Xbox One and Kinect 2.0: A Review
Since day one my expectations of the Xbox One, often nicknamed the "Xbone", have been nothing but saddening and even angering. At E3, interviews and general blog posts the Xbox One tried to make itself the least appealing games console on the market, especially to those who wanted games and nothing else - the priority demographic of the original Xbox. Naturally I went for a Playstation 4 console, but didn't hold much value to me and I was jealous of its competitor's exclusive titles which grabbed the world by the short and curlies. After trading in the console and various games I managed to get enough credit for a £325 discounted model including Kinect from Computer Exchange, a second hand games retailer which I thought would never house Xbox One products until much nearer it's release. So why did I decide to get one? Was it just the hype of Titanfall, or Insomniac's upcoming Sunset Overdrive hitting the insane reflex in my usually lifeless form? To tell you the truth I simply got the console because I didn't play my PS4 as much as I'd hoped. Sure it ran games a lot better, but when few of the games interested me - even the monthly free one - what was the point in using that argument? I needed a console that fulfils my reason as to why I don't do PC gaming: because I need something with lasting value. The Xbox One's titles have this, but does the console?
The marketing team knew that this console wouldn't sell like it has if they'd shown exactly what it looked like. They've been very clever when taking photos of the console, making it look leaner, and I could swear this beast has had a lot of its fat airbrushed in all images. What you see is something that may sit nicely next to your Xbox 360 and/or whatever other consoles you can normally have side by side. What you get is a morbidly obese hunk of plastic that looks like it can't handle it's innards. The first thing that comes to mind is "VCR player", and it's no exaggeration to say that next to the Phillips CD-i, it is the closest thing you will ever get to a gaming console that looks like a video cassette player. We're in 2014 and we still can't get this right? It takes up a lot of room on my chest of drawers and that's not including the power pack which leads are so short it has to take up what little room my PS2 might have standing upright. In a review of Sony's Playstation 4 console I said how it looked threatening and futuristic, but this console looks as if DVDs were around in the 80s.
What I can say is that it runs really smoothly and barely makes any sound. I'm only four feet away from it and when it's either on or off you can hardly hear its almost relaxing hum. It's quite nice to listen to, actually! What bothers me is that this console clearly needs to be bigger to contain it's hardware and while I don't like that, it's necessary. The console has vents on the top, sides and back so that the hot air can leave when the fans blow it around. You might think that's good and to some degree it is, but the console gets very hot very quickly, and the 'gills' where the air leaves barely do any good. Even the power pack has these also, which makes me wonder how much power this thing consumes and if it's really necessary. But if this is meant to prevent the Red Ring of Death crisis again which made Microsoft's first year with the 360 a total meltdown, I welcome them.
The comparison to the PS4 is inevitable. I'm not going to claim that either console was the first to have black matte or gloss for its colour scheme, because there are many consoles in the past that have done this. Black is a colour that only works if there is a contrast to it like white, but when the two consoles are both black it's hardly an interesting colour. With the PS4 it looked sleek, if a little bulky, but with the Xbox One were given a heavy black box which - if it weren't for the logo on the front - you could swear was a rocket component. With the PS4 you also had a nifty power cable like all its consoles before it, whereas the Xbox One has a power pack albeit smaller than its older brother, but if anyone could tell me why that is that would be great. I just don't see the point. The final comparison I will make is how it boots up, an important factor for me that makes me want to play the console as oppose to dread doing so. With the Playstation you had this shrill beep like the PS2 and later consoles, which only got louder with each generation. It's a horrible noise to withstand, but both turning on and off the Xbox One you get a nice melodic tune. At least you know you've done something right, rather than worry that your console may be broken on start up.
So while the Xbox One makes the largest VCR players look like the slimmer of the month, I like it for just that. It's not practical, but it gives off vibes of nostalgia to someone who loves 60s-90s technology. If you're in need of space this will be the first hurdle you'll come across when getting the Xbox One, because its unforgiving size will tolerate nothing else next to it. Maybe in the near future we'll see vertical stands, but from what I understand the console won't support that yet.
While the PS4's controller was certainly comfortable it was too small for someone with hands like mine. I'd consider my hands to be pretty normal, if a big larger than average, so picking up the Xbox One's controller was amazing. I actually felt like Microsoft made this controller for adults, rather than try to cater to all. It is a bit larger than the Xbox 360's controller, and the buttons take some getting used to, but it's familiar enough as oppose to Playstation's Dual Shock 4. With the Dual Shock I had issues with reaching the bumpers, and kept hitting the mouse pad when trying to get the pause menu. I also found it too gimmicky with the touch pad, sharing on Twitch, a built in microphone and a backlight I never saw. But the Xbox One's controller is why I love Xbox: its controller is for gamers, not for a fashion show. The triggers weren't as good as the PS4's in my experience, but as I found the 360's to be above adequate I didn't see any need to fix what isn't broken. The buttons are larger and placed further apart but still easy to reach nonetheless. Possibly the biggest change is that to the guide button, which was placed above the start and select buttons, as opposed to being in between them. These too unfortunately have changed their functions. With the left 'pause' button one can go back to the dashboard or options of a game without shutting it down, whereas the other - depending on the game - can either pause or go back. It seems silly when we have a glowing white dashboard button to cater to us. My final comparison to the older pad is the batteries. Wireless doesn't feel like a parasitic growth unlike the Xbox 360, where the battery/power pack was placed in the back of the pad making it very uncomfortable. With the wired controller this problem didn't exist and I found my hands wrapping around the controller fairly easily, and thankfully Microsoft have learnt from this. This console's controller is wireless by default and requires 2 AA batteries (or a play and charge kit, but not the same one from the 360), but the battery pack doesn't obstruct where your hands are, giving complete freedom.
To conclude all I can say is it's a controller, true and true. It doesn't need to have flashing lights, a built in speaker, a touch pad and motion controls to be attractive, especially when it's resources that aren't going to be used in most games. We have the Kinect for that.
As you may be aware I have no love for the Kinect. The idea was exciting to begin with but history has shown us it just doesn't work and will need many more years in the shadows before it's ready to go out again. Kinect 2.0 is supposed to be a lot better, but I've had so few uses for it. I recommend you don't take this segment as my final thoughts on the Kinect, as I didn't get a game with this console (more on this in pre-installed games), so I can't give my true thoughts on some gameplay.
The first problem I had is that it's huge compared to the dinky Kinect 360 (or the turnip; I don't know what to expect from Microsoft's numbering system), and trying to adjust the camera feels like I'm going to break it. It heats up relatively quickly, and the vents shouldn't be slats but just a gaping hole to get the air out. When I stand it's just where I need it to be, but that's not good enough if I'm going to sit and give it commands. Speaking of which voice commands are rather snazzy but no more responsive than those in Tom Clancy's Endwar. The commands can't just be casually thrown at the peripheral either; you have to be very specific and there is a whole list of commands in the box. If you didn't get a list from there, you'll need the internet. Is this the Kinect or a Power Glove?
In terms of hand controls it seems to be a tad better with the gestures on the dashboard and tutorial, but requires me to outstretch my extremely unfit arm to the point where it becomes uncomfortable for more than a minute of use. It doesn't help when the Kinect goes crazy if I swap arms when it fails to do what I ask it the first time round, a problem that I experienced with the original Kinect when I was somewhat healthier. I hoped to use it as a replacement for the controller on the dashboard and often times it works well, but still the technology isn't quite there yet. How far the Kinect can be before it doesn't register my hand movements is minimal, making the idea of replacing the controller with it a pipe dream despite my rather tiny room.
All in all the Kinect 2.0 has some improvements in its responsiveness, but its range is pathetic. Sitting just three feet away from it, I have to lean out to get it to respond, and standing up seems to make me invisible with the device being at groin height when I stand. If you're purchasing the lower price tag version of the console on June 9th that doesn't come with Kinect, you're not missing out on much.
The Xbox One teeters on the edge of the good and the bad here. While the console doesn't have any games already installed on the hard drive unlike the Xbox 360 (which had a rather cool arcade puzzle game), you can download the beta for Project Spark for absolutely free, which will only cost you 700 megabytes out of your 500 gigabyte hard drive; a must stash if I may so myself. You can also download demos for other games that are either soon to be released or are already on store shelves, allowing you to see for yourself whether these titles are worth your money when it comes to shopping around for your collection. I'm surprised at how large the selection is and how much freedom you get with these demos, so if one of your concerns was not getting enough experience with them it won't be an issue.
As mentioned earlier Project Spark is in open beta to all Xbox One players, and involves you creating your own game for others to test and edit themselves. If you're familiar with Doshin the Giant, Minecraft, Roblox and the Trials games you'll have a brief idea of what this title can do for you. You can create platform games (2D or 3D), first and third person shooter games, racing games, open world RPGs and much more in world where you have absolute full control. There's also Crossroads mode which is a throwback to the old 'make your own adventure' books, as you design the world as you play the quests to how you want, whilst being rewarded for it. The game sounds great but its learning curve is steep. While it's art style is attractive to younger players it's certain they won't know what to do, and adults might understand how to make the levels but not be invested in the gameplay for long. It's a game where you'll be proud of what you've made, but it's hardly something your friends will want to endure. I can't judge the game too harshly as it's still in beta, but it's a title I'd recommend if you're above the age of 14 and looking for a sandbox-y type game for free.
Overall the console absolutely must have something else pre-installed while people find the games to buy. So far the library isn't very impressive save for a few multiplayer titles, so a free pre-installed game would give people a taster of what is yet to come as well as tide them over before the other games are released. My personal recommendation would be a Kinect game or at least a demo to show off the capabilities of what the Kinect can do, as opposed to getting minimal enjoyment from the gesture tutorial.
What bugs me about both next-gen competitors is that they're not necessarily an upgrade in every single way. Not like the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox era where you had all the old stuff and more, here it seems to be a case of one or the other or not at all. Both consoles suffer a lack of backwards compatibility and buying games of the previous generation on Xbox Live isn't around yet. I hope Microsoft don't take as long with these as they did porting original Xbox games to the 360 as digital downloads, not when so many are hesitant to buy the latest console because of such a big issue. The reasons are unclear to me but it has to do with what format the X1 discs are compared to older games, but not having them on the store I find inexcusable. I can imagine a huge boost in sales if games like TESV: Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto V were there, but to gamers who are new to this form of entertainment won't see a great incentive to make the dive.
If you planned on taking your old accessories be it hard drives to headsets, racing wheels to the Kinect 360 you're going to be disappointed. Microsoft demand that new hardware be purchased for the Xbox One, due to a lot of changes to the console's inner architecture and that of the controller. This is unfortunate and will further alienate players who can't make that transition to the next generation easily, especially when Xbox 360 goods today can still cost a fortune. Even Wireless network adaptors still cost the same as their release price of £60! I'm not a fan of this change but the facts are there; whether Microsoft purposely changed the controller and console to sell more new products is a different story.
So at this time of writing backwards compatibility is virtually non-existent which is a shame as this generation of consoles is hard to support without knowing all the facts and seeing all the videos. Plus with the bad press the Xbox One had originally - which still hurts me today - it's hard to justify forking out for this console. If you're still clinging onto your 360 for single and multiplayer game experiences and don't want to leave your friends behind, you won't have to thanks to the lack of backwards compatibility.
Available and Upcoming Titles
Both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One have had few titles that have grabbed players by the noses with meathooks and dragged them to either side. The PS4's Killzone: Shadow Fall was met with great reviews in terms of its visuals and soundtrack, but not so with its gameplay, the same with Knack, another 'day one title'. The Xbone's Forza Motorsport and Ryse: Son of Rome saw similar reviews, praising how they worked as tech demos but their content fell flat and left no lasting appeal. Compare this to previous generations where the Xbox had Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero and TESIV: Oblivion just to name a few, not to mention a ton of arcade games that saw rapid improvement and additions over the years. Neither console seems to have the oomph that's required to kickstart people's need for this console.... except there's Titanfall.
Titanfall is undoubtedly the most popular Xbox One game around and easily a worthy competitor to its own publisher's Battlefield 4 and Activision's Call of Duty. It was hailed as the Xbox One game to own, seemingly the one title that will keep you occupied for the long wait that is the steady release of future games. While we do have the above franchises to play also, I wasn't hyped with those and I'm going back to Battlefield 3 on the 360 because it was far more captivating. Titanfall is fresh but still has a familiar smell that many won't like; the Call of Duty smell. The comparisons are easy to make, but which is more fun is up to you to decide. All I can say on this game (as there will be a review on it soon) is that it's going to keep you sustained before your next fix for Xbox One.
Games I look forward to are Ubisoft's open world shooter Watch Dogs (released hours after this review is sent for publication), Insomniac's wild third person shooter Sunset Overdrive, any games by RARE and Monolith's Middle Earth: Shadow over Mordor. That's just a few, but that's a big problem: if I can only name three releases I look forward to off the top of my head, we desperately need more games and sooner. But if Titanfall has told us anything the rule is quality over quantity.
The Xbox One is a fine console but taking apart what it offers it doesn't seem that extra hundred pounds even if the Kinect was stripped and the price reduced. It refines what the Xbox 360 wanted to do in its last year before its younger brother was born, but as a games console it doesn't do much more. Besides the exclusive games and the social aspect (I traded in my PS4 because I had no-one to play its games with) Microsoft give few reasons for you to move from your 360, and even then the exclusives are a long way away. It makes nothing but improvements in terms of software, but its hardware is clunky, limited and in terms of peripherals it's also very expensive.
Would I recommend it? Not at this point, but if your friends have sold or traded in their 360s for this and you've few else to play with, you may wish to join them. The exclusive games and minds behind them have a lot of promise and are coming soon, but if you have a PS4 you may want to stick with that. A great games console, but an even better computer.
Thanks very much for reading and have a pleasant day! Also, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
What I liked:
+ The new controller which remains familiar to 360 players and not over-gimmicky like the PS4's pad.
+ The voice commands, while irresponsive at times, are a fun addition that can help you find things you may not know how to with the controller.
+ The features brought back from the 360, including being able to play a 360 LIVE account, and an Xbox One LIVE account on the older console!
What I didn't like:
- The bulkiness of the Kinect and the Xbox One. I like the look but the console is too large, and the heat it produces is worrying.
- The lack of pre-installed games, unless there was one but it was formatted from my drive when it was taken to the store. Still not a fan that the only 'full game' is a game creator beta.
- Navigating the dashboard. If you don't like the Windows 8 'metro' start screen you're only going to hate it more here thanks to a control pad and limited options.