E3, the annual video games smorgasbord, took over Los Angeles last week and kicked off what nerds are calling the “next generation” of consoles. A dearth of info, ads, and commentary has poured out about Microsoft’s newest console, Xbox One, and Sony’s latest and greatest, the Playstation 4. I waded through the coverage to bring you everything you need to know about the future of video games.
Both systems will feature jaw-dropping graphics, a Blu-ray player, a giant hard drive, and the ability to watch Netflix, Hulu, and all the rest. I won’t bore you with techs specs, but rest assured that the latest Call of Duty will look stupidly good on either console.
Release date: Late November
The Kinect is currently an add-on for the Xbox 360 that allows motion controls, voice command, and a camera. The device itself sits directly under your television and is roughly the size and shape of a sleeve of Saltines. Microsoft was so proud of itself for developing the Kinect, it decided to include it with every Xbox One. In fact, the console won’t work without it. This technology allows for you to command your Xbox with just your voice, including saying “Xbox on” to power up the console. You will also be able to sort through your games with a wave of your hand, Minority Report-style, and even Skype with your friends–all from your Xbox dashboard.
The Xbox 360 was a mainstay in college dorm rooms and family living rooms alike, due mostly to its robust online interface, Xbox Live, and frat guy favorite Halo. Thus, anticipation was red-hot for the next version of the Xbox. So when Microsoft took the stage and announced the Xbox One (derogatorily referred to online as “xbone”) was an “entertainment hub,” some gamers scratched their heads. Like it or not, television is a huge component of the Xbox One. You can plug your cable box into your Xbox One and be able to switch, almost instantly, between a game of Madden and a real, live football game. Questions remain about DVR and what cable companies will support the television component, but the idea of pausing Tiger Woods to quickly see the real Tiger birdie 18 at Sawgrass is a very exciting thought.
The Xbox One boasts some impressive exclusives for its next console. New franchises, like the Gladiator-esque Ryse: Son of Rome, the cartoonish open-world apocalyptic Sunset Overdrive, and the smaller, gorgeous-looking art game Below, are all looking look to shine as Xbox One exclusives. Obviously Halo 5 will be huge, but that won’t come out until 2014. Titanfall, another exclusive, turned heads at E3 for its massive scale and the sheer badassery of piloting a mech on a huge battlefield. Plus, they are bringing back Killer Instinct.
Used Games and Online Requirements
Despite Microsoft PR’s best efforts, if you heard anything about the Xbox One this past week, it was probably the Internet shitting a collective brick over Microsoft’s used games and online-check-in policy. The Xbox One requires you to connect to the Internet every 24 hours in order to play your games (yes, even the ones on a disc that you purchased at Best Buy). Most people have reliable Internet, but for those folks in rural areas or our military personnel overseas, this requirement could turn into a major pain.
The main sore spot, though, is the fact that you cannot easily trade Xbox One games with your friends or family. Say, for instance, you want to take your copy of Madden over to your buddy’s house. To do this, that buddy has to have been on your Xbox Live friends list for more than 30 days and, on top of that, you can only do this once per game. If you take Madden over to Jimmy’s house and play it on his Xbox One, you won’t be able to play it on anyone else’s console save your own. Microsoft does, however, have a “family sharing” option where ten folks of your choosing will have access to all your games. Since every game installs onto the Xbox One’s hard drive, you will be able to log in at Bobby’s house, assuming he is one of your ten “family” members, and have access to all your games. While it is unclear how any of this will work in the real world, download times of shared games would seem to be a significant factor (think of downloading an HD movie on your iPad…and multiply that by 5).
Release date: Late November
Sony made sure to emphasize that the PS4 is about games, games, and more games. Watch for every marketing pitch to focus on just how much gaming you can do with the gaming Playstation 4 for gamers. That being said, the PS4 exclusives leave a lot to be desired. Sony is offering, for the most part, threequels to played out franchises like Killzone and inFamous. While there are a few new franchises, none look as exciting as those on Xbox. However, down the road you can expect cherished franchises like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid to be Playstation exclusives. Beyond the top-tier games, Sony is making a big push for indie developers to bring their smaller games (think iPhone-type games) to the PS4. Whereas Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform requires a long certification process, Sony is attempting to make the Playstation the place for indie developers. That strategy has already paid off in the netting of video game auteur Jonathan Blow’s latest game The Witness.
I’ve never liked the Playstation controller and, unfortunately for me, the thing hasn’t really changed much since 1999. While the DualShock 4, as its lamely called, is the same signature shape, it improves things a great deal. The thumb sticks have moved closer to your actual thumbs, which is nice, and the triggers are improved to feel less like pressing a spoon into oatmeal. The middle portion of the controller is actually a touchscreen now, and while we will have to wait to see if developers can elevate its use beyond mere gimmickry, touchscreens are sort of in these days. There is also a Share button front and center on the DualShock 4; press it to relentlessly barrage your friends with videos of you doing stupid shit in Call of Duty.
Used Games and Online Connectivity
Sony, after watching Microsoft sink under a steaming pile of outrage, smartly came out and said, over and over again, that to trade a PS4 game with a friend you simply hand it to them with your hands. There will be no restrictions on trading in games, playing games on other consoles, nor will there be any online connectivity requirements. While it’s possible that publishers will implement their own restrictions (think of the current Online Pass system where you have to enter a one-time-use code in order to play online), Sony has said this is unlikely. However, Sony does not have any shared game feature, so it is assumed that any digital games would be inaccessible on a different console. Also, Sony’s online service, Playstation Plus, has never worked as seamlessly as Xbox Live and has been plagued with outages, long system updates, and even a serious hacking incident. Sony will have to prove it can deliver a smooth online experience for the Playstation 4.
While each console offers its own pros and cons, it is not hard to say that Sony has the edge right now (this coming from an Xbox 360 owner). Especially at $100 less than the Xbox One, the Playstation 4 looks like a more flexible, friendly, game-focused system. While the TV and Kinect features look neat, they are both unproven and, for most people, secondary. Regardless, it is a hell of an exciting time for everyone from weekend NBA2K ballers to the hardest of hardcore nerds. Start saving those pennies and I’ll see you in line at Best Buy come this November.