It wasn’t long ago that Xbox was sitting a top of the proverbial gaming world, spouting popularity amongst a large variety of player demographics. In fact, it’s incredible just how damaging a single business decision can be, and despite being an adult, I almost feel as if I should feel ashamed to say I support the Xbox One. I don’t however, and whilst DRM is clearly a touchy subject within the industry, I respect Microsoft’s ambitions from a business point of view, despite the fact that as a “gamer”, I did not agree with their direction. Personally, I resonate well with Sony because they have a traditional mentality when it comes to gaming, and i’m more comfortable with that. And yet, I anticipate Xbox One that much more because of their unpredictability and their willingness to invest in what is trending. Admittedly, that might come across as a bit soulless, but it doesn’t mean what they invest in will be.
Honestly, It genuinely saddens me when a competition is so apparently lop-sided, even if it is just a vocal minority. However, Microsoft has recently reported, rather quietly by comparison, that they also launched with 1 million units sold this weekend, and thus, I have to suspect that things may not be as dire as I had initially anticipated. In fact, when I went to collect my pre-order unit on Friday, there was a significant line filled with people of all ages who appeared eager to get their hands onto the next Xbox. It was a positive atmosphere and everyone appeared to be genuinely excited about the launch, it was not the depressing picture social media would have had me believe. And yet, despite this surprise, I still had a problem going into pickup my console. What first-party games did I actually want to play? Honestly, my initial impressions for both “next-generation” offerings were not so great.
Fortunately, having studied some of the initial reviews (what I do as a reviewer myself from time to time), I decided Dead Rising 3 was going to be my first Xbox One experience. I’ve got a PC available if I want to experience more blades of grass in my games, so no, graphics were not my first priority. What I wanted from a “next-gen” title was to see the system resources dedicated to doing something new that could once again give me the “I’ve never seen that before!” I’ve yearned to see since the HD era was introduced. If the indie community has taught us anything over the last couple of years, it’s that graphics do not make a game, and as such, I am pleased the graphical leap is not the center-focus as I hope to see a lot more innovation in design this generation. So, despite the fact no first-party titles received stellar reviews, I was still confident this was the title to take home with me.
Now, the next part is probably the most frustrating. I got my console, drove home, and proceeded to open up the box, which I have to admit was a surprising experience. The packaging was very nicely presented, and had a real premium feel about it. I proceeded to take some photos for the Facebook page in order to clarify the size, which in my opinion is just fine as it fit perfectly in my TV unit; and then set it up. An exciting time for any new console, right? Well, we all knew a day one patch was required, and when I powered up the console, I went through the procedure only to get an instant fail. Seriously?! I tried, and tried, and not wanting to troubleshoot my network I decided to hotspot my 4G mobile, which proceeded to allow the update. What does this mean? Well, if anyones played on Xbox Live, they’ll likely know what Moderate NAT is, and what a pain it can be to fix it. Not a great start.
Luckily, this problem only appears to have affected certain routers, lucky me, so likely many people may not experience this issue, but to those non-technically inclined, I would imagine this problem warranting a trip back to the store in frustration, and that would be a bad thing. However, it appears that if your Xbox One is showing Moderate/Closed NAT that it could at the very least decline your download/install speeds, so I would highly recommend that anyone who sees this go straight to portforward.com to re-configure their router. Which of course brings me to the outrage of the internet this weekend, the install times of the Xbox One. Yes, it’s true, this takes a considerable amount of time, and if your game requires a patch, it appears the console will download it first before installing from the disc, leaving the percentage meter at 0% without indication as to what it’s actually doing. To be honest, I was concerned as to why it kept taking so long to kick-off from 0, so not ideal, but at least it makes sense now. I wouldn’t be alarmed though, the history of the Xbox 360 has taught us to expect evolution.
Ultimately, if we were to take those two issues out of the picture, I would generally have positive things to say about the new interface, and it’s functionality. My first impression was that it’s a little too “Windows 8” for my personal taste, but otherwise, it works reasonably well. The menu is well laid out and substantially cleaned up by comparison to the 360 dashboard, and honestly, the only difficult adjustment will be not having the pop-up menu to perform quick tasks like checking achievements and messages. Multi-tasking allows you to do this pretty easily, but it doesn’t yet feel natural switching so casually between the fullscale applications. Admittedly, it still appears a little bare boned, and I expect to see a lot of development over coming years, but as a basic system, it functions well enough. Having the snap functionality is genuinely useful with the help of Kinect, which i’ll get into soon, but for those who don’t know what “snapping” means, essentially, it allows the user to multi-task on the one screen.
Now, I want to discuss my impressions, not write a user manual, so let me start off by making the brash statement that Kinect “2.0” is actually pretty great, despite the fact that a few commands are missing for Australia, we can’t say “Xbox On”, but we can say “Xbox Off” – Go figure? The first thing you will notice is that the X1 will sign you in automatically once it recognises you, and this worked flawlessly. Additionally, the voice commands were easy to learn and really straight forward, and as such, switching between apps was really simple to comprehend and seemingly worked correctly 90% of the time. Now, I don’t have live TV, so I instead plugged my Xbox 360 into the HDMI-In whilst I was waiting for things to install, and proceeded to play around with snapping/app switching, and this all appeared to work quite well. So, in conclusion, menu navigation receives a big plus from me for being genuinely convenient and functional. I did experiment with the hand gestures briefly, and whilst they are not nearly as convenient, it was very cool being able to close my hand to drag the menu around, but mostly a novelty.
In Australia, there is only a $50 difference between both consoles thanks to our ridiculous taxation, and as such, taking price matching into account, this brings both systems fairly close when it comes to price. With this in mind, I would feel quite justified in including Kinect just for voice/app functionality as it is especially helpful when you’re in a game, and you want to create a party for example. All you need to do is snap a party, invite the people you want, and then close the snap with another voice command. Interestingly, Skype was not a feature I was initially interested in. However, I was taking the day off from work to cover the launch, and conveniently, any time one of my staff had a question, they could quickly call me on Skype and I could answer with a voice command, with or without video, and then hang up and get right back to my game. It sounds a little novel talking about it that way, but it’s actually a pretty useful convenience when you start to utilise it. In my opinion, it is not the novel spy tool the internet would have you believe, in fact, everything I’ve seen would lead me to the conclusion that it has the potential to become a useful tool. However, the real question is, will Kinect ever work well as a game peripheral?
As a tech-head, it was clear to me that the first iteration of Kinect was simply a tech demo, and whilst it sold well and I, like many others, enjoyed Dance Central, it was too inaccurate to deliver what the mainstream would call, “a hardcore experience”. Having tried it twice over the weekend with the Xbox One, my impressions have considerably changed in regards to both it’s capabilities and implementation. The first of my experiences was the Kinect Sports Pre-Season, which is essentially a Wave Racer, and I have to admit, the controls were surprisingly accurate. I could control the Jet Ski by pulling my arms back and forth and by leaning to either side, and honestly, It felt as if I was playing a game at the local arcade – legitimately empowered controlling. In fact, I would be keen to play the full game after this experience, which is very unusual for me. Additionally, on the Saturday morning I decided to get up for some exercise, and having done P90X before, it takes determination to stick with it, and as such, having accurate guidance and scoring to help me get through the session made the world of difference. I would recommend Xbox Fitness to anyone who struggles to find time for Gym – It’s also free to Gold Subscribers!
Another potential, yet to be proven functional, “novelty” associated with the Xbox One is Smart Glass; a mobile/tablet interface that allows you to interact with your Xbox via touch, as well as companion applications for games. It’s important to note that you need to download the new app, but once you’re in, the overall improvement will be evident immediately with the user interface, and how easy it is to control. As to what it does, users can exchange Xbox messages from their phone, check up on achievements or simply using it as a remote when watching movies, it’s convenient and just one of many options available. However, the biggest feature of Smart Glass is the promise of companion applications for games, and the fantastic thing about this app is that you never have to leave it. When loading a game, Smart Glass then gives you the option to load a companion app, so there are no separate applications. For example, with Dead Rising 3, the companion app allowed me to receive phone calls from game characters, access the map/inventory and even interact with my game session in realtime by calling for backup. It was quite handy and worked as a great alternative to built-in screens like with the Wii U.
Naturally, it would be absurd to talk so much about a game console without discussing what it can actually play! For this, I’m going to reference Dead Rising 3, and more specifically, why I believe that it is the only true “Next-Gen” launch title available on either system. To clarify on this rather bold statement, the reason I claim this particular game is the only true next-generation title is because it is the only large-scale experience that focuses on delivering it’s design concept before the graphics. As previously mentioned, the PC is readily available for those who want to experience incredible graphic fidelity, however, the problem with PC is that the design generally has to cater to a lowest common denominator, which means that only the graphics themselves can be scaled upward. However, with a console exclusive, that is not a design factor as there’s only one platform and one target.
In fact, I would argue that the obsession of HD graphics has actually damaged the creativity of the industry, producing cookie cutter games with shinier textures, one after another. This is why more than any other generation I am hoping that because the leap is marginal by comparison, that all this additional power gets worked into design and gameplay instead. Hyper realistic graphics can be great, but more than anything else I want new experiences. Forza, Ryse, Killzone and Knack all have one thing in common; fantastic visuals, but not a lot of originality in their core design. So, whilst Dead Rising 3 isn’t as “shiny” as the rest of them, never before have you experienced so many on-screen characters at once, with each of them appearing relatively different and with their own unique behaviours. The scale of the population literally forced me to reconsider the way I usually traverse an open world, and this was not something I was expecting from an X1 launch title. Essentially, if you were to scale back, the design would be damaged, and that is what I believe defines it as a “next-gen” experience.
At the time of writing, Xbox One is a platform that will likely experience some growing pains, but it is also filled with the potential to become something great. The thing about Microsoft is that they consistently follow what is trending, and so I think because the major competition is instead coming from the PS4, we could possibly see a major turnaround in their overall direction. “All In One Entertainment” is an intriguing concept, but I can’t see people using cable boxes in 5 years time, and thus, I think Xbox will resort back to it’s roots out of necessity, and rise out of the ashes of their mistakes to try and win back their fans. Admittedly, this is just speculation, so take it as you will, but if anything is apparent to me right now, it’s that the foundation of Xbox One is an ideal place for gaming, and that’s what’s important. Ultimately, the tools are in place, and so it is now up to the industry to be creative as the developers themselves will define what a “next-gen” experience is, not the box we play them on.