The world of gaming is a fun place to be right now, with both next-gen consoles finally here. PlayStation 4 had a mostly smooth launch and now Microsoft’s Xbox One is filling up home entertainment centers, basement game dungeons, and bedrooms all over the world, and fill up your space the Xbone will; it’s a hulking gaming box, still with a power brick, and the also sizable Kinect 2.0.
It doesn’t quite have the sleek-factor that Sony’s Parallelogram-o-Station 4 does, but I like the console’s overall design, with its now front-loading Blu-ray disc drive, and nice little sound effects when you touch the eject or power buttons. Everything included in the package feels high quality, even the headset. It isn’t all that comfy, but the better connector and much higher voice quality easily makes up for that. Third-party headset chat support is on hold while we wait for an adapter, but for audio purposes they will work fine. I use my Astro A40’s from the Xbone’s digital optical out, just like normal.
When Xbox 360 launched eight years ago, the UI looked nothing like the console we see today; remember the blades? It took Microsoft a while to hit their stride and really streamline everything. That said, I expected the Xbox One to adopt a similar version of the current Xbox 360 user interface while adding improvements here and there. And while they do look similar, these are two entirely different operating systems, for better and for worse.
The main difference that I’ve noticed between the current and next-gen iterations of Microsoft’s media box is that everything now runs in its own app. Your friends list, achievements, and even settings all run in completely separate windows that you can multitask between at any time by pressing the home button. It is nice to be able to hop between everything so freely, but it starts to feel cluttered as soon as you start opening any more than two things at once. I miss being able to hit the home button and check my friends list without feeling like I’m launching another app. Overall though, the interface is fun and customizable to a degree, I’m really enjoying it all so far.
I’m somewhat of a digital neat freak, so I always feel the need to quit out of apps when I’m done with them, instead of just moving on to the next thing, which is what Microsoft wants you to do. Once you get used to this, you’ll be flying between games and other media with relative ease. Partying up with friends is different now too; it should be the first thing you do when planning on gaming with your buddies. From there, you can chat (as I mentioned, the voice quality is much higher than on 360), queue up a game, and all join up together when the game is ready. There is a slight learning curve to all of this, and some of it feels like Microsoft intended to have users take advantage of the new Kinect’s voice commands, which work quite well, but they definitely still misfire enough to annoy.
I wasn’t at all a fan of the old one, but the new Kinect is actually pretty cool; it looks great during Skype calls and can track things like when you set the controller down or pass it to a friend. For the most part, it all works fine, but it can also cause problems. Just last night, I was trying to play LEGO Marvel Super Heroes with three people, while only logging in to two gamertags. Every time we passed the controller, the Xbox got confused as to who was playing and prompted us to sign back in a bunch of times. That kind of thing is extremely frustrating, but to this I say just turn the damn camera off. The Kinect’s voice commands work well, enabling you to turn your console on/off, or to hop between games and apps without pressing a button, but too often, someone walks in my room and activates the voice command popup while simply talking to me. Thankfully, there is always a confirmation screen before any major actions take place. The commands are nice for things like pausing and playing TV when you need to step out of the room, but in many cases, I would rather use a controller, as it never makes unwanted mistakes. Unless someone beats me in something, then that controller is obviously broken.
Xbox One’s new controller is fantastic, improving upon my already favorite console controller from the last-generation. It feels slightly smaller in your hands, but still has the weight and bulk of a well built input device. The new impulse triggers add another layer of detail to the rumble feature, which is most noticeable in Forza Motorsport 5. When you hit the gas, you can feel the tires slipping in the right trigger, or when slamming on the brakes, you can feel the ABS kick in as the wheels lock up. Battery life is about 25-hours, but there’s no indicator to let you know when you’re running low. I’ve heard some complaints about the new bumpers, but I actually really like how Microsoft intended on you to hit them, with the sides on your index fingers, as opposed to your fingertips. Finally, the D-pad doesn’t suck anymore, and has a nice tactile click when depressed. I’m no fighter expert, but this newfound precision translates really well to Killer Instinct.
A console’s launch lineup is as important as the console itself, and I was personally more excited for games like Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, and Killer Instinct as opposed to some of Sony’s contenders, although Resogun is awesoooome. I really wish we could’ve gotten something like another Geometry Wars at launch. I’ve had a chance to try most of the games out, and I feel that this is a great start to a new console life cycle. The number of zombies on screen in Dead Rising 3 is impressive, and the sun bouncing off cars’ paint in Forza has that ‘looks so real it looks fake’ factor. This is just the beginning of the generation, so I can’t wait to see what games will be coming out years from now. The foundation is there to be built upon, and build the devs will.
The Xbox One is a big hunk of machine, it’s a little bulky and cumbersome, much like its menus at first. Still, I’m really happy with it. And though the console is definitely missing features, even simple things like a freakin’ battery indicator, there’s no doubt Microsoft will patch up the loose ends before too long. Console launches always feel rushed; it cannot be easy to pump out millions of these things and have everything streamlined and ready to go. Overall though, Microsoft has done an excellent job this time. The Xbox One is an fantastic gaming and media machine with tons of room to grow over the next decade. I would highly recommend one to all you console gamers out there.