We’re already primed for iterative upgrades in electronics, with Apple’s iPhone cycle being the most obvious example. Each year a new version comes along, often offering only modest improvements over the last one, and everyone rushes out to buy one – it’s capitalism in all it’s relentless glory.
Console owners, on the other hand, have tended to enjoy more-or-less five solid years with their cubes of plastic, with only a cosmetic upgrade thrown in mid-cycle.
Not any more. In August last year, Microsoft launched the Xbox One S, which introduced 4K Ultra HD, 4K Blu-ray and High Dynamic Range support, as well as a slight performance upgrade. Sony followed suit in November with the PS4 Pro, which came with a more significant power boost. And now Microsoft has cemented the trend with yet another version, the Xbox One X (whose acronym, magnificently, is XBOX), this time offering a gigantic hardware improvement (it has a 2.3 GHz processor, 6-teraflop GPU and 12GB high-speed GDDR5, if you’re interested).
This means developers can release “Enhanced” versions of games especially for One X users, featuring buttery-smooth frame-rates in native 4K, as well as the ability to tweak settings to favour either performance or visuals. Marketed as the most powerful console ever – which it is – it’s now on-par with mid-tier gaming PCs, and Microsoft will no doubt be hoping to lure some of those nerds over to the console ecosystem.
At first glance, it’s a handsome, if unassuming slab of circuits. Microsoft has made billions selling some of the ugliest consoles ever dreamed up; the original Xbox, complete with “hot-cross bun” detailing, and the bloated plastic monolith that was the Xbox One both emerged from a production-line straight from hell.
The One S bucked the trend, with its sleek, white, dimpled design, and the One X is equally pleasant. Both dispense with the gigantic power block that trailed from behind the One like a sad dinosaur’s tail, with the One X employing a natty liquid cooling system to keep things not-on-fire.
The Kinect is now well and truly dead, with an expensive new cable required to even switch it on; with no new Kinect games on the horizon, that’s hardly reason to cry, although I will miss whispering goodnight to it before I go to bed.
To get the most from the One X’s extra power, you’ll need a decent telly. Boot up an Enhanced game on a 4K screen and you can see the hardware being put to work. In Assassin’s Creed, you can splash in the river until the entire screen fills with water droplets and dozens of terrified flamingos take to the skies, and the frame-rate will hardly dip. It looks glorious, and even players without 4K screens will see a graphical improvement.
Likewise, Gears of War 4 looks incredible, with improvements including true 4K resolution, Wide Color Gamut HDR, more polygons and up to 60fps. Stomping around exploding people into squishy puddles of viscera never looked so good.
Whether individual games take advantage of the hardware is, of course, entirely down to the developer, with no guarantees you’ll hit that fabled 60fps. I played a pre-release version of Hello Neighbour, for instance, and the frame rate was miserable despite all the fancy upgrades (that may well improve before release).
So shoud you buy one? At £450, it doesn’t come cheap, but if you’ve already invested a few grand in a huge 4K TV, this seems like a reasonable extra splurge. If, like me, you’re an original Xbox One user, then £450 is a bargain to banish that hunched monstrosity from your living room.
If you’re an Xbox One S user, I wouldn’t bother; your console is fine. Whether you make the leap from a PS4 – or even, heaven forbid, a gaming PC – should be down to which roster of exclusive games most takes your fancy: that’s the point, after all.
The Xbox One X is, by design, a niche product. It’s aimed at those who simply must have the latest hardware, no matter what. If that’s you, then don’t hesitate to pick this up, because it really is as good as it sounds.