Tuesday 21 October 2014

Strong sales of Xbox One on first day of sale here

It will be Xbox v PS4 in Christmas games war

Published 22/11/2013 | 08:09

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR MICROSOFT - ?Dead Rising 3? zombies cross over Manhattan Bridge as they head to Best Buy Theater in Times Square for the launch of Xbox One on Thursday, November 21, 2013. (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Microsoft/AP Images)
Dead Rising 3 zombies cross over Manhattan Bridge as they head to Best Buy Theater in Times Square for the launch of Xbox One

Retailers are reporting strong sales of Xbox One today - the first day the console went on sale here.

Both HMV and Xtravision have reported strong sales of the console.

The rival PlayStation 4 console doesn't go on sale until next Friday, giving the Xbox a head start.

A spokesperson for HMV/Xtravision said today she was confident that games fans who pre-ordered the Xbox will get the console for Christmas.

6,000 Xboxes were pre-ordered at the two stores.

Still,  Paddy Power has made PlayStation 4 the odds-on favourite to be the best-selling console in 2013, shortening its odds to 1/8.

Odds for the Xbox One coming out on top have fallen from 11/4 to 9/2.

Review: Xbox One

It’s been a tricky road to release for the Xbox One.

At its unveiling gamers were concerned  that Microsoft’s ‘all-in-one’ entertainment box would neglect to cater to their needs, and online policies that required your console to be connected to the internet would block the use of used games were seen as draconian. With a strong lineup of games served at E3 in June and the online policies reversed, Microsoft can feel more confident about the perception of their new console. That long road to the next-generation, a waiting game kicked off by Sony back in February when they announced the PlayStation 4, has benefited Microsoft, with them able to address any animosity and get gamers back onside. And now it’s here, all that pre-release hoo-ha channeled to the point you get it out of the box and find out what Microsoft’s vision for the next-gen means to you.

After a week in the company of the Xbox One, their all-on-one posturing makes far more sense to me than it did several months ago. Even those that demand their console to be focussed on games first and foremost may be quietly impressed by the Xbox One’s functionality, a seamless dashboard serving up gaming, movies and music in a fluid and easy fashion. But there are caveats, a sense that the demands of the next-generation can bog down the core pursuit of playing a video game.

 

Out of the box

But first things first: how will the console sit in your living room? When the Xbox One’s design was unveiled, it’s fair to say the reception was mixed. The console has a distinct 80s science-fiction vibe, the box separated into one shiny gloss half and one vented matt section. Initially, I was one of the few that liked the retro-meets-futuristic styling. But that was through the prism of nicely lighted display cases and perfectly positioned demo units. At home, I am less enamoured. Up close, the box is more plasticky than it first appears. It does mean the console is much lighter than it looks, but there’s also a slight sense of cheapness to the build that surprised me. It doesn’t help that the machine is very chunky, cannot be positioned on its side and has an external power supply, meaning it takes up a considerable slice of your entertainment space. Maybe that’s the idea, to make the Xbox One the dominant device on your shelf, but it’s a monolithic style that is difficult to be impressed by. The new Kinect camera that needs to sit above or below your television also has a look only a mother could love, a chunky black brick that combines a camera and directional mic. Though given how improved Kinect 2.0 is, I’m happy to accept its image is a concession to functionality. Just as it should be.

It’s not a complete loss. The smart fascia of the console has dropped the flashing green lights of the 360, preferring an elegant white insignia to indicate the console is powered on. And bar the eject for the front-loading disc drive, its fascia is button free. It’s also noticeably more quieter than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It’s not a pretty box, then, but there are points of elegance to be built on for the inevitable redesign and slim-down in a few years time.

 

Controller

The Xbox One controller is a tidy revision of the Xbox 360 gamepad, which is largely regarded as the best console pad ever designed. The new controller is, again, lacking in the looks department but it feels great in the hands. It’s light without feeling flimsy, and the prominent matt grips are very comfortable. The analog sticks are made from the same plastic as the shell, which means they are a little sharper under the thumbs that you are used to. It should, however, avoid the wear that comes with rubber sticks and the indented tops means you have a solid grip on the sticks while playing.

In terms of new features, it is the triggers which are most noteworthy. They’re wider and moulded around your index fingers, and supply haptic feedback rumble during play. It sounds a small thing, but in practice can be terrific. Forza Motorsport 5 is the game that shows them at their best, applying nuanced resistance and rumble through the triggers while you are throwing your super car around different track surfaces. The back triggers now connect directly to the front bumper buttons, which mean you can press the trigger and bumper together simultaneously. It’s not something you found yourself needing to do that often on the 360, but the revision is nonetheless a welcome one. It helps on FIFA 14, for instance, where you need to switch between the triggers and bumpers at speed.

Elsewhere, the infrared sensor on the front of the controller can communicate with the Kinect camera, which helps identify different players and offers a rudimentary form of motion control: like shaking the pad to wrestle off an attacking zombie in Dead Rising 3.

It’s largely a traditional gamepad, eschewing many of the embellishments that Sony are attempting with the DualShock 4. But there’s very little to fault here in terms of function and ergonomics. It’s a great controller.

 

Kinect 2.0

The motion sensing camera Kinect on the 360 gave me Dance Central and Child of Eden, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. But after the initial gimmick of seeing the camera roughly translate your movements onto your avatar on-screen, most people either became ambivalent or overtly aggressive towards its existence and very little of note used the device after that decent initial wave of games.

Microsoft continued to push their investment, though, and have made the second version of its Kinect hardware an integral part of the Xbox One. The camera is included with every console though no longer needs to be connected in order for the machine to function. However, with the knowledge that every Xbox One owner will also now own a Kinect, the device is being given a lot more work to do. And, whisper it, it’s rather good at what it does.

Setup

While the Xbox One might not be attractive, it is at least functional and easy to setup. Connect your power supply, Kinect and HDMI cable and you’re ready to go. Well, almost. First you have to download a 1.3GB patch in order for your console to work. It’s the only time that you will require an internet connection, and the console takes you through the process relatively painlessly. Download time will obviously depend on your connection speed and bandwidth.

Once that’s done you will need to download your existing 360 Gamertag profile, which will come with your game history and gamerscore, or create a new account using a Microsoft ID. If you’ve signed up to Outlook or Hotmail, then the info contained within these accounts will be transferred to your new Xbox account. Again, the console guides you through the process without any drama.

 

Dashboard

With your profile enabled you can then set about exploring the dashboard. The Xbox One’s hub is largely based on the Windows 8 format and… wait, where are you going?! No, come back! I know what you’re thinking, but the tile system that is so unintuitive on PCs makes much more sense on a video games console using a controller and Kinect. The main dash is split into three sections. First is home, which displays your profile information, your current and recent activities, what disc is in the tray and a trio of featured advertisements. The 360’s dashboard became overloaded with adverts, pushing your games and apps to the periphery and behind menu options. Here, the sales pitch is reduced to a relatively unobtrusive section to the side, with all your stuff front and centre.

Click to the left and you come to the Pins menu, which allows you to customise a selection of tiles to feature your favourite apps and games. Each member of your household can also set up their own profile with their own pins. To the right is the Xbox Store, separated into Games, Music and Movies. It’s very functional and easy to get around, but is presented in Microsoft’s usual cold, corporate style. Smart, efficient but not much to look at.

The Xbox One is apparently running three operating systems at a time, one dedicated to gaming, one for apps and one to tie the previous two together. This allows for some useful multi-tasking, allowing you to jump out of a game to go to the Store or adjust system settings, and then jump back into the game at the same point. That multi-tasking extends to performing tasks simultaneously with the ‘Snap’ feature. While you play a game or watch a film, you can ask the Xbox to ‘Snap’ another application to the side of the screen while the game continues. Take a Skype video call while playing, for instance, or bring up internet explorer. The idea of sticking the football on in the corner while I carry on with my game of FIFA has its appeal, but I’m yet to be entirely convinced of Snap’s usefulness. The idea is that you can keep your eyes on the TV without looking at your smartphone or tablet to check Twitter. But I’m not sure encroaching on my play space is the most efficient solution.

It’s worth mentioning that while the dashboard is terrifically seamless and a genuine step forward in user functionality, in its pre-release state at least, it is not as quick as you would like. Presumably because the Xbox is trying to process so much at once, swapping between apps can take some time, but we will take another look at certain areas of the Xbox One once the console is out in the wild.

 

Games

The Xbox One’s exclusive launch lineup is a solid start but, as is usually the case at a console launch, doesn’t offer anything that demands the upgrade. Forza Motorsport 5 is the comfortable standout, a beautiful racer that scorches at 60fps and 1080p. Forza also makes the strongest initial use of ‘the cloud’ that Microsoft had been talking up prior to the Xbox One’s release. The painfully named ‘Drivatar’ feature uploads player behaviour to the internet in order to teach its artificial intelligence to replicate human behaviour. Your own drivatar is then sent out into the community to appear in other players races, and you will earn money based on its performance. Even pre-release it’s noticeable that the AI is less rigid than in previous Forza games.

Elsewhere, Roman hack ’n slash Ryse is visually splendid but has limited gameplay, Dead Rising 3 is good zombie-bashing fun and Zoo Tycoon delighted my young son because you can feed the giraffes using Kinect. Nothing revelatory, then, and certainly nothing that matches the best work of the last generation. But there’s plenty of fun to be had in a fairly broad selection and enough going on in Forza to suggest that next-gen can provide some interesting new features.

Looking to the future, Microsoft have been keen to show off some of the games that will be appearing in 2014. Blistering mech FPS Titanfall has turned a lot of heads and, while it will appear on PC, is console exclusive to Xbox. Elsewhere Remedy have shown the visually impressive TV/game hybrid Quantum Break and Microsoft’s answer to LittleBigPlanet, Project Spark, is also on the 2014 slate. Throw in Deadly Premonition creator Swery65’s brilliantly bonkers looking D4 and you have the promise of a broad selection of titles in the not too distant future.

Multi-format wise, most games ares simply a visual upgrade to current-gen counterparts. Early reports suggest that multi-format games are currently performing better visually on the PlayStation 4. While we haven’t had the chance to do an extensive side by side comparison yet, we can confirm that Call of Duty Ghosts looks considerably better on the PS4. That being said, Forza’s visual fidelity suggests the Xbox One is no slouch.

You have to install each game from the disc. The next-generation has brought enormous file sizes, so it’s fortunate that the Xbox One allows you to only partway install a game before you can start playing. Similarly, title updates downloaded from the web can be partially downloaded as you play, rather than having to wait too long for that 4GB day one Forza patch. There’s definitely two sides to the coin, in that there will be more regular updates, but the console makes an effort to make downloading them fairly painless. Theoretically the additional connectivity should offer developers the chance to constantly update their games, which will hopefully only benefit players.

TV, movies and music

One of the major selling points Microsoft have been pushing since the new console was announced was the ability to connect your Sky or cable box through the Xbox One’s HDMI in slot. This allows you to watch TV through your Xbox, while still being able to access your console’s functionality. It’s as simple as connecting your Sky/cable/freeview box via HDMI and selecting the TV option from the dash. While it is intended for television, you can connect any other HDMI visual device and run it through the Xbox. If you were so inclined, you could even run your new PlayStation 4 through it in order to have access to both next-gen consoles dashboards at the same time. What larks!

TV is the focus though, the idea being that you will be able to control your cable box using Kinect, and the Xbox will be able to track your viewing preferences and offer up programmes that suit your tastes.This functionality wasn’t available pre-release so its effectiveness remains to be seen, but the basic concept of connecting another HDMI device to your Xbox works perfectly well.

Elsewhere the Xbox One is a perfectly decent Blu-Ray and DVD player and will offer access to online movie and music services such as Netflix and Microsoft’s own Xbox Music. Many of these apps were not available to test pre-launch so, again, we will make any amends to this article once the console is released.

The verdict

So should you buy one? It’s a tricky question to answer. Reviewing a video games console at launch is about judging potential and ease of use. Similarly, buying one is buying into that potential. The last generation brought a sea change in that video games console now evolve and improve over their lifetime. The Xbox One seems set up to do just that. And as a starting point, it’s a very good one. The dashboard is dynamic, easy to use and malleable enough that when more content becomes available, you can curate it how you wish. That initial wave of content, while certainly capable enough, doesn’t yet have the power to make the console a must-have, especially considering the chunky price tag. Currently an unessential luxury, then, but one with a bright future.

Voice control is given the largest boon, with Kinect now recognising a larger vocabulary for dashboard control. It’s far more practical now, too, as it can now hunt out apps without them needing to be on screen. Say “Xbox Skype” while playing a game, for example, and it will take you straight to it. Often it’s still more practical to use a controller, but there are certain functions that make a lot of sense. The Xbox One has a digital video recorder (DVR) function which can record 30 seconds of gameplay at a time, which can then be edited and extended to five minutes in the Upload Studio. If something brilliant happens spontaneously, you can yell “Xbox record that” and it will grab the video clip.

In terms of how it works, Kinect is far more reliable too. Facial recognition, which loads up the profile of whoever is sitting in front of the machine, was consistent, movement tracking is more fluid than before and infrared sans that it will work in low-light. It’s not a perfection of its concept by any means, and it certainly won’t convert everybody. It can often take a few goes of yelling at it before it recognises what you’re saying and the motion tracking, while much improved, still lacks enough accuracy for it to replace the controller for navigation. But this is still a vast improvement on the original Kinect, and its widespread implementation will make it a more worthwhile addition to your console.

It's on sale now for €499.

Telegraph.co.uk

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