The Xbox One

The next-generation of consoles is really within sight now, with Microsoft’s new entry, The Xbox One, being unveiled today.  But the conference left many more questions than answers.

I’ll focus on what has been shown so far.  The Xbox One seems like it will be more interactive than an Xbox has ever been before, with an upgraded and new Kinect with every console that will be precise enough to read your heartbeat.  The possibilities for this with games are astounding.  What we were shown in the conference was the console’s ability to flip between its functions: TV, music and, of course, games very easily.  This was sleek and seemed to work exceptionally well, ending the frustration of changing inputs or having to go to the Xbox Dashboard to change what you are doing.  The new controller was shown as well, which looked similar to the current, and great, Xbox 360 controller, although the new version comes with over 40 improvements including improved ergonomics.  This sounds great, and hopefully it will be just as functional as using Kinect to navigate between the system’s different functions.

The internals of the system sound promising too.  8GB of RAM and three dedicated operating systems sounds like it will provide plenty of power to developers to make great games, and allow you to hop in and out of them easily.  Incidentally, the PS4 also has 8GB of RAM, as well as the same processor structure (x86), which means that, from what we know so far, there may be less difference between these consoles and their previous iterations.  Also like the PS4, the Xbox One features video capture software, so you can record your gameplay and save it onto Xbox Live’s cloud.  It’s great that this feature is coming as standard in the next-generation consoles.  Also great to see is that the rumours of no disc trays and always-online requirements have been quashed, with a Blu-Ray drive and no requirement to be online to play games.  Built-in wireless connection is also included, after being an optional add-on for the original Xbox 360s.  These are wise moves, in my opinion, and will definitely help sales of the console.  A major bonus over Sony’s conference was that we got to see the console itself!  It looked very much like previous Xboxes, especially the 360 Slim, but slicker and definitely more visually pleasing, if a little bigger.  The actual console seems fantastic so far.

For a large part of the conference, at the beginning, the focus of the new Xbox One wasn’t on games, but on TV.  A new integrated service, including a good TV guide, voice control and sharing with friends definitely seems cool.   Also announced was a Steven Spielberg directed Halo TV series, which is a major coup for Xbox’s content creating aspirations.  A partnership with the NFL was also announced, allowing you to view standings, fantasy football teams and other statistics on-the-fly, which is a great feature.  Hopefully similar functionality will be brought for SPL coverage, although I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Microsoft also announced the ability to snap windows on the Xbox One, allowing you to watch TV or play a game and open something else, such as Internet Explorer.  This is great if you’re watching something and want to know what an actor has been in previously, or if you want to listen to music and play a game (hopefully the feature works in this way).  Another innovation announced was Skype being available on the Xbox One, which will surely improve upon the current Xbox Live Party Chat that we have on the 360.  Xbox Live’s new guise saw little in the way of announcements, other than that you will be able to play games from anywhere in the world with your account, and that the service has 300,000 servers compared with 3,000 when the 360 launched, and, impressively, more than existed in the world in 1999.  Xbox Live has proved itself to be the best overall online experience for consoles so far, and Microsoft have definitely taken steps to ensure this will continue to be the case.

The conference overall though, was disappointing in my book, and certainly not as inspiring as Sony’s back in February.

We didn’t see many exclusive titles for the Xbox One, aside from Forza 5 and Remedy’s Quantum Break (for which we only saw short trailers for) the only other games we actually saw, were EA Sports titles (FIFA 14, Madden 25, UFC and NBA Live 14) and the new Call of Duty: Ghosts.  The trailers we did see, and the extended CoD behind the scenes, definitely showed a jump in graphics and great potential for innovating gameplay.  But for a reveal of an entirely new generation of hardware, I think it’s reasonable to expect some more exclusive games or franchises to make consumers think: “This is the console I want to buy”.  This is the main criteria for me, personally, as to which console I will end up getting.  Xbox One hasn’t taken this opportunity, unlike when Sony announced new Killzone, Infamous and Gran Turismo games.

Although, the Xbox One has made two big moves in capturing in-game exclusives from EA and Activision.  FIFA 14’s Ultimate Team, a big feature of FIFA games in the last few years, will be exclusive (EDIT: EA has tweeted to announce that only some content will be exclusive) to the Xbox One.  As with the last few Call of Duties, any downloadable content will be available first on Xbox Live for the Xbox One.  These are two big selling-points for the new console, which Sony will be lacking in their new console.

After the conference, Microsoft’s team behind the Xbox One have fielded many questions, and perhaps given answers to some questions that were conspicuous by their absence in the conference.  Your gamertag, Gamerscore and avatar will all carry over to the new console, something that is greatly appreciated; although still no word about your friends list (which I’d assume would be included).  Also, the customary no backwards compatibility statement was released, a sorry trend in modern consoles, with the PS4 no better in this regard.  Many third-party developers are beginning to announce their next-generation titles for both the Xbox One and PS4, such as Assassins Creed 4, Battlefield 4, and Destiny (from Bungie). It’s still too early to make any judgements on which of these two consoles will be the more successful.

With both Microsoft and Sony having E3 conferences on June the 10th, we won’t have to wait very long to see more about the Xbox One, and the PS4.  We know both will release this year, but exact dates and prices, which are crucial to consumers’ choices, are still hidden.

For now though, the ball has bounced in Microsoft’s court, and Sony are still waiting for them to return it.

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