Microsoft’s new console -- the Xbox One -- releases Friday, and despite its rocky announcement this past summer, the successor to the Xbox 360 may initiate a gaming revolution.
Xbox One’s E3 conference this year in Los Angeles may go down as one of the worst opening gambits of any console in history. As well as announcing an eye-watering $500 price tag, Microsoft stated that the new console would require an always-on Internet connection, and would strictly limit the ability to play used games.
Backlash from fans was overwhelming, and the company quickly backtracked. Although it kept the price tag, the need to be always online was scaled back, as was the limit on used games. Since then, Microsoft has been playing catch-up with Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Now the Xbox One is here -- so how does it stack up?
The Xbox One is a big unit, dwarfing most consoles in recent history. A simple black box, it is unimpressive but not bad looking. Families with large living rooms will find it unassuming, students living in tiny dorms may struggle with its size.
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The controller is a minor upgrade from the Xbox 360's, with the most notable feature being the triggers. The back LT and RT buttons now have feedback in them, meaning that if you are playing a racing game, the triggers will vibrate and push back as you accelerate – adding to the realism of the experience. It's subtle, but it works well.
The Kinect camera/voice system is also back, but it's upgraded to the point that it is barely recognizable from the glitchy, low quality version that was an optional extra for the Xbox 360.
Voice recognition still stumbles and players will find themselves repeating themselves here and there. But in my experience, 80-90 percent of commands were picked up.
However, that success rate fell with the addition of background noise such as music, or a crying baby. I paused “Dead Rising 3” to pick up my fussy newborn daughter at one point. Unfortunately, Kinect mistook her cries for the word “resume” -- at which point the game unpaused and my character was eaten by zombies – thanks, baby!
Also, the line between cool and frustration is slim. Yelling “record that” to record the last 30 seconds of gameplay to an internal hard disc is superb when it works. When it doesn’t catch your cry, frustration abounds.
Camera resolution is also much improved, allowing greater detection. Kinect’s tech is so advanced that when you turn Xbox One on, it will use facial recognition to immediately sign you in. If you are on Skype with someone, the camera will zoom in and follow you around the room – it works very well.
But Kinect really comes into its own when paired with your TV.
Beyond gaming, Xbox One’s other main draw is TV compatibility. Owners can run their cable box through the console, allowing a convergence of television and gaming.
In practical terms it means you can control both your TV and Xbox through voice commands, as well as through the Xbox controller. So, saying “Xbox on” turns on both your Xbox and TV, then saying “Watch Fox News” will transfer you immediately to Fox News. In my experience, the cable remote quickly became redundant.
Additionally, you can switch instantly between games, apps and TV, and even split the screen, playing a game while watching TV at the same time. Want to play “Madden 25” during halftime but don’t want to miss the start of the second half? Snap TV into the side of your screen and keep an eye on it while still playing.
Not all is smooth sailing yet. There are gaps in commands, and the interface needs polishing before it becomes entirely intuitive. Gesture control is also extremely weak and needs tightening. This is cutting edge technology, but it needs some tweaking for it to be an entirely smooth experience and to feel effortless.
Additionally users without a steady Internet connection won't get their money’s worth, as many of the features, both with games and apps, will not work properly without a solid wireless Internet connection. Also, some games (as well as the console itself) require an online update before they will work, so make sure there's an Internet connection at least partly available at home.
In all the talk about TV, TV and more TV, Microsoft hasn't overlooked the most important part of the console: The lineup of games at launch is surprisingly strong.
In addition to titles such as “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” that are available on current-generation consoles, it has a fair share of exclusives.
The three big titles are “Ryse: Son of Rome,” “Dead Rising 3” and “Forza Motorsport 5.” Other titles such as “Zoo Tycoon” and “Killer Instinct” back up the three AAA titles. Not all the titles are great quality, but “Dead Rising 3” and “Forza Motorsport 5” may go down as two of the strongest launch titles in recent history.
Additionally, looking into 2014, Xbox One can dangle exciting exclusives such as "Titanfall" in front of the eyes of gamers. While rivals at Sony are still looking for strong exclusives, Xbox One has its fair share already.
The Xbox One’s revolution nearly failed at the first hurdle. But now it has recovered with fervor and the revolution is underway, albeit imperfectly. Despite its occasionally choppy interface, its unremarkable design and its high price tag, Xbox One is changing the way gamers use their consoles.
With TV integration and a solid set of launch titles, the Xbox One has positioned itself at the very front of the console race. Let the battle commence!