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Lots of Promise and That's Part of the Problem

A Review On: Xbox One Console - Day One Edition

Xbox One Console - Day One Edition

Rated # 7 in Game Consoles
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Price paid: $500.00
yadmonkey
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Pros: More powerful than previous generation, great controller

Cons: Feels rushed, not enough focus on games and gamers

Features: Snapping between apps can be useful, particularly between games and TV. Blu Ray player is a welcome addition. Some new features underwhelm, particularly for a gamer's perspective. 3/5

Value: $100 extra for Kinect's gimmicks make the value more questionable. Less bang for your buck compared to previous generations (relative to their times) also diminishes the value. Lack of great exclusives means this iteration of the Xbox has yet to prove its worth. 2/5

Video Quality: Good for the most part, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that early titles have yet to support full HD resolution. Probably will improve, but this review is here and now. 3/5

Remote: The new controller is great. Kinect adds some features of questionable worth. A standard remote is coming, which highlights Kinect's underwhelming performance. 5/5 because the thing that really matters (as a gamer) is the controller.

Audio Quality: Good, but the lack of Dolby Digital support is difficult to excuse. Sure, it's coming, but this speaks volumes (pun intended) about Microsoft's lack of preparedness for this generation, despite the long console cycle. 3/5

There was never a doubt that I would be buying an Xbox One. After all I was an early adopter of the original Xbox platform and a huge fan of the Xbox 360. I was a founding member of Xbox Live and have owned hundreds of Xbox and Xbox 360 games. So a next generation Xbox console? Of course I would be on board. But how did the Xbox One turn out? I've never felt so schizophrenic about a game console. But let's start with the basics.

Setup was as straightforward as you'd expect from a modern console. An immediate update is required, but didn't take an unreasonable amount of time to download and install. Connected by HDMI to my 46" Samsung HDTV and another HDMI cable connected the cable box to my Xbox.

Once you get into actual games, it's quite nice to experience a boost in graphics, accompanied by (for the most part) faster load times. But so far there's been nothing particularly next-gen about the experience other than those two things. And the step forward in graphics is tempered by the step back in audio mentioned above. It is required that you install each game, which is not a big deal for me because I've always done that on my Xbox 360 in favor of quieter operation from the hard drive. Most games take 5-10 minutes to install before they are playable, which is acceptable for me, but some less patient gamers will find this frustrating.

Something the Xbox One has going for it is the new controller. The new Xbox One controller feels great and boasts a lot of little improvements. The slightly taller analog sticks are smooth and responsive, it finally has a solid d-pad, the trigger-rumble shows promise, and it's altogether a great improvement without straying too far from what made the Xbox 360 controller so successful. Build quality is fantastic and it's also slightly smaller, which is appreciated.

Blu Ray playback is a nice addition. My BD discs look great and having this integrated into the console frees up another precious HDMI port. The only drawback is control. Your only options for now are Kinect and the Xbox controller. For now I prefer the controller for reasons mentioned later in this review, but look forward to the announced remote control coming for the Xbox One.

Overall what the Xbox One brings is characterized mainly by promise and some disappointment, neither of which make it a particularly strong buy today if you're on the fence. The Xbox One's user interface is almost shockingly simple. The problem is that at times it feels half-baked. Simple functions like party chat, managing friends, and Dolby surround are either poorly implemented or entirely missing (at the time of this review). It's really surprising given the long development cycle between generations. The Xbox One interface is sparse almost to a fault. Sure, there's lots of promise, but too much promise and not enough in the here and now.

Then there's the much touted Kinect. It's blatantly obvious that those of us who bought an Xbox One paid $100 more to have Kinect, whether we wanted it or not. This wouldn't be a problem if Microsoft had managed to prove Kinect's value as an indispensable gaming component. They have not, so Kinect's value comes down to Kinect as a system-enhancing control device. Unfortunately, voice control with Kinect is slow to respond (relative to a remote control) and too often requires multiple attempts. And Kinect is downright unintelligent. If you don't know exactly what to say, then Kinect is especially frustrating. You must follow a very limited list of voice commands and speak them exactly as written. This makes Kinect look downright embryonic when compared to a voice interface like Apple's Siri or Google's voice search, which are relatively intelligent and conversational. Kinect comes across as obtuse and one-dimensional, even when it does understand you. Again, I have no doubt that there is promise here, but promise is really all that Kinect has at this point.

Even if Kinect was intelligent and responsive, the fact is that the hand is quicker than the eye and a damn sight quicker than the spoken word. That's why remote controls are still very relevant. When you want to play, pause, and switch between fast-forward speeds, a remote control will be far quicker and easier than a voice-controlled system. Kinect as a controller is flawed in its very concept. Furthermore, as a motion-sensing controller it is awkward and weird. Making large, imprecise movements with your hands and arms is a poor substitute for pressing a button with your finger.

I'm not going to go into great detail about the Xbox One's TV functionality, but suffice to say that it offers little more than your DVR by itself. About the best thing about it is that it frees up an HDMI port on your TV. In can be nice to quickly switch between games and TV, but it turns out I don't want to run my Xbox every time I want to watch TV, so I ended up rigging the DVR to connect to both the Xbox and the TV directly.

And what about games? I have written a lot already without having mentioned games yet and this is my biggest problem with the Xbox One. As a die-hard Xbox gamer since day one, my faith is waning in Microsoft's Xbox as a gamer's platform. It started the year Microsoft announced the original Kinect and has since been punctuated by E3 after E3 that tunnel-focused on Kinect and multi-media, while leaving gamers scratching their heads at the lack of exclusive gaming content. Titanfall looks promising, Rise was pretty fun, and Dead Rising 3 was pretty good, but there's simply not enough in the pipeline to restore my faith in Xbox as a gaming brand. Titanfall aside, there are no announced exclusive new IPs to rival past greats like Fable, Halo, Crackdown, Gears of War, Star Wars KOTOR, Jade Empire, Left 4 Dead, and even Alan Wake and Shadow Complex. In this respect, I'm not sure the promise is even there for the Xbox One platform. Exclusives are expensive and risky and Microsoft seems much more interested in being an entertainment hub and imitating the success of the Wii with gimmicky motion controls. I'm sure there's more coming, but doubt that it will ever rival the attention the Playstation platform gets as a gamer-focused console that isn't afraid to take risks on new IPs.

As for the guts of this Xbox, I'd put it in the same category as the PS4. Neither are particularly impressive in their specs. Clearly neither company wanted to create quite the loss-leaders that previous generations gave us and while I can't fully fault them for that, I think they could have compromised a bit more in favor of the gamer. Both consoles are weaker than their predecessors were, relative to their time of course. The Xbox One is slightly less powerful even than the PS4, although I suspect that as developers learn to work with the fast ESDRAM, that gap will narrow. For now, the fact that Xbox One gamers are getting third-party titles outputting lower resolution (before scaling) than their PS4 counterparts is very annoying.

Finally, the console itself is huge and (to me) kind of ugly. In the grand scheme of things, these things don't matter nearly as much to me as things like games and interface, but there's something to be said for aesthetics and build quality. Hopefully the Xbox One's internals prove much more solid than my first four Xbox 360 consoles, may they rest in peace.

Am I being hard on the Xbox One? Yes. But I feel like Microsoft has taken my darling Xbox brand and for the past several years diminished it at every turn in favor of things gamers don't really care about. I'm sure the interface will improve in time, but I'm reviewing the console that sits before me right now. I'm sure there will be some great exclusives, but I very much doubt that we will see exclusives great enough to rival those of Xboxes past or Playstations current. Hopefully MS will prove me wrong at the next E3, but my faith is simply shaken and I rather expect to see some suit talk about avatars, facial recognition, ESPN5, and lots of other things that will leave core gamers cold.

Don't get me wrong. It isn't all gloom and doom. Like I said, there's lots of promise here and I'm certain things will improve. But the ball is in Microsoft's court to garner renewed faith in the Xbox brand as a gaming brand first and foremost. Microsoft is undoubtedly not united at the corporate level in their support of Xbox and I think many of their decisions around the brand reflect a disjointed vision. Alas, I'm still a fan though and hope to be for a long time.

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