Xbox One: Impressions

Next Gen is here! I think.

If I were to say I was an Xbox fan, then I'd probably be lying. I have always recognised Microsoft's ability to make the best general purpose software in the console industry, with the best expertise to execute on good ideas, but their strategy for exclusive games has meant my time with my Microsoft consoles has been at a minimum.

My Day One edition console arrived on Friday and I have had over 24 hours with it. I'll save my overall thoughts on Microsoft's strategy and entry into the next-generation of console gaming for a later post, but for now, I'll leave you with some of my immediate impressions.

Kinect! It works!

A doubter from the beginning, Kinect has had it tough trying to win me over. On the original vision, it is unlikely to ever do so - I don't think it is a good primary input for video games I want to play.

Kinect works on the Xbox One for the same reason Siri and Google search voice commands on Android clicked with me. Sometimes voice commands can be quicker and more convenient to do certain tasks, and Microsoft are mostly there.

"Xbox Go to Settings" - "Xbox Bing " - "Xbox Go to Netflix" - "Xbox Snap Twitch" - "Xbox mute"

You can achieve these things with a controller fairly easily too, but in my experience, not as quick for the vast majority of potential tasks.

I would like to see some better natural language understanding from the system, having to memorise specific commands provides a decent learning curve that will probably put people off from using it.

Operating system and User Experience

The operating system is probably the most impressive thing about the Xbox One at the moment. Combined with the voice commands, I find myself bouncing between apps and snapping apps all the time.

Whilst playing Forza 5, I can snap an app to the side of my screen without even having to pause the race I'm in. Watching Netflix or Twitch whilst grinding my way through some races is a feature I never thought I'd understand, but I do!

I do this sort of thing on my PC all the time, I'll listen to a podcast, or put TV show or film on Netflix on another screen and grind away in Diablo, or a racing game.

The speed of the operating system and effectiveness of the voice commands actually work well for rage-quitting a game. Made an unrecoverable error in a race? "Xbox Go to Killer Instinct" - the game starts up instantly.

But perhaps more impressively is the ability the system has to keep a non-game application and a game application running in such a way you can bounce between them and have them resume instantly on both ends is functionality I have yet to get bored of.

I have experimented in attempting to find the limits of the system. Repeating "Xbox Go to Netflix" - "Xbox Go to Fifa 14" - "Xbox Go to Netflix" - "Xbox Go to Fifa 14" over and over again, and throwing in some "Xbox Snap Netflix" - "Xbox record that". The system never slowed, and what I noticed is that the OS will rather drop frames in the UI rather than slow down the actual task of executing whatever you have asked for.

For example, UI framerate dropped for the notification telling me that the clip I asked it to record had completed.

Game resume is a feature that is labelled beta, and probably for good reason. Whilst it has worked well most of the time, there have been times where the game has crashed upon resuming and sent you back to the start - it's annoying after getting used to jumping straight back to your game but given the general snappiness of the system and game load times - it isn't the end of the world at this point and it can surely only get better.

My overwhelmingly positive experience with the OS has actually made me think more seriously about making the Xbox One the core of my media centre. Whilst many of the cool TV features that Microsoft shown off earlier this year aren't yet available in the UK, if they do execute on this well enough - I could see myself jumping in.

The controller

Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the entire system, the Xbox One controller is, despite that an improvement in many regards.

The build of the sticks, face buttons, controller itself, dpad and triggers are an improvement. My main source of disappointment is the bumpers.

Maybe I hold these controllers in an odd way, but the natural position I take makes the bumpers quite difficult to press, it's the same position I hold other controllers and have little problem with the shoulder/bumper buttons on those.

For me to press them comfortable, I have to readjust my grip on the controller and move my hand down as my fingers extend too far above the bumpers - to the very top of them, where it is considerably more difficult to press down rather than the sides of them.

It's a really difficult thing to explain, and I'm assuming you're having trouble understanding what I'm even talking about - but all you need to know is: It feels like it was built for a slightly smaller hand, I don't think I have particularly large hands, or even large hands. I'm not sure what has gone wrong, either with me or the controller - but the result is the same - it feels slightly annoying to use.

The most positive aspect is absolutely the "impulse triggers" - they're perhaps not as sophisticated as we were lead to believe, although that could change depending on the implementation in game, but their implementation in Forza 5 is surprisingly satisfying and I could find myself missing them when playing on a platform that doesn't have them.

Speaking of these triggers, they're looser and fatter than before and I'm not sure if I prefer that - but with the built-in rumble I think it is an overall improvement. The analog sticks are also not as tight as the 360's, and feel a lot more inline with the Dualshock 3. The notoriously awful dpad has seen considerable improvement, but it is still far from the excellence that is Sony and Nintendo's.

It also plays games!

Exclusive launch games for both the PS4 and Xbox One are actually rather few in number, and the ones I want to play are even fewer. So forgive my focus on the non game aspects of these consoles.

I have made the decision to attempt to go completely digital for both next-gen systems, and as such my first experience was downloading 30GB+ of Forza 5, 19GB Fifa 14, and 3.2GB of Killer Instinct. Thankfully, as with Sony's touted play-as-you-download feature, I could start playing Forza 5 much earlier than I expected.

Forza 5 is a fun and enjoyable game. Fifa 14 is Fifa. Killer Instinct seems pretty good. Graphically, none of them are particularly special and in some regards, a bit disappointing.

Forza 5 has excellent detail on car models, but the impact of whatever technical and artistic merit it has is lost under the obvious and quite annoying aliasing.

Killer instinct has some rather pretty particle effects and I quite like the general art style of the game, but it also doesn't feel a sharp as I'd like and there is noticeable aliasing on the characters. The aliasing here is actually a lot less offensive than that found in Forza due to the way characters move around the screen, but it is still noticeable and is something I am constantly distracted by.

And finally, Fifa 14 is Fifa 14.

TL;DR

Great OS, surprisingly effective voice commands, Forza 5 is good, Killer Instinct seems to play well. Unimpressive graphics and exclusive launch lineup.

My PlayStation 4 is due next week, and I'll probably do a similar post for that - and perhaps a conclusion on both of them afterwardds.