Xbox One vs PS4 Impressions

Yes, I’m that guy – I had to have both.

Awww, look at them just co-existing harmoniously...

Awww, look at them just co-existing harmoniously…

The next generation of gaming is now well and truly here, with the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One joining the 3DS, PS Vita and Wii U in one big dysfunctional gaming family. At the time of writing I have had just over a week with the Playstation 4 and a fortnight with the Xbox One, meaning I am just about ready to talk about what has and hasn’t impressed me about the brand new consoles. I’ve divided things into sub-headings for easy reference. Note that most of these photos were taken very late at night with a combination of caffeine, minimal sleep and of course excitement, so they are a little on the awful side if you look at them too closely.

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SO SHINY

Both consoles, for some reason that can only be described as bizarre, have decided to go for the same half-matte half-gloss finish for their initial models. While the PS4 certainly wears it proudly, Microsoft’s new console seems obsessed with the style. Not only the console and the included Kinect sensor but the power brick and even the HDMI cable all boast a similar matte-gloss embellishment. The PS4 is much smaller than the Xbox One and doesn’t need a power brick (in fact it works fine with my existing PS3 cables) but runs noticeably louder than the beefy new Xbox, which seems to be made up of 50% cooling vents and emits so little sound that it makes the humming PS4 sound like an angry freight train by comparison.

Both consoles require at least a one-time internet connection and a half-gig patch download to unlock their full functionality. In the case of the Xbox One, the console will just flat-out not work without downloading that patch. Every Xbox One of course comes with Microsoft’s new generation of Kinect sensor, whereas for about the price of a new game you can pick up the optional Playstation Camera for your PS4 if you want to. The difference in functionality is stark, though, as the Kinect has a much wider field of view, better display resolution and smoother voice recognition capabilities than the much smaller and lighter PS Camera. Microsoft’s new product packaging in general is superior in showiness to Sony’s, and for some reason Xbox One game cases hold the disc on the left hand side, but there isn’t much more to say about that.

Day one haul, Xbox edition.

Day one haul, Xbox edition.

Day one haul, Playstation edition.

Day one haul, Playstation edition.

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USER INTERFACE

When it comes to UI, the PS4 has the edge in simplicity while the Xbox One is perhaps a little faster to get where you need to go, as long as you are willing to train yourself to talk to the new Kinect in a very specific way. As long as you play by its rules, Kinect is surprisingly adept at recognising voice commands, even with Australian accents in full swing. It’s both a little creepy and very, very cool, as is the ability of Kinect to recognise multiple faces in the room and automatically sign people in. The console encourages you to try using your voice to go straight to whatever game or app you want to get to, which is just as well because navigating the Xbox One dashboard with a controller means some things take an unnecessarily long time to reach. People familiar with the tile based layout of Windows 8 will recognise the sometimes obtuse logic behind where some things are, buried under several menus and sub-menus. You can also use gestures to control the dashboard, and Kinect does a good job of recognising your hand movements, but the lengthy and weird push-pull movements required to select things usually makes a controller preferable. There is one final control option, Smartglass, which requires a compatible phone or tablet and a free app download but works much more smoothly than it ever did on the Xbox 360. At least it did when I tried it on my 3rd generation iPad.

An off-TV shot of the Xbox One UI. The picture in the middle comes from my Apple TV.

An off-TV shot of the Xbox One UI. My Apple TV is feeding its signal through the console here.

The PS4’s UI is perhaps a little more straightforward than the Xbox One’s, as things tend to be organised a little better into their appropriate sections. The setup basically works in two horizontal lines, with your games and apps organised by most recently used on the main line, while things like settings, Trophies and the Playstation Network Store located on the much smaller top line. The PS Camera’s limited suite of voice commands means using it to get around is hardly a reality, so it’s good to see everything lined up nice and cleanly. Whether things will stay this way over time as players’ game collections grow larger remains to be seen.

This shot looks better because it was taken from the actual PS4.

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THOSE CONTROLLERS

Both fresh controllers, understandably crucial to the console experience, feel amazing in the hands. The Xbox One pad makes several small adjustments to what was already a winning design in the Xbox 360 controller. The offset analogue sticks and general button layout stays the same, but gone is the awful disc-based directional pad, replaced with a retro style plus shape. The “clickiness” of said D-pad makes it inferior to recent offerings from Sony and Nintendo in my opinion, but most anything would have been an improvement over last time. Talking of clickiness, the left and right bumpers on the new controller are also a bit more digital in feel now and they work off a new hinge system, meaning they can no longer be pressed towards the centre of the controller. If you have big hands you may need to use your index fingers in more of a claw shape than you are used to, but it shouldn’t affect your experience too much. The Start and Select buttons have been replaced by View and Menu buttons, but they function essentially the same way as their old counterparts. Unquestionably my favourite thing about the Xbox One controller is its amazing triggers, which not only feel magnificent in the way they fit the curve of your fingers but also feature individual rumble motors for more localised feedback, such as when braking hard in Forza Motorsport 5.

The presentation of the packaging for additional Xbox One controllers is amazing.

The presentation of additional Xbox One controller packaging is amazing.

The PS4 controller, on the other hand, is a gigantic improvement over the PS3 one. The new “Dualshock 4” features a larger, more comfortable form factor, an even better D-pad and, most mercifully, a pair of analogue sticks and a pair of triggers that don’t encourage your fingers to slip off them. Start and Select have also vanished from this controller, replaced with not two but three inputs: an Options button which essentially functions like Start, a large-ish touch pad that also clicks like a button to take much of the Select button’s functionality, and a brand-new Share button that I will get to in a moment. Each Dualshock 4 also features a light bar on its back, which glows different colours based on what player number is holding it, turns yellow when charging, and has other occasional in-game functions such as indicating the state of your health in Killzone Shadow Fall. There’s a speaker too, which is used for things like playing collectible audio logs in Killzone, and a headphone jack, which is actually my favourite feature hands-down because it allows you to plug in any pair of headphones, even iPod ones, and play the entire audio output of the PS4 through them. The Dualshock 4 is also backwards compatible with some PS3 games, as long as you keep it plugged in to your PS3 and don’t mind the PS button not working. Reddit has a decent list of known compatible games at the moment, to which I can add Just Cause 2.

Player 1 lights up in blue, Player 2 in red.

Player 1 lights up in blue, Player 2 in red.

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UNIQUE FEATURES

The Xbox One’s major drawcard is unquestionably Kinect, but I’ve already talked about that. There are many other cool things the Xbox One can do that the PS4 can’t, thanks to more of the console’s processing power being allocated to user navigation. Chief among these is multitasking, in the form of a so-called Snap system that allows you to “snap” certain apps to the right hand side of your screen and essentially do two things at once. Two of the absolute best things about this are undoubtedly the ability to Skype your friends while playing a game and the option to have, say, an online walkthrough running alongside a game you are having trouble with. As a self-proclaimed “All in One” entertainment system, the new Xbox also features an HDMI In port as well as the traditional Out, meaning you can plug just about any HDMI device into it and treat that as its own application for snapping. So you could, say, watch TV while checking your friends’ Achievements, or even play your Xbox 360/Wii U/PS3/PS4 through your Xbox One. Doing this does bring some noticeable input lag into the equation however.

You can snap FAQs and guides to one side of the screen while playing the actual game.

You can snap FAQs and guides to one side of the screen while playing the actual game in question.

The PS4, of course, has Remote Play, which allows you to sync up a Playstation Vita and play any game that supports the feature on the small screen via local Wi-Fi. In theory this works similarly to the inbuilt functionality of the Wii U gamepad, meaning you can keep playing games (and earning Trophies!) if someone else wants to use your main TV. Given that Sony has already promised similar functionality twice in the past and failed to deliver, I am genuinely surprised at how robust the feature is with the PS4’s processing power now behind it. I have tested most of the PS4 games I own with RP and I have to say that the Vita-PS4 team does the job admirably. While there is some noticeable video compression and latency involved in most games, especially when compared to the aforementioned Wii U gamepad, the slight input delay is not enough to detract from gameplay as long as super-fast twitch reflexes aren’t required. For example, I was able to get through an entire, rather lengthy mission of Battlefield 4‘s campaign on Normal difficulty without too much drama, but multiplayer was just a no-no.

Killzone Shadow Fall on the Vita screen.

Killzone Shadow Fall on the Vita screen.

One of the more impressive aspects of Remote Play for me is the way the Vita accommodates the controls of the Dualshock 4. Even though the portable has a major button shortage compared to Sony’s new flagship controller, the Vita’s front and rear touch inputs make for a surprisingly comfortable substitute. L2/R2 and L3/R3 are mapped to different sections of the rear touchpad, with crucial dead zones allowed on the edges of the pad so you don’t accidentally press something you don’t want to. What’s more, in first person shooters L1/R1 and L2/R2 are automatically switched, meaning the Vita’s actual shoulder buttons take care of weapon firing without any adjustment needed. The touch screen replaces the front touchpad of the Dualshock 4 and the Vita’s motion sensors even work in place of Sixaxis for games like Flower. Another genuine reason to think about picking up a Playstation Vita down the road if you’re like most people and don’t already have one.

The Dualshock 4 button layout adapted for Vita.

The Dualshock 4 button layout adapted for Vita.

One of the most notable features of next-gen consoles is their embracing of shared game footage and both consoles handle their first steps into this brave new world admirably. The Xbox One allows you to say “Xbox, record that” at nearly any time to automatically record your last 30 seconds of gameplay, which you can then trim before adding filters and video/audio footage via Kinect if you wish. Uploading from there is a simple button press away. This fits FIFA so well it’s ridiculous, as I no longer need to fear that people won’t believe me when I score a fantastic or really disgusting goal, although it isn’t so ideal for other games. Full game streaming functionality is coming to Xbox One but isn’t there yet, whereas PS4 already has it via both Twitch TV and Ustream. It’s a little bit mind-blowing how simple it is to just jump into any number of game streams worldwide on PS4, commenting on what you see in real time and having the people streaming answer your comments. The possibilitites are endlessly exciting. What’s more, the PS4 allows you to record up to 15 minutes of footage in the past and can take a screenshot at any time, both via the Share button on the controller, which is perfect for this here blog (although getting the screenshot from the PS4 to this site requires setting up a dummy Twitter account, which is less than ideal). It’s disappointing that I cannot take screenshots on the Xbox One yet, but I’m sure the feature has to come soon.

Comparing Trophies is easier than ever.

Comparing Trophies is easier than ever.

Both Microsoft’s Achievement system and Sony’s Trophies have seen improvements, although in Microsoft’s case also an arguable step back. The ability to earn colour-coded Achievements for multiple logged-in users based on their individual preferences is awesome, but viewing the descriptions for Achievements you have already earned is oddly unintuitive. There are also now “Challenges” which are like Achievements but don’t give you any Gamerscore. I kinda wish they just would. Trophies on the other hand are pretty much front and centre of the PS4 interface, and in a move I think is brilliant now display a rarity rating based on how many players of the game in question have earned that Trophy. This is available on PS3 and Vita games too as long as you view them on your PS4, which makes me feel pretty good about that Gravity Rush Platinum I got this year.

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THE GAMES

So far, as is to be expected, neither console has much of a game library, nor a real “killer app” that presents a compelling case for stepping into next-gen gaming. Having said that, I have enjoyed most of what I have played across both consoles. My two favourite games of the whole launch experience may seem a little underwhelming to some: FIFA 14 on Xbox One and Resogun on PS4. Neither title cost me a cent due to various promotions but both are amazing fun to play. The improvements in the look and feel of FIFA over its current-gen self are immediately apparent after just one match, and the game is now much more appealing to spectate than it ever was. Resogun is a twin-stick shooter with an arcade feel and spectacular visuals that is just so addictive to play, with a score-chasing element at the heart of the experience but strategic depths that weren’t present in its developer’s amazing previous effort Super Stardust Delta. I am at a loss to explain its appeal here but if you get a PS4 you need to try this game.

A screenshot of actual Killzone Shadow Fall gameplay, taken on my PS4.

Killzone Shadow Fall, which I have already mentioned a few times, is the most visually impressive next-gen game I have played (I haven’t dabbled in the eye-bleeding Ryse: Son of Rome on Xbox One as of yet) and it uses more of the Dualshock 4’s features than anything else in Sony’s early library. Yet I am a little disappointed in its relative monotony and inability to accurately show you where you should be going next. Knack is not really a good game, although it can be decently fun in co-op, and Playstation Plus gift Contrast has some cool ideas but is nowhere near in the same league as fellow freebie Resogun (oh yeah, by the way, you now require Playstation Plus to play most online multiplayer games, but as I’ve said before on this blog you should probably already subscribe anyway). Flower, which is also available on the PS3 and Vita, is a great game, and if you already own it you won’t have to pay for it again. The same goes for Sound Shapes, a critically acclaimed musical platformer that I still refuse to download on principle due to my horrible history with the game. The Playroom is a fun built-in distraction that uses the PS Camera and controller in creative ways, but it’s barely a game.

Overall the PS4 has a much larger downloadable launch line-up than the Xbox One, but a lot of the games are already available on other platforms, which arguably diminishes the importance of this. Certainly in terms of big retail games it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Xbox One has a rather sizeable edge over the PS4, with the very pretty if slightly repetitive Ryse leading the charge. Dead Rising 3 does crazy zombie-slaying better than the series ever has by all accounts, and Forza Motorsport 5 is actually so incredibly well presented and feels so good to control that I have really enjoyed my limited time with it despite not usually being into car games . On the downloadable front, Killer Instinct is a technically impressive fighter that is worth your while if you’re willing to pay for all of its characters while the decidedly grindy Japanese rail shooter Crimson Dragon is much better than its distracted early reviews have been giving it credit for. The fact that the impossibly exciting Titanfall is coming to Xbox One in just three short months will probably keep it on top, though the PS4’s Infamous: Second Son will probably have something to say about that.

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SPEED BUMPS

As with any new console launch, there have been hardware issues reported by a number of users of the Xbox one and the PS4. While I have been lucky enough to avoid the so-called “blue light of death” PS4 issue and my Xbox One hasn’t refused to turn on, I have come across some annoyances nonetheless. I’ve had games crash on me for seemingly no reason on both consoles, losing me progress, and since I got my PS4 my Kinect has petulantly refused to see or hear me at all on more than one occasion. It’s almost like it knows…

Moving on to design-related things, there are a couple of features missing from each console that perhaps should have been included from the beginning, although I have full confidence that they will eventually be patched in. The Xbox One, for example, currently features no way to look at your remaining hard drive space, which given the massive 30gb+ mandatory install sizes of even disc-based games is more than a little bizarre. The PS4 lacks the unified download list of the PS Vita and PS3 and automatic Trophy syncing is oddly not even available yet.

Speaking of Trophies, one thing that has really disappointed me about the PS4, perhaps more than it should, is the current lack of multi-user Trophy support for some notable co-op games. Both Knack and Lego Marvel Super Heroes are more fun in co-op, and one of the big promises of the PS4 was that unlike the PS3, the console would allow multiple users to log on at once and earn Trophies for their own accounts (much like on the Xbox 360 and indeed the Xbox One). Yet neither of those games actually has that feature. The Playroom does, which suggests that it is the individual developers of the games who are at fault here, but it really should be a standardised part of the PS4 gaming experience if you ask me.

The Playstation Store layout still sucks.

Then there is the PSN Store, which still features the same mind bogglingly stupid layout of the latter PS3 days. Sure, it runs much faster now, but basic search functions fail to work and finding newly released games that aren’t big blockbusters is still a real pain. Also, I can only manage to access it about 60% of the time I try. Here’s hoping it gets reworked soon.

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THE XBOX ONE VERDICT

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Good:
Impressive Kinect functionality, runs silently, great controller, better early game library than the PS4
Bad:
Unweildy interface, no screenshot/streaming functionality
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

515/110A M A Z I N G

– – – – – – – – –
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THE PS4 VERDICT

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Good:
Simple interface, Trophies are better than ever, the Dualshock 4 is a triumph, Remote Play is awesome
Bad:
A bit loud, online store is still bad
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

515/110A M A Z I N G

– – – – – – – – –

Surprise surprise – no winner. I have been playing my PS4 slightly more but that is just personal preference. We shall see what the (very exciting) future brings for these two juggernaut boxes!

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