SINCE IT WAS UNVEILED earlier this year, the Xbox One came close to becoming the most vilified games console in history, with gamers taking exception to its pre-owned games policy, always-on snooping Kinect sensor and constant need for an active internet connection.
In fact, so bad was the tide of anger that washed over Microsoft that just a few weeks after unveiling the console, and much to the aggravation of developers that were actually going to benefit from the strict policies, the company reversed all of its controversial choices.
Now, with the horde of angry gamers halfway back into their caves, we braved the Xbox One wilds to have a go with the new console and its Microsoft launch titles, and we have to say after our gaming session that despite the stuttering start we're quite impressed.
Hardware and graphics
Kicking off we're going to offer our opening answer to the big question: how does the Xbox One compare to the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) in terms of graphics? On paper, despite receiving a minor upgrade, the Xbox One is still slightly less powerful than the PS4, featuring an x86 Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) designed by AMD and based on its Jaguar processor architecture.
This is because, while featuring a similar single-chip eight-core AMD Jaguar custom low power x86-64 APU with a Radeon-based graphics engine, the PS4 has 18 compute units, compared to the Xbox One's 12 compute units, which means that multi-format games might look better on the PS4.
We didn't get a chance to check this out because all of the games on show were Xbox One exclusives. However, having had a decent play with Killer Instinct and Forza Motorsport 5, we have to say that we're seriously impressed.
All the games looked amazing, showing off different aspects of how developers can use the Xbox One's upgraded hardware. For example, playing Killer Instinct one on one, we were surprised at the quality and smoothness of animations, with the game taking advantage of the upgraded specifications to run HD 1080p - not HD 720p as it is on the Xbox 360 - graphics at a full 60 frames per second. This made Killer Instinct feel significantly smoother than any other fighter we've ever played.
Similarly, Forza Motorsport 5 also impressed us, with its cars' lighting and textures looking astounding. This is because the developers have taken advantage of the Xbox One's upgraded memory to rethink how they model the cars. For example a developer on hand explained that to make the cars paint look authentic they actually took the same approach as real top-end garages, which apparently use a combination of three paint layers to create the perfect sports car finish.
The ability to layer and run the textures over the bump-mapped car models, which also featured intentional minor imperfections, like marks on their paintwork to make them look more real, would have been beyond the older Xbox, and we have to say it made the game look great. In short, the cars were closer to photorealistic than we've ever seen.
For these reasons, and while it's still too early to call for sure, the exclusive Xbox One titles we've seen in every way match the exclusive PS4 games we've played, like Killzone Shadow Fall.
The Xbox One Controller
In our mind the Xbox 360's controller is one of the most comfortable ever made, which is why we're happy that Microsoft hasn't decided to rework the wheel for the Xbox One, keeping the design largely the same but adding a few novel improvements.
In terms of button layout the controller is largely identical to before, featuring two asymmetric analogue sticks, a D-Pad on its left, the standard A, B, X and Y front facing buttons on its right and the usual triggers and bumper buttons on its back and top.
However, one cool addition we got to see was the bumper buttons vibration feedback. Taking a classic Mercedes for a spin around the track in Forza Motorsport 5, like most top-end steering wheel peripherals, we found that the Xbox One's bumpers, which are used to accelerate and brake, were giving very fine and immediate response to our actions, becoming harder to press when moving around tight corners or driving on rough terrain.
While to date we've only seen the feature added to Forza Motorsport 5, with it being sadly absent from other games like Capcom's Dead Rising 3 driving sections, during our hands-on we were surprised at how much it improved our experience playing the game.