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Xbox One Revealed: Hairy-Arms & Hi-Fi’s

10:3723/05/2013Posted by Simeon PaskellOne Comment

My reaction to Microsoft’s long awaited reveal of the follow up to its hugely successful Xbox 360 can be summarised in looking at one small moment. 45 seconds into a video piece in which Infinity Ward staff talk through the latest instalment of Call of Duty, subtitled Ghosts, our attention is drawn star of the show – namely your character’s arms.

“The arms in MW3 were beautiful at the time,” we are told, “but the new engine allows for significantly increased texture resolution”

Delivered as it is without a hint of irony, it’s a statement both ludicrous and crushingly dull in equal measure, dryly espousing the given aspect of any next gen console (namely: better visuals) while also encapsulating the lack of imagination and excitement behind the Xbox One announcement as a whole. Yes, yes, it’s all very clever…but where’s the magic?

The problem is, gamers are no longer quite so easy to impress and all the hyperbole in the world about realism and emotional impact will fail to convince if all you can fall back on is the detail of the hairs on the back of an arm; a tattoo on a dog’s ear and authenticity of virtual skin. And yet, this is sums up what Microsoft’s gala press event was – a re-skinning of the last gen, pitching the same old experiences with a new lick of paint. Worse still, the whole thing was buried under a mountain of TV and sports content of (I’m certain) minimal interest to those present, whether it be in the flesh or peering at it through the virtual lens of the internet.

In fairness to Microsoft, the event was a little less cloying than some of its previous E3 performances (there was no definitive ‘Skittles’ moment , even if much of the show now appears to have been overshadowed by a virtual dog’s twitter account). Sure, only the gargantuan size of the console itself was able to match the smugness of the various hosts, but at least the whole thing didn’t stray into the ridiculous.

Sadly, somewhere it did stray into was dullness, and I’m not only saying this because games seemed to very much take a back seat. With nearly half the presentation being taken up with discussion on the Xbox One’s ability to control your TV with gestures and voice controls while seamlessly switching between gaming and the latest Star Trek movie, much of the conference felt like the type of speech you could expect to hear out a Hi-Fi convention. It was all very clever – and, if I’m honest, indicated an integrated future that I would definitely welcome – but there was nothing to get genuinely excited about, nothing to set your mind reeling at the possibilities that will come with the arrival of the next gen. “It’s all very clever, but…” is not the type of reaction one should be having to a mega-high profile event of this kind, and yet my head-space ping-ponged between this and sheer boredom for much of the 60 minute run time.

What of the console itself? Well, the name certainly caused an eye-brow to rise and forced a quiet chuckle from my throat. It’s certainly not what I expected and, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I like it. As a gamer of 34 years of age, I can remember the original Xbox and I’m finding it hard to not think of that when anyone mentions the words ‘Xbox One’. Additionally, it’s hard to see how the moniker will enter broader lexicon of games culture and beyond – will people refer to it as ‘One’? ‘The One’? XBone? Or just Xbox? And if, as I suspect, the latter will prevail, what kind of presence does this give this particular device within the wider cultural landscape? Sure, we all laughed at ‘Wii’ when Nintendo first announced it, but this silly, three letter title played a considerable role in making the Wii much more than just a console; it became a cultural phenomenon. An icon. Maybe Microsoft just want the name ‘Xbox’ to become synonymous with gaming, or more specifically entertainment – but this just feels like iPod chasing. Though ‘Xbox’ has undoubtedly established itself in the gaming landscape, hasn’t it been around far too long to stand any chance of increasing its cultural status beyond its current position as a primarily being a games-console?

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