Home. Trending. Games.
Once again, Microsoft are pitching a console not at gamers, but at everybody. That Smart TV you bought? It’s not smart enough. That way you’ve been controlling games consoles for years? It’s wrong. Everything is wrong, and Microsoft are here to make it right. Presenting Don Mattrick as some kind of technological white knight was the intention, I assume.
Except, well, I’m resistant to change. I don’t want to interact with Kinect because aside from my first day with the tech I’ve rarely found it interesting or useful – it’s always quicker to tap right a couple of times than to pretend you’re Tom Cruise, waving your hands around.
But now you can talk, and Xbox will understand? Understand what, that I just want to play games on my games console? From today’s Xbox One showcase at Xbox headquarters, it seems not even the platform holder understands that.
Of course, this has been the company’s direction for years, and fair play to Microsoft for having the balls to dedicate a massive chunk of their precious time to showing off its not inconsiderable media playing capabilities. Yes, it was all very US-centric and a massive turn off, but if you’re the sort of person who objects to tapping Source on your remote, Xbox One ticks at least one box.
But here’s the thing: I’ve never felt the need to find out what any of the ‘trending topics’ are on Twitter, and I’m less likely to do so on a console. Oh, look, everyone’s playing Call of Duty, or watching Batman, or – shudder - the NFL. I can see that from my friends list, should I be bored enough to look.
Why Microsoft want to push ‘trending’ before Games is obvious, of course, but I’m not interested.
Not that the Xbox One will be the only console to do this. Sony dedicated minutes explaining that everything you do on PlayStation 4 will be fed into some kind of Bertha-esque super computer to ‘assist’ you with purchasing options and it’ll even download games it thinks you’ll like.
The section with the specific sports was like white noise, an incomprehensible mess of fluffy, non-compulsory bullet-points that presumably had some kind of target audience. Microsoft’s presentation was regimented and structured, but I just wanted to shout “Xbox, games please.”
Or press ‘start’, like we used to.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Before we got to the games, though, before we even heard about specs, came the hyberbole. Xbox One is “at the centre of your entertainment” and represents the “beginning of intelligent TV”. I don’t doubt that this angle will be popular, but are people really going to buy one for that?
Even given the notion that today was about the console and E3 will be about the games, the weighting at the outset was severely off balance. It’s hardware designed to slot in anywhere (and it is a lovely looking box) but you need to find a place for Kinect, it’s still not a casual-friendly purchase.
Speccing out the specs
But then the numbers. Clearly Microsoft was never going to release Xbox One without matching Sony’s last minute insert, so there’s 8GB of RAM, a Blu-ray drive, a silent hard drive, and – yes – it’s cloud-based. But that’s a term that’s going to be bandied around recklessly.
You’ll read lots about what that may or may not mean, but rest assured little will be absolutely right: Xbox One’s grunt is onboard. This isn’t Amazon’s cloud computing, an 8-core x86 processor handles the dirty work and that’s on the motherboard.
And all that chat about never needing to switch your TV’s inputs relies on the One’s HDMI pass-through. Yes, that’s ideal, but it’s one HDMI cable per device, and so unless I’m misunderstanding, how can I also connect up my PlayStation 3, Wii U and PlayStation 4?
Can it really switch those on too, or are we just talking about cable boxes…?
Remedy’s Quantum Break
It’s hard to figure out what’s just marketing chatter and what’s crucial data at such an early stage, of course. But talk of three independent operating systems is interesting, and that revised Kinect sounds like a monster. The games, though – surely they were coming?
EA’s inclusion was hardly a surprise, given discussion earlier in the morning. That their presence wouldn’t really say a great deal was disappointing though. Those games aren’t exclusive to the console, this is just Microsoft showing that they’ve still got considerable pull.
And from what I could gather, the only really exclusive stuff was daily content pushed to your device, and that seemed to be concentrated on Ultimate Team.
Quantum Break: yep, looked promising. Forza 5: no matter how this was shown, Microsoft had to have some kind of racer, Sony made sure of that last week. Turn 10’s ability to craft a weighty sim isn’t in question, of course, Forza 4 was superb and no doubt 5 will be better still.
The key snippet here was that Microsoft will have 15 exclusives in the first year. That’s a good number, and shows that there are first party developers working hard on ensuring that the games will flow.
Any then yet more TV
And then that was it. It was back to more discussion about television. News that there’ll be a Halo series was well received, and Spielberg’s a big name to throw around. It was only the last minute reveal of Call of Duty that reminded me that this was a games console.
Except, well, it’s not, is it? Whilst Sony’s press conference seemed a little sluggish in the second half, at least in New York I got to hear about games. Microsoft’s dedicated, unilateral assault on the living room means that they’ve a lot to cover, but this felt like a presentation lacking focus.
This is all my personal opinion. You might well disagree.
For me, though, a games console should be about games. I’ve said that before and I’ll continue down that route until I tire of saying it. I get the direction Microsoft are aiming at, and I applaud their single-minded approach and determination. They’ll do very well out of it.
But here’s the rub: a single device that controls all the entertainment and media in my living room already exists in the form of my Smart TV. It might not be smart enough anymore, but it works just fine. I don’t mind switching sources because I’ve got them all optimised and ordered.
It takes seconds for me to do pretty much anything I want to do. My TV doesn’t know me. It can’t recognise when I walk in the room. It’s a couple of years old, so doesn’t have that fancy finger flicking thing. It also doesn’t play games.
And that’s what I buy other things for. To play games. I buy them, buy games for them, plug them all into my TV and play them. It’s worked that way for decades.
So what’s the conclusion?
Microsoft have ambition, and I can’t fault them for that. I just felt that – despite the brand having some of the best exclusives in the business and an online system that’s unbeatable – they missed the mark with that presentation. Where’s Xbox Plus? Where were proper demos of SmartGlass?
I can’t wait for E3. I can’t wait to walk onto the Xbox One booth and play the hell out of all those games that’ll be coming to the console this year.
Until then, I’m going to wallow in my own disapproval of how that hour went down. How Microsoft had one chance to one-up the PlayStation 4 reveal, but – to me – didn’t get anywhere near. It’ll all depend on how E3 goes, naturally, but right now Sony has the upper hand.
I love that name, though.