Gaming

Feature: A no frills, regular person's review of the Xbox One X: is it any good?

We’ve heard for ages that the Xbox One X has loads of teraflops and the best pixels, that it’ll make the new games look great, even if you don’t have one of those new TVs with all the Ks. 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM where everything else has eight. Six teraflops where the PS4 Pro has just over four. If you leave the Xbox One X with your mum, you’ll walk back in the room to find it’s your new step dad, but it’s so cool that it’ll call you ‘Champ’ and make sure you know that it’s not trying to replace your real dad. 

Intellectually I understand that all the specs mean it is more powerful, and it can render clearer imagers more quickly, but what does that look like to me, a pretty average consumer who gets what RAM is and what it does, but finds the amount of it in the black box under their telly kind of abstract from what it makes appear on the screen?

As you may have already sensed, if you came here looking for DigitalFoundry, you have dramatically lost your way and this probably isn’t for you.

The thing itself is a lot better

First of all, if you choose to get one, be safe in the knowledge that the X is at least a black box that can sit under your telly and look good doing it. We still have an original Xbox One and a PS4, and slotting the X next to them is further reminder of how bad looking the last batch of consoles have all been (and I’m including the ungainly club sandwich that is the PS4 Pro in that assessment). They don’t sit in your living room, they squat. The Xbox One X has clean lines, sharp edges, is smaller and more discreet than its peers, and looks like Microsoft wasn’t even trying to make it look good (which is, as everyone knows, the only real way to look good). 

It is, however, heavy. Like the S, it’s power supply is internal and when you pick it up the extra ballast at the back throws it off balance, so as much as any console can be it’s ungainly to carry. It feels dense, like every available bit of space inside has been used to fit more teraflops in. Like one of those brownies that are so thick you could use them as bricks to build a house.

Better on Xbox One X

The difference is much more noticeable on games made recently. I played a lot of Assassin’s Creed Origins on the Pro, so I conducted a scientific survey by playing a lot of it on the Xbox One X. On the Xbox One X the draw distance is better (so you can see things from further away), and the framerate is smoother, which is noticeable in the panning cinematics in Origins. You can see more detail in the textures and shadows, if you’re really looking. The most noticeable difference, though, is that on the X the air is more alive. The One X is powerful enough to render more little details like dust and smoke, and sand blowing from the ground. It sounds like I’m being needlessly poetic, but it’s really the most noticeable difference, especially in deserts. You can see it in action in this video that someone else made.

The problem is that right now Microsoft doesn’t have an embarrassment of new games to launch with. There’s Super Lucky’s Tale, and come launch day there’s Forza 7, Origins, and Call of Duty: WWII, all of which launched just before the console itself. But right now Microsoft is pushing older stuff looking better on the Xbox One X. 

That’s great if you’re one of those people who regularly find themselves going back to things like Halo 5: Guardians and Gears of War 4, which have been updated to 4K. They do look better. There are sharper textures, and more interesting lighting – in Halo 5 you can clearly see the condensation and smearing on glass, and Nathan Fillion’s face looks more Nathan Fillion-y. The backwards compatibility and support of older titles is great, but nothing is screaming massive console seller either.

The other thing is that not all the games get their Xbox One X enhancements day and date with the console’s release. My favourite game of last year, Dishonored 2, will be enhanced at some point, but I don’t know when. You can see the list of Xbox One X enhanced games, and when those enhancements are available, on Xbox’s website. You’d be forgiven for waiting a few months.

For some reason Disneyland Adventures, the dead-eyed, hollow advert for Disneyland but delivered as an interactive Kinect game, is also now in 4K and HDR. It remains much the same experience. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Xbox One X enhancements will be out at some point, presumably.

4K and HDR

Here’s the thing though: I am of the opinion that you should probably only get a half-generation console if you’ve got a 4K TV, and my time with the Xbox One X has not changed that. If you’re currently on the 360 and were thinking about the One I’d probably leap to the One X in one go. But the big selling point on this fourth-and-a-bit generation is that they can do the video games in the 4K and the High Dynamic Range.

This doesn’t mean that you should rush out and buy a 4K HDR TV because an Xbox One X is a must buy, and you’ll still see some benefit from it on a regular telly, but you won’t be getting the most of the console unless you have a 4K HDR TV.

The issue with 4K and HDR is that there’s almost no point in me putting in an example of 4K video here because the chances are that you’re not reading this on a 4K screen (in fact the stats tell me you’re most probably reading it on your phone, which is almost definitely not 4K), and if you have got one you already know what it looks like. If you haven’t got a 4K, HDR TV, go to a department store – I would suggest John Lewis because going past all the champagne truffles in a grubby hoody and busted trainers to loiter around the expensive electronics feels is quite fun – and have a look at ’em.

Basically, 4K combined with HDR is as close as we can currently get to looking like your TV is just a window onto somewhere else. 4K gives you loads more pixels on screen, which means more detail, and HDR makes those pixels count by giving better contrast and a wider range of colours. Everything looks sharper and has more realistic depth. On the Xbox One X this works very well with Super Lucky’s Tale. It’s not a title skewed towards realism, but it does use a lot of vivid colours.

Is it any good?

Yes, it’s very good. Spending time with the Xbox One X has confirmed my choice to not buy a PS4 Pro and hold off for the arrival of Spencer’s baby. It’s sleek, quietly powerful, and is good at what it does, which is make things better. I still don’t think anyone has to make this half-step generational jump, but if you’re going to get a brand new console this Christmas then make it the Xbox One X.


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