A Day One Look at the Xbox One

To Be Continued...” recently covered the controversy and backlash of Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman. The only 2013 reception this bad has been that of Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming console. How is it?

At the time of this writing, the Xbox One game console has been available for just over 13 hours (thanks to some stores allowing their pre-ordered models to be handed out at Midnight on November 11, 2013). Today would be a good day for a critical analysis of the device, one would think, however the device itself has been criticized in the press and in online comments so mercilessly for the last several months that one might assume every potential consumer on earth had a crystal ball to see the future of the console wars and found Microsoft’s eighth generation game system decidedly in the failure cemetery directly between the headstones marked “Betamax” and “Red Ray HDDVD”.

Criticisms ranged from the price (at $499.99, the Xbox One is one hundred dollars more expensive than the rival Playstation 4), the first round of available games (the Xbox One games seemed to offer little over the existing Xbox 360 experience), privacy concerns, digital rights management assassinating the used game market and Microsoft’s over emphasis on Xbox One’s capability as a television box, as opposed to a “new generation in gaming”. As one of my Facebook friends so succinctly put it “Look at this piece of shit!”

Even South Park has joined in the fray with a new trilogy of episodes surrounding the console wars with Cartman and Kyle leading their Xbox One army against Stan and (a now cross-dressing) Kenny’s PS4 militia in a Game of Thrones inspired literal war.

I couldn’t help joking, myself, that the new console’s coinage as “One” makes it three less than the PS4 and 359 less than its previous incarnation (as opposed to the tongue-in-cheek “Xbox 720” predicted in 2011’s Real Steel). Still, the consumer negativity didn’t fail to bring a large amount of those aforementioned preorders in from people who considered the new system a must-have (my daughter being one of those anxiously waiting). As the clock ticked down to Midnight, a week after the release of the rival PS4 and a year and four days after the launch of Nintendo’s Wii U system, anticipation built and such a crowd was expected that our local GameStop handed out numbers ahead of time to ensure proper control. We were #8 of a crowd that numbered under twenty. According to GameStop staff, the previous week’s PS4 launch had almost three times the attendees for midnight alone.

Here’s the thing, though, while that aforementioned PS4 launch showed huge numbers of people unable to log into Sony’s PlayStation network, with many of these consumers complaining of dead consoles or faulty HDMI connections, the Xbox One was not a nightmare to install. We had the machine in our hands by 12:15 and had the Xbox One hooked up before 12:30 with my daughter chomping at the bit to play none other than Dead Rising 3 (as opposed to Batman: Arkham Origins). Both the game and the system were specially marked as “Day One Edition” for maximum eBay manipulation.

The in-box Kinect device and controller (with batteries included) hooked up easily and, yes, the HDMI connection worked fine. Still, as we turned the machine on, I dubbed this “Day ONE: The glitches!” And there were a few. Lexi’s Xbox Live account would not sign-in, because the name was taken (by her, obviously) and she had to compromise. Her avatar didn’t save when she spent all of that time in SIMS-like creation and once setup was complete, the entire system needed to update.

Yes… forty-eight minutes old and the software already required an update. Popping in the Dead Rising 3 disc caused another update to kick off. For those of you keeping score, that was fifty-four minutes of ownership and setup. Number of minutes of gameplay: GOOSEegg!!! Four/ Love XBOX! Would the champion ever be allowed to, oh, I don’t know, play it?

In the meantime we attempted to amuse ourselves by interacting with the Xbox One via voice commands, which it largely misunderstood, aside from “Stop Listening”. Serious requests were soon replaced by the likes of “Xbox select… my pants!” while Lexi dejectedly encanted “Xbox, you’re awful. You’re like Siri!” (I’m sure the creators of those Microsoft Surface commercials that slam Apple’s own interactive voice software would have loved to hear that one).

After an hour and three minutes of ownership and 33 minutes of out-of-the-box time, Lexi was finally able to play her game. And when the game launched, the experience was pretty damned awesome. The colors and graphics of Dead Rising 3 looked graphically gory and brilliant on in full 1080p with great sound going through that same HDMI connection (that, again, worked great). Her only complaint wasn't about the system, but the changes in the game itself between Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3, relating to the rescued survivors running off on their own instead of having the main character fight through the zombie hordes to bring them to safety.

So let’s review here, folks… was it worth all the trouble and glitches? Taking another look at it, there weren’t very many, actually. Setup complete by zero dark thirty? Check. What about the update? Yeah, it’s a mandatory update which happens even with new systems (I’m guessing PS4 included) and every new Xbox One adopter who made the midnight run was hitting Microsoft’s servers at once and that update still only took six minutes. As for the verbal interface, all (good) voice recognition software has to learn the voice and diction of its users. After midnight this infant Xbox One was having two very different voices attempting to give it orders at the same time. The issues with Lexi’s Xbox Live account could, indeed, have been the result of so many devices hitting the servers at once and causing confusion.

As for the other complaints the press and tweeters have thrown around, sure, there are only 20 games for the device to start with and the Xbox One is not backwards compatible to either Xbox or Xbox 360 games. That means those wanting to continue playing their Batman: Arkham Origins game had better keep their 360s plugged in. Lexi’s main reason for choosing the device over the PS4, however, was the “only on X” game Dead Rising 3, so clearly at least one of the available 20 is worthwhile. Does that justify the one hundred dollar price differential over the PS4 (two hundred over the Wii U)? That’s for the consumer at large to decide.

What of the rest of the available games, especially for readers of To Be Continued...? 2014 will mark the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the game, on Xbox One, with Angry Birds Star Wars and entries in the Assassins Creed, Call of Duty and, of course, Lego Marvel Superheroes already available. No news on future Arkham titles yet, but time will tell, true believers. For now, Marvel fans already have promise in the Xbox One.

As it stands now, many in the press and beyond went as far as to predict the Xbox One’s demise on the vine. Reports of said demise have been greatly exaggerated as out of the box, Xbox One does deliver a next generation gaming experience.

Who will win the console wars this time around? Is there still room for three? Rolling back the clock to 2006, many gaming pundits predicted that the Nintendo Wii would be steamrolled beneath the combined juggernaut of both Sony and Microsoft, yet Wii came out as the clear winner, selling more units than either rival device. Sony soon adopted the PlayStation Eye controllers to compete with Wii’s action-based control system while Microsoft unveiled the Kinect (which turns the player’s body into the controller itself).

The answer is, there is just no telling who is going to win and Xbox One may emerge as the unexpected victor, as Wii did over half-a-decade ago. Then again, Nintendo’s Wii was the cheapest of the 7th generation machines. Xbox One will cost you a Kinect-scanned arm and a leg!

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