It’s nearly Christmas and for many of us that means accidentally going into an electronics store or online retailer and buying a games console. But which of the three main competitors should you aim for when that happens?
Let’s look at some more facets of the three current machines.
These days it seems a growing number of people can’t actually enjoy games unless they’re sharing them with the entire world. The good news is, both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 allow you to upload videos of your finest gaming moments, or stream them live over the web.
On PlayStation, just hit the share button, choose either Twitch or Ustream, then you’re off. The PlayStation Camera is supported so everyone can see you too. “The UI is so easy to use,” says Andrew Smith, founder of Spilt Milk Studios. “If you just want to save the last 15 minutes of footage, you can either upload it to Youtube or Facebook, or save it onto the machine for editing in the simple and friendly PS4 editing tool. You can also grab any of these files on your USB and take it to your PC for a bit more advanced editing if that’s what you want.”
With Xbox One, if you have a Kinect camera, you can say “Xbox Broadcast” and you’re immediately streaming to Twitch. “It’s simple and easy-to use – absolutely as it should be,” says Adam Sawkins, developer of FortressCraft
“As for uploading videos to Youtube … ugh. There’s a whole bunch of Kinect commands for no good reason, and while doing it on a SmartGlass-enabled device is a lot better, it’s still a fiddly nightmare. It is powerful though: you can do fades and edits, but you’re better off uploading the raw footage to Youtube, downloading it, and editing it on PC. On the upside, the ‘Xbox, record that’ command grabs the previous 30 seconds of gameplay and saves it out for you to upload at a later date, which works great for unexpected events.”
The Wii U doesn’t currently support streaming or sharing in this way. However, you can upload screenshots to the MiiVerse, while Mario Kart 8 allows players to view and make videos of interesting races; it’s likely this feature will make it into subsequent titles.
Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controllers have been overhauled since the previous generation. The Dualshock 4 has added a “Share” button to help with broadcasting and recording, and it has a new touch pad, which provides a new way for interacting with games (though it has rarely been used effectively so far).
The Xbox One pad is slightly chunkier and some gamers with larger hands appreciate that. The analogue sticks are nicely designed with textured thumb grips, and the triggers have individual rumble motors which adds a nice tactile sense to the action.
The Wii U, meanwhile, has its fascinating GamePad. This bulky device boasts a large touchscreen, giving players either a second display (perhaps for maps or an aiming mechanism) or a way of playing games when someone else is watching the television. Like taking photos with an iPad, it feels a little strange and unwieldy, but you get used to it and there are some genuinely fascinating gameplay possibilities.
Elsewhere, both the Xbox One and the PlayStation One have motion sensing cameras – they’re available separately, unless you pay extra for a bundle. The Kinect is undoubtedly more sophisticated adding a large number of voice commands, very precise motion controls, gesture recognition and even biometric data, such as heart rate. The PlayStation Camera can do motion tracking and voice recognition, but right now it won’t let you control the interface with gestures like the Kinect does.
As for the future, Sony should launch its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4 this year, which could be a huge deal. Microsoft is doubtless working on something similar, but hasn’t announced yet. Nintendo has probably had its fill of VR gaming thanks very much.
All three machines offer highly visualised user interfaces, filled with app icons and social networking features. Again, it’s down to personal preference. The Xbox One set-up is the busiest, allowing lots of personalisation, including the ability to snap in-screen windows together, so you can, say, watch a video while playing a game (why?!). However, it’s very cluttered and can be confusing to navigate.
The PlayStation 4 interface is much more calm and focused, providing drop-down access to menus, allowing a much more deliberate experience – although some see it as sparse and boring. It does have two key advantages: Remote Play, which lets you stream games to your Vita, so you can play away from the TV (Microsoft’s SmartGlass app provides some tablet interconnectivity but not remote gaming), and Share Play, which lets you play against friends with certain games, even if they don’t own a copy.
Both the Xbox One and PS4 interfaces keep you up to date with what your mates are doing, showing what they’re playing and how you can get involved.
Nintendo’s machine has a fun friendly interface, viewable on your TV or on the GamePad. Complete with the usual Home, eShop and entertainment channels, it’ll be nicely familiar to Wii users. It also boasts the lovely MiiVerse, a sort of online social network that lets you see comments from other users in your region (both on the UI screen and within games), and join forums dedicated to specific titles – great if you’re stuck on a tricky level.
It’s down to personal preference – again: each system has its merits and annoying quirks, but they are all updated with varying degrees of regularity so new features and tweaks will continue to improve things.
Let’s get this straight from the outset, some of our favourite games this year have been on Wii U. Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, Shovel Knight... add in 2013 faves like Super Mario 3D World and the superlative Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker remake and you have some astonishing experiences that will entertain the whole family. Next year will bring interesting multiplayer paint shooter Splatoon, a new Mario Party and maybe a new Zelda. It’s hardly a bustling line-up, but if you’ve always loved Nintendo or are happy with five or six beautifully crafted titles a year, this strange machine is still worth a look.
As for PlayStation and Xbox, they get the big multiplatform releases that the Wii U doesn’t – which means all the Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Destiny and Fifa you can handle. PS4 versions have tended to be slightly better in terms of HD visuals, but Xbox One is catching up. Also, if you’re a fan of a particular “franchise” (ugh), keep an eye out for console-specific features: sometimes Microsoft or Sony will tie up deals to secure extra missions, weapons or characters for their versions of a hit series.
The big choice is down to the platform exclusives. For Xbox One this year that has meant the superb Forza Horizon 2, the pretty good Titanfall and Halo: Master Chief Collection, and the passable Sunset Overdrive and Project Spark. Next year will see returning favourites Halo 5, Fable Legends and possibly Crackdown 3, as well as monster slaying adventure Scalebound from Platinum Games and intriguing indie titles Inside and Ori and the Blind Forest.
For PlayStation 4, we’ve seen the likes of inFamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall and the promising but technically troubled DriveClub. Smaller indie titles like Transistor, Hohokum and Velocity 2X have been much better, but it says volumes that by far the best big exclusive on the system is the remastered edition of PS3 legend, The Last of Us. In 2015, however, there’s a strong line-up: the eagerly awaited Uncharted 4; From Software’s follow up to Dark Souls, Bloodborne; the procedurally generated space exploration sim No Man’s Sky; steam punk adventure The Order: 1886; and intriguing indie thriller, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Can we just use the term “personal preference” one last time?
Wii U is the cheapest option. Big retailers like Amazon and Argos will sell you a basic starter pack (no games) for £170, while a bundle with Mario Kart 8 and an extra controller costs £250. Basic Xbox One and PS4 packs both come in at between £300 and £330 (neither of those include a camera peripheral). Microsoft has some decent bundle deals right now: you can get a console and a copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity or Sunset Overdrive for £330.
As ever, check both the major retailers and your local game stores for exclusive deals. If you’re on a budget, eBay is worth a look, but focus on machines that are still under warranty. Anyone remember the red ring of death?
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd December 2014 12.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010