2016 is 2015 Plus One

Finally ‘Jumping Ahead.’

As the past couple of years have worn on, I’ve increasingly known one thing: I wanted an Xbox One. I think the notion reached a fever pitch with 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference, though that only helped to further augment what came the year before. Between the two, and a sprinkling of what came before, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get one.

Luckily for me, my loving wife was only all-too aware of this. As such, Christmas morning came and I was greeted by my brand new(ly refurbished) Xbox One console. It came with a copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity, and while I may plug that in for a laugh as people go around looking like animatronics with their faces removed, that’s not what I was interested in playing. No, going into the New Year, I set out and have acquired a respectable collection of other games which have caught my eye — but I’ll get to those later.

For me, video game-wise, 2016 is looking much like 2015… plus One.

I hesitate to call this a review, but I’m not sure what better term there is for it. I’ve not plunged the full depths of everything the system can do, but I have seen a good bit of it so far, and want to give my thoughts on it here. If there’s interest, maybe I’ll update it in the future with new findings.

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First of all: this thing is huge.

The pre-slim Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were both pretty hefty machines that could be kept either horizontally or vertically, but the horizontal-only Xbox One reminds me very much of it progenitor, the original Xbox. And yet, as impractical as it may be, I kind of like it. Maybe it’s nostalgia (for a console I never owned, but rented a lot when I worked at Blockbuster) talking, but Xbox One is “hueg” like gramps, and it just seems right that way.

Before going on, I should mention that my Xbox One came with a sticker on the top of the unit, which I proceeded to remove. Sadly, it’s left a residue that I’m not sure how to remove. I tried a warm, damp paper towel, and that didn’t do much. This is something I should look up or call about, as I don’t want to risk doing anything that might void the warranty — particularly as half the top of the machine is grated for ventilation.

For what it’s worth, that ventilation must do the trick; my Xbox 360 sounded like a jet engine about to take off — even while just streaming video from my computer — while the Xbox One runs all but perfectly silent in a “stop and listen for it” kind of way.

The next thing comes only if you turn the console on through the console itself, rather than the controller. There is no on/off button or switch; rather, it senses when you touch the Xbox logo, and it lights up with a chime I find to be rather pleasant, escalating when powering on and diminishing when it powers down. It’s an almost Nintendo-like touch of charm that I was surprised and pleased to discover.

Hooking up the Xbox One, I came upon a problem: my high definition television apparently has only three HDMI ports, each occupied by the Wii U, the PlayStation 4, and Rogers Cable’s Nextbox (which I mainly use for WWE on SportsNet, WWE Network, and now Lucha Underground on TLN). Something would have to give, unless I wanted to shell out for some sort of HD switchbox. Fortunately, the Xbox One itself proved to be my saving grace: near as I can tell, it is the only one that would allow me to plug my cable box into the console, thus saving me from having to switch out.

On the downside, the Xbox One itself has to be on to watch anything through it, but that’s a small price to pay for the convenience. More worrying, though, is if I watch the cable box for more than about three hours, the sound screws up with static and what sounds like the audio being played over itself with a slight echo. I don’t know whether this is the fault of the Xbox One or the Nextbox (it didn’t happen until after I plugged it into the Xbox One, but I’ve not known Rogers’ boxes to be of the greatest quality, either), but at least it’s fixed when I turn off the Nextbox and turn it back on again (and then try to quickly get back to whatever was on).

It’s not hassle-free, but it’s something I need to experiment with when I have time. At the very least, I can pick whether I want to deal with turning the box off and then on again, or switching out wires. It’s a small thing, but I do appreciate having that choice.

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After all of that, I suppose it makes sense to talk about the next thing that you’re likely to experience when going into Xbox One for the first time: the controller. The Xbox 360 controller was lauded for its form factor, and the basic Xbox One wireless controller basically takes what made that great and improves on it. I don’t know what it is, but I just really like the feel of it in my hands, especially the way the shoulder triggers contour with the sides of the controller and the player’s fingers.

The Dpad is far, far better than what the Xbox 360 provided, in my experience. The distinct “+” shape just feels right, and has served me well so far in the games where I gravitated towards it. Both analog sticks have a nice texture around the rims that feel like they offer a great deal of reaction to just a little bit of effort. On the downside, those same sticks seem to attract dirt, particularly along the inside ridge, that can be a bit of a pain to get out.

On the face buttons, I’m not sure what to make of them. Like most controllers, including the Xbox 360’s, they’re all convex instead of concave, and have a nice clickiness to them. However, I find that when I use them on the main Xbox One menu, it doesn’t always seem to respond. I’ve yet to have a problem in anything I’ve played, leading me to suspect that this is just the menu.

The final downside to the controller is the use of batteries. In a generation that’s seen everyone from Sony repeating what worked last generation to Nintendo following suit with both the Wii U GamePad and the Pro Controller, Microsoft has stuck with putting in a pair of AA Duracells (or your brand of choice) in and changing them out once their duration has expired. Aside from the environmental impact and the lack of efficiency, I also have to make a point of turning the controller off if I use it to turn the console on just to watch television. It’s just a disappointing choice, even if they’re still continuing to offer Play & Charge kits for $29.99 apiece — that’s still money I’d rather be putting into anything else, be it more controllers or more games.

Oh, and though I haven’t tried it out yet, the Xbox One came with a nice chat headset that’s priced at about $30 on its own. At the very least, it makes a more impactful first impression than the wired mono headset that came with the PlayStation 4 NHL 16 bundle.

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While I don’t have a whole lot of games that are backwards compatible with the Xbox One yet, some of them are, and at least I can say that it’s reassuring that they’re working on more to come. (Fingers crossed on Sonic Generations, among others — like Metal Gear Solid Rising Revengeance, which I never even got to play!) The biggest problem I’ve had on this front is that you cannot purchase Xbox 360 games through the Xbox One; meanwhile, the Xbox website won’t allow you to make those purchases with your Microsoft Account Balance, no matter how much you have. If you’re not using spending even more money there, then they won’t have any of it — a bummer, since my original model Xbox 360 pretty much croaked shortly before getting this one.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who has run into these as a problem, so hopefully they’ll be remedied soon.

The menu works pretty well for me so far. It’s still geared to work with Kinect, and I don’t have one of those, but just using the controller is simple enough. It kind of reminds me of the Xbox 360 menu, but somehow less crowded-feeling — perhaps due to the ability to scroll down.

Finally, a word of advice: 500GB doesn’t go nearly as far as you think it might. While that was plenty for me on Xbox 360, I’ve filled up a good chunk of my drive already. While you can add an external drive, I’d suggest starting out with the 1TB version and going from there, particularly if you’re going to be importing backwards compatible Xbox Live Arcade titles and downloading retail games. There is also a way to replace the internal drive, apparently, but that’s more of an “at your own risk” and “if you feel comfortable doing it” sort of thing.

I think that’s pretty much everything I can say about the console itself at this point. So far, even with its drawbacks, I’m quite enjoying it.

As for games? Oh yeah, I’ve got games, and I’ve got plans. In addition to future releases (as they’re released), I’m already going to be looking at several titles here which set me on my path towards becoming an Xbox One owner in the first place, so I hope you’ll stay tuned (you can follow on social media via the outlets listed in the footer, if it helps) to check those out as they come!

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.