Playtesting the Xbox One: A Slightly Shinier Xbox 360½

Yesterday we were invited to the Microsoft Store in U Village to playtest the new Xbox One, due out this Friday.

As a longtime Xbox acolyte, I can safely say that the Xbox One is pretty much just the Xbox 360 with a slightly different dashboard menu screen.

In fact, the menu screen seems to be the biggest pride point for Microsoft: they requested specifically that we not take pictures of it or look at it before launch (even though we totally had to look at it to get to the demos). If that’s the biggest secret they’ve got, then you know something is awry.

For people who loved the 360 for all its non-gaming functions, the Xbox One is going to make you super happy. You can change the channel on your cable box with your voice using the Xbox One, as well as Skype and watch NFL games with your fantasy football stats on the side while simultaneously playing a game.

But man, that just sounds like a lot of multitasking.

Above: Reading your fantasy stats while playing Forza is the equivalent of texting and driving.

For those who are just looking for a new gaming console rather than an uber-entertainment center, there’s not too much to get excited about here. The console feels like Xbox 360½.

The controller is the same, except for some fancy new iso-rumble technology that makes the triggers shake independently of each other. The graphics are pretty much the same. Forza, the racing game series that always acts as the show pony for new console graphics, was just more hi-res cars. The rest of the launch games are meh, except for Dead Rising 3, the newest installation in the ultra-fun sandbox zombie slaying series. But beyond that, there’s nothing new or terribly exciting to see here.

At $500, the console is priced $100 more than its main competitor, the Playstation 4. The added cost is due to the inclusion of the Kinect motion sensor, which can apparently read your emotions now (scary).

The most exciting news was Microsoft’s recent decision to open up the console as a free dev kit for indie developers, streamlining the process for the little guys looking to get their projects on the Xbox One. The news might be too little too late though, as the PS4 has been courting indies from the get-go.

But if the thought of streaming your football while you drive hi-res cars and Skype your homies all at once gets you super excited, the Microsoft Store in U Village will be hosting a midnight lauch Thursday night, accompanied by a Killer Instinct fighting tournament with cash prizes.

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