Monday, November 25, 2013

Xbox One ahoy

So, so poor now, but I have two shiny new consoles to show for it. My reactions to the PS4 have already been recorded and have not changed. It is an exceptional if bare bones system that will be used to play Retrogun and other indy exclusives for a long, long time. What it will not be is my primary console for multi-platform games. That box arrived on Friday afternoon and and has since taken up a commanding presence in my entertainment cabinet. I really enjoy using the XBox One, more than I thought I would, and it has sold me on voice commands and playing with the lights on so the Kinect can see me.

Setting up the PS4 took all of five minutes, most of which was spent finding a place in the power bar for the plug. The Xbox One took much, much longer: there were more cords to move and an additional piece of hardware to calibrate. I also learned that not all HDMI cords are the same - the one I was using for the Xbox 360 did not work with the Xbox One, which is why they have one in the box, I suppose. From opening the box to the system allowing me to play was about an hour and what finally greeted me was comfortingly familiar: it was Windows 8.

Microsoft has done a good job synchronizing their look across three different platforms so I was not at all thrown off my the big square buttons and nested menus. What made it even better was the I didn't need to learn then, I could just tell the Xbox where to go. Voice commands work almost 100% of the time, at least for me. Being a midwestern white guy with zero discernible accent has its advantages. I was able to install Skype and make a call without touching the controller. This feeling of newness is what the PS4 is missing. I am doing something that I could not do before.

It is obvious that this is the first iteration of the UI as there are obvious changes that need to be made. Foremost would be the ability to stream music via Xbox Music without having to snap the application to the side of the screen. On the Xbox 360 I was able to stream music from a Windows Media Device (read that as my old ass desktop) over any game. The One allows this streaming from the cloud, which is better, but you have to give the entire right side of the screen to do it, which is terrible. The music in Forza 5 is not good, but shrinking the screen enough to allow music streaming was just not going to happen. Fix this.

Forza 5 was my launch title and I do not regret it. It suffers from a few of the same things that Killzone Shadow Fall does, namely that it is a new iteration of an existing series that looks better than its predecessors but is not necessarily a better game. I fell in love with Forza Horizon. The open world crossed with just a hint of a story line kept me hooked until the very end. Contrast that with Forza 5, which looks better and leverages drivatars to great effect but has already lost me because there are very few tracks and no narrative. It will be a game I play in spurts when I need to get my race on, not one that devours weeks at a time.

Killer Instinct is just not going to get played. By all accounts it is far better than it has any right to be. I will never know because my arcade stick is not supported and I am not going to shell out $200 more dollars for one. Yes, the d-pad on the new controller is better but using the shoulder buttons just doesn't work for me. I made it through enough of training mode to know that, given the appropriate interface, I would probably enjoy it. Unfortunately I am no pad warrior and it is just not going to happen.

There other quibbles that will most likely get sorted out in time and I can get over them if I keep in mind that the Xbox 360 I am used to is almost a different console than the one it started as. The final version of the interface was polished and honed and broken and fixed for years before it ended up as we now know it. The fact that most everything works in the Xbox One UI is a miracle. If the store still sucks in six month I will complain. For now there is no reason to go into it anyway.

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