It’s no secret that Xbox has been playing catch up since the dismal announcement of the Xbox One back in May 2013. Since then Microsoft’s biggest rival in Sony has gone from strength to strength with the PlayStation 4, selling copious amounts of the various iterations of the console and releasing numerous highly-acclaimed exclusive titles. In comparison, the Xbox brand has floundered, cancelling and delaying numerous titles, closing studios (Sony has also done this but has not been lambasted as hard as Xbox) and lacking any real AAA exclusive in 2017 (aside from a seventh entry in the Forza Motorsport series). In order to win over the hearts and minds of those who felt disenfranchised with the brand, Xbox had to do something big, and at E3 2016 Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer did just that by announcing Xbox’s Project Scorpio console (which would later go on to be officially titled the Xbox One X) – the world’s most powerful console. Harnessing unrivalled console power, the Xbox One X is designed to further bridge the gap between high-end PCs and console gaming at an affordable cost (read: cheaper than a top of the range gaming rig). On November 7, the crown in the Xbox One family’s jewels will be released, and over the past week we’ve had the opportunity to put the Xbox One X through its paces to see if it’s the game changer that Microsoft hopes it will be.
Firstly, the console itself is a sleek and sexy beast. Prior to running my eyes over the device I would have named the PS4 (original model) the most alluring console going around, however with its compact and elegant design the Xbox One X takes that crown hands down. To put into perspective how scaled-down the footprint is, the PS4 Pro comes in at 32.7cm wide x 29.4cm deep, compared to the Xbox One X which is 30cm wide x 24cm deep. Now, this may not seem like a huge difference, but when you’re trying to make it fit on a TV unit shelf or in a small space those extra few centimetres make a huge difference (even more so when you need to reach behind the console), unlike the Day One Xbox One, which is a bulky apparatus and only just manages to squeeze itself onto my TV unit shelf.
Hey there good lookin’
Packed in under the hood is a behemoth in terms of console power; Microsoft claims it has 40% more power than any other console on the market (you can see the specs on the right), a claim we won’t be able to judge until developers start utilising the console’s additional grunt. I am impressed with how Microsoft’s architects have managed to pack all that technology into such a compact chassis (did I mention how sexy it was?). They’ve ditched the easily scratchable gloss black surface of the original Xbox One in favour of a more matte black finish, and it has done wonders aesthetically. The addition of a USB port at the front of the device is a welcome boon instead of it being located on the side like my OG Xbox One (I skipped the Xbox One S which moved the port to the front). It’s also surprisingly got a fair amount of weight to it; I wasn’t quite expecting it when I first picked it up, but the heaviness gives it a premium feel lacking in the lower models. The inclusion of a 4K UHD Blu-ray player (same as the Xbox One S) gives it another string to its bow compared to the PS4 Pro which only offers users a stock-standard Blu-ray player. It is worth noting that the Xbox One X does not have a direct input for the recently abolished Kinect. Users who wish to utilise the tech on the Xbox One X will need one of the three USB ports with an adapter.
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of the review. Just how impressive did the games look? Of all the games that were included in the review pack only Gears of War 4 was Xbox One X Enhanced initially. The lack of Xbox One X Enhanced titles early doors was a nuisance, however several titles have now received their Enhanced update and more will continue to roll out over the coming months (you can view the ever-updating list of games receiving enhancements here). Given this, the bulk of my time using the Xbox One X has been spent playing Gears 4, and boy oh boy does it look pretty. The increased detail with the 4K/HDR/Xbox One X update is incredible; I’d even go as far as to say it’s the best looking game I have seen on consoles. Forza Motorsport 7 is another game with the Holy Trinity of enhancements available (4K/HDR/Xbox One X Enhanced) and akin to Gears 4 the game looks stunning. The rain and oil-slicked surfaces of Forza come to life in 4K at 60fps and it actually feels like you’re there behind the wheel.
Forza Motorsport 7 looks delicious in 4K with HDR enabled
Assassin’s Creed: Origins is another visual feast, with increased draw distances and intricate details on display in 4K with HDR, every grain of sand that Bayek walks on is crystal clear (the PS4 Pro version is just as impressive). Other games such as FIFA 18, Quantum Break, Need for Speed Payback are all Xbox One X Enhanced in different ways – whether it’s the sweat dripping from Steven Defour’s brow as he wins a tackle in FIFA in 60fps, or the dust kicking up from the tarmac as you drift like Vin Diesel in Need for Speed – all games look Schmick and highly detailed. I own an LG OLED55B6T and if you’re utilising a TV capable of 4K and HDR you’ll notice and appreciate the extra details on display with the Xbox One X enhancements. You can view a range of screenshots captured in 4K below:
The games with Xbox One X enhancements also appeared to run smoother too, utilising the console’s additional juice to give greater framerate stability and quicker load times. One prime example of this was when I gave Homefront: The Revolution a run – a game that was notoriously broken on launch – and although the game has been patched more than a patchwork quilt the game surprisingly ran better than it does on the PS4 Pro (which still has the occasional framerate hiccup). Benefits will also extend to Xbox’s Backwards Compatibility library, which will delight those who hunger for some nostalgia from time-to-time.
In order to test the console’s further, I connected it to a six-year-old Toshiba LCD TV, to see if there was a drastic drop in visual quality. The guinea pigs were Gears of War 4, Forza Motorsport 7, FIFA 18 and Need for Speed: Payback, and while the difference between 4K with HDR and 1080p was noticeable the games still looked great. This is largely thanks to the Xbox One X’s Supersampling technology which allows developers to deliver better technical and visual experiences to those using the Xbox One X on a 1080p resolution.
In a final test of the Xbox One X’s might and power, I took both Gears of War 4 and Forza Motorsport 7 for a spin on the OG Xbox One. Here is where the X’s advancements were at its most evident. Textures and environmental details lacked sharpness, lighting effects didn’t have the precision that my eyes had become accustomed to with the X and the games while still running well didn’t run quite as well (slightly longer load times etc).
I barely heard the console make a noise, it certainly didn’t sound like it was breaking a sweat or standing on the runway during peak hour at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport like the PS4 (OG and Pro) is prone to do
One of my biggest gripes with the Xbox One system has been the UI. I have always found it rather unintuitive to navigate. Thankfully, the Xbox One X sports the revamped UI (I still haven’t updated my OG Xbox One) and for the most part it’s a much cleaner and faster experience. Perhaps this is because they’re no longer hindered by the Kinect? Being able to scroll through various menus by the click of the Xbox button is welcomes and a handy addition is that you can easily see which games are Xbox One X Enhanced in your Games and App menu (something that the PS4 Pro lacks), as it is almost impossible to tell sometimes. There are still a few kinks to iron out but I don’t dread trying to navigate it anymore.
Another big tick must go to how quiet the console is during operation. While playing Gears 4 or the other couple games I sampled I barely heard the console make a noise, it certainly didn’t sound like it was breaking a sweat or standing on the runway during peak hour at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport like the PS4 (OG and Pro) is prone to do. While the player themselves may not notice initially, the lower noise level will be a godsend to people you live with who can hear the console taking off from the next room or if you have a partner who’s trying to sleep while you get in some late night gaming.
The console’s cooling technology is also impressive. After running the console for hours on end the unit’s temperature hadn’t caused a heatwave in my room, and while it was still warm it wasn’t running hot like other consoles have in the past where I have wondered if the plastic was going to start to melt.
While the download speeds have always been superior on the Xbox thanks to the better Xbox Live servers, the download speeds seemed to have been increased on the Xbox One X. I am running a cable internet system and using an Archer C5400 tri-band router, so the WiFi network I am on is no slouch, but the games were downloading faster than I have ever seen previously. Downloading 44GB of Call of Duty: WWII took a little under 40 minutes. I am not sure if it’s rocking a stronger WiFi card, but either way it’s wicked sticks. You’ll need fast internet too because those 4K updates can be hefty downloads.
Another big win for the X is that it has the ability to stream and capture footage in 4K from the console itself, although capturing is limited to an hour at a time and can only be done when using an external hard drive. Still, a big win for existing and budding content creators.
Enhanced games are easy to find (take note PlayStation)
I’ll be honest, I’m predominately a PlayStation player, mainly because that’s where all my mates play. I do enjoy Xbox though; in fact it’s my preferred platform for shooters purely because of the controller. I had my reservations about the Xbox One X when it was announced, largely due to the lack of a major title launching alongside it. However, having now gone hands-on with the Xbox One X I can see the potential the console has long-term and as a result some of my trepidations have been quelled.
The $649 AUD question though is should you buy an Xbox One X? More so, should you buy an Xbox One X if you only have a 1080p TV? If you have a 4K TV capable of HDR then the Xbox One X is a no-brainer – it should be the top of your Christmas list this year if you haven’t already secured one via pre-order. The visual and performance boons from the X more than justify the financial hit, which in the scheme of the things is a bargain considering the Xbox One launched for $599 AUD and people shell out over a thousand dollars for the latest smartphones each year. For those sporting 1080p TVs there are still enough benefits gained by upgrading from your existing Xbox One model.
The only reasons why you may want to consider holding off is that, ultimately, Xbox still lacks first-party games. Microsoft knows this and I have no doubt that they haven’t played all their cards in regards to upcoming exclusives; I’m positive there are works in the pipeline that haven’t been revealed yet. However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now Xbox players are starved of a good AAA exclusive that isn’t Gears, Halo or Forza. 2018 does have a few big name titles launching on the platform, so not all hope is lost. You may also want to wait for more titles to become enhanced before you jump in because as of right now the titles are trickling in. For players rocking the PS4 Pro, the PS4 Pro offers most of what the Xbox One X does and the benefits may not be enough for you to jump ship or dual-wield consoles initially.
However, judging by the games that have been Xbox One X Enhanced already there’s definitely potential here and I think there’s much more to come from developers once they start unlocking the untapped power and resources of the Xbox One X. If what we’ve seen so far is just the beginning and other future Enhanced games can give a similar performance then Xbox may just be back in the game.
The Xbox One X console was supplied by Microsoft for review purposes. The views expressed in this article are solely of the author.