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The Next Generation: Six Months On

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So, the dust has settled. After a generation that felt like it went on forever and a year long buildup to the arrival of our shiny new machines; we have finally got those (not so) little black boxes under our televisions. The last half a year has gone by in a flash; and both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 have had ample time to get comfortable in our living rooms.

The questions I am attempting to answer today are as follows – how are the consoles faring now the excitement and hype has died down? Are there still issues with the hardware? Is there a decent selection of games? And maybe, just maybe – which machine is the better option right now? We will take a look at the key areas surrounding each machine and try to determine if the early adopters have had their faith rewarded; or if those of you who are still holding off until the game selection is bigger or the prices more reasonable are the wise ones.

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Teething Problems

Both machines had some pretty serious faults out the gate – the Xbox One had to deal with faulty Blu Ray drives and The PS4 had issues with dodgy HDMI sockets that rendered the machine unusable. A shipment of PS4s were reported ‘dead on arrival’ and wouldn’t power on out of the box. I myself am on my second Xbox One already, having fallen victim to a disc drive that wouldn’t read games and a rarer problem where the machine would ‘sweat’ thermal paste from its main air vent. Considering I went through EIGHT 360s during the last gen, this did not fill me with confidence.

Happily; the technical faults seem to have been ironed out of both machines with the second batch of hardware. My second Xbox One has had no problems and my recently purchased PS4 is running without hitch. Those people still holding out over hardware concerns can rest easy; the hardware seems safe to buy now.

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The User Interface and Social Aspects

The PS4 and Xbox One have many similarities when it comes to their respective dashboards, and also some big differences. Microsoft’s machine has stuck with the tiled format of Windows 8, so 360 users will instantly be on familiar ground. Some frankly baffling omissions were made when the machine launched, such as no way to manage hard drive space and a complete lack of battery indicator. The lack of ‘XXX is Online’ notifications coupled with the absence of a Friends Online page made using the Xbox One a strangely isolating affair, considering the 360 was (and still is) the go-to machine for social gaming. A recent update has rectified these issues; but the fact remains they should have been included from launch.

When it comes to sharing footage, the Xbox One’s Upload Studio gives a much wider array of options when it comes to editing footage and recording voiceovers etc compared to the competition. The main downside is the five minutes of recording compared to the PS4’s fifteen, and the hoops you have to jump through to publish your footage on Facebook and Youtube etc. Does anybody really want to use OneDrive?

At first glance, PS4 is instantly more sociable. The ‘live from Playstation’ tab takes you to a selection of fellow gamers either livestreaming gameplay or just sat in their front rooms chilling out and taking questions. Granted; these questions are more often than not ‘Get your tits out’ or ‘Wow, you’re ugly’, but its a feature that immediately makes you feel like part of a larger community as soon as you turn your PS4 on. The instant sharing via the button on the controller is straightforward and hassle free. Simply press the button; choose a start and end point upload to Facebook.

As good as this is; there is nothing like Upload Studio on PS4 at all. This means your clips are exactly that – a snatch of footage with no bells and whistles. The good news is that in the next system update (probably available as you read this) Sony are implementing their own editing suite; bringing the PS4’s sharing facilities in line with (and perhaps surpassing) the Xbox One’s.

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Let’s talk cameras. Microsoft’s much-maligned Kinect 2.0 may not be entirely indispensable, but it works. Very, very well. As a navigational tool it is responsive and fast. It could very well be argued (and probably will be in a future Hate Box) that had Microsoft skipped the 360 iteration and introduced the world to Kinect with Xbox One; then it’s reception could have been markedly different. If you are still undecided on Kinect it is best to think of it AS the UI for the X1. Forget Kinect games – the really rather good Kinect Sports Rivals aside, it’s raison d’être is fast switching between games and apps, scanning QR codes and recording your own video clips and voice overs for your game videos.The PS4’s camera is perfectly adequate for livestreaming and has rudimental voice commands, but is so far a bit of a ‘me too’ addition. It’s main advantage is it’s size – it is noticeably smaller than Kinect and looks much more unobtrusive in a living room setting.

UPDATE: Since this article was written; Microsoft has announced that as of the 9th June it will be selling the Xbox One without Kinect. While we at LFG feel this is a big mistake, it will no doubt come as welcome news to those who were holding off on buying the One because of Kinect.

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Performance

Like it or not; we are going to have to talk about resolution. Whether or not this is an issue you care about (for the record, I couldn’t care less) the fact of the matter is that at present, multiformat games look better on PS4. That’s not fanboy bias or an attempt at stirring controversy – its just the way it is. Whether or not this remains an issue throughout the generation remains to be seen – we’ve heard that developers have had less time with Xbox One development kits but we’re also hearing with increasing regularity that getting a game running at 1080p on Microsoft’s box is proving pretty damn difficult.

Aside from 1080p vs 720/900/whatever, you aren’t really going to have an issue unless you have a truly gargantuan TV. And when it comes to sheer graphical force there are only two main contenders thus far – Xbox One’s Ryse: Son of Rome and the PS4’s Infamous: Second Son. Infamous is gorgeous. It’s use of particle effects is thus far unsurpassed; Delsin Rowe’s ‘Neon’ power in particular is a gorgeous treat for the eyeballs. The city of Seattle is breathtaking and the facial animation is up there with the very best. However – Ryse trounces it in almost every respect. It’s ironic that a launch title originally planned as a 360 Kinect game should be the absolute cream of the next gen crop; but so far it is still sitting at the top of the next gen graphics pile six months on. Running at ‘only’ 900p, it is proof that resolution isn’t the be all and end all. There are other handsome games on both systems (Killzone is also very lovely) but it’s strange that so far we have not seen any other truly breathtaking titles – look towards winter for the first slew of truly eye popping games. This is probably down to the majority of titles being multiformat games straddling both this generation and the last.

When it comes to the crunch; at present both systems are negligible in difference when it comes to graphics. If you are a bit of a graphics whore then you will have to weigh up slightly sharper multiformat releases on PS4 with the best in game visuals so far with Xbox One’s Ryse.

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Playing the Games

Gamers really are spoiled this generation when it comes to the controllers, both systems offering the absolute best pads their respective companies have ever made. The Dualshock 4 is without doubt the best Playstation controller to date. It’s smooth curvature makes it much more pleasant to hold than it’s PS3 predecessor (which I HATED). The terrible shoulder buttons of yore have been replaced with much more responsive pads and the central touchpad is a joy to use – particularly in Final Fantasy 14, where it is used exactly like a computer trackpad. The Dualshock 4 has two faults that spoil the otherwise great experience – it’s horrendous battery life and the quite frankly ridiculous light bar on the back. The light reflects off your TV screen, putting you off during important gameplay sequences. Whoever thought this was a good piece of design should get the sack, right now (UPDATE: Since this piece was written, Sony have unveiled their VR headset Project Morpheus, and revealed that the light bar is primarily for that. Still, until that appears it’s a terrible inclusion). The latest system update has included the ability to dim the light bar, but the difference is so negligible as to be worthless. The small speaker in the pad’s centre may have been lifted from Nintendo’s Wii remote, but is a very cool addition when used in interesting ways – I particularly like how audio logs picked up in Killzone are played back through the controller.

For me, the Xbox One controller is the clear winner. It is a joy to hold, ergonomically designed to within an inch of its life. It is very comfortable; doesn’t make your hands as sweaty as the Dualshock and the new impulse feedback in the triggers is awesome. It may still take AA batteries or require a separate purchase of a play and charge kit; but this is worth the money as you will easily get a few days play on one charge. Conversely, the Dualshock’s internal battery runs out very quickly – you will be lucky to get an evening’s play from it. The Xbox controller’s one flaw is the bumpers – they are very awkwardly placed and an awful piece of design.

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The Exclusives

It is here that the major battles will be won. As we are only half a year into the lifespan of these machines, there are predictably not a huge amount of exclusives on show – but still probably more than you’d expect.

For a company touting an ad campaign that states it’s ‘for the players’; Sony’s initial first party offerings were suprisingly weak. Knack is a one trick adventure-platforming pony (albeit a very pretty one) that admirably shows off the PS4’s particle effects but fails to do a whole lot else. Killzone: Shadow Fall is likewise very beautiful with some astounding lighting, but a more tediously dull shooter devoid of new ideas I’ve not played in a long time. And that was it on the retail exclusives front – a poor show indeed. More recently Infamous has upped the quality, but it is still a suprisingly brief affair for an open world title. If you want to find quality then you need to look to the Playstation Store for the real gems – the eye-melting Resogun is a fantastic side scrolling shooter that is supremely addictive; and survival horror title Outlast is easily the most terrifying experience I’ve had in gaming for years.

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More recently the PS4 has seen some more niche exclusives in the form of Dynasty Warriors 8 and MLB: The Show, and now both Final Fantasy 14 and Bound By Flame have the RPG market sewn up on next gen. Currently there are no exclusive RPGs on the X1 so Microsoft need to step up in this area.

The Xbox One has taken a lot of flack over the last year due to Microsoft’s frankly piss poor PR efforts; losing the goodwill of the general public – something it is still struggling to win back. Ironically, despite the average consumer still assuming that it is ‘all about TV’ the Xbox One has a much bigger slate of exclusives than its competitor. Around launch on the retail front we had Ryse, Dead Rising 3, Forza 5 and Zoo Tycoon, with Plants vs Zombies, Kinect Sports Rivals and of course Titanfall all launching in the first few months of this year. The Marketplace has seen supremely addictive puzzler Peggle 2, charismatic platformer Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, the spiritual Panzer Dragoon successor, Crimson Dragon, arcadey golf title Powerstar Golf, and the admittedly lacklustre, Halo: Spartan Assault. Despite Ryse being a rather shallow affair; the other titles are all high quality and probably make the Xbox One’s launch lineup among the strongest ever. Having said that, we are still waiting on a truly standout title on both systems. At present we have no indication as to whether summer will bring more exclusives, or if we have to wait for the inevitable October/November avalanche.

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So, which console should I buy? And is now a good time to jump in, or shall I wait?

The million dollar question. And despite the flame wars, the controversy, the willy waving and backtracking, both consoles are presently very similar. The Playstation 4 is the more powerful of the two, but as of yet has nothing to truly show this. It houses the better looking third party games, but having played a LOT of third party X1 games I can assure you the difference is hardly noteworthy. It has fewer exclusives, but better sharing functionality and ease of navigation. The Xbox One has the inarguably stronger slew of exclusive games, but struggles to match the PS4 for processing power. It’s Kinect is a very decent piece of kit; but Microsoft’s decision to make it optional will see it implemented in games less and less frequently. It’s controller is better, but sharing is more of a hassle. At the end of the day, whichever system you settle on will make you very happy. And if like me you are either totally minted or very stupid with money (guess which I am), you can get both and sit there smugly as the fanboys go into meltdown.

Should you buy now? That’s a tough question. I haven’t seen anything so far to make me believe getting either console day one was a must. There are enjoyable games, but not spectacular ones. We are still waiting for our Oblivion, or our Ghost Recon. Right now if pushed I would say the Xbox One is the better proposition, but that may well change by Christmas. One thing for sure – if you go X1 then wait til June 9th – the Kinectless SKU is cheaper, and probably a better option. I can’t see PS4 getting a price drop this year as it is already spectacular value for money. As of yet, it’s games are nothing to get excited over though.

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I hope this article may help anyone who hasn’t made the jump into next gen yet feel a bit clearer on how things lie. One thing is certain – we are in for one hell of a Christmas! 

– Matt Reynolds. Hit him up on Twitter – https://twitter.com/TheLostMoment.

So, dear reader, what console takes your fancy? Maybe you’ve already got one – or both! – how are you getting on with it? Remember to tell us on Twitter or Facebook, or comment below!

 

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