Yeah, But What About Games?
The Xbox One controller isn’t going to change the world. It’s pretty much the Xbox 360 controller you’re already used to, maybe a little more comfortable. The force feedback is a little more specific — when I was playing the action game Ryse: Son of Rome and pulled the right trigger to have my squadron of centurions heave their spears in unison, I could feel the rumble right underneath the trigger that I was pulling. So there’s that.
Otherwise, it is as you expect. The only downside is that it uses two AA batteries by default. Battery packs come separate, and if you want to buy a controller with a lithium battery and a micro USB cable, it will cost you seventy-five god damned dollars. (PS4’s controller has a rechargeable battery built in for $60 — still expensive, but less so.) At least you can just plug a micro USB cable into the controller and the Xbox and use it without any batteries at all.
Like PlayStation 4, Xbox One aims to take the work out of play. Whether you buy a game from the integrated digital store or on a disc at your local GameStop, all games have to be installed to the Xbox One’s 500 GB hard drive before they’ll run. And of course, digital games must first be downloaded. But you don’t have to sit around and wait for this. Once a game is some small portion of the way into its download or install, you can start playing it immediately. This is very cool. (Of course, having to install all of your games instead of just being able to play them from the discs is a step backward in terms of player experience. Although it’ll probably cut down on loading times across the board. And you’ll probably run out of those 500 gigs pretty damn fast if you play a lot of games.)
Once you’re in a game, there’s no huge differences — you still get Achievements that get added to your Gamerscore, which carries over from the Xbox 360 (although precious little else does, as the devices are not backward compatible). Like PS4, Xbox One has a recording function that lets you save a clip of the last few minutes of your gameplay. Unlike PS4, where you have to reach over and hit the “Share” button on the controller, with Xbox One you can just say “Xbox, record that” and it’ll save the clip. You’ll then be able to go into the Upload Studio app (which isn’t live yet, so we couldn’t try it) and record live commentary for the clip, then upload it for all to see. Games will also automatically record clips of what it thinks are cool moments, which you can go back to and view later (and which are automatically deleted after a while unless you save them).
Xbox One was supposed to let you broadcast your gameplay sessions over Twitch (again, like Sony’s PS4), but just today Microsoft said this wouldn’t be ready until 2014.
But you don’t have to decide whether to watch TV or play games. With Xbox One, you can have both. Pressing the Xbox button on the controller will jump you right back into the home menu, and you can open other apps and features while your gameplay remains paused in the background. Once you’re done with whatever, you can go right back to the game.
If you want to take your multitasking to a whole new level, the “snap” feature lets you run apps in a windowed mode that occupies approximately the rightmost quarter of the TV screen. So you can play a game while watching TV, if you want, although the snapped TV picture is pretty small even on a big TV. You can open Internet Explorer while watching Hulu. Etc.
We tried out Snap in various configurations and everything seemed to work well. But it again illustrated a problem with Xbox One’s interface. We could not figure out at all how to stop controlling the snapped window and switch back to the main one. We tried everything we could think of until we finally just closed all the windows and stopped using Snap. Finally, I said, “Xbox, help.” This did in fact take me to a remarkably polished help menu, where I could access video tutorials including exactly what I needed. As it turned out, you can say “Xbox, switch” or you can double-tap the Xbox button on the controller — neither of which I would have thought of.
And that pretty much encapsulated my experience with Xbox One: It does a lot of things, and in a way that you may find extremely helpful, but you’ll need to take the time to learn how to do them — and learn by trial and error when it’s best to just stop trying.
All photos: Ariel Zambelich/get-gadget unless otherwise noted