Published on January 19th, 2016 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Xbox One: The Good, the Bad, and the… Hopeful?
So as the new year began, I was asked to write an article about the things that Microsoft did right, and the things they did wrong, with the Xbox in 2015. This turned out to be a far more difficult task than I thought it would be. Let me preface this article by informing you that I do, in fact, own an Xbox One, a PlayStation 4 and a Wii-U, along with a pretty top notch gaming PC. I am pretty diverse when it comes to my gaming.
The problem for me is, that I found myself through the year kind of forcing myself to buy games for the Xbox One simply because I didn’t want it to go to waste as a gaming system. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Xbox One. The Kinect system is leaps and bounds over its predecessor on the 360, and I use it to watch TV, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, etc. But in the back of my mind, I don’t really focus on it as a gaming system. This may have been what Microsoft was going for as they intended it to be a multimedia center more than anything, but, for me, the Xbox brand has lost its “gaming luster”.
I know many of you out here are going to call me a “Sony Fanboy”, or a plethora of other colorful names, but let me break it down for you. I am very much a techie. When it comes to the electronics I own, spec mean everything. And no matter how you break it down, the PS4 has better hardware. Hands down. While the processor chip in the Xbox One may be slightly more powerful (1.75 GHz 8-core vs. the 1.6 Ghz 8-core in the PS4), but it loses out everywhere else. The processing power may be up, but the all-important graphics processor is not, with the Xbox One sporting an AMD Radeon GPU that has a pipeline for 1.31 teraflops. It is far outranked by the PS4, which also boasts an AMD Radeon GPU, but with a pipeline for 1.84 teraflops. While the differences are minute to the human eye, the human brain is the difference maker for many. For some people, even simply knowing the difference is enough. Then there’s the DDR3 RAM in the Xbox One vs. the DDR5 in the PS4. The list goes on and on, but let’s not dive into the rest now. I was only trying to illustrate a point. For me, games just look better on the PS4. So if a game is available for both, that is where I will usually buy it. This is why I feel like I have to force myself to buy the non-exclusive titles on the Xbox One.
It’s not to say that the Xbox One is not a brilliant gaming platform, but it’s just not the first thing that comes to mind anymore when I think gaming. I think this may be the downfall of Microsoft. Many Xbox-heads (leave me alone, there’s no clever term that I know of for lovers of Xbox)) will argue that there were many great things that happened this year for the Xbox, but let’s take a look at those “great” things and see what they really bring to the table.
The big bombshell dropped at E3 this year was Xbox 360 backwards compatibility would be coming to the Xbox One. The masses were ecstatic. They would finally be able to get rid of that archaic Xbox 360 sitting on their console shelf and consolidate. Personally, I got rid of mine once I purchased my Xbox One, which I do, at times, regret a little. But hang on, hold up, whoooaaa boy. Don’t pack up those old 360s just yet. Microsoft did bring backwards compatibility… for about 100 games (I believe the exact number is 104). The list does continue to grow, but ultimately, not all games will make the cut. I know there are a lot of technical reasons for this, and ultimately it has to do with coding, but the general population isn’t going to understand that. If it’ll play one game, why not the other. Backwards compatibility is one thing that the Wii-U got right, but Sony and Microsoft just can’t seem to get.
At a certain point, Microsoft allowed the Windows OS and Xbox divisions to actually speak with each other, and people seemed to think that everything got better as a result. This was supposed to usher in a much needed facelift and tune-up for Xbox One’s slow and oft-called confusing UI. Slow I will agree with, but I really don’t think that the previous UI was all that confusing. Fast forward to the new UI, which launched late in 2015, and many just don’t like it. While it did speed up a little bit, you truly cannot tell very often, and the new UI can be far more confusing than the last to some people. Then there is the game streaming from the Xbox to a PC. This feature seems great on the surface, but have you actually tried this? It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, and can be downright frustrating at times with the lag you can experience. I have a pretty good setup and connection in my place, with both my PC and Xbox One connected to my gaming router via hardline, rather than WiFi, and it just wasn’t all that fun. And now they are talking about streaming PC games to the Xbox and cross-play.
Many people don’t spend a lot of time talking about controllers, but when you get right down to it, it can be a deciding factor on choosing a console. In the last generation, the Xbox 360 controller was the best, for me. There was something about it that just felt right. Advance to the current generation (some people still calling it the next gen), and this time around the Xbox One controller just isn’t cutting it for me. It has too many sharp edges, feels incredibly hollow and seems, well, cheap. Honestly, one of the bigger reasons (besides the specs thing) I don’t play my Xbox One as much as my PS4 is because I prefer the latter’s DualShock 4 controller. Then, Microsoft announces its Elite Controller. The Elite Controller is the answer to this dilemma, but with a $150 price tag, is it really worth it?
Finally, some good news for the Xbox One… maybe. Some would argue that this was the year to point out Microsoft’s commitment to exclusive games. They got Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and… wait. That’s it. And Tomb Raider isn’t really an exclusive, just a “timed exclusive” as it will launch for other platforms in early 2016. So just one, truly exclusive AAA game. Sure, there was Forza, but racing games are really being considered the AAA titles these days. So while we may have more on the horizon, 2015 just didn’t shape up to be a big exclusive year either.
Microsoft, some would say, recovered from a disastrous announcement and a shaky launch. I believe this one to be true. Despite early rumblings of DRM restrictions, and other non-user friendly features, Microsoft did what some companies have a hard time doing these days. They listened to the consumer. However, it is most unfortunate that the removal of some things, like the intended DRM, also removed other features that consumers were clamoring for, but say what you will, Microsoft did a great job surviving that turmoil. They are still second in sales, but they are slowly gaining.
And where is the cloud technologies that we’ve been promised for two years, but have only so far seen it in demos. Nowhere to be seen, that’s where. And let’s not get into the HoloLens which was supposed to launch shortly after Windows 10. I know that the HoloLens isn’t truly an Xbox One peripheral, but it was/is designed to work with the Xbox One. But these things are on their way, hopefully. It is technology like this that makes me hopeful for the future of the console, though who knows what pricing on something like this will be. Would it be cheaper to purchase an amount of cloud storage versus going out to buy a portable hard drive? Because even the 1 TB internal drive that they are packaging with some bundles isn’t enough space to hold the overly large game/app files for the Xbox One. Compression is an issue that needs to be handled better on both the Xbox One and PS4.
But there are some promising looking games coming to the Xbox One in 2016 and beyond. Maybe they will lower the price of the Elite Controller. But the Xbox One definitely does a good job of serving as a media center. And as I play Rise of the Tomb Raider, I have come to remember what I appreciated about the 360, even if in the back of mind I am thinking about how much better the game would look in 1080p on the PS4 versus the 720p of the Xbox One. The Xbox One is definitely not a console to scoff at, but will it win the current generation of console wars? That remains to be seen.