Xbox Series X Reviewed

An Xbox Series X was provided by Microsoft for ongoing review purposes.

My youtube algorithm recommends three things based on what it knows about me. It recommends sports documentaries and highlight compilations because I watch too much Secret Base and Jomboy. It recommends cooking videos because I watch too much J Kenji Lopez-Alt and Epicurious. And it tells me to watch argumentative right-wing mouthpieces because it’s 2020 and that’s what youtube does now, even if I keep telling it I don’t want that.

The point is I consume too much cooking-related media. I’ve watched all of Good Eats and Top Chef, most of Cutthroat Kitchen and Beat Bobby Flay, hours of Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson and, uhhh, Jon Favreau. If there’s a picture of food in the thumbnail of a show on Netflix I’ve probably watched it. I even read those over-long barely relevant blog posts that people write before recipes of spaghetti.

I do it because the cooking process is quite relaxing to me, and because food science is extremely interesting (I especially love ignoring the parts that would make me healthier). Because food is joyous and romantic and there is something especially cathartic about seeing someone fall in love with that one perfect bite.

I’ve learned loads from all this cooking related media too. I’ve learned to season my food, to balance my flavours, to build complexity and avoid unitaskers and how Americans eat scones with gravy (but they call them biscuits). But the most important thing I’ve learned is that about half of the enjoyment we get out of any food is in the way its sold.

You see it all the time. Chefs on Cutthroat Kitchen who had to, I dunno, create a Cordon Bleu with Spam and some chicken nuggets spend 20 seconds telling the Food Ambassador to Thailand that they’ve ‘deconstructed the classic Cordon Bleu to create something more modern’. Or Gordon Ramsay will make Chips and tomato sauce for his kids and 10 seconds of the video is spent with a tea towel wiping the edges of the chip bowl clean to present it better.

Taste is subjective, and anything subjective can be influenced with the right presentation. If it sells itself right.

And I don’t think the Xbox Series X is selling itself right.

Sell-shaded

To me, it’s the classic Apple vs Android conundrum. Android phones have been, for literally years, more powerful and cheaper than their direct competition. But Apple has sold the absolute shit out of the hardware it has. Not a year goes by now where Apple doesn’t sell something Android has been doing for years, and people eat it up. This year — and admittedly, it’s been a rough year for everyone — they straight-face sold the idea of customising your home screen on an iPhone as a brand new thing.

And while years of broad-level missteps have seen Apple’s market share gradually diminish, you still see the impact of this overall strategy. People still ask me why I don’t Facetime, or whether I’ve played games that are iOS exclusive like it’s assumed that I’d have an iPhone. A lot of people remain willing captives of Apple’s ecosystem. Because even when Apple digs deep, scrapes the bottom of the barrel and comes up with bubkis, they still sell the absolute shit out of it. They smear a balsamic reduction on the plate, shape the protein into a careful asymmetry and sprinkle it with microgreens and droplets of extra virgin yuzu-infused olive oil. They’re serving you the same thing as the other guys, but it looks so much better as a result of their presentation. And the fact is, when something looks better, in your brain it tastes better.

Enter, then, the Xbox Series X.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous piece of kit. You’ve seen the memes about it — the Xbox Fridge, the Monolith from A Space Odyssey — and you know it’s a sleek ass rectangle filled with the most powerful processor and graphics card in any console ever.

When you bust open the box, it’s confronting. As someone who builds his own PCs, I’m used to the unboxing process being akin to opening up a glitter bomb of tiny screws and weird cables, and thick ass books filled with immediately irrelevant (but still critically important) information.

With the Xbox Series X, it’s not like that. You’ve got the box, you’ve got two cables — a power cable and an HDMI 2.1 cable — and there’s a new controller. A green slip of paper directs you to scan a QR code, the app directs you to plug your console in and that’s it. You’re done. Your console is setup. Your language is set, the time is ticked, any privacy options you’ve selected are applied.  If you are part of the Xbox ecosystem in any other way, your Xbox Series X then gets to work downloading anything relevant to you.

It’s a pretty great experience, to be honest. Once you’re into the console, though, there’s a slight mood shift.

No Paradise in this dashboard lite

The problem is that the Xbox Series X dashboard feels like the Xbox One X dashboard. It doesn’t feel special. After the slick as hell technologically supported setup experience, the Series X stops feeling like a significant upgrade and starts to feel like more of the same.

In action you can tell it’s different. In practice it feels like that classic anime moment where the hero sheds their weighted clothing. Menu transitions are zippier, games load faster, and everything looks sharper. It makes sense. While the brain of the Xbox Series X is an 8-core 3.8 GHz AMD Zen 2 Processor, the heart of it is its 1 Terabyte NVMe drive.

The Xbox One X, even with an SSD installed, was only really capable of around 550MB/s — certainly faster than the stock hard drive, but still slow compared to what most enthusiasts have in their computers these days. The Xbox Series X, on the other hand, has that NVMe drive under the hood.

The NVMe drive in the Xbox Series X is listed as pulling a base 2.4GB/s for compressed data and 4.8GB/s for uncompressed — nearly 10 times faster than the SSD was capable of in an Xbox One X. An SSD which was, by all accounts, 4.5 times faster than the stock Xbox One X drive. I’m not a mathemagician, but even I can tell that’s a lot faster.

And as I said, you feel it in the play experience itself. While the Xbox Series X has pretty much the same wrapper as the Xbox One X experience, it’s obviously a huge upgrade once it’s in your hands.

And that’s what I mean about selling it. Imagine they started putting Yamazaki 12 in “Distiller’s Edition” bottles. You have a dram, and the moment the scent hits your nose you can tell it’s something more than the ‘unaged’ Yamazaki. On your palate, in your gut, you know you’ve got something special. But if someone walked past you at the izakaya with a bottle by your side, at a glance “all” they’d see is a Yamazaki Distiller’s Edition.

It seems like a missed opportunity.

19 Year Maturation

Because the truth is, the Xbox Series X is bottled gold. Once you get your hands on some “Optimised for Series X” there’s no going back. Hell, playing backwards compatible games on the Series X is a point of no return. You can’t go back to the sluggish load times and painful frame jittering of the last generation once you’ve done anything on the Series X.

But if someone walks by and sees you lingering on the dashboard, they’ll see what they saw on an Xbox One.

The games — the ones I can talk about, anyway — all see a multitude of performance increases. But they’re all ‘last-gen’ games so far. Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4 absolutely look better than they did, even on the Xbox One X, but no greater than they did on a top-notch PC.

The games I can’t talk about look flat out amazing. Some do Ray Tracing, the fancy technology my home PC isn’t even currently capable of. Light reacts more realistically with ray tracing on — although generally performance takes a (small) hit. But that’s not a problem on consoles, where games are built from the ground up to reach certain minimum playable targets. It’s not as strong as some of what you’ve seen elsewhere, but it’s still phenomenal tech.

And others are happy to lean more into 4K 60 frames per second performance as a default. With higher resolution textures across the board, more particles and shadows and other elements. Like games do when you put them on Ultra on your PC — and these are games releasing in November of 2020. But I can’t talk about those games. And, more importantly, you’ll be able to play them on other platforms. Some of them you might already be playing.

It runs quiet — silent, even — and it’s not too big, and the Series X controller is a definite upgrade over the One controller (though not the Elite). I don’t think the included 1TB hard drive is big enough for a console this future-proofed, especially considering we haven’t started to see what an 8K game looks like, but the option to expand the storage does exist (if it is quite expensive). And it boots super quickly, with there being mere seconds after the familiar twinkling beep of the Xbox On sound before you’re ready to play a game.

And when it turns on, Quick Resume puts you back where you were before, though it doesn’t work for every game. You can ostensibly have five games on the go, but a person with the mental bandwidth for five games at once is probably busy unplucking the strings of quantum theory.

I’m reminded of Bender in the Futurama episode “30% Iron Chef”. Towards the end, after a journey to learn the secrets of cooking, he battles blowhard fine-dining chef Elzar in the Kitchen Coliseum set of “Iron Cook”. And after a tense showdown of culinary conflict, it’s evident that he lacks the plating skills of his opponent. His food does zero work to sell itself. But he wins, because what he serves to the judges is that much better than what Elzar put together. 50% of cooking might be plating, but the other half is actually delivering something people can’t get enough of.

And that’s what the Xbox Series X is, in my opinion. It’s something that, once in people’s hands, they won’t be able to get enough of. A machine this powerful has no right to be as cheap as it is. $749 is a steal for a machine that does all of this. A machine that, when coupled with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate — which costs less than a 4K Netflix subscription — will provide you with oodles of games for a long time to come. But truth be told on November 10, it won’t look at a passing glance all that different from November 9.

And that’s how I arrived at the best Low FODMAP Spaghetti Bolognaise recipe.

The Best Low FODMAP Spaghetti Bolognaise

  • 500g mince
  • 200g beef salami (diced small)
  • 1 diced capsicum
  • 200g diced leek, green stalk only
  • 100g Oyster mushrooms, chopped roughly
  • 100g sliced black olives
  • 800g canned tomatoes
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 2 Tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp Calabrian chilli
  • ½ Tsp Fish Sauce
  • Salt, Pepper, Basil

In a small pot, add your mushrooms and two cups of water. Put on the heat and leave on a burner on medium heat.

Add one tablespoon of garlic oil to a dutch oven and brown your beef salami. Remove and set aside, leaving residual oil in the bottom of the saucepan. Brown your mince in three separate batches, removing and leaving with the salami as you go. Make sure you season your meat as you brown it!

Lower the heat and spoon out any excess fat (in case you got fatty mince) before adding your leek, diced fine, so that it slowly sweats in the bottom of the pan. Don’t allow it to brown, just get it glassy and soft. Remove and place in a bowl on the side (separate from the meat). Bam the heat up a couple notches and add your capsicum so that it cooks rapidly. You’re trying to release that oil.

Once the capsicum is browned, deglaze the dutch oven with just enough beef stock to cover the bottom of the pan. Once you’ve done that, re-add the leek and meat, add your calabrian chilli and then the rest of the beef stock. Once it’s bubbling, lower the heat to a simmer, add your fish sauce, canned tomatoes and basil. If you have red wine, now would be the time to add it. I usually do about a cup, I swish it around a tomato can before transferring it to the other. Mix all of this together and — before it heats up — taste it. If it needs more salt or pepper you won’t get a great opportunity to find out before the end.

Strain your mushroom stock into a measuring jug while your red sauce cooks down. Add it — it should have reduced to about a cup of broth — when you feel like you’re not going to make a mess by doing so. Mix.

Allow this entire thing to cook down over the course of the next 60 – 90 minutes. I’ve never timed it, so I’m not super sure. Keep stirring it, being sure to scrape any sauce off the side of the pot. When you can’t handle the smell any more and you gotta dive in and eat it, boil some pasta according to the instructions on the packet and serve. If you have the fortitude, add some of that starchy pasta water to the sauce and let it cook for another 10 minutes because it will make the sauce stick to the pasta better and the leftovers will be better still.

Finish with some freshly grated parmesan.

You can support The GAP on Patreon!