Part re-evaluation, part updated buyer's guide, we take a look at each platform in turn, framing it through the most recent announcements and what they mean for its future, as well as considering what the system offers as of right now and whether it's worth picking up, and giving our own personal recommendations for must-play games.
Now & Tomorrow
Before this console generation was announced and subsequently released, it would've been hard to imagine that Microsoft would be in their current predicament, with a new-gen console struggling in the face of gains being made by their biggest rival and their machine, Sony and PlayStation 4. It's all gone horribly wrong for Microsoft in the last year, since they unveiled Xbox One, released it, and watched it under-perform, all while Sony celebrated their successes (as loudly as possible), sticking the knife in whenever they could in the process. To call it a year of transition would be to put it kindly.
What's even more alarming is that it could have been much, much worse. Recent decisions, u-turns, and policy amendments, have all contributed to put Microsoft back in the game, and while they're not doing as well as they might like, right now they'll simply be pleased that they've made some positive moves and that things don't feel so bleak. Phil Spencer's promotion to the head of Xbox division is central to this turnaround, almost as much as the decision to ditch the Kinect camera and release a new SKU bundled with Titanfall (which is an exclusive - for now - and thus it makes sense for MS to juice that exclusivity for all it's worth, because it's widely expected that the inevitable sequel will land on a variety of different platforms, not just Xbox and PC).
While Microsoft were able to point to a successful launch - their most successful console launch no less - these claims fall flat upon closer inspection (there were stock shortages with Xbox 360 that held it back from what would have likely been superior numbers). All told, this last 12 months have been trying for the platform holder, and not likely what they would have expected after the admirable performance of their previous console, Xbox 360. At least things are getting better.
Looking forward, the picture looks like it'll continue to improve. There's the small matter of Halo, and we know at the end of this year we're getting Halo: The Master Chief Collection (a remaster collection including Halo 1, 2, 3 and 4), and along with that beta access to Halo 5: Guardians, which itself will follow in 2015. Add into the mix some more tasty exclusives like Forza Horizon 2, Fable Legends and Sunset Overdrive, plus all the usual third-party titles like Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin's Creed: Unity, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Batman: Arkham Knight, The Crew, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Evolve, and there's an ever-growing list of convincing reasons why it makes sense to jump up onto the next generation bandwagon.
One of the things that has saved Xbox One from oblivion at the end of last year was the strength of its launch lineup. There was plenty of decent titles on offer, from the third-party offerings that they shared with PS4 (FIFA 14, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag), to a robust selection of first-party titles and exclusive deals that brought much needed diversity to the table. Forza Motorsport 5 and Dead Rising 3 are two fine examples of this (although other exclusives - Ryse: Son of Rome and Fighter Within - weren't so well received).
Since then we've seen a selection of triple-A and indie exclusives heading to the platform. The headliner is most certainly Titanfall, and it's hard to over-emphasise just how important it has been for the platform. Although not perhaps the game-changer that MS were hoping for (in terms of both gameplay and sales), it's been a positive for them in amongst the many negatives of the last twelve months or so.
Apps & Interface
When it was launched, the much lauded interface simply wasn't ready. That they're still tweaking and adjusting it several months later is proof positive that what we were given when the console launched was not the finished product. For example, it's only been recently that we've been able to see how much battery is left in the controller via an on-screen indicator. Since launch there's be a few revisions, and the interface is looking much more settled now.
When it comes to Apps, it's a similar story, although perhaps a more positive one. There's still plenty of new programs set to come online in the coming weeks and months (for example, we're looking forward to getting the BBC iPlayer at some point). There's also the interesting new service that has been announced by EA, whereby players will be able to pay a subscription and play certain EA games on the console. It's too early to draw conclusions on this, but we're certainly going to watch developments with interest.
It has always been a part of Microsoft's vision to create an all-in-one box for the living room, and in this respect they're still leading the way. While the uptake of a new generation of consoles initially hangs on early adoption from the hardcore following, we can't help but think that the plan to focus on a broad spectrum of uses for Xbox One will pay off in the long run. For families or gamers wanting a complete interactive experience, Xbox One is still a viable option, perhaps the most viable.
Obviously the most obvious peripheral to comment on is the Kinect, which has recently been stripped away from the console for the latest SKU. It'll be available to buy separately soon enough, though we can't envisage that many people pick it up. Is it any good? Well, that comes down to preference at the end of the day. While it's a marked improvement over its predecessor, there's still plenty of people who own one who don't even have it plugged in.
Elsewhere there's the standard controller, which we still really like; it feels like a genuine improvement over the Xbox 360 controller, even if the plastic finish on RB and LB is one element that leaves something to be desired. Another things that leaves something to be desired is the price, and the controllers are still ludicrously expensive (especially if you want the charger kit to go with it).