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Good Cop/Bad Cop – The Case For the Xbox One X
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 01:27pm 30/06/17 | Comments
Coming this holiday season we take a closer look at Microsoft's powerful, and premium, new Xbox One X console

Announced just over a year ago, with a full reveal earlier this month at E3, Microsoft’s powerful new Xbox One X console will launch in Australia on November 7, 2017 for the price of $649. Simultaneously making it the most powerful console on the market by a measurable amount, and the most expensive. Like the PS4 Pro it offers a mid-generation (or late when you consider the Xbox One launched four years ago) update to the Xbox One line of consoles, with more powerful hardware designed to take advantage of 4K-capable, Ultra HD displays.

But, with the current Xbox One S also offering 4K output (albeit upscaled for gaming), in addition to a 4K UHD optical drive, the Xbox One X sounds like a confusing version of what could have been the next Xbox proper. Instead of providing a brand-new console experience, that historically this sort of hardware upgrade represents, it will instead play the same games on hardware that is many times more powerful than the Xbox One that launched late 2013.

The Pricing aka How Much Bang for Your Buck?

There’s no two ways about it, the Xbox One X is priced in the region of a brand-new console -- so it’s hard not to think of it in those terms. The sort of upgrade that might usher in a new generation of gaming experiences. From scratch too, with everything from a brand-new UI and operating system, to controllers, and other peripherals. At $649, the Xbox One X will be the most expensive console to buy in Australia – edging out the PS4 Pro which currently retails for $559. In terms of the Xbox One line-up, the Xbox One S currently retails for $399. Which, at that price, usually comes bundled with a game or two. And like the PS4 Slim, it can often be found considerably cheaper. This puts the price of the Xbox One X at about double that of the current model.

So, with drastically different pricing, one has to look at the specifications.
In terms of raw numbers, the Xbox One X features improvements across the board. With a GPU and CPU that not only easily outperforms what can be found in the current Xbox One, they can also reproduce the sorts of numbers in the realm of current, and expensive, PC gaming hardware. Add in faster and more RAM, an internal drive designed to cut-down load times, and a re-designed CPU, it sounds like Microsoft has spent the time and effort to re-engineer the Xbox One for 2017.

And if we are to continue looking at the Xbox One X in the same way we view a brand-new console, then the next thing on the cards can only be one thing.

Games, Where Fore Art Thou?

The term ‘system seller’ refers to a singular game experience that once seen in motion, or heard talked about, pushes you towards buying a new piece of gaming kit just to play it. Looking at the line-up of games that will take advantage of the Xbox One X, the release of Forza 7 a couple of months before the system’s debut and Crackdown 3 day and date hardly fit that bill. In terms of pure racing Forza 7 looks incredible on the Xbox One X, but for the latest game in a series that has always looked good, it’s hard to think of it as anything more than the best-looking version of a now annual franchise. Where in terms of wow factor, the Forza Horizon series has eclipsed the core game in the ‘must-buy’ stakes.

Crackdown 3, which could very well turn out to be as fun and rewarding to play as the original, doesn’t look all that impressive from a visual standpoint. Of course, these are all things that Microsoft is aware of, hence the E3 debut of the Xbox One X focusing on a 42-game strong 2017 and 2018 line-up, many of which will have some sort of console exclusivity and enhancements for the Xbox One X.

As opposed to a string of Microsoft Games Studios productions. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this approach is that it bucks that old adage of quality over quantity, and bolsters the company’s shift towards a new Xbox ecosystem that will support Windows 10 PCs and multiple consoles. And it’s hard to deny that this line-up feels like a curated list of titles that has something for everyone. From the impressive Metro Exodus to indie titles like Ashen, there was an abundance of great looking games.

Metro Exodus from Ukrainian studio 4A Games impressed many

As did indie game Ashen from New Zealand-based Aurora 44

But, as gamers looking toward the next best thing, we expect to hear about the sort of exclusive and big cinematic experiences that could only come from an investment made up of a staggering number of zeroes. And not a checklist. On that front Microsoft let third-parties like Ubisoft and EA fill the gap with titles like Assassin’s Creed Origins and Anthem. Both of which we assume, will look just about the same running on the PS4 Pro.

The Audience aka Who’s it For?

According to current head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, Microsoft plans to mostly sell Xbox One S consoles for the foreseeable future. Which includes the 2018 calendar year. The more powerful Xbox One X will serve as the Xbox line’s premium option, the Business Class to the standard Economy of the S. Where the audience is made up of enthusiasts looking for both native 4K gaming and having the most powerful home console on the market. The premium price and the appeal of the Xbox One X, according to Spencer, is removed from the mainstream.

From a simple hardware design standpoint both the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro represent a shift in how traditional console cycles have previously worked. With the Xbox One X we’re unlikely to see the next Xbox console proper until 2019 at the absolute earliest. If we see one at all. Microsoft might say that the Xbox One X is only for the few, but perhaps the company is simply testing the waters for its highly touted backwards and forwards compatible future. On the other hand, it’s no secret that at launch the Xbox One represented a console with less power than the PlayStation 4. And with both consoles at the time featuring hardware comparable to mid-range PC graphics cards from five years ago, this generation wasn’t spearheaded by any sort of major leap in visual quality. Or, capability.

So in a sense, the Xbox One X is a statement from Microsoft that we’re going back to the time when hardware grunt and system specs ruled the day. Which, in its own way, is exciting. One look at the specs and listening to a few stories behind the creation of the new Xbox One X console it’s clear that at some level the box is emulating current Xbox One hardware. And on that note, the extra power means it can run just about any current game faster and with quicker loading times -- without any input or additional patches from a developer or publisher.

That being said, each game that aims to take advantage of the 4K output of the X will need a hefty patch.

Thanks to the platform’s shift to a Windows 10 operating system, and x86 hardware that you might find in a PC, the Xbox One line-up has slowly been transforming into a delivery mechanism for Xbox games that includes Windows 10 PCs, older Xboxes, and newer more powerful Xbox systems. In comparison, the PS4 Pro initially ran in two modes, as a standard PlayStation 4 or a PS4 with added grunt. A simple update that was as easy to understand as that extra bit of RAM Nintendo added to the Nintendo 64 at the dawn of the new millennium.

Click the image above to check out all the highlights from Microsoft's Xbox E3 Briefing

From the way Microsoft describes the Xbox One X, the only real-world gaming equivalent we can think of is that of the PC. Where getting new hardware means upgrading your gaming PC and then switching all the settings on everything you play to Ultra. But the Xbox One X does so with a tiny form factor, integrated power, and sleek design.

So then, who’s it for?

    Good Cop: Someone looking for the most powerful home console -- with specs to match the claim. Those ready to dive into the next-gen-of-sorts of home console gaming by upgrading their Xbox One in the style of a gaming PC. Same games, same peripherals, but new chips under the hood for faster loading and crisper visuals on existing titles and new releases.

    Bad Cop: No-one… yet. Without a stream of exclusive titles that will take full advantage of the extra hardware with additional assets and features ala PC gaming, the Xbox One X may not be all that impressive at launch. Or, not a big enough leap to warrant a pricey investment of a new box and a 4K capable display. Presented as a mid-generation upgrade with no emphasis placed on a launch line-up of games, could we assume that the next Xbox proper will roll up in 2019? And what will that say about the Xbox One X?

With both arguments valid, the debate on whether or not the Xbox One X will be something to consider comes down to this. What would the Xbox brand look like if it didn’t exist? From the system specs to its ability to play existing titles and enhance the foreseeable future, the answer to that is a feeling that something key was missing. Windows 10, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X. This is Microsoft’s future of the brand, and we’re excited to see how it all plays out.