Dubai: First impressions of the Xbox One, due to be released officially in the UAE on September 5, come with a mixture of awe and frustration.
The frustration is due to the sheer number of updates the console wants when first powered up — and every time you slide a game disk into it. The system update is 1 gig; game updates are between 1 gig and 3.3 gigs. Unlike the PlayStation 4, you have to update before the One will let you play, though you can use the machine to do other things while the update downloads in the background.
The awe is due to the sheer versatility of the console. This is not a pure gaming machine, it’s an entertainment, information and communication hub. You can run your TV box through it, download apps for Skype, YouTube and numerous other web services (some of which, like Netflix, still aren’t available in the UAE). And, at last, it comes with a Blu-ray player installed.
Then there are the controls. On a standard console, you can work with the new, low-power controller or a smartglass enabled phone or tablet. Add a Kinect and you have a choice of controlling the console through gestures and voice.
The One also has facial recognition through the Kinect, which means that if you have an Xbox Live account, and give it permission, it’ll log you in automatically when you move into the Kinect’s sensor area, which is much broader than the first Kinect. While I’m not entirely keen on the device scanning my presence, I have to admit that it’s extremely convenient.
There’s no getting around learning acceptable gestures and voice commands if you want to control the device through them. It isn’t tolerant of variations. Even with the controller there’s a learning curve — the new Xbox interface resembles that of Windows 8, which means finding the function you want requires you to play hide and seek with the GUI.
As a gaming console, the Xbox One falls a little short of the raw power of the PlayStation 4. Its graphics are lower resolution, and it doesn’t display all the atmospheric effects the PS4 does. It’s still is very significant leap over the last generation, though.
But it’s quite clear that Microsoft isn’t aiming purely at a hardcore gaming market. Kinect Sports Rivals gets mum and dad playing with the kids. The ability to stream YouTube videos turns it into a VJ station for parties. There’s even an app for the TED talks if you fancy a little bit of inspirational edutainment.
More is in the pipeline, according to Kerim Ozbakirci, head of the Xbox division at Microsoft Gulf, with the firm in the process of signing up local partners for media content.
In some ways, the One appears to be making a play for the audience Nintendo won with the Wii, and lost with the Wii U, while keeping gamers happy enough with what they consider its real function: gaming.
So while the PS4 has the edge on pure gaming power the One’s social aspects, both in the living room and online, knock the PS4 into a cocked hat.
Neither of the consoles has a killer game yet. The PS4 has Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son; the Xbox One has Dead Rising 3, Ryse and Forza 5 (I’m not counting Titanfall, as that’s also available for the Xbox 360). None of these games, enjoyable as they are, are going to make you rush out to buy a new console the way that Halo or Gears of War did.
In design aesthetics the PS4 has the edge on the console itself. It looks high-tech, It looks mean. The Xbox One is bigger and, frankly, blander. It does, however, have a flat top, which means its easier to find somewhere to put it.
The Xbox One controller doesn’t have anything to compare with the PS4’s clickable touchpad. Instead, it’s a minor redesign of the Xbox 360 controller — a little smaller, a little lighter, a better D-pad and smaller sticks, but essentially the same. What it is extremely good at is conserving battery power. Between me and my sons the One has been played pretty intensively over the last few days, and the controller shows only a minor drain on the batteries.