Here we go. With the release of the Xbox One, the eight generation of consoles is truly, really, seriously upon us. And now, you have some questions to answer. Namely: Do you really need another console? Do you need it right now? Well, that depends--did you get Nintendo's Wii U and Sony's PS4 already? Do you care about Dead Rising 3 that much? How do you feel about a Kinect staring at you and listening to your every word?
But there's more to the Xbox One than you might already know. Inside of the massive hardware casing is extremely powerful tech, ready to do some absolutely crazy things. Microsoft took a gamble on the One (including naming it the Xbox One in hopes that people would call it "the One"), and while not every bet it made paid off, some of the most intriguing elements of the system are things that you might not even know it can do.
You'll love: The mostly unchanged controller
Wrapping your fingers around the Xbox One controller provides an immediately recognizable sensation. Though the ergonomics have been altered slightly, the controller is mostly the same shape as the Xbox 360's--a controller that, to many, is the best ever made. But that's not to say there haven't been some refinements. The d-pad, which was outright garbage on Microsoft's last gamepad, is now a good deal better, with a nice "clicky" feel replacing the "mushy nonsense" that was the Xbox 360's controller.
The analog sticks have been textured slightly to help enhance the grip. They're a little more sensitive, but they're still offset, so you won't need to re-teach your muscle memory how to move and aim in Call of Duty. Even better, the buttons replacing Start and Select (named Menu and View, for some reason), are in the same exact position as they were before. Even if they're called something new, your fingers will still know how to get to them.
You'll hate: Some changes to the controller are negative
There were some nice changes to the Xbox One's controller, but there were also some alterations that were for the worse. The triggers and shoulder buttons feel cheaper, thinner, and oddly hollow--pressing the trigger results in a weird, dull thud noise. Also, whereas the Xbox 360's bumpers could be depressed at any angle, the Xbox One's has spots that you actually can't push in. These spots include the sides and the apex of the button.
One of the more interesting changes to the controller comes with the inclusion of rumble in the triggers, acting as haptic feedback for some games. Sometimes it works, but other times it's more of a tickling feeling, which is… pretty weird, to be honest. The controller also makes a disconcerting noise when you shake it (which Dead Rising 3 makes you do to evade zombies). The noise might be related to the rumble motors or the battery pack, but either way you may find yourself seriously wondering whether you've broken your controller at some point.
You'll love: Resuming games exactly where you left them off
At one point, while playing Dead Rising 3, I paused the game, hit save, and then turned off my Xbox One. The next morning I sat on my couch, said "Xbox, turn on" and "Xbox, on" like seven times until it did (more on that later), and it loaded up my system. When I clicked on the Dead Rising 3 icon it brought me back into my game--with no load times--exactly where I had saved it. My cursor was even hovering over the same "Save game" icon it was on when I saved it.
That was, by far, the most next-gen moment I had on the Xbox One. Both companies flaunted the idea of systems being able to resume games where you left them, but actually seeing it in action is remarkable. Though it sounds like marketing speak, once you see it in action you'll be convinced.
You'll hate: That everything is an App
Oh, you got an Achievement? Awesome. If you want to view it, all you need to do is hold down the Xbox symbol which… launches the Achievement app. And then it loads your Achievements. And then it drops you onto a screen with all of your Achievements. You're taken completely out of the game just for wanting to see what the "Be a Dick" Achievement was for. Huh?
Sometimes you can "Snap" this to the side of your screen (which lets you have two Apps open at a time), but in other instances you're thrown from the game. On the Xbox, everything from chatting with party members to watching a captured video to viewing Achievements is an app that can (and needs to be) launched. While it makes things like Snap easier to manage, it definitely feels like a gigantic step backwards, making for more time spent staring at loading screens instead of having things simply pop up on the screen.
You'll love: Using the included headset (or Kinect) to chat with friends
If you read our PlayStation 4 review--or picked up a PS4 at launch--you know the sad truth about the included headset: it's awful. Like, truly, truly terrible. It's better than nothing if you really need to chat with a friend but only barely. The Xbox One gives you multiple ways to talk to teammates, by either using the Kinect's microphone or the packed-in headset. And that headset? Pretty damn good!
It's actually better than the Xbox 360's included headset. Though similar in terms of audio quality, it clicks into the bottom of the controller extremely well. There are large buttons to change the volume and a backlit icon that makes it extremely easy to see if your mic is on or not--fixing one of the largest issues with the original headset.
You'll hate: That Kinect voice commands work inconsistently
In promotional videos, Microsoft shows the Kinect's voice recognition working perfectly every time. When they want to mute it, they say, "Xbox, mute," and like magic the audio cuts out. In reality, it goes more like this: "Xbox, mute. Xbox. Xb--... Xbox, Mute. Xbox, mute. X. Box. Mute. Xbox, Mute. Xbox, mu--oh there it goes." When it works--hooked up to all of your entertainment devices--it's an amazing thing. When it doesn't, you spend more time telling your Xbox what you want it to do than it would take to just do it on the gamepad.
And even when it's working, there's the problem of remembering all of the commands. Though "Play Dead Rising 3" might make sense, you actually need to say "Xbox, go to Dead Rising 3." The system doesn't allow for much wiggle room, and if you don't know how to snap or unsnap something as soon as you want to you could end up spending a lot of time having one-sided conversations with a camera.
You'll hate: When the Kinect thinks you're talking to it when you're not
At one point, after pausing Ryse, I left the room to get a glass of water. "Want anything to drink?" I asked my wife, who was sitting on the couch. "Can you make me a tea?" she asked. Apparently, somewhere in that conversation, the Kinect heard the word "unpause" and started the game back up again. And that's not the only time the sensor picked up actions that weren't meant to be commands.
Sometimes during conversations, the Kinect would think I wanted to change the TV channel, and would start randomly typing in numbers. It's not that surprising--there are plenty of English words that sound like numbers--but it's still frustrating. It's the 2013 version of mistakenly sitting on the remote and changing the channel, but even more annoying.
You'll love: Using it as a Universal Remote
That said, it's pretty damn cool when everything works as planned. I plugged my Comcast cable box into the One and hooked my TV and surround sound system to it by programming the system the same way I would a universal remote. When I say "Xbox, raise the volume" the volume on my totally unattached speakers goes up.
The same goes for its abilities as a replacement for a TV remote. Anyone who uses Comcast can attest to how awful the UI for the guide is, so being able to just say "Xbox, go to Comedy Central" made my life much easier. It's a nice touch, and though it doesn't work all the time, it works consistently enough to justify using it when your remote is out of reach.
You'll hate: ...that it doesn't work perfectly for all of the things you want it to
Things fall apart when you try to do something that it can't do. I was all ready to totally ditch my Comcast remote once I got my Xbox One hooked up, but there are limitations that make it so that can't--and maybe never will--be an option. Because every cable box is different, you can't use Kinect to access things like DVR or On Demand, meaning you'll need to fumble for that remote if you want to watch those episodes of Adventure Time you recorded.
It's a shame, too, because when the voice commands and gesture-based controls work well (which happens, realistically, about half the time), you can really see what the Kinect means for the future of entertainment. And then you hit a wall, and you're pulled back to 2013.
You'll love: The varied, surprisingly strong launch library
Launches are hard, you guys. Developers need to make games for unproven, unknown hardware that no one actually owns, and it needs to justify the console's existence. That's a tough spot to be in, and more times than not it doesn't go that well. While Microsoft doesn't have the best launch lineup in history with the Xbox One, it certainly has one of the most varied.
Fighting game fans have Killer Instinct, racer fans have both Forza Motorsport 5 and Need for Speed: Rivals, shooter fans can get Battlefield 4orCall of Duty: Ghosts, and those looking for some gory gaming can choose between Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Rising 3. There are also plenty of games for the younger audience with Zoo Tycoon and Powerstar Golf. While no one game perfectly exemplifies the next-generation, and most of the multiplatform games offer higher-resolution experiences on other systems, all of them together paint a picture of a huge, hyper-realistic future for the system.
You'll love: The streamlined, customizable interface
The Xbox 360's UI became a cluttered mess as Microsoft piled more advertisements and images onto it, but that's not an issue with the Xbox One. There are only three pages of icons: the starting page, with your recently used Apps; a page that helps you find and download new games, Apps, and movies; and a customizable page of "pins" where you can put your most-used applications. It's super customizable and easy to use--the Kinect camera will even watch who is talking and bring up their personalized pages.
After a week of use we're still struggling with a few elements of the UI, but it's growing on us. It's not as easy to use as the interface of the PlayStation 4, but the emphasis on customization is definitely appreciated, and it's pretty damn cool to have a totally different style depending on who is playing.
Should you buy an Xbox One?
Not just yet. The launch lineup is strong, but doesn't include enough exclusives to justify picking one up just yet, as most of the games worth buying are available by other means (and, in some cases, the other versions are better). That said, the games paint a great picture of what the system can do. Despite being slightly less powerful than the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One is capable of greatness--we're seeing massive worlds in Dead Rising, incredibly detailed environments in Ryse, and stellar online play in everything that lets us use Xbox Live. The Kinect functionality is astonishing when it works, too, and we're hoping that future updates will eradicate the "when it works" caveat. If you want to get the system, and need an excuse, go ahead and pick it up at your earliest convenience and you'll find plenty to enjoy. But if you want to wait, you can do so guilt-free until some bigger exclusives drop.
So, what do you think? Are you backing Microsoft for the next-generation, holding out for a few upcoming releases, or just... buying them both? There are plenty of ways to approach next-gen, so choose your moves wisely.
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