The Next Generation Has Dawned

A year after the Wii U made its’ timid debut, the 8th generation of video game consoles has truly begun with the worldwide launch of both the Xbox One and PS4.  It has been commented by many of the reviews for both consoles that there has never been two consoles as similar in terms of performance at launch, and the gist of reviews is that both consoles are a significant step forward compared to their predecessors.  It has also been noted, though, that both aren’t as big a step up as the jump to HD was last generation.

For disclosure, the only console I’ve actually personally spent time with is the Xbox One, for a small amount of time on launch night, but I’ve read copious reviews of both systems, and feel that my impartiality in owning both a PS3 and Xbox 360 will help me fairly condense the general opinion into a single article.  Also, if you want to know more about the hardware-specifics, check out my previous posts after the PS4 and Xbox One reveals earlier in the year, which focus more on those details.  Be warned this is a long article, which discusses both consoles then compares them, and as much as I’d like you to read the whole article, if you want to jump to one section, here are some shortcuts to the PS4, Xbox One and Comparison sections.

PS4

The PS4 launched in North America two weeks ago, and today in the UK, Europe and Australia. Generally the response for the PS4 has been good and much, much more positive than for the PS3’s launch back in 2006.  The look of the new console has been widely praised, being smaller and almost half the weight of the launch PS3.  The noise of the system while it is running has also been reduced, being similar to that of a running MacBook, which isn’t unbearable by any means.

Reviews all praise the PS4’s graphical power, whilst acknowledging that launch line-ups aren’t necessarily testing the system’s true capabilities.  The PS4’s controller, the Dualshock 4, has been universally well received – and many are claiming that it is the best Sony controller ever.  This will undoubtedly please the company, after several editions that were panned such as their never-released Boomerang controller and the PS3’s SIXAXIS.  The thumb sticks are now concave and more resistant to movement, providing more accuracy.  There is added weight to the controller, and grip on the reverse, to make it feel better whilst holding it in your hand.  The triggers are also concave, to make it easier to judge depth.  Added features such as the light sensor bar and touchpad have been considered superfluous due to their redundancy in launch titles, but could prove useful in future.  The controller also has a built-in speaker, similar to the Wii remote, to provide extra audio touches.  Battery life has taken a hit by all accounts, dropping to around 7 hours without charging from 30 hours with the Dualshock 3, which isn’t very impressive at all.  Overall the response has been good, but no reviewer has gone as far as to say that the controller is better than any Microsoft offerings.

The PlayStation Camera does not come along with the console, and is at the moment an unnecessary purchase according to reviews.  Its voice command repertoire is extremely limited, even compared to the 360’s Kinect, and the only game that makes use of it is the pre-loaded Playroom, which is more of a tech demo than a game.  It appears as though it is more of an extra than a feature.

The system interface is an upgrade to the PS3’s XrossMediaBar, but some still believe there is room for improvement, with some icons being slow to load and entertainment apps such as Netflix and Hulu being hard to access.  The trophy system has been improved overall, with a new rarity attribute letting you know how many other players have earned a specific trophy (stepping further into Raptr’s territory).  Navigation of trophy collections has also been improved, with collections loading locally whilst updating over PSN – which wasn’t the case last gen.  The PlayStation Store is also, thankfully, much more responsive on the PS4 – loading much more quickly and highlighting important information from the main screen.

This brings us to the PSN.  Long held in Xbox Live’s shadow, new features have attempted to redress the balance.  Cross-game party chat makes its’ debut on the console, and increased social media integration with Facebook and Twitter allow you to share much more of your gaming experiences with your friends.  A similar, game-centric, “What’s New” feed appears as a tab on your dashboard to show you what your friends are playing on the PS4.  Your PSN friends list can now include over 2,000 people, and you can go through a reciprocal process with your friends to use their real name on your friends list – rather than a traditional, but perhaps less readable, gamertag.  Less PSN features come for free this time around, with a Plus subscription needed for online multiplayer as well as some other benefits.  One such benefit, that is a massive improvement over the PS3, is the automatic download of system and game updates.  With your console on standby, you can tell your PS4 to turn itself on (perhaps at night) and download any available updates for the console or any of your games, meaning you don’t have to wait around before jumping into a game ever again.

On the download theme, the PS4’s ability to play games before installation or downloading is complete is working well.  Rather than waiting 15 minutes plus before getting into a new game, the process takes only three or four in the experience of some reviewers.

The much vaunted live streaming function works from day one, with Twitch, and you can share videos to Facebook – but beyond that there is no more functionality.  The quality is said to be good, and the process of uploading quick and relatively painless, apart from the system defaulting the start of a video clip to 15 minutes before you hit the Share button on your controller, meaning that you have to spend some time editing.  It’s the only way, at the moment, to capture game footage, as traditional game capture via PVRs (Personal Video Recorders) are disabled because of the launch PS4’s HDCP copyright protection – meaning that for the large YouTube community of gamers, they can’t make PS4 videos.  This is a large oversight from Sony, as millions of people watch videos of games on YouTube daily, and Sony are losing out on the free advertising such videos offer.

Another function that works well is Remote Play, using the PS Vita to play your PS4 away from your TV.  As long as both systems are on, linked by a Vita app, and both have a good connection to the internet, you can pick up a game on the Vita where you left off on the PS4, which is a great feature.  The graphical quality is said to be more than acceptable, with the only difficulties being the lack of clickable thumb sticks meaning that you need to make use of the Vita’s rear touchpad in a way that is alien to those more familiar with console controllers.

Last of all, but perhaps most importantly, is the reaction to the PS4’s launch titles.  Disappointingly for Sony fans, it’s third party titles that top the Metacritic rankings of PS4 games with Battlefield 4, NBA 2k14 and Need for Speed Rivals all beating out the most revered Sony title: the free game Resogun.  Particularly poorly received was the PS4’s lead architect Mark Cerny’s game Knack, billed as a 3D platformer aimed at Kids, which has a low score of only 58 at the time of writing.  However, the PS4 is not going to be bereft of good first-party content, with many anticipated games in the pipeline – including the recent announcement of Uncharted 4.

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