One of the things that I’ve found interesting about the last few months is the dichotomy between what it has actually been like playing games and what it has been like reading the constant bickering that exists everywhere from forums to twitter to the media itself. While I kept reading that the launch lineups for these consoles “sucked” and there was nothing to play while I already have amassed a next-gen backlog. There are certainly a lot of problems with both consoles, which I will get to, but the narrative that either of these machines aren’t fun yet is just plain wrong. Both are really great at what they set out to do and they actually set out to do quite different things which makes the proposition of owning both greater than last gen where the only differentiator was exclusives and Blu-ray. Right now the experience of both consoles feels completely different and I like both of them. Yes, internet, it’s ok to like both of them.
When I got my PS4 I found the UI to be very fast and intuitive. I knew where to find everything and, honestly, there isn’t that much to find. The PS4 is a slick gaming machine that is indeed more powerful. When I got home the Xbox One I found the UI far less intuitive but part of the reason for that is there is quite a bit to it. There are many more features to play with. The Xbox One, for instance, has a much better built-in video editor. You can stick multiple clips together and record audio over it with the Kinect. The PS4 video editor is dead simple… you can trim. That’s it. The system with the share button currently has worse tools for manipulating or exporting video. They both have a long way to go in this regard but I was honestly surprised to see the Xbox One with more powerful tools.
The Xbox One is a much more ambitious system than the PS4. You can feel that difference pretty quickly with a myriad of options that don’t exist on the PS4. The TV input, the snap, the multitasking… it’s all impressive. I don’t know if Microsoft will ever deliver on their hope of being the center of the living room but they certainly have a solid base. Despite admiring the ambition it is clear that I am not a target market for what they are trying to do. This is not me saying what they are doing is bad, it’s just not for everyone. I game at a desk and have a TV in the room if I want to watch TV. I have my PC monitor right next to my gaming monitor so I have zero reason to snap anything, ever. This is all specific to me, but that’s my point. If you have a typical living room setup, you watch a lot of cable TV, you sit on a couch far away from your Kinect… these features may be quite useful. For me they are redundant and not as good as other options available to me. I have a feeling that someone sitting on a couch with an iPad probably feels the same way – which is where Microsoft’s vision will find its most difficult challenge – trying to get us to put down the gadgets we already own and love. It’s not impossible, of course, but that is their biggest hurdle to owning the living room.
Even if I don’t use all of the features of the Xbox One UI, I do like it. It’s actually hard to put my finger on exactly what I like as it’s very much Windows 8, which I hate, but I think I’m a sucker for ambition and the system is trying to do a lot. The Kinect has been hit or miss for me thus far. I would say my voice commands were recognized 70% of the time. My hand gestures like 5% of the time. I would say the hand gesture thing is my fault but is it really my fault that I don’t play games in a living room setting? No other gaming system or my PC have had an issue with it. The Xbox One is ambitious but it isn’t versatile. It wants to be the king of the living room, it doesn’t give a shit about any other room. That’s ok though because I don’t give a shit about hand gestures so we are even.
The best feature of the PS4 UI currently is the ability to stream. I’ve done this for many, many, hours and have really enjoyed it. So while the PS4 UI is much more barebones than the Xbox One it does have one defining feature that the Xbox One does not have yet. More importantly, to some people, the PS4 is a better gaming machine. If you are going to compare them spec-wise like computers, the PS4 comes out on top. If you compare multiplatform games, the PS4 shines – often by the order of millions of pixels and higher frame rates. This is not to say that the Xbox One has ugly games. While the sharpening effect is pretty awful (and on its way out according to sources I’ve spoken to) games on the Xbox One still look great. It’s not like one system is the Xbox 360 and the other is the PS2. There is a difference and if you care the PS4 is the way to go, but if you really, really, care the PC is even more the way to go. I’m not going to get into the launch lineup pissing match and will just say that I predicted that Forza would be the best launch exclusive and it is. Killzone/Knack vs Dead Rising 3/Ryse is all personal preference. I personally enjoy all of those games so far. None of the four are even close to perfect though so bragging about them as proof your system is better is a bit silly. Downloadable titles are the same…. I never liked Killer Instinct and I still don’t but I can see why people love it. Resogun is great fun but would be fun on the Vita as well. And AC4 whether at 900p or 1080p is a good game. If you buy either of these platforms you will have plenty to play and will enjoy almost all of it. The negativity from the press about the release games and the constant bickering between fanboy camps is just silly. Videogames are fun, most of the time, and both of these systems have fun games.
To no one’s surprise the PS4 is the system that is built more for me and as such I like it more. I prefer the controller. I love the streaming (though I can stream Xbox One games with my own hardware). I can be an image quality snob so I’m happy to play games at higher resolutions. Also, as I’m sure is the case for many people (for each system), the Playstation has its hooks in me with my trophy collection, group of friends I play with every weekend, familiarity with the game types and quality I expect from Sony. Microsoft has the same thing, if you have a huge gamerscore and all your friends are on the Xbox One and the only reason you want a PS4 is because of higher resolution multiplats… don’t! Get a Xbox One, play with your friends, you won’t care about the visual difference. I have these systems side by side and I can clearly see it but it’s not a massacre by any stretch.
The Xbox One is a much more full experience. I’ve been reading many threads around GAF and Reddit where users who own both systems just like the “feel” of the Xbox One and I can definitely understand it. The Kinect, as much as I hated what it did to the 360 (long story-short, I feel like the 360 went from great to shit when the Kinect was released) does create a compelling experience. There are problems to iron out. Multitasking does slow things down. Programs crash. In fact as I was editing some clips in Upload Studio it crashed and my Kinect hasn’t worked since. On the plus side Microsoft will have a new one out to me in three to five days so kudos to them for being on top of problems like this.
The trajectory of both systems over the next year will be on lines towards each other. The PS4 UI needs more features, quickly, but without hurting the speed or ease of use of the UI. The Xbox One needs some new features and some fixes and it needs to do it while making the UI a bit easier to get around. If last gen taught us anything… what these systems will be in two years will be very different from what they are now. But after an awful unveiling and a few months of backtracking Microsoft has a strong system that any Microsoft fan will enjoy. The PS4 is what we thought it would be, a more powerful, games-first, console. Pick your poison. They both are pretty awesome.
If you’re a console warrior and want to hate Microsoft because they tried the DRM or whatever. Go for it. If you hate Sony because they killed the Dreamcast…. more power to you. If you’re like me and have a preference (and mine is clearly Sony games)… the other system offers a unique enough experience that you should atleast keep your eye on it. These systems co-exist pretty damn well thus far, even with the huge overlap in available games.