Xbox One review
- Robust internal specs
- Oodles of potential
- Improved controls
- Hulking brute of a machine
- Lack of killer launch titles
- Eye-watering price tag
At an after hours event at Microsoft’s gigantic E3 fortress, T3 finally got to play some actual video games on the brand new Xbox One console. While some of the console’s inner-workings and capabilities had been shown to T3 at Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond last month (check out our Xbox One analysis), this was the first time we got to see the Xbox One in action.
The result was a bit of a mixed bag, even if some of the titles at the stand – such as Forza 5 and Ryse: Son Of Rome – were loads of fun to play.
Xbox One: Size and Build
Microsoft has been investing in design like there’s no tomorrow (with Windows Phone sales being what they aren’t, perhaps there’s a grain of truth in that).
The Xbox 360 successor looks thoroughly 2013, from its ‘80’s styled vents and boxy edges to its Samsung-esque glossy black fascia. Out go teen-friendly lights and aggressive curves, in comes a more restrained look that won’t scare off parents.
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Overall, it works, for now. But given that the Xbox One is meant to last eight years or more, we guarantee it’ll look outdated before 2020 rolls around.
Another shift from the 360 is that it won’t stand up vertically - this is meant to nestle beneath your telly, not nudge up against a desk. Ports might surprise for a self-proclaimed living room hub: just one HDMI In and one Out, two USB 3s, digital sound and gigabit Ethernet. There are two 802.11n radios inside, 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Article continues after the video
Xbox One: Features
The Xbox One will have 8GB of RAM but the processor and GPUs are ‘custom’ and ‘specially made’. The big tech news is that it will run two virtual machines and three operating systems.
One machine will be dedicated to gaming, the other will deal with everything else: TV, apps, services and music. The third operating system is handle the switch between the two - in the demo we saw this was simply instant.
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Just say Watch TV or Play Game and the Xbox flips between them as easily as between channels. The gaming side of things doesn’t need a persistent connection, officially, but with the way that Microsoft is pushing cloud gaming, expect all but the most basic games to benefit from a fat pipe.
Improved processing means that games can now resolve detail down to finger level, recognise which way your arms and legs are facing and even tell whether you’re sad and happy. And this really works - in a live demo, an Xbox One tracked multiple players simultaneously, noting who was paying attention and who was looking away
Xbox One: Controller
The reason for this is that the four rumble pads on the Xbox One controllers on consoles that were hooked up to the games were disabled. As demonstrated back in Redmond and in a tech demo at Microsoft’s E3 booth, the new controller has four vibrating pads situated behind the triggers and where the player’s palms meet the controller.
They can provide a variety of sensations – such as simulating the kick of a firearm trigger, or the steady beating of a human heart – which are meant to better immerse the player with the action they’re controlling on screen.
Without them activated, however, there’s a genuine sense of disconnection between the player and the game’s action. In the hands-on with Forza 5, however, we were rather disappointed with the lack of kick in the triggers as we zoomed around in one of the racing game’s many dream machines. Similarly, we felt a lack of connection in our hands-on with Ryse: Son Of Rome as we hacked and slashed our way through enemy soldiers.
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The actual feel of the Xbox One controller, though, is an improvement on the Xbox 360 control pad. The tips of the twin joysticks are smaller, yet fit more snugly against the surface of the player’s thumbs and the triggers feel like natural extensions of their index fingers. The controller is lighter and more streamlined underneath too as there’s now no battery pack jutting out at the centre.
All of the buttons are more flush against the controller’s surface too. The shoulder buttons and D-pad respond to the lightest touch and both feel smoother the touch as well. The Start and Select buttons have been replaced with smaller Menu and Apps buttons.
The central ‘X’ button has been moved to the top of the controller and is also more flush against its surface; it’s light to the touch too, although T3 got told off for using it and inadvertently bringing up the UI.
Xbox One: UI
And since we paid for our nosiness with a mild ticking off, we might as well tell you about the glimpse we witnessed. The menu that flashed briefly before our eyes was laid out lengthways in a series of squares.
We didn’t have time to read any of the labels on any of them before the UI was removed from our field of vision, but the brief sense we got was that of a smaller version of the layout on a Windows Phone 8 handset if you gaze at it sideways.
Xbox One: Kinect
The next biggest change from Microsoft’s last gen machine is most evident in the Kinect Module. Unfortunately there were no games to play with the new sensor, but Microsoft’s booth personnel were more than happy to walk us through a demonstration of its capabilities.
First off, the new Kinect sensor can support up to six players at once, which is a vast improvement on the two- player limit its predecessor could handle.
Rather than reading the player as wiry stick figure with boxes for hands, feet and a head, the new Kinect module can pick up muscle texture, the shape of the player's head and register the difference between their thumbs and the tips of their fingers.
It can even pick up strain on the player's body parts, demonstrated to us when we stood one leg and saw our body part slowly turn red on the screen in front of us. Voice activated commands are still part of the package too.
Kinect can now monitor facial expressions, see if the player’s face begins to flush and even read the player’s heart rate. Not only will all of this be useful in the creation of Kinect software – fitness games, for example, will be far more advanced – but it also allows Kinect to gauge the player’s level of engagement with any form of entertainment they happen to be watching through the Xbox One.
If all of this sounds a bit Orwellian, don’t worry. Contrary to some of the rumours flying about the Internet, you don’t have to have Kinect active at all times in order for the Xbox One to work – you can deactivate it entirely. Not only does this mean you can still play games in the nude, should you desire, but you don’t have to allow it collect any data from your viewing or playing habits – although if you do, Kinect and the Xbox One will start to build a more bespoke entertainment experience just for you.
Xbox One: Games
Microsoft is receiving a nasty caning from the entire Internet for its policies about second hand game sales, DRM, online and pricing in the wake of Sony’s press conference. Still, it’s worth remembering that before Sony stuck the boot in and changed everyone’s focus entirely, Microsoft had shown off a robust line up of video games at its keynote that looked absolutely brilliant.
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The only problem, then, is how few of them are actually playable at E3. The Xbox One’s making arguably the biggest noise at the show is Respawn’s Mech Vs Machine shooter, Titanfall, which is being shown behind closed doors as an assault on the senses with no explanation of the onscreen action – although we tried, dear reader, we tried.
A lot of the titles that showcased the console’s variety either only exist in trailer form – such as D4 and the new Halo title – or as first-look demos
Xbox One : Forza 5
Still, Forza 5 is available on the shop floor and we have to say it looks utterly gorgeous. The series has always trafficked in car porn for petrolheads, but its never looked as good as it does running on the Xbox One at 1080p resolution with a super-smooth 60 frames per second.
The presentation is also boosted significantly by the intricate detail of the in-game textures; here, leather looks real enough to touch and every reflective surface shimmers as sunlight bounces off it. The draw distance is incredible, allowing players to navigate bends on the horizon the second they come into view up ahead and even the game’s dynamic lighting plays a part – pro- tip, don’t look directly into the sun.
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The gameplay here is classic Forza; at easy setting it rides the line between arcade and simulation while leaning towards the latter, but it can be tweaked to bring the experience as close to the real thing as the player desires. We’re told the control pads rumble pads will pick up not only the surge of each car engine, but also every bump, crash and subtle kink in the road.
The big innovation here is Drivatar, a feature that builds an in-game online Avatar that’s based on the player’s performance. This means that virtual representations of players can be pitted against each other when they’re not even playing the game.
While this may sound like a game playing with itself – and what would be the point of that – bear in mind that the Drivatar’s performance is based around data collected on the player’s skill level. So, if you don’t play the game very often and show no desire to improve, it’ll be as rubbish as you are.
Xbox One: Ryse Son of Rome
Next, we took a look at Crytek’s sword and sandals epic Ryse: Son Of Rome. First unveiled at E3 in 2011 as a hardcore Kinect title, Ryse has since been re-fitted for the Xbox One’s control pad and given a visual scrub.
The action in the demo we played involved storming a beach filled with barbarians with out Roman soldier and then battling our way towards an enemy catapult position.
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The action in Ryse was reminiscent of the sort of spectacle Call Of Duty is known for; the action kicked off with our Roman soldier and his squad leaping off a galley into the surf of a beach as enemy catapults rained firebombs down on top of us. After a brief preamble we got down to the business of killing barbarians.
It’s fun stuff, although a bit button-bashy, but the main sticking point – as was said earlier – was the fact that the deactivation of the rumble pads caused us to feel a lack of agency with our Roman solider – and when you’re slicing through barbarian bonces with a gladius, this is more important than you think.
Xbox One: Crimson Dragon
Finally, we took a look at Crimson Dragon, the rail shooter from Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futasugi. Once again, this title began life as a Kinect game with the working title Project Draco, but it’s now played with a control pad. (The booth assistant couldn’t confirm whether the Kinect controls had been stripped out utterly).
It’s a pretty title in which the player soars through a beautiful fantasy landscape on the back of crimson dragon and controls a target reticule which directs their attacks on flying beasts. It looks lovely, if a little lightweight, and we’re not sure if it’s the best representation on what this machine is capable of.
Xbox One: Verdict
This overall sense of uncertainty is a fitting way to round off our assessment of the new Xbox One, as our impressions are pretty inconclusive. A lot of the console’s appeal lies in believing its creators assertions that when it ships, it’ll do everything they say it will and more.
The peripherals seem well designed; the controller feels like a decent step up from its predecessor and the Kinect sensor has been vastly improved. However, with no access to the UI (without risking another telling off) or its announced social media sharing software, it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions about the intuitiveness of its OS interface.
And then there are the issues that have caused such outrage among gamers. Even though Sony has recently fessed up and admitted the PS4 does feature some DRM, there’s still the issue of needing to connect the Xbox One once a day. If you don’t do this, you can’t play games and that seems unnecessarily harsh.
The biggest hurdle to get over, however, is the console’s eye-watering retail price of £429. In case Microsoft hasn’t noticed, the recession is hitting a lot of people rather hard in the wallet and in a time where owning two consoles just isn’t an option for a lot of people, a machine that undercuts the Xbox One by around 80 quid looks very appealing.
Microsoft has the games, but do its consumers have the cash? Unless it lowers its asking price before November, Microsoft may find out the hard way what a difference 80 quid makes in the lives of most gamers.
Xbox One release date: 22November 2013
Xbox One price: £429 ($499) | Pre-order Microsoft Xbox One from: Amazon | Zavvi | Tesco | GAME
Hands-on pics and additional reporting by Mark Harris