Don’t forget the games
Lest we forget, this is still a games machine first and foremost, and like Sony, Microsoft has been putting plenty of thought into how that should work for this new generation. It’s DRM-like, constantly connected authentication system was binned after the post-launch outcry, but you do install all games to the Xbox One, as you do with PS4. Disc-based games begin installing as soon as you slot them into the drive, but some games can be played before the process is complete. The 55secs it took for the PS4 to have Killzone ready to play is still the benchmark, though – on Xbox One we waited nearly 4 minutes for Zoo Tycoon to be playable, and 7 minutes for Forza 5. Ryse was “Ready to Start” in just under 2 minutes, when just 3% was installed, but it turned out that only applied to the menu screens – actually starting a game took us to an installation page and it was in fact over 8 minutes before we could play. Interestingly there’s no way to check how much of the 500GB hard drive you’ve used. We’re told that when you do eventually fill it you’ll be prompted to delete some content (save games are safe in the cloud), but there isn’t yet enough content available for us to find out. Expanding storage capacity via USB (of which there are three sockets on the One) is apparently coming in the future.
The launch line-up
As we mentioned in our PS4 review, the Xbox One arguably has a marginally better launch line-up, thanks in no small part to the brilliant Forza 5 – if you’re into driving games it’s going to make you do a happy dance.
But not everyone is into driving games, and the One’s other big exclusives – Dead Rising 3 and Ryse – are more solid than spectacular. What’s more, a number of big cross-platform games, most notably Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, play at lower resolutions on Xbox One than on Battlefield 4, and that’s going to be a bitter pill for gamers expecting the next-gen experience to swallow, even if the games still look and play great when tackled in isolation.
Looking to the future we’re very excited about Titanfall, which is an Xbox One exclusive, but only time will tell if it lives up to expectation. For now, let’s concentrate on the launch-day exclusives.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza 5 is the first next-gen game we’ve played that seems to use the console’s power for more than just pushing extra pixels. It looks incredible, with even the reflection of your car’s steering wheel sometimes visible in the windscreen when the light catches it just so, but the most noticeable changes in gameplay come from the more advanced physics, which give you a much better idea of what the car’s doing underneath you than ever before (helped in part by the Xbox One pad’s targeted vibrations).
The cloud-powered Drivatar – which informs the on-track behaviour of computer-controlled cars based on how human Forza players really drive – is a massive success. Bump it up to the higher levels and single-player races actually feel like multiplayer games. And when you log off your own Drivatar continues racing and earning money for you.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Bloodier than Patrick Bateman’s coffee table after a night in, Ryse lets you hack and slash your way through ancient Rome relieving enemy centurions of their limbs as you go. With gameplay graphics that are barely distinguishable from the cut scenes, Ryse is a real showcase for your new hardware, but the button-mashing action gets rather samey rather quickly.
Dead Rising 3
This zombie-slayer-cum-DIY-‘em-up allows you to combine weapons or vehicles to create preposterous contraptions that increase your horde-wasting abilities to extreme levels: mash a motorbike together with a steamroller, or a wheelchair with a lawnmower. If nothing else, the sheer size of the zombie crowds it can show on screen should give you an idea of how much processing power the Xbox One has, even if the general graphical quality and frame-rate is a bit patchy.
Build a zoo! Fill it with totally adorable animals! Race around your zoo on animal-shaped golf buggies! All in 1080p! Kid-friendly but deep and rewarding, Zoo Tycoon is a management sim with added cuteness. You can even use Kinect to interact with your animals, but while pulling faces at chimps works a million times better than you’ll expect, feeding elephants using gesture control is a frustrating farce. At least that’s optional. And no, you can’t let a tiger loose in the penguin pen – this is a family game after all.
Endless gaming making you a bit pudgy around the middle? You could do worse than fire up the free Xbox Fitness app for a quick workout between sessions. It includes a bunch of free workouts presented by very American, often nauseatingly enthusiastic trainers, but Kinect is accurate enough to track your movements and weight placement and offer specific feedback as you go, although the heart rate tracking wouldn't work for us during testing. There are more fitness videos available for download, but the free selection is pretty generous and thorough enough to get you working up a sweat.
Microsoft Xbox One
Hugely ambitious and with game-changing potential, the Xbox One just isn't quite there at launch