Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One offer crisper graphics, faster loading times, and a list of improvements, but without anything new to revolutionize the way we play games. Neither has a must-have title at launch, so all-in-all it should be easy to wait for better games, better-priced bundles, and for all the software updates and hardware bugs to be sorted out.
PlayStation 4 (Recommended)
I like Sony’s approach. They’ve organized the PlayStation software to make it easier and more comfortable to use. They’ve kept the camera optional and eliminated the Move accessory by building it into the PS4 controller, keeping your costs down.
Their new focus is on sharing your game moments through video broadcasts and uploads, something fans have already been doing with greater difficulty on their home computers. Sony comes across here as a company giving more consideration to what their customers want than their own needs.
With the press of a button you can share a cool game moment as a video clip to Facebook, or as an image to Twitter, or broadcast the whole feed to Twitch or Ustream. People can watch your game using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone and type in comments. Some people go all the way, adding headsets and webcams to broadcast entire shows, it really is that easy and enjoyable.
You can keep track of friends with status update feeds, compare trophies using global rarity ratings, and if they come to your home use the Guest Mode to let them log into their own libraries and accounts, deleting everything safely when they leave. It’s all very social, but done subtlety without forcing you into separate apps or programs.
The PS4 Controller
Updated with better accuracy for shooter games, the new controller also sports a headphone jack for wireless audio, a touchpad for navigation, a built-in speaker for extra ambient sounds, and a Move light that can be tracked by the camera for physical activity games and as cursor for the on-screen keyboard. You can now charge the controller even when the PS4 is in standby mode. These are all welcome upgrades that make a noticeable difference.
Most titles support Remote Play if you have a PlayStation Vita or offer companions apps for Android or Apple smartphones to offer alternate controls or interactive experiences.
Games and Media-Sharing
Missing at launch is the capability to stream content from a home computer. Sony says they’ll add the feature, a popular one on the PlayStation 3, as a download later. A weak line-up of launch titles will also delay the PS4 from offering a complete experience. Not that exclusive titles like Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall are bad, but they aren’t the chart-busters people seek. To Sony’s credit, they do have strong support for smaller, indie titles at launch with innovative games like Doki Doki Universe (a Scribblenauts-like game of psychology adventure) leaving open the chance for surprise hits.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
I find Microsoft’s approach confusing and self-serving. They want the Xbox One to be the first device you turn on in your living room, to use it to watch TV, sign up for new services, and search the internet.
To manage the complexity this brings they are using a system of tiles to let you “pin” and organize content while allowing their Kinect camera sensor to help you sift through it all using Voice Commands and face-recognition powered profiles.
These changes seem to speak more to Microsoft’s own needs to expand their business than to the needs of their fans who have been watching television and surfing the net just fine without an Xbox to help them.
If you connect your cable or satellite feed to the Xbox One you can use it to watch television. The idea is to make it easy to switch between your TV, your video games, and the other apps on your console. You can switch between them using a voice command like “Xbox, TV” or use a “snap” mode to offer a picture-in-picture-like experience where you can combine two activities, such as playing a game and watching TV.
In the United States the Xbox One includes a TV guide that’s searchable by voice command, which gives this mode more value, although it won’t replace your PVR which may also limit its use for many.
The New Kinect
Now included as part of the system (hence the higher-than-PS4 price tag) the new Kinect sensor can track six people at once, detect heart rates, and record 1080p video with a wide-angle lens. Microsoft has spent more time showing new uses for it with Skype calls than with video games and its main role at launch is to manage your voice commands. To do this it’s microphone has to always be on and “listening” which makes some consumers uncomfortable.
Xbox Live-Powered Games
Microsoft is promising to expand its online servers and leverage cloud-based storage services to increase the scale of multiplayer games, making it easier to track player progress and potentially allow game creators to tap into more computer power to allow their games to evolve. In the short-term this means larger multiplayer experiences, but could mean for games that can evolve with subtlety as you play them.
Games and Blu-Ray Movies
Yes, the Xbox One has embraced Blu-ray both for games and movies. You may end up watching several movies as the launch line-up of games, like the PS4’s, is weak. Not that Ryse: Son of Rome or Forza Motorsport 5 are bad games, but they aren’t the must-have titles that will come later (Titanfall, coming in March, is the best candidate).
Ryse: Son Of Rome