This is part of our ongoing series about games and trends of the upcoming next generation.
I’ve spent a good amount of time with both next-generation game consoles now, and I decided that I’m not happy with them. Not literally, mind you — I’m complaining in a way befitting of a #firstworldproblems Twitter hashtag (or maybe a quick tune from a microscopic violin).
Hitting retail a mere one week apart, Sony’s PlayStation 4 (out now) and Microsoft’s Xbox One (due out Friday) simply offer too many things for me to play right now. They’re giving me more entertainment options than I can reasonably consume in my waking hours. Heck, I even put 45 minutes into Zoo Tycoon, a game that was completely off my radar until a shiny new Xbox One slammed it in there. I know — poor me, right?
I only have two hands and can only play on one system at a time. So where am I going to spend my hours? And which console would I end up recommending to a friend? I decided to break the two down and compare them in a few categories that matter the most to me.
Much of the launch libraries is coming from third-party publishers; you’ll see Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Madden NFL 25, Assassin’s Creed IV, etc. lining up on both sides. Of course, each console also has some exclusives now (PS4: Killzone: Shadow Fall, XBO: Dead Rising 3), some hyped ones to look forward to (PS4: Uncharted, XBO: Titanfall), plus some you probably wouldn’t give a damn about if they weren’t “next-gen” (PS4: Knack, XBO: Ryse).
So comparing the software lineups is almost futile since they almost mirror each other in quality. It doesn’t help that a lot of extra features for each game are similar, supported on second-screen applications (like Xbox’s SmartGlass or companion apps for PlayStation), further muddying things.
But no one wants to see a tie, so I’ll give the slight, slight edge to the PlayStation 4 here. I give Sony’s machine a little extra credit because, very generally speaking, indie developers seem to prefer making games for that company — citing a more supportive, friendlier infrastructure — despite Microsoft’s big, recent push in this arena. As a result, we have a better variety of indie games on the PS4 now, and that should continue into the near future. (Tiny Brains, Doki-Doki Universe, Hohokum — just a sampling of some cool stuff that you can find on PlayStation platforms either exclusively or before others.)
Winner: PlayStation 4
The controllers/input devices
At the moment, I might be more intimately familiar with both next-gen controllers than anyone outside of Sony and Microsoft (thanks to these articles and also these over here). I’ve studied both — a lot. And combining that with my own hands-on experience, my professional expert conclusion would be: They both kick ass.
The PS4 controller is more revolutionary, simply because its touchpad and the light bar change the way you interact with games. I’m excited to see what developers do with both of them. And the controller as a whole is just a huge leap over its PS3 predecessor, feeling and functioning better in every conceivable way.
On the other hand, the Xbox One joypad is simply state of the art. The analog sticks and triggers feel so high quality and high end. It’s because of this controller that I decided that the Xbox One will be my shooter platform of choice (even though the PS4’s DualShock 4 is also excellent for that genre).
As far as the Xbox One’s voice-activated Kinect camera goes — when it works, you feel like you’re commanding a futuristic control panel. I still get a kick out of saying “Xbox, watch Food Network” — or “Xbox, turn off” to power down not just the console but my television, cable box, and audio/visual receiver as well. I did this just last night, in fact, as I hit a new low in laziness and didn’t want to get out of bed to grab the remote control.
The new Kinect is a show-off-to-your-friends piece of cool tech. But it, like the Xbox 360 version, fails to recognize what I’m saying one out of 10 or 15 times, and that one time is enough to taint the experience for me. Why not just use the controller, which works 100 percent of the time?
(Note that the PlayStation Camera for the PS4 also offers some voice-recognition and face-recognition features, but it generally doesn’t do them as well, and that’s a separate purchase. Since I’m comparing the $400 PS4 to the $500 Xbox One, I’m not taking the PS Camera into consideration here.)
I like both controllers for different reasons, but the Kinect pushes this category over the edge for me. Outside of the games Battlefield 4 and Resogun, it’s next big thing between the two consoles that feels truly “next generation.”
Winner: Xbox One
I don’t know why I’m seemingly in the minority there, but I actually like Sony’s cross media bar (XMB). This linear menu of PlayStation 3 options (games, video, settings, etc.) is easy to understand and navigate.
Unfortunately, at least for now, this has taken a step back on the PlayStation 4: All of your games and apps are thrown into one long, unorganized list, and you can’t create folders or group any of them in any meaningful way — a nightmare for OCD neat freaks like me. (Sony tells me that folder functionality will come with an upcoming update.)
The Xbox One is barely better: Games and apps all go into one big pile in a messy, Windows 8-like fashion. But at least on Microsoft’s system, you can “pin” items to a separate section, so you can access your favorites more quickly. Now, the pins area will also end up looking rather disheveled when you fill it up, but it’s better than nothing.
Also helping out Microsoft’s cause: A voice-activated Bing search can find anything you need in an instant. I particularly like it for hunting down movies. A quick “movies with car chases” or “movies starring Jim Varney” pulls up results that let you know what purchasing or rental options you have on your machine, whether that’s through Xbox Video or a service like Redbox, Netflix, or Hulu Plus.
Winner: Xbox One
Well, Microsoft insists on including the Kinect with every Xbox One, which is a huge factor in the package’s higher price. Compare its $500 to the 20 percent cheaper PlayStation 4 at $400 (with a separately sold camera). I understand why MS is bundling the two together — it’s hard to have an input device take over all living rooms if it’s an optional purchase — but a lot of people don’t even want the thing. I know I didn’t at first (though I have definitely come around after seeing how well it interfaces with the Xbox One).
Still … $100.
Winner: PlayStation 4
The Xbox 360 launched a year earlier than the PlayStation 3, which helped Microsoft beat out the incumbent who ruled the previous console generation with the PS2. The race should be much closer this time around with the one-week difference between the PS4 and Xbox One releases.
But I can’t help but feel that 2014’s Titanfall will end up being the killer app that pushes system sales, so that may end up being a huge advantage for Microsoft in the long run. There simply aren’t enough high-profile “must buy this console to play this game” titles right now, and a lot of people are waiting for something like Titanfall — if not Titanfall itself — before making that $400/$500 purchase.
(Note: I haven’t played or evaluated the final version of this game yet, so take this prediction for what it’s worth. I’m basing this on the assumption that Titanfall will live up to its developers’ pedigrees — many of them worked on the megaselling Call of Duty series — and on just how awesome it looks so far. Also, many people point out that only the first Titanfall is semi-exclusive, and that’s a fair point. But if it ends up being this next gen’s Call of Duty in terms of sales and popularity, then it will push hardware, and it will establish its fanbase and community on the Xbox One, which will probably give Titanfall 2 a big boost on the same platform.)
Add to that the huge brand that Xbox has become — mainstream gamers know it just as well or better than “PlayStation” these days — plus Microsoft’s mighty marketing muscle, and I think the Xbox One is the safer bet to come out on top in the end. This may change, of course, depending on which has better momentum coming out of the 2013 holiday season.
Winner: Xbox One
The above categories aren’t feeding into some sort of forced scorecard. I’m not claiming the Xbox One has a 3-2 advantage over the PlayStation 4 or anything silly like that, especially since factors like “games” and “price” mean a lot more than how your apps are organized on the dashboard. And of course this list isn’t definitive. Other things may matter more to you, like having access to a million fitness videos (Xbox One wins) or the social sharing and streaming of gameplay (PS4 wins). I’m neither fit nor social, so my list can definitely differ from yours.
But if you were to ask me to call a winner, then I’d say the PlayStation 4, simply because it has the small head start, a more consumer-friendly price point, and a wider variety of games at the moment. Let’s see what happens after Titanfall comes out, though.
Overall winner: PlayStation 4 now (and Xbox One later … maybe)