The Xbox One launches worldwide tomorrow. It seems like it's been more than a handful of months since Microsoft's widely derided initial reveal. We've had u-turns aplenty and constant mixed messages, but is the Redmond company bouncing back at just the right time? There are still so many questions to be answered, not to mention a few niggling technical issues that Microsoft could probably have done without, and there's still the matter of that price point... but can the Xbox One's rather impressive launch lineup make up for that?
I've made no secret of the fact that I pre-ordered an Xbox One. Perhaps I subconsciously can't say goodbye to eight years of Gamerscore, but Microsoft's console has managed to capture my imagination despite the truly horrendous reveal event back in May.
The launch lineup plays a major role. I'm not expecting any legendary games for the ages here, but unlike the usual shelf-fillers, Microsoft have secured an open-world zombie game, zoo management sim, first-party racer and other varied delights you'd rarely expect from a brand new console. There's also a spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon, one of my favourite franchises of all time, though it's a bit cack by all accounts. Seethe. Still, Titanfall's coming, which makes me very happy indeed.
And then there's Kinect, which looks set to turn the basic user experience into a futuristic playground. I can talk to my console. I can command it to dominate my entire AV system with its IR-blasting functionality. I can access my entertainment, friends list and games collection with a few well-chosen words, a prospect that might become old hat in a few days, but fills me with genuine childlike excitement nonetheless. Kinect may have missed the dream of Minority Report on Xbox 360, but I don't mind skipping straight to the Starship Enterprise on Xbox One.
My only major concern about the Xbox One, save that it seems to be tougher to develop for than the PS4 and the fact that Microsoft needs to get their rear in gear regarding indie development, is that it probably isn't an "All In One" entertainment system. Without proper media streaming (why isn't it a Windows Media Extender? WHY?!!) or proper TV guide support in the UK, it feels more like a middle man that squats between your television and the TV content you already watch and pay for. We'll know the truth of it soon enough.
Microsoft have come a long way this year, admittedly they’ve make it hard work for themselves, but numerous u-turns have brought them back into contention just in time. But they still won’t be seeing any of my money this year. Frankly, they were always going to struggle to tempt me away from the PS4.
That said, I really want Forza 5. Having played Forza 5, GT6 and DriveClub at the Eurogamer Expo, it’s clear who’s winning that race. Their other launch exclusives like Ryse or Dead Rising 3 are doing nothing for me at all if I’m honest, but I’m interested to see if the pay-per-fighter model in Killer Instinct takes off.
I’m not dead inside, so of course Titanfall has my attention, more so after playing it. But I’m going to resist it for two reasons, it’s multiplayer-only and if I really want it, I can get it on the 360.
The Xbox One has slowly brought me around with its multi-function features, even if the desire to swap between a film, a game and Skype will probably never arise. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly all of this actually works in real-life (outside of staged dev demos) and if having more apps open at once can affect a game’s performance.
With the UK getting the Xbone before the PS4, it could be a close race between them because of gamers desperate to get their hands on a next-gen console. I think this could be Sony’s race to win though. A cheaper console and a subscription service with a proven track record of top free games could be the more important factors over any selection of exclusive games.
If it weren't for the £500 cost of picking up the damn thing plus enough games to warrant the purchase, the Xbox One would be a sure staple in my gaming den this Christmas. It has the better launch lineup, and a more diverse launch lineup at that, I prefer how the controller sits in my hands (though much of that is down to the 360 being my platform of choice generally for the best part of a decade), and the new Kinect features are cool enough to make the gadget hound in me who loves interesting gizmos incredibly intrigued. I've interacted with it at length, and it's so much closer to the glorious dream we all thought Kinect would be when it was first announced.
Microsoft are still a company with many questions to answer, not least about the relative issues developers have had in trying to get the console to output natively at a "next-gen" resolution and framerate. 720p at 30fps just will not cut it a year or so down the line, and it's worrying that we're seeing stumbling blocks already. The Xbox One looks great in the short term, with an impressive and diverse array of games, but Microsoft are unproven when it comes to nurturing talent long-term. If the PS4 at least has forward-thinking in their corner, and a reliably consistent party line from Sony, Microsoft are all over the place.
But the crux is that at this stage they have the games that I want. The scale of Dead Rising 3 is tantalising, and the Classics fan, Gladiator nut, and the hack'n'slash apologist in me craves Ryse. I've long been a fan of the Forza series, Killer Instinct looks like it might provide me with the education I need to once again be better than "pure sh*te" at fighting games once again, and Jorg sold me completely on Zoo Tycoon. And then there's Titanfall in February. I'll need a friends list for that.
But £450-500 is a lot of money, and I rather imagine that getting superior versions of the big hitting third-party games on a console that's significantly cheaper might sway many who don't rate Microsoft's exclusives or, better yet, won't mind playing Battlefield 4 and Titanfall on PC.
After a few launch delays for Sony, Microsoft’s launch line-up certainly looks more appealing and varied, even if not completely top-drawer. There will be new experiences aplenty thanks to exclusives including Ryse: Son of Rome, Forza 5, Dead Rising 3 and Killer Instinct right from day one which will make the Xbox One feel like a completely new experience – something that a new console really should.
When you consider the worrying E3 presentation, the resulting embarrassment of a backtrack on various standpoints, the nagging feeling that Kinect is too central to their plans, the spying on gamers angle and even the “not 1080p” argument, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s better not to touch Microsoft’s machine with a ten foot barge pole. But you can’t argue against the fact it would mean you’d be missing out on a lot of new gaming experience this festive season. And whilst many of those experiences probably won’t make the top ten lists of games over the console’s life, they will provide an excitement in gamers that you won’t find in as much abundance on Sony’s machine.
And that’s of course not including what is perhaps Microsoft’s first system seller in Titanfall. This game is shaping up to be a reason to own the system all on its own and plenty of gamers will be counting down the days until its Q2 release date next year. What it means is that Microsoft’s launch line-up, plus this prospect could mean there are plenty of Xbox One’s under Xmas trees come December 25th.
In the run-up to November, the Xbox One has certainly clawed back some of its standing after a blunder-flunk of reveals and terrible PR communiques. While its launch line-up didn’t initially pique my interest like Sony’s did, I’ve warmed up to it over time, and its Kinect functionality has really come across as impressive when demonstrated to me (seriously, why they haven’t done similar presentations to the general masses? It would have solved a LOT of issues.) The thing is though, as the days drew ever closer to the release date, I kept asking myself “Do I really want to spend £400+ (taking into consideration I’ll want games with my console) on a new device? Am I really that interested in what’s on offer to take the plunge at this early stage?”
The answer was ultimately a simple one – nah, I’ve got other things to play / more elaborate Kickstarter campaigns to throw money at and hope something decent materializes.
That’s not a slight on the hardware though. In fact, my impressions of the console and its controller from my hands-on experiences at GamesCom were pretty positive. The Xbone controller builds upon the design of its 360 brethren for the better, and despite the worries of spying on the incredibly interesting lives of its owners (“THAT’S A POOR CHOICE IN UNDERWEAR YOU’VE GOT ON, DAVE. BUY SOME DORITOS”) I feel the multitasking capabilities for the OS are mighty impressive. It also have Peggle 2 as an exclusive, and that clearly wins everything.
But the honest truth is that even with the recent improvement in its standing, there really wasn’t anything within the launch line-up that stirred anything beyond a passing interesting. Dead Rising 3 may well be a fun zombie-filled romp, but as someone who has never really been a fan of the series it was never going to be a reason to get an Xbone straight away. The same can be said about Forza 5, which does like very pretty but is basically yet another driving game. I’ve got plenty of those in my backlog, such as Need For Speed: Most Wanted, to keep me entertained, and that’s if I’m not being swallowed up by Arkham City (yep, still haven’t played that yet) or The Witcher II.
Halo and Titanfall will certainly find a way to sway me in the future, but there’s plenty of time between their emergence and now. Getting into the next-gen madness is certainly an exciting experience, and part of me feels like I’ll be missing out on it all, but I’ve got plenty of great games to distract me in the meantime, so I’ll keep my money in my pocket for now, thank y-OHMYGODTHATSANAWESOMELOOKINGFLIGHTSYSTEMICOULDUSEFORSTARCITIZEN.