Online: how to make friends and follow people
Already extremely robust on 360, the Xbox Friends system has been fairly heavily modified for Xbox One. One of the biggest changes is that you can now add anyone as a Friend to immediately get updates on their activity (assuming their privacy settings allow it), but to them you’ll appear as a Follower unless they also add you as a Friend. It’s like the old system with a bit of Twitter thrown in.
It’s easier to connect with the people you want to then, but crucially it should also be easier to avoid the foul-mouthed tykes that so often ruin an online deathmatch, thanks to a reputation system designed to segregate players with bad reputations. With so few players online pre-launch we don’t yet know how well the feature works, but it sure sounds good.
And of course the scarily addictive Achievements system has been ported over to Xbox One, along with your existing Gamerscore. Challenges are being introduced, too, so that specific goals can be set for individuals or the community at large to work towards – a nice idea that seems to have been borrowed from Bungie’s Halo series.
Less of a nice idea is Achievements awarded for non-gaming activities, such as watching a movie or listening to a song. Thankfully these don’t add to your Gamerscore, which would just be weird.
Talking of movies, the Xbox One gives you a variety of ways to watch them. There’s support for Blu-rays, which play in 1080p with support for Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio (although those formats output to your amp as Linear PCM), and if you’re the kind of person who gets a kick out of that sort of thing you’ll also love the built-in picture calibrator, which is an extremely thorough way to get your TV looking its best.
There are video apps, too, and while Netflix wasn’t available during testing and Sky isn’t due until next year, Xbox Video has a massive selection of movies available to rent and buy on-demand. Even movies that are bought are streamed rather than downloaded, with the One dynamically scaling picture quality to match your broadband speed, but while there’s touch too much judder for them to be mistaken for Blu-rays, the overall quality is high.
As with the PS4, the Xbox One is constantly recording as you play. Clips are saved in two ways – automatically when you do something special in a game (usually it’s unlock an Achievement), and manually by saying “Xbox, record that”. These clips are then made available in the Upload app, but the onus is on you to then go into the app and save clips you want to keep – otherwise they’re deleted to make room for more.
Using the Upload app you can also edit and share your photos, including sending them to SkyDrive, where they’re stored as a 720p MP4 for further editing and sharing however you see fit. That's much more open than the Facebook-only video uploading of the PS4. On the other hand the PS4 has live Twitch streaming available at launch, whereas Microsoft has just delayed the Xbox One’s Twitch integration to 2014.
There’s something of a theme running through this review, and it's that just about every one of the Xbox One’s flagship features has a caveat attached.
There’s Kinect, which is often truly brilliant but occasionally unbearably frustrating. And TV integration that could be amazing but doesn’t yet fulfil its promise, especially in the UK. Then there’s the Snap picture-in-picture tech that with a few small tweaks could be massively useful.
If it’s simply games your interested in we’d argue that Forza 5 probably pushes the Xbox One’s launch line-up above that of the PS4, but Sony’s console counters with higher resolutions for key titles such as Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts. Whether you’re more interested in an incredible driving game or the crispest versions of those cross-platform games really comes down to personal preference.
Overall, we’d say the Xbox One is the more ambitious console, but it just doesn’t quite manage to follow through on all of its potential.
This isn’t a console battle, though – it’s a console war, and just about all of our criticisms of the Xbox One are things that can be fixed on the software side. This feels like the beginning rather than the end, and if the One realises it’s potential we’ll immediately bestow upon it that missing fifth star.
Microsoft Xbox One
Hugely ambitious and with game-changing potential, the Xbox One just isn't quite there at launch