Xbox One – First Impressions
As of a few days ago, I am the proud owner of an Xbox One. Setting up the new console for the first time has required its share of patience, but from the 4 or 5 hours I’ve actually been able to spend with this giant, I’ve been sufficiently blown away. Though I knew I could never have a true favorite between the new Xbox and the PlayStation 4 until playing both extensively, I admittedly have leaned towards the PS4 these past few months. My experiences with both are rather meager at the time being, but Sony’s new offering is the clear winner when it comes to traditional gaming consoles. It has plenty of bells and whistles making it comparable to the feature-laden Xbox One, even if the latter is way ahead in terms of innovation and defining what it is a gaming system can do.
Sony’s line of PlayStations have always been lauded for the raw power they bring to the table, and although the PS2 will forever overshadow the original Xbox, the Xbox 360 began to irreversibly change the face of gaming, particularly when it came to online play. For the time being, the Xbox One continues to embody Microsoft’s concept of redefining the game console, and whatever it lacks in power when placed alongside the PS4, is more than made up for with its flat-out amazing interface.
I wasn’t really sold on Microsoft’s claim that the Xbox One was designed as an “all-in-one entertainment system” at first; in fact, I’m still not certain I really buy the idea. One thing’s for sure – calling it something as vague as an “all-in-one entertainment system” doesn’t do the new Xbox justice and can hardly describe just how incredible this contender is.
Let me go ahead and get the more mundane stuff out of the way first. This thing is big. Everything about it is big. The unit itself may not be as ugly as the first Xbox, but it’s still a brick. Bulky and unforgiving, the dual-tone (also adopted by the PS4) helps break up the appearance. The power supply further contributes to “the bigness” and rivals those seen on the old ColecoVision and Amiga CD32. Kinect 2.0 is roughly 1.5 times larger than the original Kinect and not quite as sleek. Microsoft will no doubt use this as an excuse to redesign and repackage the Xbox One in a couple of years. Despite its angular appearance, it functions beautifully and I’ll touch on that soon.
My only major disappointment with the Xbox One’s hardware is the new controller. The changes made from the 360 controller are slight but unwarranted and unfavored. The plastic casing feels of a lower quality, pushing buttons isn’t as smooth, and the design of the “handles” is altered in such a way that makes it a little less ergonomic than its predecessor. Thumbsticks are both smaller and made of an inferior material. Instead of the rubberized, slightly heavier quality of previous joysticks, the new ones seem like they’re made of a lighter plastic. Motion feels a little smoother even if the thumbsticks appear to be made of a cheaper substance. Triggers are stiffer (which some may enjoy) and the LB and RB buttons are more prominent and provide better feedback than the older shoulder buttons. Despite whatever improvements Microsoft may have made, the controller is a noticeable and surprising step down from the quality of the 360 controller, not to mention the low point of an otherwise satisfying experience with the Xbox One. Sony’s DualShock 4 has clearly won this battle. (Read more about my controller comparison here, in Round 2 of the PS4 vs. XB1 Battle.)
Now for the good stuff! Like all 8th generation consoles, the Xbox One requires a fair bit of updating right off the bat. There’s also a good deal to set up in the way of calibrating Kinect and creating or associating your Xbox account with the system. Even with my Xbox 360 name and account that’s existed for years, I opted to go ahead and create a new account. The process is easy enough but it is time-consuming and entails using a computer, checking email, and clicking a link to get everything in place. After all the initial set up, the user is presented with a sleek interface resembling Windows Phone. First-timers won’t be intimidated or confused as everything is set up plainly and clearly.
Voice commands work wonderfully and are even incorporated in some games. The new Kinect 2.0 functions very well; it responds quickly to commands spoken less-than-perfectly and it’s possible to do almost anything by talking to your TV, including searching for DLC, starting games, managing settings, and viewing videos and game trailers straight from the web. Hand gestures can also be used, though they’re not always intuitive. Microsoft has taken the time to include some instructions on the correct way to wave one’s hands, and while the gestures aren’t flawless or as responsive as using voice commands, they’re still quite impressive. After playing with the PlayStation Camera and Kinect 2.0 a little more, I hope to make it the focus of PS4 vs. XB1 – Round 3.
I mentioned earlier how I wasn’t yet completely sold on its claim of being an “all-in-one entertainment system,” but I am becoming more of a believer. Although it may sound like a gimmick or a catchy way to justify its higher price tag, it’s clear that Microsoft is poising itself for something big. What will that be? Well, it’s hard to imagine at this point, but the Xbox One is pushing the boundaries of what a video gaming console is more than anyone ever has. The Windows Phone hasn’t caught up to the popularity of Apple and Android devices, Internet Explorer commands a paltry 20% of internet users (compared to 90+% 10 years ago), and computer users are as savvy as ever and moving in droves from Windows to Linux, but in a strange twist of fate, MS may have found their niche with the Xbox One. One thing’s for sure: momentum is slow compared to the PlayStation 4, but as the Xbox One ends up in the hands of more users and word of mouth spreads, consumers will see that the new console is far more than the latest machine meant to babysit the kids.
As much as adults quibble over gaming consoles, let’s face it – the target demographic is kids and young adults. Or rather, the parents of these kids and young adults who inevitably buy the majority of these systems. Companies have made several sporadic attempts over the years to make these gaming boxes appeal to any and everyone (and not just by making games for everyone, but by increasing console functionality) and it looks like the Xbox One might be the best practical example. Games for all systems are becoming much more dynamic experiences. No longer are we relegated to a pile of code on a disc; each user can have a truly unique experience because of what the internet has to offer, and from what I’ve seen so far, MS is making full use of this concept, certainly to a higher degree than Sony’s PS4.
I’m liking the Xbox One more every time I turn it on. Admittedly, I need to spend a lot more time with it to get the full picture, but already it’s an incredible machine that’s obviously built to do way more than “play games.” What will the future hold? Who knows. Much of it depends on how both Microsoft and game/program developers coordinate their efforts when it comes to showing off this bad boy. If nothing else, it should at least set the stage for an entire reinvention of what the world thinks of as a gaming system. Rather than turning into a computer without a monitor, it’s instead morphing into a bridge between computers, the internet, gaming, and TV. As impressive as the 8th generation is now, I suspect that the 9th generation will be as different from the 8th as the 8th is from the 2nd. We are truly on the cusp of creation of an entirely new entity that will push “game console” into obsolescence, and the Xbox One is where it starts.
The alternative? Everyone in a position to drive the Xbox One forward could make a total misstep. A few ill-timed failures and the PlayStation 4 could gain an insurmountable advantage. Microsoft has got a ways to go to justify its price point and make consumers understand its role beyond gaming console. Right now, it’s just too damn easy to see the $100 difference and grab the PS4.
Written by The Cubist
Share This Post