of the modes, as well large, expansive worlds and exploration.

It might not be far-flung from the heights reached by games in other genres (Skyrim is no doubt a frequent reference point), but this is the first time on console where an MMO – or Massively Multiplayer Online – title has really captured people’s imagination.

Defiance caused a stir with its own route into the world in 2013, but failed to have the staying power demanded by a lot of players. Destiny has got an awful lot packed in, and though we haven’t had our hands on it yet, everyone who has agrees it’s an experience difficult to put across in words.

WiiU may have been down, but it’s not out

Super Smash Brothers WiiUNintendo has had a rough time the past few years, and with the release of the WiiU failing to reach the benchmark set by the Wii they were left feeling like Metallica after their unfortunate 2003 album St. Anger, treading water with a sad look on their faces.

Unlike Metallica (who, coincidentally, took five years to hit back with another, better album), Nintendo didn’t let the bad publicity around the WiiU stop them from doing what they are good at – making games.

So finally this year we are seeing the fruits of those efforts with more Super Smash Brothers, more Zelda and the already very tempting Mario Kart 8.

Thanks to this strong first party showing, something Nintendo can be relied on when they get their act together and focus on their core franchises, they have shown that they aren’t worth forgetting about just yet.

Colour comes to next gen

Sunset OverdriveLet’s face it, there’s a trend in media these days across the board to be gritty, realistic, dark and suspenseful. Don’t we all miss how it used to be? A giant ‘pow’ for every Batman villain foiled? (scroll down for more of that)

Apparently, we do, and our prayers have been answered in the form of another Xbox exclusive (or Xclusive…) – Sunset Overdrive. The beginnings of this game last year were just as colourful sure, but now we’ve seen some actual gameplay, and it’s looking even more fun.

The E3 reveal trailer began by a nice bit of fun poking at the FPS genre in general, and the fourth wall-breaking protagonist is a refreshing change of tact from some of the other new protagonists shown off through the week.

Focusing on momentum, there’s wall running, rail grinding, and a crazy array of weapons to take down mutants in a game which, clearly, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and, in an industry which is supposed to be about entertainment, all too often that gets lost in translation.

The Dark Knight rises (sorry…)

Batman: Arkham KnightWe all knew Batman was back, and in fact it almost looked like a misfire out of the gate when it was revealed the game had slipped from the end of this year to next almost immediately.

Luckily, we have nothing to worry about with series heavyweights Rocksteady back at the helm for their conclusion to the series Arkham Knight.

Despite showing up in the Sony press conference, the game is also making its way to Xbox One (as is GTAV, not that Sony would appreciate me pointing that out), and is looking very very good.

The Batmobile sounded like a bit of a gimmick when it was first announced, but the gameplay videos shown off for the game show how slickly it compliments the gameplay (and, as if on purpose or something, here’s some gameplay).

So, there you have it, some stuff like what you should get excited about. Sadly it won’t all be with us in 2014, but there’s a fair chunk of good stuff on the way. Expect more game reviews and stories going forward (for Xbox One at least) and possibly some video reviews too, once we’ve worked out how to bully the computer into editing.

For now, run along and play.

Xbox One: The full review (so far…)

It’s been a while since Microsoft released its latest console, the Xbox One, and with the Christmas rush out of the way it’s high time it was put through its paces.

Xbox OneOf course, the version of the Xbox One we have now is far from its potential and there are plenty of possibilities for the future, but at the same time, a lot of people have paid a lot of money for this console, so what did they get for their cash?

Features

Xbox One Launch
The vision of an all-in-One device is more attractive to some users than others.

The Xbox One is a gaming machine built for a connected future. Though I won’t get into the tech specs debate (may touch on that later), the key thing is that this is a considerable step up from the Xbox 360.

The increase in memory (eight times to be vaguely approximate) is the most noticeable change,boosting draw differences and the amount that can be going on on screen substantially.

Kinect 2.0 is a big improvement on the original and is pretty reliable – providing you pay attention when going through the setup process. There are a lot of optimisations and refinements to come with this, but to perform this well pretty much out of the box is a real plus.

The multimedia features of the box are one of the main selling points for some, since the console’s vision of being king of the living room actually seems to work in practice. Jumping between DVD, Netflix and games using voice commands is seamless and soon you will wish you had the same functionally in all of your devices.

The HDMI passthrough is the feature which still holds the biggest potential, since at the moment the much-touted TV services are very much US-orientated, but hooking up the Xbox 360 works pretty well (apart from the One having to be on to play it).

Games

Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.
Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.

The launch line-up was reasonable, and showcases what the console can do, to an extent. Forza Motorsport 5 (to give it its full, overly-wordy title) is a solid game. It looks beautiful, it plays smoothly and the drivatar system, which builds AI racers based on the drive style of your friends and other players, makes the competitive experience far more compelling.

There are some issues with multiplayer games at present, some of which are more the One’s fault than the games, but when you do get into a game it’s good fun, though you can’t help but feel some of the Top Gear humour seen in the single player could have been extended to give a selection of ‘party’ race types, which emphasise the sillier aspects of a game which is generally fairly stuck up.

Dead Rising 3 delivers more of what fans wanted and puts an impressive number of zombies on the screen, but doesn’t offer much in terms of story or anything which is particularly ‘next-gen’.

Ryse, heralded as the shiniest of the first party launch trio. Has strong visuals with somewhat lacking variety in terms of gameplay. The controls can be a pain as well, with a simple action, such as picking up and throwing a spear, being a pain.

Performance of third-party games is strong, although there’s no getting away from the fact that the PlayStation 4 handles them with greater ease. Battlefield is a strong example of how a tried and tested gaming experience can be taken forward, with the scale of 64 player battles undeniably impressive – it’s just a shame about all the bugs.

Interface

The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.
The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.

Which leads us neatly onto the not-quite-baked interface. Generally most tasks are intuitive enough, particularly when you use voice commands to bring them up, but delving through the menus can be a chore.

Luckily the ability to ‘pin’ games and menu items on the left hand side of the home screen is a great help to making your life easier, though it would have been nice to see the customisation taken a step further.

The biggest issue is that everything feels a bit slow, as everything is now its own ‘app’ rather than just a part of the UI which was running in the background. Plus there are a raft of basic menu options, particularly relating to friends and parties, which are just inexplicably missing.

When you work out how to get everyone into a party, turn on party chat (still baffling that the default is off with no option to change) and get that party into a game, things are fairly simple. The trouble is the combination of different invites and different places to do different things is dizzying and most players would have lost patience long before it became obvious.

It seems in their strive for simplicity, Microsoft have taken out a lot of the basic functions which were actually so commonly and easily used that they became second nature, making their disappearance cause to learn a whole new way of doing things.

It’s not dissimilar to the switch of the start button to the start screen of Windows 8, by no small coincidence, but it is frustrating when the logic isn’t obvious and it’s easy to feel as if things have just been changed for the sake of it rather than because it enhances the player experience.

Controller

Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.
Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.

Probably the strongest element of what the Xbox One has to offer, Microsoft kept thing similar but made a lot of refinements under the hood – perhaps an ethos they should have extended to the interface overall…

The controller feels sturdy, has a comfortable weight and feel and reacts precisely. The rumbles in the triggers, probably the most obvious change from the 360 iteration, go a long way to adding to the immersion and it will be interesting to see how it is used in genres such as survival horror to catch players of guard.

The D pad is leaps and bounds ahead of the 360s bloated mess, and the buttons generally are solid without being stiff. There have been some objections to the sharpness of the edges of the thumb sticks, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference.

Of course Kinect is also a controller, but with little on the table to prove itself just yet. The viewing angle is much improved and it works well in a more confined space but it can be fussy if you have something between it and you in the middle of the room, such as a coffee table.

Updates and tweaks will see this go from strength, but considering how little the first Kinect progressed from its release, you can be fairly sure that any change from how the new version is working now is fairly close to the peak of its potential.

Verdict

Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.
Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.

The Xbox One is a machine which offers new experiences, but often at the expense of the old. The slick feeling of effortlessly breezing through things with voice commands is excellent, until you reach a point where you have to press a button on the controller and you wonder why.

The social side is where Microsoft has to do the most work. The Xbox LIVE community, probably Microsoft’s greatest success to date (at least in its gaming division), has been fractured with this new console release, in a way which wasn’t as significant when the Xbox 360 came along.

Online is undeniably where the future of console gaming lies, and online functions and integration are going to become increasingly important as time goes on.

More games will be online only, more will have integrated social functions, possibly supported by tablet devices, drawing on the benchmark set by the new version of Xbox Smartglass, and players are going to become increasingly impatient.

Some work needs to be done to plug the gaps and rethink the oversights, but by and large the Xbox One is well set for this future. Being future-focused brings the drawback that the current experience might feel like a bit of a let down.

Once more games come along, particularly Titanfall, Destiny and Watch Dogs, there will be a much more rich variety of things to do on the machine, but for now things can be particularly empty, especially if you are purely focused on gaming.

If you take the One as it is, it might not knock your socks off, but if you bear in mind the long-term and the potential of what Microsoft are clearly trying to create, then you will appreciate it a lot more.

For now, the key is getting together with people who you know. Even having one team mate playing with you, who you can rely on and communicate with, makes all the difference in most games, and multiplayer adds life and soul to otherwise clinical titles such as Forza.

Most importantly, enjoy it and try things out. If you haven’t unpacked Kinect yet then it’s well worth exploring, since it does add a lot to the user experience. In the words of Colonel Stars and Stripes whatever you do, try to have fun, otherwise, what’s the point?

To game online with This Is Entertainment, message gamertag ‘Decent Jam’ or visit the forums at http://www.oxm.co.uk.

James Michael Parry

The future of online gaming | Feature | Gaming

DestinyOnline gaming today has more players and costs more money than ever before, so what happens next?

OK, so we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to know any more than you, so don’t read on expecting undeniable facts.

What you can expect (read right to the end, we’re watching you), is our thoughts on where the online side of gaming is going, and what experiences we can expect to encounter.

A digital future

Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.
Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.

The two next-gen consoles stand primed to clash in the greatest technological showdown of our generation, but what about the games?

One thing is clear – offline-only games are going to be few and far between. The rise of online-only games was felt more this year than ever before, in both successes and catastrophes.

The latest Sim City gave players cause for concern when it’s online requirement backfired spectacularly, but the highest profile casualty has to be Grand Theft Auto Online.

While the game is, if nothing else, incredibly ambitious, Rockstar fell under pressure quickly when there were countless problems with the game – a free addition for players of Grand Theft Auto V.

Weeks after launch, and after several title update patches to try to iron out the issues, GTA Online still feels creaky and glitchy. Not to mention the race to level up has left many players behind, particularly in races where no amount of money can buy car upgrades which they haven’t unlocked yet.

With so much seemingly against online games then, why do publishers and developers keep pushing for more?

It’s not about the money, money, money

Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.
Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.

Building an online platform, especially from scratch, is a massive undertaking which requires a lot of initial investment and on-going maintenance.

For big publishers like EA and Activision, these sorts of technologies are already on hand and so often can be adapted or acquired more easily, but for many games there isn’t so much backing on tap.

The title which really stands out in this regard is Defiance, whose developer Trion Worlds reportedly invested $70million to get the game up and running for multiplatform release earlier this year.

Despite a shaky start, the game performed well and lived up to nay-sayers who suspected it would never work. Unfortunately it has struggled more recently as the player numbers have began to fall.

Thinking inside the box

Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.
Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.

Where Defiance has an opportunity to remain relevant is the fact that first and foremost it is a multimedia enterprise, married up with TV network SyFy who have created the companion TV series alongside it.

Could multimedia hold the key to a sustainable future for online gaming?

Microsoft is very well placed for a multimedia revolution and the likes of Netflix (available on all consoles bar the Nintendo ones…) are announcing exclusives and special shows on an increasingly regular basis. Will we see games which tie-in to these net-based shows?

Then there’s the game spin-off TV shows themselves. Halo is working with the well-respected director Steven Spielberg and there is also a live action Need for Speed film in the works starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Of course tie-ins of the latter sort are nothing new, indeed there have been plenty of embarrassing crossovers in the past, but with the opportunities of distribution through this new round of the consoles all the more smooth can we expect more?

It’s in the game

Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.
Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.

The way we play has also affected the games themselves, not just driving titles to being always-online (to get those coveted ‘living, breathing worlds’), but in terms of how they are structured and how they play.

Hotly anticipated next gen title Titanfall foregoes a traditional singleplayer campaign, opting instead for a skirmish-based cooperative campaign. The cooperative part is key, since the game wants you to play with others and grow with your characters and your team.

The risk here is that without a singleplayer campaign, players won’t get sucked into the story elements or the lore of the title and end up merely taking it at face value.

Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny
Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny

In a similar boat is Bungie’s Destiny. Responsible for establishing the Xbox with the original Halo, the company clearly know what they are doing when it comes to gaming.

Bungie simply describes Destiny as an ‘action’ game, suggesting that players will enjoy “a compelling storyline, competitive multiplayer, cooperative gameplay choices, wide open public combat destinations, and third-person community spaces where you can repair and rearm before going out on your next adventure.”

Once again, despite also offering player vs player modes, the main focus is cooperative, one of exploration and creation. It remains to be seen whether players will lose themselves in Bungie’s new world, or if they will just spend their time grinding for new items to use in team deathmatch.

Stormy weather

Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.
Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.

The power needed to keep all of these games afloat is potentially limitless, as countless players around the world all interact, much as they have for years, except with bigger, richer and more dense worlds to explore.

That computing power has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that cloud-based processing power will become increasingly important, especially as the games grow and change to adapt to their developing environment.

It’s unclear how effective or how close gaming will realistically get to the potential of the technology. The biggest stumbling block, and criticism, particularly in the UK is that internet speeds simply aren’t quick enough yet.

The cloud can take over processing power for things which might be able to be sent back through the web without the player seeing a lag, but for things like fighting games where split-second timing is key it’s unlikely the cloud would ever be able to ‘take over’.

The end game

Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.
Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.

The opportunities and possibilities of the continuing trend of converging media have the potential to make gaming more mainstream than ever before.

Ubisoft’s The Division sees players fighting in teams over a sprawling, dystopian world map. This game will use multimedia to link into players real-world lives and draw them back in by sending messages straight to their phone or allowing players using tablets to interact directly with players on the console through a meta-game function generally known as ‘commander mode’.

What is key to the success of these sorts of big ideas though, is whether players actually make use of them, and that gaming companies actually make money out of them.

Micro-transactions, DLC and in-game advertising are a whole other side to the funding debate entirely, but what will be the proof of the sorts of innovations above is if they substantially lengthens the lifespan of the game.

What to expect from next gen online gaming then? In a nutshell more of some of the things we know already and plenty more coming besides that. Better warm up the router now…it’s not going to get a lot of rest soon.

James Michael Parry

Xbox One Hands On | Preview | Gaming

Xbox One LaunchThere’s only weeks to go before the biggest head-to-head of the year as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 go on sale to the masses. Ahead of all that excitement, indulge in some first impressions on what Xbox One has to offer after a special preview event.

The Box

Xbox One
That’s right, it looks like…a box. There’s a shock.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Xbox One is a big machine. Designed to be the hub of your living room, it’s size is reminiscent of the original behemoth which its grandfather was back in 2001.

This isn’t a drawback, providing you have the space, and Microsoft clearly seem to have compensated (possibly over-compensated) on cooling, which proved to be such an issue for the Xbox 360.

Power is something which is quite subjective, and in this regard, there’s no denying the One lags behind the Playstation 4 on paper and, as it turns out, in practice.

The debate is bringing the internet to its knees as we speak, so no need to recount it here. Briefly – the One is running games at less that 1080p native resolution, while the PS4 apparently manages it without too much bother. Suffice to say people are unhappy about that.

Xbox One Event - GAME Reading OracleIn reality, when you are engaging with these games, you are not going to notice the difference unless you immediately go from one to the other, and for many the gaming experience goes far further than just how pretty the game looks.

That said, Microsoft has a mountain to climb to fulfil its claims about what the machine can deliver in terms of using the cloud and being truly future-proof for the next 10 years.

Xbox One ControllerThe Controller

Although the basic design of the controller remains from the 360 era, there are a number of changes, updates and innovations within the new controller which push it to the next level.

Rumbles in the triggers are the most obvious change, but the subtlety of how responsive and precise the controller feels is probably the most important long-term improvement.

The balance of the controller remains virtually the same and the lack of battery bulge on the back gives you more space to stretch your fingers.

Jumping out to the guide with the Xbox logo is now more swift, with the screen zooming out to reveal a Windows 8-esque start screen. The start and home buttons have changed too, but it’s difficult to say how significant these adjustments will be until you are living day-to-day with the console because of one very big elephant in the room…

Xbox OneThe Kinect-y-ness

In fact, Kinect is no longer the black sheep for Xbox gamers, since it seems this time around the technology is going to live up the expectations set a few years ago when Project Natal was first announced.

So far we haven’t managed to get our hand on (well, actually NOT on) Kinect 2.0, but the various demos shown off so far definitely seem like more than smoke and mirrors.

The greatest change will be the interface. For some, this new Kinect is their first experience of the technology at all, since before it was dismissed as “foolish arm-flailing”. Now it’s in the box, there’s (almost) no getting away from it, and it definitely seems like the gesture control and even more so the voice control will be very popular.

The Gameplay

Xbox One Event - GAME Oracle Reading
Nothing like promoting a console by sticking a massive banner for its competitor right next to it.

Diving into the first-party and exclusive launch line-up for these games doesn’t feel Earth-shattering. These games are pretty, in fact in Forza 5‘s case they are astounding, but the gameplay is familiar.

The increase in scale possible with the technology is there, but it’s difficult to appreciate until the developers have begun to get their head around the technology properly. Of course the scope of these games is impressive, but also fairly safe.

Dead Rising 3 (admittedly in demo form) offers only a wall of zombies to keep players occupied. All individually animated and reasonably independent in terms of behaviour and reactions, though zombie mentality in general is more like a mob in any case.

These are all positives, but where the game is already showing itself up is with various animation and spacial awareness issues. For example there only seems to be one ‘finishing’ move with each weapon and the transition between play and these is abrupt.

Equally irritating is that when main character Nick is wielding a park bench, poised and ready to decapitate a would-be brain-muncher, you move around to get a better position and find the bench happily passes through a nearby lamppost.

Auto-aim for lobbing such items is also not quite in tune with the camera, rarely seeming to aim towards the zombie or group you are trying to exact wicked vengeance on.

Forza 5 on Xbox OneForza 5 looks great and handles beautifully, but is it breaking the mould and pushing the envelope as a racing game? No. Things like in-depth car customisation (beyond selecting a colour) or fine tuning of settings as you might expect in real cars – admittedly insanely expensive ones.

Of course these sorts of features may be added later or show themselves when the game comes out, but the point is – these games are the flagship titles for the console, they should be trying something different.

With Ryse: Son Of Rome Microsoft at least have an experience you can’t get anywhere else at the moment. Looks wise it looks solid, especially the particle and fire effects, but the gameplay isn’t as fluid as you would expect when you are controlling a highly skilled warrior.

The swordwork – although slightly overusing slo-mo – looks stylish but is overly simplified to either horizontal or vertical swipes and the control scheme despite being simple is difficult to pick up on a first try.

Try to use any more exotic weapons at your peril. Spears and siege weapons tempt you with their shininess (and often necessity in order to progress, at least in the multiplayer mode we played), but then proceed to not be picked up, not fired and not aimed where you thought they should be. Not to mention they are far too slow to be effective on anything but very long range targets which you couldn’t take out any other way.

Returning brawler Killer Instinct has all the style and production value you would expect but very little rudimentary logic in its control scheme (where on Earth is block?!), which makes it a frustrating challenge for first-time fighter fans.

In all it’s third-party titles like Battlefield 4 which over the spectacle that you might hope for from the launch of a console, which is why it’s a shame the hotly-anticipated exclusive Titanfall won’t drop until next year.

The Controversy

Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash, so much so that he's left the company - oops...
Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash, so much so that he’s left the company – oops…

Always online, then not, Kinect compulsory, then not. The One currently sits in an easy place as we approach what should be its shining moment.

Most consumers will be oblivious to the to-ings and fro-ings, getting the download from their local GAME staff member on the day, but for those well-invested in the brand, it’s been an uneasy few months.

The extremity both of the u-turns (perceived or literal) and the PR cock-ups from MS execs which often followed, has severely tested the fanbase, leading some to jump ship and many more to reconsider where they had placed their faith.

In the coming weeks and months the vision which MS tried to explain back in May will begin to come to life. How true it will stay to what was originally conceived remains to be seen.

Xbox OneThe Potential

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the One’s chances though, despite all the uncertainty.

The features originally talked about and then canned could well return. The quality and fidelity of both games and graphics will improve, and already they are looking pretty tasty – even if they aren’t blowing your socks off.

Most significant of all of course, is the service which binds everything together – Xbox Live. Microsoft have an opportunity to push the community aspect of what they have created over the past decade.

Friends lists expand and include Twitter-like followers, more interconnected play over different devices and better access to friends than ever before.

It’s almost a shame that cross-generational gameplay isn’t possible, even if it was on something simple like Bomberman or Uno, because there could be an opportunity to tap into the browser/tablet games market through Live itself that way.

Once multiplayer numbers are beefed up and the community divided into like-minded individuals so that the hardcore competitive people can play together while the more groovy laid-back types can take their time with things, for example, there is the makings of a truly powerful web of people.

On top of that there is the potential of ‘the cloud’, but it all seems t0o intangible and vague at the moment to get a real sense of how that could shake things up.

The Verdict

Look at it...sitting there...teasing us...
Look at it…sitting there…teasing us…

In all, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this console, but another, smaller number to be cautious about.

What’s key to remember though, is that it is early days, there is a lot of potential out there and even if the Playstation 4 does ‘win’ the war – i.e. get more players, more power and more games – it won’t take away from the fact that there are still some excellent experiences which are going to be only on Xbox One.

Besides if you wanted everything, with all its bells and whistles shining like the sun, then you would have switched to a gaming PC by now anyway.

Game on.

Read more about Xbox One on This Is Entertainment.

(An excellent reveal round-up from Mr Matt Lees here which we just have to share with you, thanks VideoGamer)

James Michael Parry

Why I will be buying an Xbox One | Opinion | Gaming

Xbox OneIt might be the Microsoft fanboy in me, but following the announcement of Xbox One, the company’s next generation games console, I found myself eager to get my hands on one.

The big reveal

Everything you need in one box, so long as it's not playing your Xbox 360 games.
Everything you need in one box, so long as it’s not playing your Xbox 360 games.

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).

The technology

The console's look has been described as looking like a video player, but really it's not that bulky compared to the original Xbox.
The console’s look has been described as looking like a video player, but really it’s not that bulky compared to the original Xbox.

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.

The competition

Playstation 4 controller
Everyone loves a bit of competition, but Sony haven’t been too forthcoming, only showing off their new controller so far rather than the PS4 itself.

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

Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash for the heavy entertainment focus of the launch event, rather than showing off games.
Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash for the heavy entertainment focus of the launch event, rather than showing off games.

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.

Xbox OneLike 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

Playstation 4 First Look | Gaming | This Is Entertainment

Playstation 4 announcementThe official announcement of the Playstation 4 (or PS4, if you’re cool) late on Wednesday night marks a step forward in console gaming, as gamers begin to take ‘next gen’ seriously.

The contenders

We might already have the WiiU, but most have been waiting for the big boys to show their hand. Sony has kicked the sales race into top gear by teasing the industry with the PS4, not even showing onlookers what the console itself looks like.

Is this a masterstroke piece of clever marketing to get people like us overly speculative about the whole affair? or simply because the final look isn’t quite nailed down yet? or perhaps something which is considered to be important?

What’s in a name?

The name ‘PS4’ was widely rumoured to be scrapped for the more minimalist and Apple-esque ‘Playstation’ ahead of the reveal, due to ‘4’ being an unlucky number in Sony’s home country of Japan, but in the end Sony went for the smart option, which is easy for consumers to follow.

There’s plenty of new Xbox names knocking about too (Nextbox, Xbox 720, Xbox Infinity, Xbox Loop, Xbox 8) but really everyone is just waiting for some information to see how the two companies stack up against each other.

Playstation4 announcement (Power!)A numbers game

Throughout the announcement the word ‘power’ was mentioned frequently, to an almost dizzying extent at times, and winning the specs race is clearly high on Sony’s priorities.

The system boasts 8gb of RAM, a ‘specially optimised’ processor and dedicated high-end GPU – also tailored for the console. Undoubtedly there is a lot of power knocking about, and having a second processor to download games while you play another one is definitely a time-saver.

More than just a pretty (old man’s) face

What Sony don’t seem to realise is that though power is handy, gamers aren’t going to be impressed simply by shinier graphics. From the games which have been shown so far, most appear to have a high level of graphical polish, but what gamers are really reaching for are innovative and original gameplay experiences.

Enter Halo creators Bungie with Destiny, an always online massively multiplayer game which, following an exciting reveal of its own a few days earlier, has some big ideas about what gamers are looking for. The game promises a lot, including some exclusive PS4 content (did that sting Microsoft?), but to justify always-online it has a long way to go to compel gamers (especially in the UK).

Other games, with only a handful of exclusives, refused to raise excitement levels much, other than Watch Dogs, which continues to look promising (but has since confirmed as multi platform and multi-generation).

Playstation 4 controllerNew hardware

The controller is the closest we got to the console itself, with a fancy touchpad and a share button being the only noticeable additions to the look and feel. There is a big push to using the PS Vita as a controller, which is a more pocket-sized alternative to the lap tray-esque WiiU controller, and the aim is to have all PS4 games stream-able to the Vita.

There is also a lot of cloud-based action with the PS4, thanks to recently acquired expert company Gaikai, and there does seem to be a few nifty innovations there, but nothing we haven’t already seen in a more basic way on other platforms before.

Play(station)-ing it safe?

In all there’s a lot to love about what the PS4 will be able to do. The biggest benefit will be one we never see, as the architecture of the console makes developing games much easier than before, but there is sure to be more reveals to come as the sparring between Sony and Microsoft ramps up over the coming months. Strap yourselves in games fans, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Below an amusing round-up from Matt Lees (@jam_sponge) at VideoGamerTV:

James Michael Parry