Most people these days would consider themselves gamers; and if you don’t, the odds are good that you’re related to one, or are involved with one in some way. Let’s suppose you aren’t, but your significant other and/or kids are. Come this holiday season, one of the most momentous occasions in any gamer’s life will be coming back around: the release of brand new consoles! This year will feature the release of both Microsoft’s Xbox One as well as the Sony PlayStation 4! Heck, even Nintendo has had a new console out for a year, the WiiU (which for the purposes of clarity, will be covered in a later article). If you’re closely tied to any kind of frequent game player, chances are these new systems will become your problem soon. And, above all else, the most important question is…which one of these do I want? That’s what this guide is here to help with! Each entry in this article will provide a brief overview of what each system can do for you, and why you should consider it – at least this way, if anyone asks you for your opinion on this sort of thing, you’ll know what you’re talking about!
THE SONY PLAYSTATION 4
SYSTEM OVERVIEW: The PlayStation 4 (usually shortened to the PS4) is the newest entry in Japanese electronics giant Sony’s long-running and insanely popular PlayStation family of video game systems, including (obviously) the PlayStations 1-3, as well as their handheld also-rans the PSP and PS Vita. Set to launch sometime this holiday season (as of this printing, no official release date has been confirmed), the PlayStation series tends to be the system of choice for more hardcore gamers looking for a wide range of options; while fewer families and ‘casual’ gamers adopted the PlayStation 3 as opposed to the first two, Sony is still interested in attracting a diverse crowd.
As far as raw hardware specs are concerned, the PlayStation 3 is arguably the strongest of the new consoles, with 8 gigabytes of DDR5 RAM, an 8 core AMD CPU, and 1.8 TFLOPS graphics processor. If none of that means anything to you, trust me: it’s all very fast. Every system comes packaged standard with the new DualShock 4 controller, which by all accounts feels very similar to previous models, while adding enhanced motion support and two touchable pads for enhanced interaction beyond standard joysticks and buttons. It will still support standard HDMI cables so it will work with 90% of TVs out in the world these days, and it features Wi-fi connectability, Blu-ray movie playback, but will sadly not play your PlayStation 3 (or earlier) games.
The PlayStation 4 seems determined, above all else, to just be a video game system. While it will support standard media options such as Blu-ray playback and Netflix (eventually, although it may not be usable at launch), its primary focus is both single-player and online video games. Rumors swirled throughout the previous few years suggesting things like a permanent online connection being required to use your system and not being able to buy used games at all (or, if you did, there would be an extra fee). Sony was quick to squash those rumors at this years Electronic Entertainment Expo (a yearly gathering of gaming industry types hawking their wares and showing off their newest products), promising that any used game fees are completely at the publisher’s discretion, much like it has worked in recent years, and assured that you would never have to take your PS4 online if you didn’t want to. Considering they’re going to be adding a yearly fee to their online multiplayer service (much like Microsoft charging for Xbox Live), this is a welcome relief for parents who don’t want their kids going online for any reason. The ability to record and share game footage allows players to become armchair sports commentators (even if the sport is pretending to be a superhero in Infamous: Second Son), and the ability to share your games with friends without any kind of usage restrictions makes the PS4 a very inviting choice.
As always, the most important thing anyone should consider when deciding a system is the games. Sony has an impressive lineup of exclusive titles (more than Microsoft ever mustered) that will all be making an appearance on their new system. Kid-friendly adventures like the Mario-esq Little Big Planet and ‘basically a Pixar movie’ Ratchet & Clank will all have new titles arriving for the PS4 not long after launch, and the older crowd will have successful standbys like Killzone (which has been guaranteed for a launch-day release) and God of War to look forward to (as well as the ubiqutous Call of Duty, which will be available at launch). Sony’s focus, as it has been in past years, is primarily on providing a diverse library of games, even if that prevents its system from becoming the all-in-one multimedia box other companies hope to deliver. Between that and Sony’s aggressive courtship of smaller independent developers (which is always fertile ground for finding innovative and often family-friendly games), the PS4 is sure to have something for everyone.
IS THIS SYSTEM FOR YOU? If your significant other/family members constantly clamor for the new Halo, or if you’re more worried about having access to streaming media than a vast game library, then no. But anyone looking for a diverse array of titles who isn’t too worried about Hulu or ESPN (and especially anyone with kids, as Sony is good about providing all-ages titles) would do well to consider a PS4.
PRICE: $399.99 at launch, one model available
THE MICROSOFT XBOX ONE
SYSTEM OVERVIEW: Microsoft, who had to settle for a distant second with their original Xbox, came from behind to become the undisputed industry leader (at least in America) with their Xbox 360. Somewhere between their original series Halo and Gears of War, and their positioning as being the better system to play Call of Duty on (even if you could buy Call of Duty for basically everything), Microsoft was able to shoot by their opposition and become THE system to own, at least for gamers between the ages of 12-30. The newly-revealed Xbox One (also available ‘sometime this holiday’, as neither manufacturer has committed to a solid date yet) furthers many of the trends the Xbox 360 had displayed, such as an increased focus on online play, a variety of multimedia apps supporting television playback and online movie viewing, and a reliance on the motion-detecting Kinect camera. Instead of a mere video game console, Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be the center of your living room, warming your whole house with a wide array of digital entertainment. You could say they want it to be…the one device you own. Eh? Eh? Get it?
Specs-wise, it isn’t too far apart from the PlayStation 4, aside from some minor differences in RAM size and processor speed. Microsoft isn’t that interested in winning the hardware game, though. Their approach with this new Xbox is one of all-inclusive entertainment with some games on the side. Wi-fi and HDMI ports will allow the Xbox One to connect to anything you might have in your house, and full transferability with your previous Xbox Live account will allow you to move your account name and achievement list with a minimum of fuss, allowing previous owners to transition smoothly to their new system.
The Kinect camera, which was introduced in the previous generation but never quite took off like Microsoft was hoping, will play a deep role in this new system. The Kinect 2.0 is included with every Xbox One purchase, and even when it isn’t used for controlling games (like it was previously), it can still be used to navigate menus, turn the Xbox on and off, or even recognize a player’s face to activate their account. The only hiccup many have had with this device is the idea that it’s never off; Microsoft has denied any improper usage of the camera and says it can be turned off when not in use, but between the constant monitoring and the room space needed to use this device, many consumers are leery about the Kinect 2.0, even if it DOES work better than the last one.
Online is also a big part of the Xbox One’s functionality. The last five minutes of gameplay are recordable at any time (much like the PS4) and can be shared with the world, and a new service called Snap allows you to multitask during television watching, such as picture-in-picture voice chat, or scanning online for related articles to a program you’re watching. Any discussion of Xbox One’s online features would be lacking without a discussion of the biggest sore spot with the system, and that would be the ability to share and/or resell games. When originally announced, the Xbox One required you to connect to the Internet once every 24 hours, and while you were able to add friends online in an online-only ‘family sharing plan’, you would be unable to play a game on another user’s Xbox without logging into your profile and perhaps paying some kind of license fee. Buying and selling used games was another issue altogether, as Microsoft did not provide any specific information as to what the process would be, it was hinted and assumed that used games would require some sort of separate activation fee, similar to publishers like Electronic Arts (who has since discontinued this practice) and Activision who would require an ‘online pass’ to be purchased for any used titles. Luckily, since then, Microsoft has changed their mind and reversed this policy; no longer does the Xbox One require an online connection, and although this has come at the expense of some minor features, the gaming community at large breathed a sigh of relief when this restriction was undone.
The Xbox One is no slouch when it comes to games, either. Microsoft showed off an impressive collection of new exclusive titles from well-known studios like Remedy (creators of Max Payne and Alan Wake, two cult favorite action titles), Insomniac (creators of Ratchet and Clank and, until recently, a Sony-only developer), and Swery65, eccentric but beloved Japanese developer responsible for the Twin Peaks-esq murder mystery Deadly Premonition. A lot of these titles will highlight features that the Xbox One is excited to tout, such as Quantum Break (the new action game from Remedy) being released online in episodes not unlike a Netflix exclusive series (as well as being connected to a related, online-only TV series). And, as mentioned earlier, it’s the only place to get Halo...as well as a brand-new online-only Halo TV series!
PRICE: $499.99, one model available
IS THIS SYSTEM FOR YOU? Again, that depends. Even after the seemingly disastrous original reveal was basically undone by removing the online requirement, many gamers still seem skeptical about if Microsoft wants to reinstate those requirements later, or if they’re spreading their focus too thin by trying to focus on being an all-in-one multimedia box (similar to the ‘set-top box’ theory that game studios have been striving for since the Atari days)…not to mention the Kinect always watching you. Me, I think it comes down to what you’re hoping for in a game system. If the idea of your households’s Netflix and movie viewing being tied to the same device that plays all of your games AND filters all of your television, then the Xbox One is a sound choice. It’ll at least stop a mess of cables from clogging up around your TV…unless you cave in and get both systems.
Overall, each system comes down to personal preference. Video game technology has spread to the point where there’s no clear winners, at least hardware-wise like you could do in the old days. These days it comes down to more of the total experience; who has the games you prefer, which has the features you’re looking for, and which one just seem more right for you. Don’t let me make up your mind for you. Get out there, ask questions, and figure out which system will provide you with the most fun. Isn’t that the point of video games, after all?
Information on system hardware specs was taken from the following Kotaku articles: http://kotaku.com/xbox-one-everything-we-know-886407234 and http://kotaku.com/ps4-everything-we-know-889269384.