The Next Generation Preview

Three is the magic number.

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Much has been argued, discussed and debated about the ‘console war’. The very idea of a console ‘war’ is somehow despicable but it’s been a part of gaming culture for as long as there have been consoles and it makes sense, particularly to gamers who can only afford one. If you’re in that position, and you’re putting down your hard-earned cash on an expensive gaming machine, you want to first of all make sure that you choose the best one, and then you want to justify your purchase to yourself by defending that choice against others who made different choices.

Here at TPReview we have no reason to be biased towards one or more consoles. For the sake of transparency the only company out of ‘The Big Three’ that provide us with review copies of games is Nintendo, as far as we know none will be providing us with any hardware.

So without further ado, here are our appraisals of the pros and cons for each of the ‘next-gen’ consoles.

Wii U

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The Wii U is only just sneaking into next-gen, being closer to the last gen in terms of power. That’s not to say Nintendo are already out of the race as they have consistently been underpowered in the last few generations, but then have gone on to blow their competitors out of the water in terms of sales thanks to unique games and features.

Pros

It’s already out

Console launches are difficult, and although gaming enthusiasts like me love to have systems on day one, being a day-one purchaser isn’t always a great idea. There’s very few games, there’s often problems and bugs with the systems (both my launch Wii and launch Wii U were faulty) and many advertised features may not share the same release date. This means that by November, Wii U is going to have a distinct advantage in terms of how established the console is. That’s not to say there’ll be lots of games, Nintendo are still struggling on that front, but the console’s services are up and running, tried and tested, and they have a well-established community. That can count for a lot.

The Price

The Wii U is currently £266.31 for the premium edition of the console with one free game. That’s around £100 cheaper than the PS4 if you include a game, and an incredible £200 cheaper than the Xbox One including a game. While it can be argued you get what you pay for, for many families the Wii U could be the only affordable option.

The Gamepad

The gamepad is an incredible controller. It’s hard to understand without owning one, but the ability to play many games without a TV is a big advantage, and the screen is surprisingly useful when developers design specifically for it (ZombiU). The implications for asymmetrical multiplayer are also huge, and we’ve seen some hints of the fun that can bring with Nintendoland and others.

Nintendo Games

While there aren’t many games for the Wii U, and the announcements at E3 are mostly about games that are still a long way off, there’s no denying how good Nintendo games can be. You’re also not going to see them on any other platform anytime soon. Millions of gamers will want to play Mario Kart 8 and the new Smash Bros, and to do that you’ll be needing a Wii U (or 3DS).

Indie and Retro games

Nintendo finally seem to be getting to grips with the internet age and the eShop is already turning into something special. There are cheap games, sales, and re-releases of old games that are more than simple ports. The ability to play Super Metroid or F-Zero on the gamepad is something special for those of us who are affected by nostalgia.

Cons

Lack of games

Now EA have all but jumped ship, Nintendo are struggling to fill shelves with games for their newest console. We’ve had a WiiU since launch and we’ve ended up buying nearly every game available just because there’s so little choice. A few of them have been gems but there’s also been a lot of shoddy ports and disappointing third-party releases. At the moment if you get a Wii U it’s just for ZombiU and Monster Hunter, there’s very little else worthwhile at the moment, and that’s not likely to change before the other consoles launch.

Underpowered

While the Wii U is thankfully part of the HD generation, most games are running at something close to 720p and 30fps. That might not seem like a problem at the moment when the current-gen consoles generally aim for similar targets, but next-gen we’re going to see a lot more 1080p at 60fps. If you’ve been PC gaming for a while, you know how significant that difference can be, and other than making ports of games look inferior on the Wii U, it’s going to put off a lot of publishers who simply don’t think the Wii U can handle their engines.

Horrendous DRM

I have vocally defended the Xbox One’s DRM system but the Nintendo one is almost unforgivable. If your Wii U breaks, or a new model is released, your licenses don’t transfer, your account won’t transfer, you have to start again. This means all the money you put into the Wii U is entirely dependent on the reliability of your system. As someone who has already had to replace a Wii U and lose all my saves, this is a big problem. Hopefully Nintendo will fix it, but as it stands your account is linked to a single console and that’s where it stays. It’s hard to get completely behind the eShop for this reason.

 

Xbox One

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The Xbox One has caused a lot of controversy since it was announced. From the DRM to the always-online fiasco, there have been a lot of heated arguments about how much this will really affect gamers. Personally, I’m fine with everything they have announced so far. None of it will affect me in the slightest. There may be a some gamers who will miss out due to poor internet connections, but they still have other options and trying to cater to everyone would lead to no real progress being made. Microsoft have boldly pushed their console into a new kind of service-based product. Only time will tell if it pays off for them.

Pros

The Games

So far, Xbox One’s lineup looks the best of the bunch as far as we’re concerned. All of the worthwhile cross-platform games plus some killer exclusives like Dead Rising 3 and TItanfall mean that gamers are going to be have plenty to play in the launch window. We still haven’t had confirmation of the launch titles, but we’re nearly certain you’ll be seeing Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, Kinect Sports 3, Killer Instinct, World of Tanks and Ryse launch with the console. There’ll also be Call of Duty and Battlefield out by then.

The controller

The Xbox 360 Controller S is so good that PC gamers have widely adopted it as their default gaming controller. The second closest rival, the Razer Onza is modelled very closely after it with a few key improvements. Thankfully those improvements are coming to the official Xbox One Controller, such as a real D-Pad, triggers with rumble motors and LEDs to allow Kinect to spot where the controller is to aid with setting split screens etc. There’s a reason I play nearly all cross-platform games on PC or Xbox 360, and it’s the controller.

Xbox Live

Xbox Live has proved to be a reliable and effective system for years now, since the launch on the original Xbox. Cross-game party chat is effective and simple, there’s a steady flow of new releases onto the Arcade and download speeds and patching have always been speedy. There’s a raft of improvements coming to the system including a PS+-style free set of games each month, better voice chat and dedicated servers for every game. Yes you have to pay for it, but the service is excellent.

Kinect 2.0

The new version of Kinect might finally live up to the promises of the first model. Adding to existing control methods rather than replacing them, Microsoft have already demonstrated how well voice commands and gesture recognition works. Fantasia from Harmonix looks great and we might finally see a peripheral-free motion controller that’s worth playing. We also know every user will have one so expect developers to make full use of it as they can rely on the features being available to all.

True Digital Distribution and a digital library

When you buy an Xbox One game, whether you buy it from a store or online, you’ll be able to play it without the disc. Whenever you want to play it, you just tell your Xbox to start it up or select it from the menu and you’re good to go. Want to start matchmaking while you play a single-player game? That’s fine too. Want to gift a game you’re done with to a friend? Go ahead, as long as the publisher of that game has allowed it (first party titles will, but it’s up to other publishers to decide). The commitment Microsoft have made might come with a hefty price in light of the bad press they’ve got for the necessary DRM and 24-hour check-ins, but it’s also going to provide real benefits to consumers who want a nice immediately-accessible gaming library. You’ll even be able to play all of your games at anyone else’s house, just by signing in and downloading.

HDMI passthrough

This might seem like a minor perk, but for some people (us included) this will be a huge benefit. Much of the time I have the PC and the Xbox 360 and the PS3 and the Wii U all plugged into the same TV. I switch between inputs in order to change my focus. Often I’ll be waiting for someone to join a party in Battlefield 3 or waiting for matchmaking in a lesser-played game and I’ll switch over to the PC so I can browse forums or watch something on iPlayer. With the Xbox One I’ll be able to plug my PC into that HDMI input and switch seamlessly between Xbox One and PC, while using the Xbox One UI to notify me about matchmaking etc. There’s been no word yet on how Windows 8 devices will interface with this but there’s a chance there’ll be even further integration for my PC. A SteamBox and Xbox One combo? We can only dream.

Cons

24 Hour Check In

This is only a problem if you don’t plan on connecting your Xbox One to a steady internet connection, but for many who travel or don’t have a decent ISP, this could be a very real issue. The Xbox One needs to check-in every 24 hours, and many of its features are extremely dependent on having access to the servers, if you’re not connected it’s not going to be worth your money.

DRM

For many, the lack of ownership over their discs could be a real issue. While Microsoft have stated that first party games will be able to be traded in, and third parties can make up their own minds, it doesn’t fill people with confidence that they will be able to sell on their games when they want to. Until this issue is cleared up we simply don’t know how Microsoft’s DRM will affect gamers.

Lack of backwards compatibility

Your Xbox 360 games will not work on the Xbox One. An inelegant solution has been suggested by Microsoft’s Major Nelson; you can plug your Xbox 360 into the HDMI in port of the Xbox One, thus meaning you still need your Xbox 360 and would be forgoing the TV features as there is only one HDMI input on the Xbox One. If you still want your 360 games to work, you’re going to be keeping your 360 around.

The price

£429.99 is a huge amount of money for a console. Yes you’re getting Kinect, but add on an extra controller, a couple of games and an Xbox Live Gold subscription (required to play online) and you’re looking at well over £500. This is a serious purchase and not something many people will be able to take lightly.

 

Playstation 4

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The PS4 is Sony’s attempt to win back dominance of the gaming market it had eating out of the palm of its hand back in the PS2 days. They’re courting developers, improving the controller, adopting a simpler x86 architecture and keeping at arm’s length from the complete move towards digital distribution.

Pros

The Share Button

One of the things that wowed us at the reveal was the ‘share’ button right on the controller. Press it and you’ll be able to upload a clip of gameplay to the cloud, for other people to watch. Other gamers can watch you stream gameplay, your friends can come see how you’re doing. As someone who has loved the Twitch.tv PC gaming revolution, this is a very exciting development. The Xbox One is doing something similar, but there’s no denying the benefits of having something built into the controller and UI to make sure it can be used in every game. Gaming is going to get ever more sociable, and sharing your accomplishments and mishaps could open up a new world of content for many people.

Indie Games

Sony haven’t been shy in announcing their support for indie developers, showcasing games right alongside the console reveal. Indie games have been huge on the PS3 with standout titles like Journey and Flower, if they can continue that trend gamers are going to be in for a treat in the coming years.

The Price

£349.99 isn’t cheap by any means, but when put up alongside the Xbox One, it’s positively generous. The console comes with some kind of trial version of Driving Club and Playstation Plus has consistently been a bastion of excellent free games that will no doubt continue onto the new generation. Sony have hit upon a price point that’s within impulse-buy territory for some, and not completely out of reach for many.

Streaming Installs

Both consoles can do this, but Sony have been clearer about the fact your PS4 will intelligently download and install games in such a way to let you play them almost instantly from when you purchase them. Considering most of my time with my PS3 has involved installing and downloading updates and files, this is very welcome news. Blizzard have been performing similar tricks on PC for a while now and I don’t think anyone can deny more time gaming is undoubtedly better for all.

Trading in games

As far as we know, games will be traded in much as before. While I have a few moral qualms about used-game sales it’s an important way to get more games cheaper for a lot of gamers. Keeping this system going is no doubt going to please game retailers too, and we know they could use the help.

Cons

You still need discs

This might seem like a tiny issue now, but if you’re a multiplatform gamer, I imagine you’ll start resenting the fact you have to change discs on the PS4 when you don’t on the Xbox One. Unless of course digital distribution takes off on the PS4 and you begin to abandon discs altogether.

The controller

I can’t stand the Dualshock-style controllers and there hasn’t been a dramatic change in the layout for the newest incarnation. Analog sticks on a level make long-term gaming uncomfortable for me and I’ll always be on the lookout for third person controllers in the Xbox form factor.

Backwards compatibility

Like the Xbox One, your PS3 games won’t work on the PS4. They have announced that they will provide backwards compatibility via their Galkai service, but OnLive wasn’t particularly convincing on the case for streaming gameplay. Time will tell on this one but I can’t imagine backwards compatibility is going to be a priority for Sony.

 

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