Head2Head

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The biggest news at E3, hands down, was the next generation of consoles. It was hard to escape the hubub to find anyone talking about anything other than the PS4 and the Xbox One. But it’s understandable; we only really get new tech like this one a decade. By the conferences alone, most people were talking about how much of a winner Sony was over Microsoft, but after a few days with each system, I came away with a very different impression. More than any other console race in the past, this one is going to be a very, very close battle. So grab a pile of snacks and sit back for our biggest Head2Head ever.

THE FORM FACTOR

First things first: how do they look? Well, the good news is that both systems are easy on the eyes and enjoyable to look at.

The Xbox One has a strong, commanding presence. You’ve seen the pictures, but you probably don’t have a concept for how huge the system really is. It’s bigger than most cable boxes I’ve seen. I have no doubt that the box has some real heft behind it, but that seems to be part of the idea of the Xbox One. It wants to be seen, it wants to take up room and devour your attention, and that shows in the design.

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Like me after two drinks, the One also looks better in person than it does in photos. Something about the way the color gets muted in the images, but standing next to it, that “liquid black” color, supposedly the blackest-black there is, it really pops. I’ll miss the “arctic chill” of the original 360 though. The 50/50 design of the new box is set off by the lite white glow of the Xbox logo, juxtaposed far to the right. It’s nice to look at. The 3DS’s layer cake design comes to mind here: not so hot in the photos, but breathtaking in real life.

On the other hand, the PS4 is by no means an artistic slouch. Like the One, the size is the first thing you’ll notice. But with the Playstation, you’ll notice how small the device is instead how enourmous. You might ask if Sony forgot to stuff some things inside because it seems even smaller than the newest redesign of the PS3. Makes you wonder how scary small the PS4 Slim will be.

While both of the systems have sharp edges, the PS4 seems to flow more with it’s design. It’s angled, reminiscent of a chevron, and gives you the feeling that it’s in motion. I have to admit, when I first saw it, I wasns’t very impressed with the angled edges, and the displays in Sony’s booth didn’t help my opinion. All the systems they have running were set against triangular white blocks that hid the angle in the back of the system and made the design pop much more. I sort of wish it was build like that instead of being angled on both sides.

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Still, for as much as I love the simplicity and solidity of the Xbox One, I’m going to have to give the edge here to the PS4. I don’t like its design as much, but I also don’t worry that it will break bones if dropped on my foot and it’s not making me stare at my play area wondering how on Earth I’m going to find space to shove it in.

EDGE: PLAYSTATION 4


THE CONTROLLER

The controllers, blessedly, were handled much better this generation than they were last one. Remember that, nine years ago? The Xbox 360 had brought out their smaller, smoother controller and Elijah Wood talked about how nice it felt while Sony introduced us a Boomerang that you had to wave around to control the Sixaxis. Nothing so outrageous is happening this time around, and it seems like Sony is sticking closer to the idea of the DualShock 3 this time.

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I’m not as big a fan of the DualShock 4 as I was of the previous iteration. I still like the design, it looks like a cross between a controller and a laptop, wrapped up in smooth edges, but once I got my hands on it, I liked it much less. The first thing you’ll notice is the crosshatched design on the back. The texture of it seemed to pull in the sweat from my hands in a gross way that made me immediately want to pull out a bottle of sanitizer. The controller feels much smaller and lighter than past iterations as well, reminding me of the original launch sixaxis controller for the PS3. The buttons still feel nice, and the new deeper triggers on the back of the controller are easy to fall in love with.

Most of the design of the controller is the same, but there are two major new additions. The first is the track pad, that black matte pad you see in the middle of the controller, which lets you use your finger to swipe at things in the middle of the game. It seemed responsive enough to be feasible, but like the sixaxis before it, it doesn’t seem like a game changer to me. The fact that you really have to either stretch your fingers or alter how you hold the controller also makes it seem like it will quickly become something of a gimmick only used in first-party Sony games on the inside of a year (and we probably will see most third-party controllers built without it). The other new feature is the share button, which I didn’t really get to use, but I did press a few times. It seems a bit far away, like the black and white buttons on the old Xbox, and not exactly simple to press.

One last thing on the PS4 controller: they added in a bar of color at the top. I absolutely love the idea of this. While playing Tiny Brains (a game we’ll be talking about more soon), each player had a different color assigned to their controller based on the character they played, and I quickly became attracted to the color bar. Instead of shouting “Who’s playing green?” I could just lean forward and see. My complaint with it though is that the color bar is angled downward and therefore not really visible to the player unless you flip the controller up to see it. It’s not a major problem, but it eliminates many potential uses of  the bar, such as displaying your character’s health status, since you have to torque your hands to check it.

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The Xbox Controller on the other hand is far more conservative. The shape isn’t fundamentally changed other than adding a plateau to the top and making it semi-gloss, semi-matte instead of all matte. The center button has been moved up, the function buttons are larger and more centered, and all the words have been wiped away and replaced with images. This could be a problem for newer gamers wondering which one is the “Start” button since it’s now the “Two Little Boxes” button or the “Three Little Lines” button. They’ve increased the size of the letters on the buttons, which I personally don’t think looks as good, but isn’t a dealbreaker. One change that I really didn’t like going in was that the “wings” of the controller have been sharpened, but once I got the controller in my hands, those worries faded away.

The Xbox One controller feels great. It’s the same responsive design you know on the 360. A little sharper, and with highly evolved thumbsticks that seem to grip against your finger tips (more of that cross hatch from the back of the PS4 controller, but it felt better here than in my palms). At the EA Ignite booth, I had the chance to quickly jump back and forth between the One controller and DualShock 4, and I found that I quickly came to prefer the Xbox One’s new feel than the PS4′s.

EDGE: XBOX ONE


THE INTERFACE

Here’s how I see this breaking down. The PS4 has everything you’d expect from it, and not much else. The Xbox One has a whole lot of new stuff to love, and a whole lot of new stuff to hate.

Like Sony was with their new controller, the Xbox One’s interface is daring. At a Microsoft showing of the system (wonderfully titled “Xbox One-oh-One”), they took the chance to show off some of the radical ways that the One will change the way you interface with your system. Going into E3 on a whole, I was worried that Microsoft had forgotten about games, but at the end of the show, I was wondering why I didn’t think more about the alternate functions of my Xbox. I currently use it to watch Netflix far more than I game on it, so the idea of watching TV on it shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. And I was impressed with what they showed.

For a demonstration, the Microsoft Rep who was playing the system opened up an NFL game and we started watching it. Then one of her Fantasy Football players scored a touchdown. An achievement like box popped up (note: achievements look way more square now) and told her that she had earned more fantasy football points. With the touch of a button (the center button, I assume), she opened a snap-app that stuck to the side of the screen and let her alter her fantasy football team on the fly. All of this happened while the show was still playing. It made TV seem much more interactive. They also told us you could use the snap-apps for things like Skyping people while watching games or looking through your Netflix list.

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One real negative I see with the TV function on the One is that it still requires you to have a set-top cable box to experience most of your programming. So if you live in a house where the cable box is in the living room, but your Xbox One is on a different television, you pretty much lose most of that functionality (you can still use it with Netflix and Hulu). As someone who currently keeps his gaming systems in his office, I’d be remiss to have to move my work to the living room.

But beyond the television like functionality of the One, they also have a very, very impressive display made from a NASA program. Jeff Henshaw, the Lead Engineer on the Xbox One, began the demo with the Xbox One processing as much as it’s little heart could handle, putting up tens of thousands of celestial bodies on to the screen and mapping their orbit through our galaxy in real time. But then, the One linked up to the internet and accessed one of “hundreds of thousands of severs in dozens of data centers around the world” to help it compute the rest of the stars, and the number of bodies being processed jump up by a factor of 30. It was an incredibly impressive demo, seeing what basically amounted to a scientific supercomputer working while completely silent right in front of my eyes. It was what I hoped SimCity would be (but we all know how that turned out).

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As for the PS4, the focus relied much more heavily on interactivity and sharing. Connections to social media, the ability to instantly post what you’re playing, and messaging across systems basically turning into IM, the PS4 certainly wants to be social media friendly. I wasn’t exactly interested by it since most of my friends don’t care much about what I’m doing, but if social media is your thing, it all looks very fast and incredibly easy to use.

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One thing that I’m a bit concerned with for the PS4′s interface is that much of it seems reliant on typing. If they really want to pull me away from my computer, they’re going to have to make a better method of input than typing via a digital keypad (the trackpad doesn’t help). Even with a full on keyboard, I feel like it would be much faster to just open up my computer and post via that. The best thing it has going for it is the new video editing suite, which lets you upload your gameplay as it records you playing, but we have to remember that Sony doesn’t seem like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel here. The XMB on the PS3 had a very conservative design and that has carried over to the new system. It’s a box much more focused on getting you to your game and letting you enjoy it.

EDGE: XBOX ONE


THE SUBSCRIPTION

Did you hear? The PS4 requires you to pay for Playstation Plus now to play your games online. Gone are the days of playing things online for free, and hopefully to come are the days of Sony having service as rocksolid as Xbox LIVE.

So what separates the two? Well, for starters, there’s a ten dollar price gap, with Sony having the cheaper service at $50 a year instead of LIVE’s $60. But beyond that, PS+ just gives you a world of goodies that LIVE doesn’t even come close to. You get the “Instant Game Collection”, which gives you piles of great games right from the outset, and then betters it by adding new ones every month. There are plenty of games that I find out about simply because they’re give to me. The Xbox doesn’t have anything like this, unless you count their attempt to give away free games later this year leading up to the launch of the One, a service which, sadly, doesn’t seem likely to continue on to the new system. But beyond that, Sony is also giving away DriveClub, one of their exclusive next gen games, for free to Plus subscribers. That’s a bold more that I don’t see Microsoft ever trying to replicate (though they have the perfect chance with Kinect Sports Rivals).

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Xbox LIVE, on the other hand, is consistently awesome in terms of connection. It rarely goes down for maintenance, unlike the PSN, and when it does go down, they tell you well ahead of time. Their voice chat and cross game chat has been better since launch, and only looks to increase in utility with the introduction of the Skype snap app that will let you video chat while doing anything on the One. They’re both bound to have their problems: the PSN went out for over a month a while back and LIVE had people hacking accounts to buy stupid amounts of FIFA points, but overall I still expect LIVE to be the better performing service. I also still expect it to be the system where little kids scream my ears off when I try to play a match in Black Ops 2.

Overall, I’d say the oodles of freebies from Plus outweigh the sometimes not-as-great nature of the Playstation Network. The real cincher is the lower monthly cost, something that will make a big difference to people trying to save a buck.

EDGE: PLAYSTATION 4


THE CAMERA

This part hardly seems fair, so if you’re keeping tally, we’ll call this one a freebie. Still, Sony seems intent on taking on Microsoft in this court, releasing a new camera for the PS4, so I’ll evaluate it (and I’m not going to be talking about the new Kinect elsewhere until the One actually comes out).

The 4 Eye (Now officially titled the “Playstation Camera”)  for the PS4 seems very much like the last Playstation Eye. It’s better designed, picking up a longer, blocky shape like the Kinect has, but it’s much smaller. As far as functionality, however, it doesn’t seem like much is there. At they PS4 unveiling, Sony stated that the Camera would be able to track the color bar of the DualShock 4 in 3D space and would use it much like the move controllers. At the show, they show a tech demo called “The Playroom”, the only thing there that even bothered with the Camera, but it didn’t really seem that impressive. I never got my hands on it, but I watched as a few people stumbled about trying to get the sensor to work. It’s a much more clumsy input than the Move (which I thought was far better than the Kinect), and you no longer seem able to use both hands to play. Unless they bring out a Move 2 for the system with updated controls, it doesn’t seem like the Playstation Camera will be something that anyone ever cares about, and if they do come out with a Move 2, you’re in for a pricey upgrade (it cost about $190 for a full Move set when it launched).

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As for the Kinect, it has seen a vast upgrade. It’s to be expected: the Kinect is part of Microsoft’s design philosophy while the Playstation Camera was just something Sony did to put a checkmark in a box. Aside from increased voice searching capabilities (the only thing the original Kinect did that made it worth it), the new Kinect can track you in a plethora of ways. The body tracing function can now see individual joints as they move; it can see you in infrared; it can make a weird Minecraft shaped version of you to track your orientation; it reads your force, motion, and heartrate; and it can even track what your face looks like while you’re using it. The fact that it can do this in zero light is both awesome and scary.

There was a lot of talk at the demonstration for the Kinect about how your body is a “third thumbstick” for your controller that was never being utilized. The goal of the unit is to turn you and your motions into a part of the game. How does this work? Well, the tech demo they had showed this off fairly well. It was a basic shooter type game with polygonal enemies attacking. There were three levels designed to show off the Kinect’s function. In the first level, some of the enemies had weakpoints that couldn’t been seen, so the player tapped his skull quickly and turned on his X-ray vision, allowing him to see the enemies. Then, he tapped his forehead again to turn it off. Of the three levels, this one seemed the most functional and likely to be found in another game. It would work pretty well in something like Splinter Cell, allowing you to cycle through your visions quickly. It also was the demo that required the least exaggerated of the motions, a problem that plagued the last Kinect and drove many players away from it.

For the second level, an enemy was shooting at the player, and he lifted up his controller to shield his face, as if scared. The Kinect sensed this and made the character pull up a shield. It was neat, but since the function wasn’t mapped to a button, you’d have to do this every time you wanted to block. This is one of the ways that motion controls start to break down for hardcore players. Many people like to play games in compromised positions (I often play laying down on the floor) and ranges of motion are hard. Something like tapping your skull isn’t hard in any position, but lifting your arms up can get cumbersome. I was assured that the Kinect would be able to track you through a range of positions, but I didn’t see it in person.

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For the final level, the player had to lean back and forth to dodge oncoming attacks. When he leaned, his character launched himself to the side. It was the most physical of the three activities and the one I thought would be hardest to do while sitting down in a relaxed position. Jeff Henshaw, the player, made very large movements to get his character to move, and twice his avatar didn’t move along with him. The tracking seemed far superior to the old Kinect, but it looks like it still has a few problems (this could be part of the tech demo though).

Still, even though I wasn’t blisteringly impressed with the new Kinect, I do like the idea that every system will come with one. The biggest problem with the 360′s motion controls was that it divided the user base, and many games skipped out on motion controls because they didn’t know who had them and who didn’t and they couldn’t alienate part of their customer base. So with the Xbox One, you can at least expect that we’ll see a lot more Kinect integration, and much more functionality inside of their games when you do use the camera.

EDGE: XBOX ONE


THE GAMES

Really, all of this talk of hardware and interfaces, its doesn’t amount to jack if you don’t want to play any of the games that are on the system. We call them “game consoles” for a reason. So this round is the heavyweight champion of the Head2Head. Games matter.

Starting with the Xbox One this time around, we can see that this system is no slouch. Though Microsoft has been seriously lacking in the exclusives department for the past two years or so, they came back in extreme force for this E3. The lineup: Forza 5, Ryse, Sunset Overdrive, Killer Instinct, Dead Rising 3, Quantum Break, D4, Kinect Sports Rivals, Below, Rabbids Invasion, Crimson Dragon, Project Spark, and Titanfall. Of course, there are many other games coming to the system, but they aren’t exclusive to the Xbox One and therefore don’t make a convincing argument over why you need one system instead of the other (and those games, like Witcher 3 and Battlefield 4, are real system sellers for me).

That’s an impressive lineup, but I get the feeling that only a few of those games will matter outside of the launch title window. As you may remember from past generations, the launch window is usually riddled with games that don’t really go anywhere. The 360 launched with Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo, King Kong, Call of Duty 2, Condemned, Amped 3 and a bunch of sports games that carried over from the last generation. Condemned got a sequel, and Call of Duty carried on, but the rest are just corpses now. Within the first year, the only titles we saw that went on to be big were Dead Rising and Gears of War. So expect something like that to happen here as well.

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If I had to speculate, I’d say that Forza 5 and Titanfall will be the survivors. Forza is already a well established franchise that isn’t going to dodo-out anytime soon. And there’s no use arguing about Titanfall; it was one of the only games at the Show that Burke and I could agree was phenomenal (and we both went in expecting to snooze through the presentation). Ryse was nice to look at and it seemed fun enough, but it just feels like one of those one-word-name launch games you’ll forget about a few years down the line (Haze? Lair? Kameo? Gun?). Killer Instinct and Project Spark will likely show strong enough to get sequels, but they still feel to niche to me to sell systems. Quantum Break will be a critically acclaimed classic that won’t do well in sales (See: Alan Wake) and I really don’t know what to make of Sunset Overdrive.

As for the Playstation 4, it has a much smaller number of titles announced as exclusives, but that’s to be expected. The PS2 and the PS3 both were thin on the exclusives at the start and huge on the back end. This year alone for the PS3 has brought us Ni No Kuni, God of War: Ascension, The Last of Us, Gran Turismo 6, MLB: The Show 13, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Tales of Xillia, and Beyond: Two Souls. That’s a huge number of titles compared to the 360′s, which, outside of XBLA, is only getting Gears of War: Judgement and DARK (which is also on PC).

But the promise of titles later in the life of the system doesn’t make up for the thinness at launch. Here’s the Playstation 4′s prospects: Deep Down, DriveClub, inFamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, and The Order: 1886.

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inFamous and Killzone are sure to be the system sellers here. Killzone is greatly aided by the fact that it launches the day of the system, which means it will likely be the game people pick up beside their PS4 (and maybe Watch Dogs and Battlefield 4). inFamous, on the other hand, doesn’t launch until late spring, if it doesn’t get delayed, so it’s barely inside the the launch window and won’t generate many Day One sales, similar to Titanfall on the Xbox One. It’s something to look forward to, though.

The game I seriously looking forward to though is Knack. What I saw of it at E3 made it instantly one of my favorite games. The platforming is reminiscent of Ratchet and Clank and the graphics are gorgeous. It’s adventurous is a way that brings Kameo to mind for the launch of the 360 and I sincerely hope that the game sells gangbusters alongside day one system purchases.

Overall, there are a ton of titles coming to both systems at launch and we certainly aren’t going to have a 3DS situation on our hands where we’re buying the system to wait for the good games. While the PS4 has a few very, very strong titles, the One just has a lot more up front (like the 360 did). In terms of sheer quantity, this round is going to the green box.

EDGE: XBOX ONE


THE COST

For many of our readers, this will be the major make or break point. What you get for the price. Let’s break that down.

The Xbox One has a base cost of $499.99. You get the system, a controller and your cables, and the new Kinect. Games will still cost $60. Xbox Live is said to be $60 a year still, but I would not be surprised if we see a jump in the price at a later date similar to how the 360 had a mid-life price increase.

The Playstation 4 has a base cost of $399.99. That’s for the system, controller, and cables to run the thing. The camera they sell costs $60 separately. Playstation Plus is now required to run your games online and will cost $50 a year, but things like Netflix won’t require PS+.

It’s pretty clear that the One is going to be the more expensive of the two systems. It costs more from the outset and has a higher priced yearly subscription fee. Their premium service offers a great deal less than the Sony’s as well. In fact, Sony is giving away free downloads of one of their first next gen games, Driveclub, to everyone who is subscribed to their network. And since you need the subscription to play online, that’s a lot of people. Still, the fact that you aren’t blocked out from things such as Netflix makes the price of the Sony system much more attractive. And we can’t forget the fact that Sony is going to continue the “instant game collect” on the PS4, which is a deal so unbelievable that if you traveled back in time to 2006 and told them about it, they’d laugh you into a grave. Even if you want to throw in the camera, you’re still spending $50 less off the bat and getting a whole lot more in terms of service.

EDGE: PLAYSTATION 4


WRAP-UP

Which system is better? It’s hard to tell right now. Until we can get the systems under our lens to test the performance differences between the DDR3 and GDDR5 set-ups, we’re not going to truly have a champ. But the race is neck and neck right now. Let us know which one you’re planning on picking up in the comments.

Written By: D.R. Maddock

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