Thanks to a large amount of discussion with various individuals, including Aaron Greenberg, the UK Xbox PR team, Bryce Johnson and the generosity of Microsoft in general, I am pleased to be able to introduce this review of the Gears of War 4 Xbox One S limited edition bundle. Now, without further ado, let's start as we normally do with product reviews. Let's unbox this.
Oh and if you don't want your box getting a little ripped in trying to remove its contents, you might want scissors for this one.
The first thing you'll find is an instruction card that flips open to reveal the majority of the information on how to get your One S up and running, though most if not all is pretty self-explanatory.
Once you've put this printed card aside, you'll see two areas of the box, one containing the Xbox One S itself and the other holding the controller in an oblong box of its own. If you feel at the top of the controller box, you'll see a hole in the shape of a cog, complete with crinkle cut edging. Place a finger into this hole and use it to lift the oblong box out from the main package. The piece that covers the top should easily lift away and you can put it aside.
The controller box is divided into two sections, one for cables and the other for the controller itself wrapped in a protective material. Pull the tape holding the bag together in its tightly packaged configuration, which should reveal the main opening, then pull that apart as well to allow you to extract the controller. See my initial thoughts on the controller below.
In the remaining section of the controller box that you haven't looked at, you'll also find a high speed HDMI cable as well as a power cable to link directly to the back of the console, rather than the notorious power brick.
And if you're wondering how you're going to power your controller without using a play and charge kit and battery pack (not included), there's a handy set of batteries thrown in loosely for good measure.
Thanks to a question from a follower on Twitter who reviews games with their own disability in mind and an interesting question raised during discussion of the new controller, I can say that the vibration on this controller is probably a little stronger from the point of view of the main rumble motors than the ones that came with the original Xbox One or were released later. I haven't managed to test the impulse triggers yet, but if anything changes I'll update this with the relevant information. Vibration in in-game cutscenes in Gears of War 4 was very much appreciated and made the impacts, notably during firefights, all the more striking. When events are triggered, whether that be a distant cutscene-generated explosion, or the footfalls of an enemy far larger than you coming in for an attack, everything has a heightened sense of urgency, though as per the industry standard you can't tell where the enemy fire etc is coming from with these cues.
Inside, you'll find 2 cards with codes on, one for the Gears of War 4 Ultimate Edition and one for a 14 day XBox Live trial along with instructions on how to redeem the codes. In addition, I also found a further piece of paper, the simplified EU declaration of conformity which advises you to go to this page to view the full text of the declaration though the page actually fails to load. I will update this link if I find a working version or alternative link.
In this section you will also find your regulatory and warranty guide, unfortunately all in print.
The final item in this smaller flat box is the console stand, a solid looking plastic construction which will be covered in a little more detail later.
Once you've removed the foam packaging from the two short edges of the console, gently pull the protective material away once you've found one of the two openings.
The console certainly feels weighty, but it also feels very solid. The fans that were previously large lines on the top and sides of the original Xbox One are now small holes along parts of the surface. The large claw marks of the swarm decorate what is, when horizontal, the left hand side near the slot for games and other CD-style media to be inserted. The previously capacitive touch panels for ejecting and turning the console on/off are now replaced by very welcome physical buttons. The power button is a smooth circle that is recessed into the surface and the eject button is a protruding circle where the touch-based equivalent used to be. There is a sync/bind button, but it's a little difficult to see if you're unfamiliar with where it is (in this case, in a near diagonal line down and to the left of the power button, on the same panel as the front USB port.
These will take a little time to get used to, but they are far better than the alternatives on the original Xbox One models, at least in my opinion
After removing the sticker that told me not to move the console with any active discs inserted, I powered the console on, where I was presented with a German startup screen, quite frankly, not what I was expecting though understandable given that the unit itself was apparently sourced from Germany.
As you can imagine, the fact that the OS was in German presented the need for a large amount of sighted assistance. Narrator, as it is not currently available worldwide (see below for a greater expansion on this point), doesn't work when the OS is set to anything other than US English as of the original publication of this review, but hopefully when it is rolled out to the rest of the world, this problem will be far less prominent.
Once I'd switched all my languages to US to enable narrator and got it up and running, signing in and making sure I was connected was relatively easy, other than that when entering my email address I had to use my controller to enter the at (@) symbol as the keyboard changes between regions. Also, choosing a colour isn't currently readable with narrator, but it doesn't necessarily matter what colour you work with if you have absolutely no sight whatsoever. I, having sighted help at the time, went with a red in an attempt to closely match the theme of the console.
Why is this, a program that's been around for a number of years to help improve the Xbox experience, being mentioned in a review of the Gears of War 4 Xbox One S bundle? Well, it actually can make quite the difference to the set up process described above, as well as improve your ability to enjoy Gears of War 4, though the majority of the changes described weren't actually available yet in the stable OS as of the original publication of this review. See below for more details, though much of this information is only kept for posterity.
Joining a club is relatively simple. You request to join the club in question and if it's accepted, you can then access that club's features and posts. Working with LFG is a little more complicated and could be covered in a future article/review. However, the basic premise is you put out a post to say you want help with something or just to meet up and chat in the context of the game and if anyone's interested, a notification will appear letting you know as such. Interacting with this notification will allow you to "gather your party" which I believe invites everyone who's interested (or rather who you've confirmed as being allowed to participate) into a single party. This was a very rapid turn of events in my case, as within 5 minutes one person had expressed interest and joined up with me and within 15 we were in campaign tackling the prologue missions.
Using your Xbox One S with digital games is just as simple as sign in, go to My games and Apps, find the item you want and activate it. Then press install and then let it do its thing. How long it takes for it to do said thing, as you might expect, does depend on your internet speed. All in all, the experience does seem faster than the same procedure on the Xbox One's original model, so definitely an improvement.
In terms of the bundled codes, entering the code for Gears of War 4: Ultimate Edition was easy, other than the fact that I had to have sighted help to read the code in the first place. This is an issue that I'd hope could be solved in the future, as I know QR codes are a possibility and there are other potential avenues that could also work to solve this issue.
Playing games digitally is easy as well, as they just launch like any other app on the One or One S operating system. Simply scroll to the icon and press A.
On a related note, I managed to get all my games and digital content, or rather the items I wanted to install on the new system, up and running in around 7 hours with the internet connection I was using at the time. Leaving it on for this time with the original Xbox One would've seen it running very hot indeed, but the One S seems to have improved heat distribution allowing it to run for longer periods of time.
If you have a friend or willing co-op partner to teach you the ropes, go for it. Most things make sound and if they don't immediately there are normally ways around it. For example, finding cover is basically narrowed down to running/moving whilst holding A. Finding items, like ammo boxes, is mostly accomplished by running around and holding X, though how reliable this is has yet to be fully tested and using this strategy might hinder your ability to get certain achievements within the game. Players and sometimes the AI can enter into "Lancer duels" (using what is basically an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached to it), with the quick button mashing in these semi-QTE sequences possibly being a problem for gamers who can't hit buttons constantly at high speed.
Active reloads, a staple of the series, are doable in this iteration (I have yet to fully test the rest of the games) with no sight. It takes a matter of time and practice as well as knowledge of small details (like the fact that if you get a perfect active reload, denoted by a longer burst of vibration than normal from your controller, you'll have to wait to go for another perfect active reload as it has its own cooldown timer).
The equivalent to Halo 5's "Spartan chatter", Gears all talk to each other even when throwing out grenades etc, which is very useful for keeping an eye on where everyone is in your squad. However, the fact that everyone has a similar sounding gun at the start of the game, including the enemies, does make things rather difficult.
Once the music in the first part of the campaign dies down, you get a chance to appreciate the work that's gone into the detailed audio environments, including water under your feet or walking on other less easy to distinguish surfaces.
Moreover, there are doors in co-op that require two human controlled players to open them, thus facilitating, in certain cases, the reloading of checkpoints to accomplish certain goals, as explained in more detail below.
The presentation of multiplayer, PVP or otherwise, is much the same as the main game. However, situations where you have multiple individuals using similar weapons on screen at any one time (including those of the enemy) can be the cause of much confusion. Moreover, the fact that there is no clearly defined way to tell who is actually getting kills with ranged weapons or even in close quarters scenarios can be rather frustrating. As an upside to this, however, if you have other players with sight on your team, working together to see who killed what is not the hardest part of gameplay and if you're with a reasonable bunch of fellow fighters you should be able to get along relatively well.
Personally though, I do wish that there were hit markers for when you were actually killing an enemy with your own weapon (for weapons other than the Lancer), in addition, possibly, to a system that allows you to fully lock on to a target and continue to fire with automatic tracking of some sort. I understand, however, that as good as though the latter option might be, it has the potential to break game mechanics for those with sight playing the game, especially in PVP scenarios.
Fortunately me and the various individuals I worked through campaign with have found interesting and relatively innovative ways of moving through tricky passages. The "classic" method is a very ammo-heavy method really, whereby the leading player runs around shooting their weapon of choice (where possible) to guide the player following them. However, there's an easier way of doing this once you get past the first couple of chapters of Act 2.
The workaround goes like this. The co-op partner launches campaign act 2 chapter 4 and passes the second checkpoint. From there, you as the blind player join the game, but don't press anything. You will still be in the game, but not in control of a character specifically. Leave your co-op partner to finish the level and you should get the achievement for completing this chapter.
The way me and my co-op partner got around this was with them running the beginning of the particular chapter solo and getting very near to the checkpoint we'd failed to access last time, with the AI in tow. I then joined the game and could load directly into one of the AI characters and progress on from there, working with more windflares (though thankfully not too many if memory serves) afterwards to reach the end of the campaign.
A reasonable strategy is, when you have enough power in your fabricator, to build two things: a Sentry turret and a manned one. The two should be placed side-by-side, for one reason: The Sentry acts as a kind of alert system. When it fires, that means something's close enough for the automated turret to see it. This can help you a fair amount, though keep in mind sighted players will still have to advise you on your aim for your own turret, as occasionally you'll end up shooting at nothing at all without you being aware of it.
Sometimes, with the right skills, it's possible to go in as a sort of free agent since, if you die, you regain your full compliment of ammunition and grenades. It's better to do this with a team who knows you have a lack of sight however, to avoid any frustration from their end.
You can purchase these packs through the official Gears Of War website after signing in with your gamertag.
Seeing the number of credits you have available is not the easiest process in the world. Running NVDA in my tests, I discovered an object only described as "clickable" which, when activated with the enter key, allowed me to see my gamertag and underneath the number of creds I had accumulated. Now you know how much you have to spend, you can activate the "store" link and purchase packs from there. The interface is a little tricky, coupled with the rather entertaining fact that the packs, when opened, allow the screen reader to see the contents before they are revealed (going from being shaded to unshaded images, from what I understand). However, labelling issues (specifically with characters and their emblems which share the character's name) are still present making the experience not quite as pleasant as it might be. It is more pleasant, however, than the similar system used in Halo 5: Guardians' online portal, Halo Waypoint.
These issues have been somewhat resolved,as the credits are now displayed as part of a graphic on the store screen, and cards are displayed below a graphic that indicates what kind of card they are when bought and revealed in a pack. This is a great improvement compared to how frustrating the site used to be, but it still has a way to go in my opinion.
Hopefully other accessibility issues will be resolved in the future. This review will be updated to reflect that if they are completely eliminated.
The feature itself has been compared to the motion tracker in the Alien franchise, as it emits a pinging noise (hence the name of the feature) that increases in pitch and speed based on your proximity to the fabricator. It also changes direction depending on where the fabricator is relative to you.
This feature has given me the ability to get into solo Horde matches without any sighted assistance after memorising the setup process, as well as allowing me to play alongside a fellow Gears player who utilises the feature, with both of us completing wave 4 between us. Considering I couldn't actually get anywhere with Horde before this feature, I am very pleased with The Coalition for implementing this new addition.
Hopefully Gears 5 will include fabricator ping, as well as introducing greater levels of accessibility not just for gamers without sight, but also those with other disabilities as well.
As a general overview, the Xbox One S is worth it just for the size downscale of 40% (which is actually quite significant when comparing the two versions of the Microsoft flagship product, both the original Xbox One and the slimmer variant). Couple that with the fact that you can stand it vertically without being warned against such a practice by the manufacturer and the 2 Terabytes (TB) of storage and you're definitely on to a winner.
Again, I would like to thank all involved with obtaining this product, as well as those who kept me in the loop whilst it was getting to me, for making this review possible.
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