A Weekend With Xbox One
I’ve been greeted by my Xbox One every morning for the last couple of days. I shout “Xbox On” as I lazily lumber out of bed dreading the prospect of putting on pants, pretending to be an adult…I have no clue why I enjoy the idea of turning things on with my voice. It must be the kid in me. A “Hi, jorge” shows up on screen mere moments after giving my Xbox the command and I smile. Its a nice way to start the day. My Xbox One knows me well enough to address me so informally. Then again, it does spend most of its day watching me. It got to know my face and it listens to daily conversations actively waiting for the magic word, “XBOX.”
THE LAZY WILL INHERIT THE EARTH
“XBOX Watch TV” I growl at it. It’s Beyblade: Metal Fury on Cartoon Network. I hate Beyblade: Metal Fury. Sadly, its part of my awaking ritual and Cartoon Network is always the only channel I ever watch since my TV remote decided it could do better and left me. I could say “Xbox Watch ESPN” to catch Sportscenter or “XBOX Go to Netlix” to re-watch old episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series. I can do that now, so there may be hope for my morning viewing habits. It wasn’t possible before: it would involve the turning on of other devices or digging for remotes. I never got the Xbox One to watch TV or to combat my crippling laziness, but I’m really glad I did.
The new and improved Kinect works…most of the time. You don’t have to plug it in but that’s a dumb thing to do. The Kinect is so integral in using the Xbox One that not having it hooked up literally hurts the overall user experience. The new Kinect can do wild things like look at your face and log you in automatically. It knew the difference between my younger brother and I, who are often confused as bearded twins, then logged us in accordingly. Things like Skype works fairly well. The camera inside the Kinect tracks you, pans in and out and when you move around your room.
You can work with three feet space instead of the old Kinect’s seven. Gestures controls are back and as awful as ever. If I include a chair, I’m working with about three or so feet gaming space with my Kinect placed at the base of of 40” LED TV. I could never quite get to the tile I wanted in one go. I think a couple of more feet back and I wouldn’t have an issue. Honestly, I exerted more effort into waving my arms in order to get in a game then actually picking up the controller and pressing a button. Shouting also works. The Xbox One sole purpose is to make me behave like an ape in front of it.
I’M ALWAYS LISTENING
I mention shouting because I have yet to find my vocal sweet spot with my friendly console. I speak to my Xbox One as if I’m ordering take-out from a person who doesn’t speak English. A normal speaking voice that is clear and loud should be enough for the Kinect. Sometimes things get too noisy and you won’t be heard which merit a couple of follow up yells. There have been times when the Xbox is listening a bit too much. I had one instance when someone in my room mention seeing the commercial for the Xbox on TV, and right there the Xbox switched over to live TV while I was trying to be a pirate in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. When the Kinect hears you, navigating is a breeze and has this amazing Jetsons feeling when your apps load up. When the Kinect screws up, I can’t help but chuckle when say. “Xbox What’s On HBO” and ends up on the Oxygen Network.
The Kinect is always listening unless you mute it from the settings app. The microphone also doesn’t mute when you have a headset plugged into the controller. I found that out the hard way when my squad in Battlefield 4 heard me tell my mommy how much I love her on the phone after I muted the headset. The Kinect heard, they heard, and I’m pretty sure I lost some respect as squad leader. There’s no real quick workaround I found besides remembering to mute and unmute the Kinect. I’m sure this is something that could be addressed in a future update. Until then, your Xbox is listening so don’t be an ass.
The new and Xbox Dashboard is tile heavy and very pleasing to the eye. Anyone who has used Windows 8 on their PC or Smartphone will feel right at home. Frequently used apps or games can be pinned on the left most screen while recently opened ones take center stage. The store can be found when you tab right, divided into games, movies, music, and apps.
Navigating the Xbox Games Store is kind of nightmare if you don’t know what you want. The tiles aren’t organized in any meaningful way like they were on the home screen. Every game is available digitally for purchase on launch day. Figuring what section downloadable games like Killer Instinct are hiding in is only going to get worse as more titles get released. Again, if you go the shouting route, you could Bing any game you’re looking for and find the game along with any DLC available for it.
If you have a chance to buy games digitally, please do. It’s clearly the preferred way the Xbox One wants you to play games. When you purchase something digitally, it sits in your harddrive just one voice command away. “XBOX, Go to Forza 5” and just like that, you’re racing like a crazy person. Not so much with retail disc copies. If you bought a disc version of a game, you need to have the disc inside in order to play it. You can still give the command but just make sure the game is inside. That’s nonsense considering you have to INSTALL EVERYTHING TO THE HARDDRIVE anyway.
The disc is only used to verify that you own a retail version of the game and are not some sort of next gen pirate. If you try to launch a game with no disc in, you are then prompted to either put the disc in or buy it digitally, removing the disc restriction, at FULL retail price. Like I mention though, if you buy it digitally you can play unhindered. I would not have minded if my games had some sort digital sorcery to note on my system that I payed for this game and only bother with a disc for the primary install. /endrant
As I was experiment with different voice commands, I got to play around with the Snap To feature on the Xbox One. The idea behind Snap is being able to do two things at once like you would see on tablets. In theory, you should be able to play a game and watch your favorite TwitchTV streamer at the same time. Conceptually it’s a brilliant idea that isn’t quite there yet. The Xbox’s voice commands seem to only work about half the time when trying to Snap to certain apps.
When I was playing Ryse: Son of Rome, I wanted to check out the Jets game while I decapitated some barbarian scum. I caught the Kinect in a good mood and there I was seeing the NY Jets getting trounced by the Ravens in a small window to the right of my screen. Snap is by far the most impressive feature on the Xbox One. The only big issue I noticed is dips in framerates on certain games when things are just loading up. Some apps like Youtube, that doesn’t have voice commands yet, are clumsy to work with and require a couple of extra button presses to make work. In a perfect world I should be able to watch TV while grinding out some levels in a JRPG all by using my voice.
At any giving moment, you can tell your Xbox to “Record That!” and the last 30 seconds of gameplay will be recorded and sent to your Game DVR. From here you can dress the clip with fancy effects or narration and share them with your friends via the Upload Studio. This is also assuming your friends are using SkyDrive. I’m not the biggest SkyDrive fan and trying to upload a cool clip of me running zombies over with a motorcyle-steam roller thing to Facebook gave me a headache. FYI, I ended up sending the clip to a SkyDrive app on my phone in order to share on Facebook. Great idea, poor implementation. Below is a clip I made using Upload Studio.
I CAN FEEL YOU FEEL ME
The Xbox Controller has a few modest updates. The Start and Select buttons are gone and replaced with a button with two boxes and one with lines on it. I still have trouble figuring out which one is which. I always liked the Start button. Why no Start button love?
The guide button is moved higher on the controller. If you tried playing a fighting game on the Xbox 360 you could appreciate this change. No more will someone accidentally hit the guide button in the middle of a close round every again! There’s less spacing between the bumpers and triggers that take some getting used to. There’s less space for your index finger to travel when going from trigger to bumper and vice verse but it still feels too damn close.
Impulse Triggers, those Impulse Triggers. Impulse Triggers mean that your triggers can now vibrate independently from the controller. Forza 5 is the only game that really has fun with this feature, making the right trigger rumble when hitting the accelerator and having the left rumble so slightly when applying the brake. This is a really cool and bizarre feature that I can’t wait to see implemented more in future games. The triggers are a nice touch. The directional pad also does not suck. Yay, d-pads! Overall the design itself hasn’t changed much which I’m grateful for. Thankfully, both PS4 and Xbox One have found a nice balance between flashy tech and comfort.
OH YEAH, GAMES
I was kinda worried with the Launch lineup for the Xbox One. The cross-platform stuff like NBA 2k14 (beard sweat) or Need For Speed Rivals look great and do a decent job of showing the graphical leap from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. Seeing Battlefield 4 run dedicated servers with 64 people at a stable framerate gave me confidence for the future of shooters. I found it queer that there was no Xbox One exclusive shooter launching day one.
I found that a lot of my time was gravitated towards Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag and Dead Rising 3. Both those games seem to be scratching two different open world itches. Both games managed to take two ailing franchises and restore my faith in them. Battlefield 4 is played in 20 minutes spurts nightly with a steady group of regulars. RYSE: Son of Rome was a pretty distraction and great game, nice to show off with people around. Short and sweet and bloody. Forza 5 requires more of a time sink than what I’m willing to give it, but we will get there.
Now I will be putting up reviews for the big three titles Forza 5, Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome since they deserve to be put under the critical microscope. I will though list thoughts I jotted down as I was playing each Xbox One exclusive for review.
- 60fps 1080p car porn for serious car people
- Simulated racing aka realistic, crash and pass is not a valid approach to racing IRL
- Top Gear is a popular show about fast cars and its all over Forza 5 #sellouts
- DRIVATAR is a really stupid name for a really cool idea. It sends out an AI driver (skill based on how you drive) to compete in races for you when you’re not playing to make you money. #pimp
- Very LOOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGG Load Times (1-3 minutes between some races)
Dead Rising 3
- Hundreds of zombies on screen, big open world with zero loading
- My new favorite weapon is the combination of the Blanka Mask + Car Battery (Roaring Thunder)
- All the psychopaths are just a little incredibly racist
- Kinect Support: You can shout to get the attention of Zombies, shake controller to fend off grabbers
- Nick (main character) is the whiniest accidental murderer ever
Ryse: Son of Rome
- Best storytelling in a CryTek game
- Jaw Dropping Visuals, meant to truly show off the console’s hardware. Make sure kids aren’t watching, the gore will give them nightmares
- Lather Rinse Repeat Combat
- Gruesomely beautiful violence
- Long Loads between dying and continuing
- Single-Player microtransactions (exp boosts) is a new gross trend in games I do not approve of
I didn’t bother attempting to play any motion control games in fear of kicking my TV off its stand, though I’m sure games like Just Dance 2014 and The Fighter Within work just fine if you have the space for roundhouses and jazz hands.
So after a couple of days, I still don’t have any buyer’s remorse for picking a Xbox One. The launch library is solid and look great regardless of whatever resolution-scandal happened pre-launch. I didn’t expect to give a damn about any of the TV functionally or any of the Kinect song and dance. Turns out shouting things at my polite Xbox One would be my favorite part feature aside from the games. Who knew? The Xbox One is 2-3 updates from being something truly incredible. I can’t wait to see what my Xbox One experience will be like a year from now.
- I still don’t know what the Cloud is doing, all I know is that it keeps syncing my games there.
- There is still no way to manage your harddrive storage as of this posting. The way you delete games is by finding the game in your games menu and deleting right there. I’ll assume the Cloud has something to do with it.
- No external harddrive support yet. Soon hopefully, dem games are big (20-40 gigs).
- No Streaming support at launch, coming early 2014
- In order to play Blu-Rays you must download the app first, same goes with the CD player. Its a legal thing apparently.
- You can use the Smart Glass for Xbox One App on your and use your tablet/smartphone as a TV remote. Its neat!
- You can plug other devices into your Xbox One’s HDMI-In slot. So have fun with that.