Xbox Series XGames Console ¦ RRP £449
The wait is finally over, with what was formally known as next-gen throwing its considerable weight onto the scene declaring itself very much the now-gen.
This is usually a time where gamers find themselves inexplicably giddy at the prospect of picking up a new controller and diving deep into the future of gaming. But for many, there may be a sense of frustration, initially at least, with how this now-gen looks.
Certainly this premium console from Microsoft looks the part in its unboxing, with the kind of lid opening that is typified by those chests in games when you reveal a treasure. But instead of something shiny and sparkly, there rests a big black box.
With just one cable and lead to connect it to – one to the mains, the other to your TV – you are swiftly up and running. The whole setting up process is made easier if you already have an account with Microsoft from the previous generation, with all your information crossing over like magic. And after a few updates and settings, you are confronted with the future of gaming.
Unfortunately, due to Microsoft’s keenness for uniformity across generations, this latest generation looks disappointingly familiar. The Xbox Series X user interface is nearly identical to that on the Xbox One, with the layout all too recognizable. On the one hand it’s understandable to have some continuity across systems, but on other it makes it extremely difficult to differentiate from one gen to the next. The most obvious way to do this, of course, is with the games, but again there’s a stumbling block.
One of the big fanfares usually associated with the arrival of the next-gen is a selection of titles to showcase what it can do. As far as the Xbox Series X is concerned however, there is no fanfare, as there are no exclusive Series X/S games. There was supposed to be the latest instalment of their long-running flagship franchise Halo, with Halo Infinite, but due to delays in development, it didn’t manage the launch window.
So if you’re looking for first party launch title to be in awe of, there isn’t one. It seems the go to solution for this is Game Pass, a service that has a vast back catalogue of titles, some of which go all the way back to the original Xbox. That’s right, you can play a huge selection of old games, to truly old games, on your next-gen machine. This is akin to owning a Formula 1 car, but only using it once a week to do the food run. Or having a state-of-the-art OLED TV, but only being able to watch films and shows that were out before 1986.
For all gamers know, we’ve all been duped, with the Xbox Series X actually having the guts of an Xbox One being powered by an athletic mouse on a wheel. Even the controller is virtually a carbon copy of previous ones, with the only real difference being textures on the triggers and slight re-design to the D-pad. Whoop-de-do.
Much has been made of the Quick Resume facility, that just comes across as the Emperor’s new clothes; a feature that allows you to jump back and forth from one game to another. Unfortunately it’s not a feature that we’ve ever felt the need for; if we’re playing a game that we’re into, we never really get that urgent need to quickly start playing another. And if we’re not into it, we’d probably just close it down and start another. But maybe we’re just old fashioned that way. It feels a rather pointless addition, and one that we can’t see ourselves ever using. But hey, to each their own.
We’re also disappointed that this high spec machine is still without a standby mode. Anyone who has a PlayStation can enjoy the ability to put their machine in standby mode, where it will merrily charge connected controllers, and more importantly, download games in the background. It’s simple concept that it is truly useful. Alas no version of the Xbox family has yet to adopt this, meaning the machine is always on, or off.
Perhaps the biggest development however, which it shares with its PS5 cousin, is the introduction of a Solid State Drive. With this now on board, gaming just got that little bit zippier. The most noticeable difference being loading times; although not completely eradicated, they have been reduced significantly, which means you spend more time gaming and less waiting.
A further new aspect to this latest gen is how you want to play your game. Instead of just playing the game straight off the bat, many of these new cross-gen titles, are giving gamers the option of playing their game either in a higher performance mode – which includes a greater frame rate and possibly a greater refresh rate - or a greater visual mode, where the game looks prettier. Although having a choice is always appealing, it would surely have been preferable if we could have simply had both.
You wouldn’t get those kind of options anywhere else – imagine the next time you go to the cinema, and you’re offered two versions of the latest Bond film: one with all the explosive bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from the franchise, but with Vinnie Jones as Bond; the other starring Daniel Craig, but the only set piece on screen comes by way of him driving through a red light without his seatbelt on. It would of course be unthinkable, but for some reason, this is how the next-gen is kicking off.
But let’s just believe for a second that we haven’t been duped, and that the Xbox Series X is actually the most powerful console on the market, with its myriad of teraflops and ray tracing capabilities etc. If that’s the case, then perhaps it should have stayed next-gen until this gen was thoroughly ready for the hand-over.
The truth is, it takes a minimum of six months for the next generation to find its feet, along with the developers getting to grips with it, before we see what these new consoles are truly capable of. That said, releasing a system without one first party title to at least get gamers excited just feels wrong. At least PS5 owners have Astro’s Playroom exclusive to the console, and free too.
Yes the games will come, eventually, and the cross-generation titles that are out now will certainly look prettier on these new machines, but as they also will on the consoles we already have, there isn’t quite that urgency to jump on this new gen bandwagon just yet.
It’s clear that gamers were ready for the arrival of the next gen, but as far as the Xbox Series X is concerned, this somewhat lacklustre appearance feels genuinely like that it wasn’t ready for us.