One giant box, one entertainment solution, and one lovingly rendered dog. Microsoft’s new Xbox reveal got at least one leg up on Sony: we got a console, a camera and a controller. What we also got was lots of footage of sportsmen, lots of buzzwords, and some presumably ecstatic Sony executives. Here’s the low-down on the revelations from Redmond.
That we didn’t see actual gameplay footage for 50 minutes suggest to me that Xbox One has a focus on broader entertainment. Voice commands and gestures will work with a new, improved Kinect to instantly switch between apps and media, or multi-task with side-snapped windows.
HDMI in will allow existing set top boxes, like Sky+ HD, to operate through the One’s user interface. And new streaming partnerships will complement the Blu-ray drive to expand the console’s roster of sports, TV and movies — including an exclusive, Spielberg directed Halo TV series.
The problem here is that Microsoft is vying for a market that doesn’t exist; they just hope it does. It’s people who can’t afford a Smart TV or don’t want to upgrade yet, who are also not willing to just utilise the same features for free through a computer, and won’t be prevented from buying an expensive ‘games console’ through the stigma that comes along with them.
The revelations coming from the show floor seem to indicate that the slate isn’t so much being cleaned as sterilised. The Xbox One won’t play Xbox 360 games, and more mystifyingly, won’t play downloadable XBLA titles either. Your profiles and avatars, however, can be transferred across. And if you didn’t like Kinect, tough bananas: it has to be plugged in at all times.
The biggest worry from the hardcore crowd leading up to the event was the prospect of ‘Always Online’. While this isn’t happening, its main caveat – blocking used games – looks set to be achieved by other means. Wired are currently claiming that the One will charge players of used games a nominal fee, though this is yet to be confirmed by other outlets.
I mentioned the scarcity of actual game footage in this conference. We saw some pre-rendered footage of EA’s annual sports titles, and a new game called Quantum Break by Alan Wake and Max Payne dev Remedy, with more than a few whiffs of Beyond: Two Souls. But the only actual gameplay footage was from IW’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, with some fairly indistinct locations and an inordinate focus on your new squadmate: a dog.
And it was a nice looking dog, in front of some nice looking scenery. But one melodramatic trailer and a dev diary will not inspire confidence in either the console or a heavily flagging franchise. You’ll have to wait until E3 to get any true sense of the hardware’s might compared to the PS4.
Not unlike Sony’s conference, this was more about what we didn’t see than what we did. Microsoft promised 15 exclusive titles, including eight brand new IPs, Quantum Break presumably among them. And FIFA on One will be part of a new EA partnership, receiving exclusive Ultimate Team content.
Perhaps the biggest benefactors of today’s lacklustre reveal are Nintendo. The Wii U has been a slow starter, to say the least, and a stronger showing today could have provided an impossible challenge. In the minds of the press, this promised to be a two-horse race. With gamers riled by Microsoft’s change of focus, and the next Nintendo Direct a software-focused, E3 special, the glossy white behemoth could be back on track.
Sony’s stock should amply reflect how they’ll be feeling: the company jumped more than 8% over the course of the announcement. Stock fluctuates at will, of course, and with E3 around the corner, there’s clearly everything still to play for. But it’s inarguably Sony who’ve started the stronger.
One event, one trailer, one tentative victory. A decisive PS4 launch and tantalisingly timed teaser stole the impetus from Microsoft, and while few will argue that this was the better reveal, they have suffered from the raised stakes.
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