Microsoft finally unveiled their new console and after all of the hype and speculation, Xbox One is the culmination of the entertainment center experiments Microsoft has been adding to their Xbox 360 over the last few years. Their emphasis on said multimedia features of the Xbox One was a double-edged sword: their eagerness to tout that this system was far more than the game consoles of old left gamers wanting as the content aimed at them was decidedly lacking.
Unveiling a console design that while big and boxy looks like is designed to quietly slide into your home theater stack without rather than be a curvy eyesore that doesn’t match your receiver and Blu-ray player. Shipping with every console is a newly redesigned Kinect unit that promises far greater sensitivity for better movement recognition, vastly improved low-light performance, and the ability to even monitor your heart rate. The controller also gets enhanced with a programmable button, more responsive triggers and improved ergonomics.
A big focus of this announcement was the Kinect-based voice commands and how they can be used to bring up a movie or live TV that can be quickly switched to a game, music, or whatever other entertainment you have enabled on the device. Skype integration was presented as an important new way to communicate with your Xbox Live friends be it during playing a game together or bragging about your sport team winning a game shown on ESPN. The interface looked smooth and slick, making the final move from the current 360 dashboard to what is basically Windows 8. Kinect controls promise to make this experience as straightforward to use as Windows 8 on a touchscreen. While the jury is still out on Windows 8 its implementation in the on-stage demos looked promising.
Game content was sadly lacking. EA Sports was touted very highly but far more was said about their new graphics and physics engine which they are undoubtedly using with the PS4 too. They had some vaguely interesting tech demos to show and a bunch of athletes to be talking heads and then some footage that they claimed used their new engine. Their video looked totally pre-rendered, ever since that Killzone 2 video all those years ago I am highly skeptical of these videos. Microsoft also showed off Forza 5 and announced that they would have 15 exclusive games coming out in the 12 months after the One’s release, 8 of them being new IPs. One such IP was shown very quickly and it’s the latest from Remedy called Quantum Break. For the very, very little we saw it looked pretty snazzy, but so did Alan Wake and that saw so many delays I can’t be blamed for being a tad skeptical. The event also saw some footage on Call of Duty Ghosts where it was announced that all of the DLC would be on the One before the competition. The footage was pretty enough but even that didn’t actually show any gameplay. If E3 were not only a mere 3 weeks ago this would have been inexcusable.
Also announced was a Halo TV series that Steven Spielberg is somehow involved in. Oh boy.
Overall, this was an announcement for the masses, not the more discerning gamer community. Comparing this to the PS4 announcement, Sony managed to edge out Microsoft when it came to gameplay footage as they had actual on-stage game demos. However, I came out of the PS4 conference with the feeling that Sony made a whole bunch of promises but without a strong idea of how those concepts could all be brought together into one system. Microsoft was light on videogame content but when this conference was over I had a far better sense of what the Xbox One actually IS and how it’s interconnected services and content systems are going to work together. Also with E3 a mere three weeks to go I think Microsoft felt less pressure to show games here. They know that E3 has a different audience who is going to appreciate actual game titles and gameplay far more. E3 is certainly going to be quite interesting for the first time in years.