November 22nd 2013 was a long time ago, but we have been biding our time in regards to reviewing the Xbox One. Ultimate Gaming Paradise believes a great review takes a lot of time, patience and resourcefulness to be able to explore the disparities and nuances that exist within the confines of a brand new gaming eco-system. Therefore, we have spent a great deal of time finding out if the Xbox One really makes the grade?
The current media reportage surrounding the consoles seems to indicate that a “war” is in full swing. However, this review will give the full verdict on the gameplay, the experience and the playability of the console. In full, it will tell you whether you need it or need to avoid it?
Let’s not skirt around the issue here. The Xbox One is a hundred pounds more expensive than the PlayStation 4. It should be noted that for that extra hundred quid, you do get the Kinect sensor kit. Hardcore gamers seem to have thrown their teddies out the pram at this one! However, what’s done is done. The Kinect is part of the entire eco-system, so there’s no point whining about it. So the US-designed console is £80 more expensive than its Japanese rival and you also need to remember that Microsoft has its unpopular gold-walled network – which requires a Microsoft Xbox Live Gold membership (which costs £ 39.99). So, your inward cost is £ 480 or there about.
The PlayStation 4 with its angular minimalism and streaks sets the bar for great design, very, very high. The Xbox One, on the other hand, has an abysmal design approach. It is a boxy affair. It has no pizzazz, no flair and no wow-factor whatsoever. The design harks back to that of a 1980s VCR cassette recorder. It has a dual design aspect that sees one proportion in matte and the other in gloss black. This is aped in the Kinect which similarly mirrors the console. There are smaller, more nuanced, touches. For example, the slot loading mechanism is nestled within the chrome effect that hides the slot loading drive. It is a nice touch and one that shows some innovative design inspiration. However, these touches are few and far between. The rear of the machine is a boring affair, unlike the PlayStation 4, with no design influence. But this practicality makes the setup a breeze. The rear end has slots for HDMI in and HDMI out (so you can play video games on High Def and have your TV provider’s box, such as Sky or Virgin, connected and playing through the console. There is also a proprietary socket for the Xbox One Kinect, additional USB and of course, a power socket.
“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” This seems to have been the mantra Microsoft followed when considering the design and functionality of the controller. However, they did play around with smaller elements. These include removing the outwards bulge of the battery pack (on the Xbox 360) in favour of horizontal batteries within the structure of the controller. This has caused many industry voices to ask why Microsoft didn’t opt for a battery-free user existence. The PS4 has done it, why do you need batteries. However, I believe the batteries are a right balance. Lithium batteries do have a long life but, if the batteries die, so does the controller. Some ‘pundits’ might have more money than sense, but this reporter believes keeping the battery option means lengthening the longevity of the controller. Another issue with the console is the USB element. The Xbox has two slots at the front. However, the Xbox One has one side USB socket backed up by rear USB sockets. Fine until your console is in a cabinet or unit and then this might be impractical.
Getting your Xbox One out of the box and set-up is a massive chore. You will have approximately, if you are in the EMEA area, a 1.3 GB patch update from Microsoft, followed by smaller WiFi/Security patches totalling 550mb. Thereafter, if you connect the Kinect Camera with social media, you are looking at – depending on your broadband speed – a good one hour set-up process. You need to be aware that ALL of the current game titles will require massive patch updates. So, once you have installed the system updates you can look forward to the game updates. Some of these are enormous, from 540mb for Forza 5 to a whopping 13 GB for Dead Rising 3. So hopefully, you will have something else to entertain you during this long and arduous stage in the Xbox One ownership timeline.
LIVING WITH THE XBOX ONE
Okay, it’s updated and stored away underneath your nice TV stand. Your imposing entertainment and gaming bedrock is now ready. Once you start-up the console, welcome to heaven folks! It is, within seconds of booting up, at a funky Windows 8 Metro inspired home screen. The UI is intuitive and as such has many factors that can help individuals in terms of multitasking, communicating and entertaining – whilst still able to play games like an old fashioned console should. The home screen structure is very simple. You have a home panel that has your current app, followed by a plethora of smaller tile panels that inform you of other apps/games that are available. You can swipe across to a media centre where you can buy new apps, videos or music to your hearts delight. This is a central element, media functionality – there are great features like snap which allows you to have Skype or TV whilst looking at Internet Explorer or editing your Avatar. This multi-tasking element is very good. Consider those times, on the Xbox 360 when you waited and waited for a CoD online multiplayer game to begin. Now you can minimize the game and get cracking with something else. Once the game is ready you can jump back into the action. No more waiting. This is probably the best feature of the new UI. Therefore, the multitasking element with the freedom and functionality of Snap and the wider customisation abilities creates a truly free gaming and entertainment experience. Many have bemoaned the entertainment aspect but many users will spend more time on NetFlix than Battlefield 4 (not because the game is buggy and crap, but because more people spend longer watching movies than playing games on consoles). Many have argued that the Xbox Live Gold membership is unfair – on the PlayStation network, for example, you don’t need PlayStation Plus membership to use LoveFilm. That said, the redeem codes for games and other aspects of the PS experience are mitigated by the Gold price structure.
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT: GAMING
Whilst the ‘always-on’ and ‘entertainment centrality’ of the Xbox One is cool and yes, most will spend more time on Lovefilm or NetFlix, the main reason for the console is gaming. Therefore, how is it when you’re playing games? If you have a fave game, one that will be living in the slot and not the case, it’s easy as hell to get cracking. You boot up, and get to the home screen and it’s ready and waiting and getting online to play games is easy-peasy on the Xbox One.
Gaming playback is exhilarating on the Xbox One, as the console is equipped for 720p and 1080p HD graphics. The console packs a punch with 500 GB storage, 8 GB RAM and a whopping 8 core processor. Now yes, these are slightly put to shame by the PlayStation 4. For example, PlayStation 4 opted for 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM; the Xbox opted for old-fashioned DDR3 type RAM. This means, at a base level, the PlayStation’s short-term memory is faster than the Xbox One. However, this is a minuscule difference and you cannot really see any difference. The Xbox One really is a great gaming platform – only made more superb by the gaming experience all these hardware elements provide.
Finally, the controller – getting to the bottom of the console and how well it plays games needs a thorough analysis of the controller. The controller on the Xbox One is perfect. The removal of the battery pack opens up the rear space – so any feelings of cramped fingers, like on the Xbox 360, are removed and this ‘freedom’ helps improve your finger work on the controller. Another element of the controller is the balance, the trigger buttons and the Xbox button changes, along with the battery pack bulge removal, has created a controller that brings everything together through a sense of tactile balance. Your fingers, when they interact with buttons, feel like the movement is natural and thus, increases you engagement with the game and deepens your experience.
THE GAMES – WHAT TO BUY
There are some great headline titles. Ryse: Son of Rome, FIFA 14 and Forza 5 are epic titles. The buggy Call of Duty: Ghosts and the awful Battlefield 4 are worthy of your time for a bit of fun. However, in 2014, some of the next wave of great titles will explore on the platform. For example, you will soon be able to play, Titanfall, an epic new game that sees humans’ battle evil in big robotic suits. Other games include Thief, Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition, Rayman: Legends, Watch Dogs, Quantum Break, Dying Light, Mirrors Edge and Destiny. Finally, Halo 5 is going to be the one-to-watch in 2014. There you have it. A plethora of titles that will really bring out the gaming genius of the console.
You might have Sky or Virgin Media? Perhaps your TV has only one HDMI socket and you can’t be bothered switching cables every five minutes. Whatever your needs, the Xbox One can allow you to input your HDMI digital television services into the Xbox. All you need to say is “Xbox, watch TV” and Bob’s your uncle, you are watching TV through your Xbox. You can switch between a game and TV with ease.
On the Microsoft Xbox One you are lucky. The PlayStation 4 browser is the worst example of an internet browser ever created. It is a simple function for logging into Twitter. However, IE (not the best browser) allows you a more liquid and contextual browsing experience. In an age of smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, using your Xbox One to search Google (sorry Bing) might seem bizarre. However, if needs must, you can rest assured that your experience is not stifled by naff development and you can trust IE as a dependable workhorse browser – used by most of the corporate world. Therefore, over the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One has an unrivalled web browsing experience.
KINECT VOICE / VISUAL COMMANDS
The Xbox One has one really, really, really cool extra. That is the ability to voice command your console. You can literally say, “Xbox, go to… Netflix” and Netflix will launch. You can watch a DVD or Blu-Ray disc and say “Xbox, pause” and the movie will pause. Furthermore, you can point your hand/finger towards the console and select apps/games by gesture. It’s very gimmicky and it’s all very 50/50. A lot of people have noted that once set up, it can find listening to other voices difficult and can be temperamental. However, it is a cool little trick. For example, it can ‘sign-in’ by simply seeing you through the Kinect camera. It’s all gimmicky as I have already stated and the real ‘use’ of the technology is still a long way away but the ‘wow’ factor of these technologies means in the short term they are pretty cool additions.
APPY TIMES – XBOX ONE SMART GLASS APP
The Xbox Smart Glass app for Xbox One is a multi-app/game tool for smart phones or tablets. It is available on Android, Windows Phone and Apple iOS. It has the ability to act as a second source of data. For example, on CoD it can act as a map and respawn tool. On Forza 5 it can give you real-time updates of fellow racers and your own experience. The app also allows you access to your avatar and gamer history. However, there is no real use for the smart glass app. My app languishes on my phone and tablet without much use. It’s gimmicky and without real and profound purpose which makes it a one-off download worth forgetting.
Our final verdict. The Battlefield 4 and CoD patch debacle hasn’t helped the situation of next-gen gaming. The current trouble with Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome has increased the chatter around the ‘quality’ of titles. However, the awesome gameplay, whilst not epic like Killzone: Shadow Fall on the technically superior PlayStation 4, wins out through its spirit of gaming. The console, with its multi-tasking and entertainment factor means you can enjoy the platform because of its diversity. This results in the console having more ‘heart’ than the PlayStation and makes the Xbox One more spirited than the PS4 alternative, which we argued was too clinical. The Xbox One, however, gives it it’s all and you can see that in the user experience.
The design of the console is shocking! Put that to one side, you will get used to the console (however much you hate it as it is a pure dust magnet) and you will come to love its UI’s simplicity and, wider application and system freedoms. These elements along with “snapping”, Kinect gestures and the user interface, create the right balance for those looking for a gaming console, those looking for something to play games a bit whilst watching LoveFilm and those unsure of what they want. It has it all for many different people. It is understandable why ‘hardcore gamers’ felt let down by the Xbox One, the entertainment factor is all-encompassing. However, this is not a bad thing. Indeed in our opinion we believe the Kinect always-on strategy will help improve gamer experience over the course of the next five years in terms of games development. The pure heartfelt joy of the console (and therein gaming experience) means any perceived technical inability (in comparison with rival consoles) of the platform is meaningless. Its spiritual superiority over the rest of the field means the Xbox One offers more to different types of users. This is what gives the Xbox One it’s ‘edge’ over the rest of the pack.
Out of 10, I’d give Xbox One a 9!