The Microsoft Xbox One doesn’t just want to beat the PS4, it wants to be your ‘input one’ entertainment device. Check out our Xbox One review
Out of all of the participants in the forthcoming next-generation console war, the Xbox One has the most to prove. Unlike the Sony PS4, which has been championed by gaming industry pundits and media alike, Microsoft’s console met with outright hostility when it was announced back in May and since then, it’s lurched through one PR disaster after another.
In the months since its unveiling, Microsoft has performed a series of policy turnarounds – eliminating daily DRM pings, game sharing blocks and region blocking among them – meaning that, on the eve of its release, what players have is a robust console boasting high-end PC specs and the added power of cloud processing.
However, those loyal to the Xbox brand are also staring down the barrel of the heftiest price tag of any console on the market; at £429.99, the Xbox One is more expensive than both the PS4 and the Nintendo Wii U. So is it worth the extra cost?
Xbox One: Size & Build
The Xbox One certainly doesn’t look as sleek as Sony’s PS4. In fact, it’s a big, hulking brute of a machine that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Betamax video recorder circa 1984. It’s a 263 x 80 x 305 mm slab weighing about 3.2kg. Cast in ‘Liquid Black’, its top is split in half with a reflective surface on one side and a massive vent on the other.
Incidentally, this is a console designed to sit flat underneath your television set, with its Kinect sensor staring grimly out at the contents of your living room. Plonk it on its side and Microsoft won’t be held responsible for your discs getting scratched.
WATCH: Xbox One unboxing video
Kinect slots into the back of the Xbox One, next to a series of ports including HDMI-in, HDMI-out, three super-speed USB ports, an Ethernet connector, S/PDIF for optical audio out and an added IR port.
The front-facing side has a disc slot – that will play Blu-ray discs, once the app is downloaded – a power stud, eject tab and a sync-tab for hooking up the one wireless controller the Xbox One comes packaged with.
Under the hood, the Xbox One is packing an eight-core x86 processor with an amped up 853 MHz GPU, 500GB of local storage, 8GB RAM with 32MB of eS RAM embedded memory. It also has wireless networking capability through its 802.11 wireless radio with built-in Wi-Fi support. It also makes barely a sound when you power it up.
Xbox One: Features
If all of this sounds intimidating, don’t worry, setting this beast up is a doddle. Kinect, the power cable and – if you fancy watching live television through the Xbox One - most set-top boxes all slot neatly into the back. Once you boot it up, the console will ask you if you already have a profile. If you do, you’ll need to go online to load it up. If not – or if online is an anathema to you – you can create a new one from scratch.
Online is easier, though. If you have a profile, you simply login with your password and instantly, your Achievements, save games, friend-lists and avatars are all ported across. It doesn’t wipe your Xbox 360 gamertag – rather you now have gamertags on two platforms.
WATCH: Xbox One vs PS4 video
It also activates your Xbox Live Gold Status, if you have it. You can allow the Kinect module to link your physical appearance with your profile and that way, whenever you sit down in front of the console, it’ll say ‘hi’ and then log you in. If someone was already logged in, it gives you the option of switching profiles. It even notices if another player is handed the controller.
The UI is very reminiscent of the visual layout of Windows 8 in that it’s a series of coloured squares that players can side-scroll through – except here they’re using the control-pad, voice command or hand gestures.
You can also ‘hold’ the side of the screen to minimize the screen streaming entertainment, surf channels using voice commands and even program Kinect to start up when you say ‘Xbox on’.
Xbox One: UI
The menu is also divided into three sub-categories: Pins, Home and Store. Home is the screen players will see when they boot up the Xbox One. If the Xbox One signs them in, they’ll see their own customized page with their friends list, last-used apps, games and the Featured list of media.
Players now have an increased friends cap – 1,000 friends – and can also follow other players, in much the same way that they would on Twitter.
The Pins page contains all the player’s favourite apps and media; rather than having to scroll through pages of sub-sections – like on the Xbox 360 – players just ‘Pin’ the apps and media they use the most and can access them all on one screen.
The Store page offers players, games, movies, TV shows, music and apps for download – some at a cost. They can also use Bing to see whether or not what they’re after is available.
There’s a lengthy list of media apps available at launch, although not all were available through the unit T3 was given to test. We were told, however, that this experience would not be what Xbox One owners would see at launch.
Instead we had to make do with the Fitness App, in which a bunch of celebrity trainers can put players through their paces via the Kinect sensor. We were also able to chat to our mates using the Skype app and browse the web at the same time using the Snap function, which allows players to run dual-applications.
Xbox One: Kinect
The Kinect sensor, by the way has been re-vamped. It can now monitor heart-rate and muscle density meaning the virtual drill-instructors on the Fitness App will be doing players more good than ever.
Kinect also comes into its own on the video calling in Skype. Not only does the sensor produce a streaming video of the player at a pretty reasonable quality, but if they get up and wander about the room, the camera will track them.
The sensor’s fidelity and spatial requirements have been vastly improved – players no longer need to stand so far back from their TV set – although players may find themselves having to repeat the odd voice command.
Kinect can also track more players; up to four players can jump into a Kinect game now, and the sensor’s facial recognition technology can differentiate between them.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Kinect is better able to filter out intruding lights and sounds.
Unlike the previous iteration, the new Kinect module can work in almost pitch dark and isn’t interrupted by lights angled towards it. It’s also able to differentiate between the players voice and sounds coming out of the TV’s speakers.
Xbox One: Controller
At first glance, the Xbox One’s controller looks like a dead-ringer for its predecessor. Dual thumbsticks, face buttons, shoulder bumpers, D-pad and twin triggers are all where you’d expect to find them. But pick it up and play with it and the improvements become apparent.
The triggers feel smooter, the D-pad and shoulder buttons feel more responsive and the twin-sticks meld snugly to the player’s thumbs. The pad overall feels more molded to the player’s hands and the smooth surface is svelte to the touch. Instead of a Start and Select button, you have an Apps and Menu button, but they serve the same purposes in-game.
The most notable improvement are the rumble-filters beneath the controller’s casing that give players a sense of immersion the Xbox 360 didn’t have physically.
In a title like Forza 5 they convey the sensation of a roaring engine and the subtle push in a gear-change. In Call Of Duty Ghosts, where there’s enough action to send Bruce Willis into orbit, they convey every meaty trigger pull and shudder at every explosion.
Much has been made of the control pad’s re-design, but believe the hype; this controller is a marked improvement on its predecessor.
Xbox One: Games
The launch games themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. Among them, Forza 5 is clearly the frontrunner. Easily the best-looking title on the Xbox One, Forza 5 is a swoon-worthy racing simulator that is also the best demonstration of the console’s much heralded cloud gaming.
Right from the beginning, players will be racing against Drivatars, the virtual representation of other players, which the cloud tosses into their race. They can also build up their own Drivatar, which can grind for them when they’re away from the console.
Ryse Son Of Rome is sword and sandals hack ‘n slash is a surprisingly layered affair, which tosses mini-games on top of a brutal combat experience to keep things varied.
Players take on a role of a commander in the Roman army who is called on to both provide tactical guidance to artillery and carve up foes with a sword with reckless abandon.
The story has about as much historical accuracy as Zach Schnyder’s 300, and the mechanics and level design leave a lot to be desired. That having been said, if you fancy a button bash in ancient Rome, this is probably your prettiest option.
Dead Rising 3, the third installment of Capcom’s open-world zombie fragfest, shuns the George A. Romero roots of its predecessors and heads straight towards the grim territory of The Walking Dead.
Centering on a mechanic called Nick, who is a dab-hand at creating amusing weapons by combining whatever’s around him at the time, the story is two parts morality tale and one-part sheer horror-show. Utterly excellent.
Zoo Tycoon and Kinect Sports Rivals round out the casual gaming side of the noteworthy platform exclusives.
There are also ton of second party games – most of which are replicated on the PS4. Yes, there are issues with COD: Ghosts 720p presentation, but if that’s a deal-breaker at this stage, then you’re really missing the big picture.
Xbox One: Verdict
And that is that, this is Xbox One in pupae. Like its nearest and dearest rival, the Xbox One is absolutely loaded with potential, which is mostly unrealized at the time of its release. There's no doubt that this console is capable of a full sprint right now, but at the moment its manufacturers, game developers and the public - particularly those that caused a stink over the always-connected Xbox One concept - only knows how to guide in terms of baby steps.
Just as no one could imagine the all-encompassing media hub the Xbox 360 would grow into at launch in 2006, we can’t really see the road ahead for Xbox One. But we can see, from its specs and its manufacturer’s investment, its gargantuan potential as an all-in-one home entertainment system.
Xbox One release date: 22 November 2013
Xbox One Price: £429.99