Seemingly an eternity ago now, Sony announced the Playstation 4. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the announcement was rather underwhelming. We didn’t get to see the actual console, the controller had been leaked beforehand, none of the games were particularly exciting and Sony seemed obsessed with frankly voyeuristic online sharing systems. It was an open field for Microsoft to sweep in and impress.
And yet, incredibly, they managed to almost completely bungle it. Rumours have been swirling for months about the new Xbox requiring a permanent internet connection to function, a draconian system of DRM that crippled the new Sim City and which Ubisoft were forced to backtrack on last year. Rather than actually assuage fears about this, all anyone at Microsoft thought to do was jump on Twitter and mock people who didn’t like the sound of it (#DealWithIt-gate eventually costing the offending Adam Orth his job, which is hard to be sympathetic about).
The always-on rumours have been, well, always-on, joined with fears about everything from needing to go online to unlock every game you buy to the complete destruction of the second-hand game industry through one-use use codes. Microsoft have done so little to quell fears about an oppressive, anti-gamer next generation that the Playstation 4 has started to look positively liberating by comparison. Kinect 2 and Illumi-Room have been all but confirmed as big features in the Next-Box, but details have been sketchy. There has also been two different pricing structures rumoured; a hefty, full purchase price and a discounted console that requires a certain length of Xbox Live membership.
The Xbox Reveal conference today has finally put an end to all these rumours by presenting the reality. So what have we got?
Not a lot, frankly. A name first of all. The Xbox One. I can see where they’re coming from with the name. The 360 was to provide a ‘360 degrees entertainment experience’ and the One is angling for the same idea: a single platform for all your entertainment needs. But it’s a bloody stupid name, ranking right up there with WiiU, given it’s the third Xbox.
Kinect was shown to indeed be a strong element of the console, forming a trinity with the traditional controller and Smartglass in using the console. Much was made of using gestures and voice control to flit around different features on the Xbox, a sign of Microsoft pandering to the lazy ADHD segment. The conference gave the impression that you can’t disable or not use Kinect, which is a little worrying, and although they were keen to show how much more powerful it is than the current iteration, it still feels like slightly pointless and creepy technology (the system can load up your profile and savegames from recognising you on the camera) that won’t be used to make any fun games.
Not that Microsoft really seems that bothered about games. Much of the conference was given over to banging on about sports and little widgets letting you track fantasy sport league stats while watching sports, after switching seamlessly from your sports games. If you were watching the conference actually hoping to hear about games, you were sod out of luck.
EA turned up to assure us that they’re still going to be churning out sports games on the Xbox One, including FIFA 14. I know some of you were worried they wouldn’t. Phew. We were treated to some FMV of Forza 5, also, because you demanded MORE SPORTS.
On the non-sports front we were shown Quantum Break, one of 15 Xbox One exclusive titles due for the console. Unfortunately, the video was mostly live action footage and cutscenes, so it was hard to really take much of anything from it. The same with Call of Duty: Ghosts, which was only demonstrated with cinematics even in the ‘gameplay footage’. But hey, it’s got a dog in it!
I think what sums up the conference perfectly is that one of the biggest announcements was Steven Spielberg showing up to say he’s making a TV series of Halo. Once again, it’s the video games industry clinging onto people from other media in a misguided attempt at establishing some credibility. Halo, a game not really renowned for its story, it has to be said, becoming a TV series might be exciting news for some people, but it’s not really anything to do with the Xbox One or actual gaming, which are the things you kind of want to hear about at the reveal of a new console.
But there was lots of details we didn’t hear. Like a price or a release date. And then the negative news crept out afterwards from other sources. The Xbox One won’t be backwards compatible with 360 games. All games will have to be installed to the system’s hard-drive and limited to one installation (with further installations on other consoles requiring a fee), essentially killing off the second hand and rental markets for the system, let alone the lending and borrowing of games between friends. But the “always-on” rumours have been debunked, a minor positive that should have been confirmed months ago frankly.
The most amazing thing about the Xbox One reveal is that it’s made me think a lot more positively about the Playstation 4. Not to the point that I’m ready to lay down money for Sony’s new console, admittedly, but the seemingly natural progression from 360 to Xbox One feels increasingly unlikely. Hell, at this rate I might end up going back to only using a PC.