Last week we got you up to speed on the PlayStation 4. The battle is truly joined tonight with the midnight release of the Xbox One, Microsoft’s follow-up to the Xbox 360. Since videogame systems are no longer just videogame systems, the Xbox One arrives with even more of a focus on streaming media and cross-platform entertainment interactivity than the PS4. It also sports a beefed up Kinect, which will stare at you even more longingly than the original. You should know some basic facts about Microsoft’s new machine before you drop your money, though, so read, learn and take notes.
And that’s real money, not Microsoft points. (Which, by the way, no longer exist.) It’s $100 more than the PlayStation 4, and a hefty sum for a videogame system. Of course, Microsoft has assiduously advertised the Xbox One as something much more than a videogame system, so perhaps half a grand is actually a grand bargain.
Wait, this sounds familiar. Beneath all the cross-media gimcracks and voice-activated gewgaws, the Xbox One is a device you will buy primarily to play games. It’s maybe not as clear cut as with the PlayStation 4—some of that weirdo TV functionality bunk sounds just nuts enough for the high-tech sojourners to poke into regardless of game biz—but it still says Xbox on the chassis and Xbox still means games. Attempts to rebrand as an all-purpose entertainment contraption are noble and understandable but it’s hard to envision a large market for the One that isn’t at least fleetingly interested in the finer points of interactive marksmanship.
Microsoft is desperate for every other device in your center to supplicate itself to the Xbox One. You won’t be able to junk your cable just yet (unless you cut the cord and give yourself entirely to the stream) but you can plug that cable box directly into the Xbox One through an HDMI input. One possible advantage: You can tell your Kinect to change channels for you. That way you can replace your remote with your voice box and admit through words that you watch Double Divas. That HDMI input port is a weird thing—you can run other gaming consoles through it, if you want to play a laggy Nintendo Land inside a window inside your Xbox One interface. And of course the One comes with a variety of streaming services, including all the standards. HBO Go will once again be exclusive to the Xbox platform, although it won’t launch for the One until an undisclosed date in December. And, unlike the 360, the Xbox One will play Blu-rays, for those who still like to lay hands upon their movies.
On the 360 the Kinect’s voice controls were almost an afterthought to the manic gesticulation necessary to impart even the slightest command to it. Microsoft’s worked all of the gunk out of the Kinect’s ears and now it will supposedly know what you say more of the time. If you watch TV (still through a primitive cable box in these last pre-Xbox One days) you have probably seen the ad where an intimidating European woman rudely changes the TV from her man friend’s football match to a videogame, solely through the clipped tones of her accented voice. That’s a thing you can do! Once you own an Xbox One. If ads are facts you will be able to swiftly switch between almost all features and applications of the Xbox One through words.
When you walk into a room with an Xbox One and a Kinect in it you will be recognized by the videogame system and automatically signed into your Xbox account. This is not a dystopia—this is real life.
Turns out there actually is a way around it. When the Xbox One was first announced the Kinect was a deal-breaker—the Xbox One would not work if the voice-detecting camera peripheral wasn’t plugged in. As with many of the Xbox One’s initial features, Microsoft subsequently backpedaled after hostile response, announcing in August that the system will run without a Kinect. Not using the Kinect will deprive the system of many of its native features, but if you’re paranoid about having an internet-connected camera phone running in your living room at all times, know that you will be able to play LocoCycle without fear of the NSA judging your decor.
Say you want to play a videogame while also keeping an eye on a real life baseball game. Say you are me in 1998 and you have to juggle both Raw and Nitro with the Cubs-Giants one-game playoff. Say that is the case and you don’t have access to three different TVs (as I thankfully did) but somehow DO have access to a videogame system that will not exist for another 15 years. In that scenario you would greatly appreciate the Xbox One’s ability to “snap” multiple miniature picture-in-picture screens to the side of your primary screen. As you scrap against a chum in the new Killer Instinct you can keep a multitude of smaller screens chugging on the side of your TV. It might distract you from the bloody task at hand but it also opens up an exciting new world of trying to do too much at once.
We went over this last week. Never expect a new videogame system to ever play the games of older videogame systems without charging you again for the right. Backwards compatibility had an extremely brief heyday in the early oughts and then expired pretty much forever. Let it go.
The PS4 launched with only five exclusive games, two of which already existed on the PlayStation 3. Xbox One will have more exclusives from day one, including Dead Rising 3,Crimson Dragon, Ryse: Son of Rome and the newest Forza. And then there’s all the same third-party games that the PS4 has, that also exist for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Dead Rising is a series of some note but nothing on the level of a Halo, Gears of War or Fable is launching alongside the Xbox One.
Last week a wise man warned that PlayStation 4 users would eventually spend a lot of time managing their data, as modern-day videogames eat up ridiculous amounts of space and 500 GB is sadly no longer all that practical. That wise man was me. I am very wise. The same is true of the Xbox One, at least at first. Microsoft says the Xbox One will eventually support external hard drives at some point, but at launch those 500 GB are all we’ll have. It should only be an issue if you buy a dozen or so of the system’s launch releases, but if that external solution doesn’t come soon that 500 GB limit will be hit quickly.
Paste will have more on the Xbox One early next week, so keep us in your hearts and minds.
Garrett Martin is Paste’s games editor and the games critic for the Boston Herald. He feels very old right now.