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New video game consoles usually feature the most advanced technology, which makes them pricey pieces of technology that some avid gamers can't afford. But does a gaming machine need the most advanced technology to provide a wealth of entertainment? This is the question that Android-based gaming consoles such as the Ouya have started to explore. Amazon recently released the Fire TV, a media-streaming device that also plays Android powered games. Should this system be a temping buy for gamers? Or does it cater to a different crowd? We put the console through its paces and tell you if it's worth buying.
How Powerful is The Fire TV?The Amazon Fire TV is a tiny (4.5 x 4.5 inches) box that neatly slides into your entertainment center. Inside, a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, an Adreno 320 GPU,
and 2GB of memory help make the Fire TV significantly more powerful than other Android consoles such as the Ouya and the GameStick, and fairly comparable to other systems like the Nvidia Shield and Mad Catz MOJO. But power isn't the biggest selling point for Android consoles, since many of these systems' games are designed to run on mobile devices. So how does the Fire TV stack up in the area that really matters?
Does The System Have Any Games Worth Playing?At launch, the Fire TV store has around 100 games, and Amazon predicts that the next couple of months will see over 1,000 more added to the store. However, few of these are highly compelling for a living-room experience. Most of the Fire TV's games are designed to be played on phones, and while many transition easily to a controller, most remain short-lived experiences that are better consumed in five minute chunks while you're waiting at a bus stop rather than lengthier sessions after you get home from a long day of work.
The Fire TV does feature a few notable titles (see sidebar), but this list pales in comparison to Android's larger marketplace; some of Android's biggest and best titles – such as Angry Birds, Ridiculous Fishing, and Plants vs. Zombies – aren't yet available for the Fire TV. Even the games that the Fire TV marketplace does have don't feel fresh. You can play
Telltale's The Walking Dead season one, for example, but season two is nowhere to be seen. The Android platform should make it easy for developers to shift their games over to Amazon's slightly modified market, but we wonder how many developers will actually take the time to port their titles.
Another notable issue with the Fire TV is the fact that it only has
8GB of storage space, and there is no way to expand that storage with SD cards or external hard drives. Since
some of the games are as big as 1GB, your gaming library won’t
grow very large before you have to start uninstalling titles.
What About Amazon Exclusive Titles?Amazon has invested a bit of money into video game development, going so far as to purchase the video game studio Double Helix Studios (Silent Hill: Homecoming, Killer Instinct) and hiring on Portal designer Kim Swift and Far Cry 2 designer Clint Hocking. So Amazon could have some exciting games coming down the pipe, but right now the company has only released one Fire TV exclusive, Sev Zero. A cross between shooter and tower defense, Sev Zero provides a few thrills but ultimately feels unoriginal. Players have an upgradable arsenal of the standard sci-fi tech with which they can disintegrate waves of alien invaders. Between waves you can upgrade your gear and place new defensive towers. Enemies do a good job grouping around you once the action starts, and don't blindly walk towards their goal, which makes for some short but intense firefights. Unfortunately, the story is generic and the levels look largely the same, so the game quickly feels repetitive. Sev Zero comes free with the Amazon Fire TV controller, but isn't worth spending $6.99 to purchase separately.
Should You Buy An Amazon Fire TV Controller? The Amazon-branded Fire controller ($39.99) looks like a generic, third party Xbox 360 pad, and it plays like one too. The controller is functional, and feels surprisingly comfortable in your hands, but fails to excel in most areas. The unit’s analog sticks feel good, and the general button layout lines up with most modern gaming controllers. Unfortunately, the side buttons feel stiff and the cluster of home buttons at the center of the device are confusing because they all seem to function differently depending on the game you’re playing. In order to get the most out of the Fire TV’s games, you will want a controller, but this isn’t the only option; you can also pair just about any Bluetooth controller to the Fire TV and even plug a wired Xbox 360 controller into the system’s USB port. Before you go buy Amazon's controller, make sure you don't already have controller that will work with this system.
The Bottom Line: Android consoles aren't a bad idea in theory. They offer gamers with a fixed budget access to a wealth of cheap content. However, that content often doesn't hit the same level of quality seen on more expensive consoles such as the PS4 and Xbox One. Amazon's modified version of Google's OS also trims down the list of popular titles. The Fire TV's library will continue to grow, but don't expect every popular Android game to always make the jump over to Amazon's console. It is worth noting that the Amazon Fire TV is also a capable media-streaming device, so if you're looking to hook something like that up to a TV in your house and you like the idea of also having access to a handful of decent Android titles, then the Fire TV isn't a bad buy. Just be ready to manage your expectations when it comes to the Android library. If you're looking for a dedicated console that will give you the best of everything Android has to offer, then something like the Nvidia Shield might be more up your alley.
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