Xbox One - A Quick Review from a Gaming Cynic

Hi folks,

It's been awhile, and I haven't been particularly speedy on the updates as of late. Things have been picking up these days, between a new part time job I have taken on and an gaming art internship that has stayed steadily busy as well. You don't want to hear about that though, so onto more video game discussion (and occasional critiques). It is 8:30 in the morning, and for some reason, I am wide awake, so I figured now is as god a time as any to crank out my relatively brief thoughts on my shiny new Xbox One, which has arrived in the mail via Microsoft's online store roughly a week ago...

As a Nintendo guy first and foremost, my opinions of this console may seem slightly biased, but for the record, I have been an Xbox player far more frequently as of late, particularly after the launch of the Gears of War series, which has burned countless hours of my time throughout the past 8 years or so. This gradual move away from Nintendo and towards the Xbox is partly due to the fact that Nintendo has gotten a bit stale for me as of late - but that is a different matter for a different time.

So, back to the matter of hand, what does this somewhat cynical gamer, with a soft spot for the retro, think of Microsoft's flashy new gaming gadget?

Well, as of now, you might be surprised to hear that, overall at least, I am enjoying the hell out of it.

It certainly helps that I was able to snag this baby on the cheap, as I was lucky enough to hear about a pretty good bargain that came directly from the Microsoft Store of all places. It included the console with a 500 gig HDD, and essentially what amounted to four, count them, four free games, for a grand total of... $370. Not too shabby.

These four games are - The Halo Collection (should be apparent by the image above), Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin's Creed Unity (which I've since pawned as I have no desire to play it), and finally, Sunset Overdrive, which I ordered via my $50 of free Microsoft store credit.

This is beginning to sound like an advertisement... Let's get to the games and console itself, shall we?

So the first thing I noticed upon booting up the console and hearing that satisfying beep, followed by the hypnotizing glow of the Xbox symbol on the machine, is the vastly different interface. I can't honestly say I'm too crazy about it. It seems convoluted and a bit of a mess. There is no rhyme or reason to it. You can "pin" apps and games to your home screen, but still, it takes some getting used to. Though, perhaps this is just an account of me being weened on the now-dated Xbox 360 interface for so long, and maybe I will grow accustomed to it in the future.

Next, the "seamless interface" as Kyle and Cartman loved to mention on South Park: A Song of Ass and Fire, is pretty slick and, well, seamless. It seems to handle multitasking pretty well, and it is cool to be able to quickly exit your game as you jump around to other apps and menus. I did have an issue with Advanced Warfare freezing on the title screen once when I perhaps pushed this feature too far, but other than that, it is pretty smooth.

Most of the apps I found pretty insignificant, if not downright useless, but it is nice (and a bit of a new concept for a home console) to have a plethora of options available to quickly access at your leisure. The music app could have been quite cool, if not for the fact that you have to spend $10 a month to utilize it. Come on, Microsoft! I did find the Twitch app particularly neat, as you can quickly jump into random gamers streaming various games. This is a useful way to get a quick preview of a game you might be considering to pick up.

I don't have much to say about the controller. It feels nice, and they seemed to have resolved the somewhat shoddy dpad issue the Xbox 360 controller had. Other than that, it feels like a slightly smaller Xbox 360 controller, that has been ever-so-subtly refined and improved.

The games themselves, I've enjoyed immensely, and look extremely slick as well. As of now, I can only comment on two of them - the aforementioned Advanced Warfare, and Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor. Strangely, I have been enjoying the far less hyped, Shadows of Mordor far more than the blockbuster Advanced Warfare. While I do wish to keep the commentary focused on the console, rather than its games, I would like to mention a couple of things that have gotten under my skin regarding this game...

First off, why is it that I must pay for the zombies mode? What, a $60 video game, plus online fees isn't enough (not to mention the other inevitable DLC level packs)? DLC and microtransactions are simply getting out of hand, and I got a stark reminder of this mere minutes after booting up Advanced Warfare and giddily attempting to jump into the enticing sounding "Exo Zombies" mode, only to be told I must spend additional cash to do so. Sorry guys, aint gonna happen.

The campaign however, is quite enjoyable. Kevin Spacey as the main "villain", and oddly still looking like Kevin Spacey in game, had me chuckling and letting out a couple "wtf's" at first, though he proved to play the part quite well. One thing that left a bad taste in my mouth, however, is the fact that my game has refused to save my progress of the last two stages, and for an extra kick in the nuts, is holding out on providing me with my well-earned achievement for completing the game on hardcore mode. Now, I'm no achievement junkie, but this is one of those little things that gets under my skin. If I spend nearly $400 on a game console, I generally expect it to work in all aspects. But moving on..

Something else that has tainted my otherwise enjoyable Xbox One experience is the long and tedious updates that are constantly thrown at you. Between the interface update, the game updates, and installing the game to the HDD, it took me roughly over an hour after booting up my machine, before I was actually able to play it. Over an hour, folks! Call me old fashioned, but whatever happened to the days of popping in a game cartridge, and you were in the heat of the action seconds later. Thankfully, Mircosoft makes up for this somewhat but including the ability to instantly start up your game from exactly the point you left off even after shutting your machine down (or at least SOMETIMES this occurred, it seems to do this at random).

Speaking of installing games, may I ask why this is necessary? If the console is so super-powered as Microsoft loves to boast, why must it be necessary to install a game onto a machine when I just fed it the disc that contains the entire game? So to review - we have a complete video game, inside a console designed to play it. What exactly am I missing here? This is especially burdensome for us 500 gig users who are finding their HDDs filling up rather quickly. Does it strike anyone else as odd (and annoying) that, despite the massive progression in gaming, we seemed to have regressed in certain aspects as well? Mandatory installations should be reserved for the PC, and should NEVER be a requirement of a video game console. But anyway, onto the graphics.

I have been overall impressed by them, but not completely wowed. Though I suppose this is how things started with the Xbox 360 as well. The graphic quality will almost certainly improve over time, as more and more exclusives are developed. And even now, I have noticed various moments of some gorgeous lighting and particle effects, as well as some crystal clear texture detail throughout my Advanced Warfare and Shadows of Mordor experiences. It seems now that the blocky polygon issue of video games is pretty much resolved over the past decade, the next step is the more subtle refinements on these sorts of aspects. I am not sure better textures and particle effects warrants the purchase of a $400 gaming console, but still, I am pretty confident that the games in the coming months and years, will warrant the purchase.

At the end of the day, I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm having a blast with my flashy new Xbox One, and a few minor grievances here and there aren't going to change this. And it's only going to get better in the coming months, as I look forward to reliving a good chunk of my childhood with Rare Replay, as well as my early adulthood with Gear of War remastered. Then it is onward in to the future with Gears of War 4, Fallout 4, South Park: The Fractured but Whole (yes I'm serious), for Honor, and Halo 5. It's been an enjoyable decade with my Xbox 360, and it should be a hell of an experience this coming decade with its successor.