Now that both consoles have launched in North America we take the time to break down what each console brings to the table, good and bad.
It quickly becomes apparent one company manufactures hardware and one software
While it may be hard to believe at first glance, Microsoft’s new console is an exercise in subtlety. It’s a substantial slab of plastic, at least in relation to Sony’s design, and there are similarities to be drawn between the two – the use of contrasting matte and gloss blacks, for example, or those austere facades and perpendicular dividing lines – but Xbox One’s flourishes are all but invisible until you get up close. In fact, when it’s nestled alongside your set-top box, a casual observer might not notice it at all. That’s the whole point, indicative of Microsoft’s campaign to truly take control of the living room with this painstakingly inoffensive Trojan horse.
Microsoft’s box might lack personality, but it more than makes up for it in terms of build quality. It’s heavier than an Xbox 360 Slim, but lighter than an Elite, and feels built to last. The slot-loading Blu-ray drive sits in a silver bezel just next to the pad-pairing button on the side of the console. To the right of the drive when the console is laid flat, as Microsoft recommends, a white Xbox logo doubles as a touch-sensitive power button, lighting up when the console is on. Kinect 2.0 is deeper and stubbier than the original, and sports a large rear-facing fan. Despite being packed in (and driving up the initial price of the box), Microsoft has finally admitted that motion control isn’t a blanket next-gen solution and, with any luck, won’t lean on developers to shoehorn in functionality.
Whether or not the prospect of another firmware update excites you, this is exactly how a next-gen console should look. PlayStation 4 has the air of a futuristic , its surfaces muted of any color – even the Sony and PS4 logos are black, the latter ditching the Spider-Man font. But the black monolith is broken up when you switch it on and that strip of light pulses from purple to blue. The design is set off by the console’s steep angular profile, and the back, where various ports sit in , segmented bays among the system’s vents.
The machine feels less robust than Xbox One, its plastic top flexing under pressure. But if you’re in the habit of moving your console between different houses, its smaller dimensions and reduced weight will be a boon. Similarly, PS4’s touch-sensitive power button is less satisfying to use than Xbox One’s, sitting in an awkward recess next to the Blu-ray drive. That’s not much of an issue, though – both consoles will likely be powered on via controllers most of the time. While Kinect 2.0’s chunky design alludes to its power, the slimmer PlayStation Eye appears decidedly lower tech, but as input devices the pair are broadly similar, and Eye’s performance is significantly improved when used in conjunction with the controller’s light bar.
Conclusion: While the Xbox One is a definite upgrade from the previous generation Sony made a futuristic looking box that still fits well into a home theater set up.
Rumble triggers or touch pad: which one brings the most innovation over its predecessor
Xbox One’s new pad makes a prestigious first impression. The smooth contours of the 360 controller opted for sleekness at the expense of a more angular physique. The new pad’s revised top-down silhouette incorporates a few sharper angles, noticeably in the crescent arcing between the pad’s handles. It’s more premium looking as a result.
The analogue sticks have been drastically improved. The slightly narrower diameter of the dish atop each stick provides a greater sense of precision, since your thumb no longer gets mired in the depression. Microsoft’s designers have wrapped a ring of tread around the perimeter of each stick that has no chance of wearing smooth like the dimples on the 360 controller’s sticks.
Adding localized rumble in the triggers – which have had their travel reduced for heightened responsiveness – increases drama while playing. Turning your key in the ignition in Forza 5 and feeling the sensory feedback erupt in your fingertip before spreading to the body of controller feels like a step forward in tactile communication.
However, the choice to elevate the bedding of the shoulder buttons, which used to sit naturally under your fingers at their resting position, feels ill-advised. It’s a new sensation to feel the tendon between your index and middle finger grumble each time you ask it to stretch for RB or LB. And the choice to offload touch functionality onto SmartGlass-enabled devices creates the first real functional discrepancy between Microsoft and Sony’s offerings. With the ascendancy of touchscreen gaming, it’s a minor liability for Xbox One, but a liability nonetheless.
The one thing that has not changed much since the inception of the original Playstation has been the controller. For better or worse, the original Dualshock has become an immovable object that has been a constant part of the Playstation ethos for almost 2 decades.
That has all changed with the Dualshock 4. The familiar layout is there, square, circle, triangle and the cross. The dual analog sticks in a parallel layout are still present, and with that the basic similarities are gone. In it’s place is what can only be described as a renaissance for the Playstation controller and that’s a good thing. It is apparent that Sony did their homework and what results is what some can consider as close to perfect as a controller can get.
The first difference many will notice is the size, at first glance it may look like just another Dualshock, but once you pick it up you instantly notice the difference. It sits perfectly within your hands, much better than the often smaller feeling Dualshock 2/3. The grips themselves look as if they have a texture too them, but honestly the texture does little to ward off a slippery feeling after a few hours of sweaty hands gaming. The start and select buttons have also disappeared in favor of an “options” and the all important “share” button which allows users to instantly share content via social media or start game streaming via twitch.
The most noticeable addition to the controller is the touchpad. It seems like an afterthought gimmick at first and honestly, in the few games that support it at launch the novelty wears off quick and becomes a bit tedious to use after some time. Until it is fully utilized in games like RTS’s (where navigating a map or scrolling through sets of units is paramount) it will feel like a misguided addition some aren’t ready to use. Aside from the touchpad, the other welcome addition is the new triggers, gone are the old convex R2/L2 which would result in fingers slipping and in their place are nicely precise concave triggers.
Conclusion: While the xbox one has iterated on a near perfect design from the xbox360 controller we don’t feel like it was a big of a jump as the Dualshock 4 has been. The new Dualshock is the clear winner here.
Media & services
So besides playing games, what else is there to do?
Microsoft attracted flak when it chose to focus on non-gaming features for Xbox One’s debut. It has since somewhat redressed the balance, but still wants Xbox One to the absolute center of your living room. Chief among its strategies is the ability to integrate your TV by plugging a set-top box into the console’s HDMI in port. This, along with Skype, streaming services such as HBO, ESPN and Netflix, and a Blu-ray drive are all controllable through Kinect’s improved voice recognition and Xbox One’s clean UI. But Microsoft also has big plans for advertising, though it has denied reports that it is thinking about the ways in which it can offer Kinect-gathered biometric data to advertisers looking to increase and hone their reach. Netflix is waiting for a “societal evolution” on privacy before it looks into this potentially shady area, but exactly how long will it be until users are comfortable with this type of surveillance?
Aside from the requirement of PS+ for online gaming, very little of the remaining online features reside behind a pay wall. Unlike Xbox One – which requires a Live Subscription for any online activity, plus game recording and sharing – streaming services such as Hulu, LoveFilm and Netflix, and party chat will be available to all PS4 owners. Sony has also redesigned its Music Unlimited service, offering users a global library of over 22 million songs that can be browsed and listened to without having to leave your game. The user interface has also been redesigned but feels like nothing more than a reworked cross-media bar from the PS3. While easier to navigate still feels a bit baron when compared to the tiles of the Xbox One interface.
Conclusion: While the PS4 offers a good amount of content via streaming services it still pales in comparison to what the Xbox One offers from both streaming and TV connections. Xbox One has the clear advantage in this aspect.
Launch window exclusives
Which console has the best games out of the gate
Diminishing returns in visual fidelity were inevitable, but it’s hard to not feel a bit let down considering how dramatic generational leaps once felt (PS1 to PS2?). The most next-gen thing we noticed in our demo of Forza 5 was the fact that switching between paint finish options in the pre-race showroom sees each preview update instantly, without the customary loading hesitation of current-gen games. But the pixel is still alive and well in the Xbox One launch lineup. Get out on the track and you might even mistake Forza 5 for a 360 title: it’s very pretty, but with occasional texture pop-in on the track and low-resolution textures on parts of the car’s dash.
Killer Instinct makes up for its flat skyboxes with a large helping of impressive particle effects: explosions of sparks, crackling lightning, and moves accompanied by bright flashes. The next generation promises to be filled with such things, and this title reminds us what the future may have in store. Killer Instinct’s iOS/Android micro transactions are the newest “feature” of next gen. The impact of the free-to-play business model’s success on mobile will hit consoles with the force of a meteor strike, and like the dinosaurs, many gaming conventions of years past are liable to slump to the ground as the dust chokes them.
In Ryse: Son Of Rome’s Colosseum multiplayer mode, the foliage and level furniture that emerges from the floor of the arena via enigmatic machinery looks amazing, but the gameplay gets a downward thumb. Combat feels sludgy and unresponsive. And in a post-300 world, who makes a gladiator game with pits and doesn’t give you an option to kick enemies into them in slow motion? Microsoft seems keenly aware that it just needs to tide people over until Titanfall arrives early next year. The day it drops, however, Xbox One claims an advantage.
While Sony was focused on delivering a high spec console compared to the competition, you would assume that they had made sure that all titles would show off such power. Killzone: Shadow Fall is definitely the best looking launch title from both platforms, filled with a jarring glimpse into what a futuristic cityscape could look like, while also giving us a beautiful atmosphere to envelope ourselves in. At times it regresses back into a bit of Killzone 2/3 with its limited paths, but those moments are few and far between when compared to its predecessors.
Driveclub was supposed to be a title available at launch but has been pushed back to some time after. When it debuted, it positioned itself to be one of the leading racers in terms of visuals, but as time went on it looked like it had been scaled back a bit. The delay can only lead to one thing and if the most current build was anything to show it has reclaimed its position as being a beautiful racer, especially when compared to multiplatform titles such as NFS: Rivals. The only thing that remains to be seen through visual demos is whether or not it’s actually going to be fun.
Infamous: Second Son is another title within the launch window (launches March 21st, 2014) that appears to push the graphical boundaries of the PS4 platform. Gameplay will be similar to the previous entries, sharing the open world element. While the main protagonist’s power initially appeared to just control smoke, Sucker Punch has stated in interviews that Delsin’s ability is actually to absorb the abilities of other conduits. Currently, the only powers shown are smoke and neon light based, but Sucker Punch has revealed that he will absorb more powers, and that these are only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Conclusion: The immediate launch titles appear to be in the Xbox One’s favor but after launch there isn’t much to hope for other than TitanFall. Conversely, the PS4 has a rather weak launch but comes back after the new year with a slew of titles. This one is a relative tie between the two boxes.
Which platform holder has the best home for the independent developer?
Sony might have the lead when it comes to indies, but Microsoft is working hard to woo smaller studios, too. An unpopular policy that required independent studios to work with a publisher was scrapped in July, the company unveiling its Independent Developers @ Xbox program shortly thereafter, along with the news that retail Xbox Ones will eventually also serve as dev kits.
For now, though, registered ID@Xbox developers will receive two Xbox One dev kits for free and unrestricted access to the console, Kinect 2.0, Live and SmartGlass. Microsoft’s approach remains more cautious than Sony’s, however, and it will be favoring studios with a “proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet” for the initial stages of its program.
A global support team will be available to registered devs, with Microsoft aiming to provide rapid responses to submissions via community managers, as well as maintaining developer relations. In the longer term, any Xbox owner will be in a position to self-publish once the switch is flipped on the hardware’s dev kit functionality.
While Microsoft has come under fire for a series of policy reversals, it should be applauded for listening to the needs of both players and developers. It still has some way to go in winning back the trust of developers burned by their experience of publishing through Xbox Live, but on paper it appears the company is serious about making amends.
Console manufacturers backing indie developers might be akin to a bank advert sound tracked by whimsical folk music, but Sony and Microsoft are both well aware of the goodwill such support engenders. While both companies have reached out to independent developers, it’s Sony that has chosen to prioritize smaller titles for launch. In fact, it has gone so far as to give its slate of indie games equal prominence to their big-budget counterparts.
Sony has already attracted a great many studios with its no-fuss self-publishing policies, which minimize the amount of red tape developers have to cut through, promising a streamlined, single-stage submission process with a one-week turnaround. The likes of Vlambeer, Honeyslug and Housemarque, among many others, are already on board, and singing the praises of Sony’s approach. The company is happy to provide dev kits to any studio with a striking idea, not just those with experience, and offers financial, technological, business and even creative support.
Quarterly indie events at Sony’s London offices will create the opportunity for an even closer dialogue between the company and small devs from around the world, and Sony offers optional free feedback during the development process to help studios hone their ideas. The combination of a detailed plan and the vocal appreciation of the developers already working with it make it clear that
Sony’s indie push is more than just a marketing exercise.
Conclusion: While Microsoft is trying to reverse its policy on many decisions made from the past, Sony is the clear leader when it comes to cultivating an inviting more indie developers to join their platform.
First party studios
First party studios tend to be important especially in the last generation when it came to shoring up console exclusives and building new franchises. Microsoft, even though losing Bungie still holds the Halo franchise as one of its go to exclusives. 343 Industries was the studio that brought us Halo 4 and is expected to bring just as much to the table with Halo 5. Turn 10 has turned its once great racing franchise into what feels like a yearly iteration of minor tweaks and disappearing car/track variations hidden behind microtransactions and DLC. Lionhead studios the creators of Fable haven’t really done much since Fable II and the same can be said for the once great studio Rare. Black Tusk studios is one of the other few first party studios with games in development but not much has been seen aside from a few snippets of footage here and there.
Sony has by far the deepest pool of talent when it comes to first party studios. Naughty Dog pushed the Playstation 3 to its limits with Uncharted and looks to most likely do the same with the Playstation 4. Guerrilla games has already delivered an impressive launch title with Killzone: Shadow Fall, and has always been at the upper tier of making good looking games, the story however, still is lacking. MediaMolecule and the LittleBigPlanet team will no doubtingly bring a good amount of innovation to the table when it comes to the social features of the PS4. Polyphony Digital, creators of the Gran Turismo series are also heavy hitters when it comes to making games that appear to be one generation ahead in the graphics department. Team ICO which has been a no show for some time recently announced that its long awaited title The Last Guardian would be switching to the Playstation 4 as its platform. With all these studios under its wings its hard to see the PS4 slowing down with first party releases any time in the near future.
Conclusion: Although Microsoft does have a good amount of big ticket franchises to rely on, Sony clearly has the advantage now and for the foreseeable future with studios such as Naughty Dog, Polyphony Digital and Team ICO with games in development.
Which console is the best at keeping you connected with friends and foes?
Xbox Live set the template for online console gaming and distribution, and if Microsoft can rectify its sticky visibility issues, there’s no reason it can’t take the lead again. Existing Live Gold accounts will carry over, along with your Gamerscore, achievements and any non-game content such as films that you’ve purchased on 360 (as with PS4, there is no backwards compatibility), and your account will work across both machines.
Better still, multiple accounts will be able to use a single subscription, a vast improvement over the current Gamertag-specific system. Microsoft will also continue its Games With Gold program, which offers two free games per month. You’ll be able to broadcast through Twitch.tv (launching in 2014) as well as edit and upload up to five minutes of footage using Xbox One’s in-built Upload Studio.
Sony’s strategy in using PlayStation Plus’s enticing instant game library to bridge its once-free online services with a revenue-generating model in the vein of Xbox Live Gold was a savvy play. If you already have PlayStation Plus membership, it will extend to the PS4 as well, giving you access to online multiplayer, cloud storage and roaming profiles. You’ll also get the Instant Game Collection, with a new title added each month, the first addition to which will be Housemarque’s Super Stardust successor, Resogun.
A slightly stripped-down Driveclub will also be available to all PS Plus members in the months after launch, with other free-to-play titles to follow (Capcom’s Deep Down is expected next year). And Sony’s partnership with Twitch.tv will allow players to spectate as well as share their own videos and screenshots with a quick tap of the Share button.
Conclusion: Both have little to offer out of the gate. Xbox Live has a much better platform to build off of, but the Instant Game collection offered by PS+ has been passed onto the PS4. Another toss up between the two platforms.
Second screen experience
Tablets and handheld consoles, which gives the better game play?
The use of a second screen has been around for some time (PSP remote play & Wii U game pad) but some features haven’t been available to most of those solutions and this generation looks to change that for the most part. Microsoft went with a less than stellar option which is the SmartGlass feature, this makes a tablet into a second screen companion for some games. Battlefield 4 employs a tablet for use when calling in air strikes while not physically using your console, just signing into the SmartGlass app with your Xbox ID.
The biggest draw back for the Microsoft option is the lack of a companion device such as the PS Vita which means that for the current time being all actions are limited to on screen touch inputs. This doesn’t allow Microsoft to engage the user with a real remote play strategy and simple limits them to second tier objectives like the example with Battlefield 4.
The PS Vita may not be the big hit Sony was hoping for when it first launched but then are looking to change that with the use of remote play on the PS4. The ability to pick up and play your single player PS4 experience literally anywhere in the world (with a good internet connection) is a boon for the PS Vita to make a big splash with PS4 users. The only caveat is the use of the rear touch pad to mimic some missing inputs that the Dualshock 4 has yet the vita is sadly missing. It’s not the worst solution for the missing inputs but it hardly feels ergonomic when playing some games.
Conclusion: The ability to use the Vita to play your PS4 games on the go as well as the second screen app available for phones/tablets trumps the SmartGlass features that Microsoft is bringing to the table for the Xbox One. Sony is clearly ahead in this department.
Both consoles bring a slew of new features and functionality to the forefront of the next generation console battle. The Xbox One is built foremost as a home entertainment console and that certainly shows with its built in TV extension and snap features. The console is a bit under powered when directly compared to the Playstation 4, but that doesn’t make it severely lacking in the looks category. The always stable Xbox Live is a major foothold that the console has over the Sony PSN (evident after the day one PSN hiccups) and the use of Kinect while frustrating at times can also be considered a feature that the PS4 doesn’t fully support.
The Playstation on the other hand is a pure gaming machine and that’s evident as soon as you put a game into the console. The background download feature allows you to play a game almost instantly while it still installs and is a major feature as we move ahead into a more digitally based future. The other big advantage over the Xbox One besides the power gap is the presence of the ability to play your games literally anywhere via the PS Vita/Vita TV. That feature alone makes the console feel a bit more “next gen” when compared to the paltry second screen functions that the Xbox One offers gamers.
Overall both consoles have a great amount to offers gamers who have been waiting for the next gen for almost 7 years. The Xbox sides more with the entertainment side of things and while that may be great for those who don’t own a tablet or watch a healthy amount of T.V. it doesn’t bring as much to consumers from a pure gaming aspect as the Playstation 4 does. If you are a gamer at heart than it’s really a no brainer that the PS4 was built for you, the Xbox seems to be built more for the casual fan base that sees the occasional exclusive title enough to keep them interested while they watch T.V. and do other things like Netflix or Hulu. The $100 price difference seems to be the biggest parity between the two consoles and for us that was the reason to go with the PS4 over the Xbox One.