The final piece of the next generation of consoles is here with the release of Microsoft's Xbox One. It is the follow up to the successful Xbox 360 and while different from how it was first envisioned, let’s look at how the Xbox One stacks up against it’s predecessor.
The Small Controller Changes
Unlike the competition, Microsoft has changed very little on their controller. It was already a good ergonomic design that many loved, so small sensible changes were made. The first thing you’ll notice is that the battery lump is gone. The batteries are now recessed into the controller giving it a smooth underside between the handgrips. The D-pad is now a proper "+" design that allows for truer "up, down, left and right" action than the bowl shaped version on the Xbox 360 controller. The thumbsticks are smaller around and sit higher than the old controller. I have not noticed any difference using them versus the old style.
The shoulder bumpers and triggers are wider and rounder giving more area to hold and push. The shoulder bumpers do seem to have a stronger tension and different pivot point, but so far function fine. The triggers now each have their own rumble motors. This gives developers more to work with for tactile feedback. Turn 10 has put those new rumble triggers to good use by allowing players feel when their ABS brakes are slipping in Forza 5.
Lastly they have completely changed the headset jack to a proprietary jack. This is one thing I think might have been a bad idea. I would have liked to see them either stick with the system they had or go with something more common. The included headset is very similar to the Xbox 360 headset with a one sided over-the-ear speaker and boom mic, this I loved. After using it though I found a small problem. The connector is designed to fit snuggly, almost seamlessly over the center, and tightly onto the controller. However, when I wanted to remove it that near seamlessness made it difficult to get a grip and slide it off. I'm hoping it loosens up a bit with use. I should not have had to struggle that hard with it, and if I had a problem children will have an even tougher time.
The Xbox One Console
It's big, it's black, and it's a box. Some have jokingly compared it to old VCRs. While the Xbox One is bigger than even the launch version of the Xbox 360 I'm pretty sure there is a very good reason. Microsoft does not want a repeat performance of the "red ring of death," so much so that the Xbox One has quite a bit of venting. The console has venting on both ends and on top, because of this it seems to be designed to lay horizontal and not stand vertically at all.
Connecting the Xbox One was pretty easy. On the back, it has connections for power, Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, an optical audio port, a proprietary jack for the Kinect, and two HDMI connections (one in and one out). The HDMI in is for your cable or satellite input. On one hand this is nice because it helps with HDTVs that have a very limited amount of connections, on the other it allows the Xbox One to control your cable or satellite box, making it the center of your entertainment system, but we'll come back to that. An additional USB 3.0 port can be found on the left side of the box. Like other gaming systems, there are no connections for standard definition TVs, that era has passed.
Internally the Xbox One has also moved into the high definition era with a Blu-Ray drive. Now you can watch your Blu-Ray movies and game developers don't have to shoe-horn their games into smaller capacity DVDs.
Once it was all connected setup was easy. Connect to my home Wi-Fi, log in with my existing Xbox Live account and I was in. The new Xbox One interface is a bit of a cross between the latest Xbox 360 dashboard and the Windows 8 blocks, with it favoring the Windows 8 look more. While it initially looked busy it was actually simple. It's made up of "button blocks" and each is clickable to something. On the main screen you have your profile bar on the left, upper center is a large block for the currently selected function, below that are four blocks that are the last four functions used. Then next to thoseare(from top to bottom) the Snap Menu block, Games and Apps block, and what's currently in the Blu-Ray drive. Finally on the right side of the screen are three more stacked blocks that currently have tours tips and guides to the Xbox One system. These three will probably change over time. Moving back to the top left are two small blocks. The left one is notifications (for everything from games have finished downloading, errors, achievements unlocked to messages and invites from friends) and the right one is for signing in or out.
The main screen is the center of the complete interface. If you keep going right you move into the store section with things like(from left to right) Games, Movies & TV, Music, and Apps blocks. Below these is a search bar where you can input a title or word to search the Xbox store. Unlike the colorful blocks of the main screen, these store buttons have images of something featured in the respective store. If you go left from the main screen you have the "Pins" menu. Here you can pin the apps and games you use the most often for quick access.
Speaking of quick access the new Kinect 2.0 has more abilities than the original. The gestures now recognize more points of articulation including the difference between an open and closed hand. The gestures are a bit different. Instead of waving your hand to get the Kinect's attention you just simply put your open hand up, palm towards the Kinect. To select a block you move your hand forward, like you are pushing a button. I recommend going through the tutorial for tips on gestures and all the new things you can do with them.
In addition to gestures the voice commands are greatly improved and varied. It still needs a clear, slightly louder than normal voice, but you can pretty much maneuver around the menus and system practically by voice only. In fact, coming back to the cable or satellite control, you can use the Kinect voice control to virtually replace your hand-held, touch remote. Once you have gone through the complete set up you can have your Xbox One turn on itself, TV, cable or satellite box, and more with a simple "Xbox On" command and turn it all off with the "Xbox Off" command. With your cable or satellite box programmed in you can even change channels by voice command. It still has some trouble with certain words or phrases, but it is light years better than the first Kinect. My only concern is the fact it still needs a slightly louder than normal voice, which can be a drawback if you need to be quiet. At that point you are back to your remotes and the Xbox controller.
The launch titles for the Xbox One cover a good scope of genres and I was able to play a few of them. I'll give some quick thoughts here and full reviews of some of them later.
Forza Motorsport 5, the hit franchise on the Xbox 360, makes the leap to the Xbox One. This is the racing simulator you want to play if you want to race as close to realism as possible. It has everything that has made the franchise great. Cars, tracks, the ability to make it as easy or as hard as you want, and the pure artistic pleasure of creating that custom paint job you desire. As mentioned earlier, new features include taking advantage of the rumble triggers to bring that much more realism. The only problem with the game currently is the online marketplace where you can sell or buy user created paintjobs, decals, or cars is disabled. Hopefully that gets online soon.
Ryse: Son of Rome. This is an interesting title. It's a little bit of everything for adventure games. It is a third person adventure with some army command gameplay and bites of first person shooter. It, along with Forza Motorsport 5, really shows off the graphical power the Xbox One has, a reality that starts falling into that "uncanny valley" that is the graphical goal of realism.
Dead Rising 3 brings the fun of creating crazy weapons from odd parts to kill hordes of zombies all over again. I have not spent as much time with game as I would like, but rest assured, what I've played so far has me craving more.
Lococycle is a bit of a disappointment. The story is straight B-movie fodder and is fine, as it was never billed as being more than that. To me currently it is the gameplay that is falling down here, very repetitious.
I also received Zoo Tycoon, but not in time for this review. Look for more on this title later.
Movies and Music
Much like the Xbox 360 before it, the Xbox One has quite a few movie apps. The big ones are here; Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu, and settling in with them are Crackle, Redbox, FoxNow, VuDu and more. While it doesn't have full Twitch support yet you can download the app and watch videos.
Surprising is the lack of music apps. The Xbox music store is there and a CD playback app, but nothing else. MP3 support and streaming from your PC is coming, but apps like Last.FM from the Xbox 360 are sorely missing. I hope they are coming in the future.
Lastly is the video capture feature. There are two ways of capturing gameplay footage on the Xbox One. The first is the easiest; just say "Xbox Record That" and it will capture the last 30 seconds of gameplay. The second is to use the Game DVR app, this lets you record up to 5 minute of gameplay from the moment you start it. You can take all that captured footage into another app called Upload and edit it. It is simple to use; it has some templates for putting together videos. You can use the Kinect to record voice over tracks for narration or record on camera pieces to put in the video. I used it to record and make a video pointing out a small humorous glitch in Forza 5 (which you can find here). You can then upload this all to your SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage, to download to your home computer then post to your favorite social media site. Again another surprise here that you can't directly upload to YouTube, Facebook or any other site, and again this is something that may be changed in a future update.
Overall the Xbox One is a very impressive system, especially given all the changes it went through from its first announcement to its present state. I'm happy with it and am eager to see what Microsoft has up its sleeve for it as we move forward.
For more information on the Xbox One see the official site.