By Daniel Hickey
Tax return time! Time to jump into next-gen gaming. You have enough for one system. Which one will you choose? Brand loyalty aside, it's not an easy decision. As an owner of all three, I say you should get all of them. I understand, though, that you all have families and lives and kids to spend money on, and that gaming is a hobby to you, not an obsession like it is for me. With that in mind, I have detailed some areas in which each next-gen console has built a strength, including Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Wii U (yes, the Wii U).
Graphics/Processing Power: PS4
I debated making each their own category, but in a way, these go hand in hand. Also, the PS4 has a pretty clear edge in both categories, so I think it made sense to put them together. It is undeniable the graphical advantage third party developers have on the PS4 vs. the Xbox One and definitely the Wii U. While Wolfenstein will run at 1080p on both Sony's and Microsoft's consoles, most games run at a higher frame rate and resolution on the PS4. Xbox loyalists will argue that developers just haven't figured out how to make higher-res games on the One; however, I believe being ahead of the curve benefits the early leader. Playstation loyalists will argue that their devs will match the progress of Xbox devs, thereby disallowing any possibility of catching up, and on this point, I agree with them. As far as processing power goes, GDDR5 is faster than DDR3. This is a fact. If nothing else, the PS4 passes the eye test. It just looks better. Details stand out better. People walk by while I'm playing it and say "Wow!" The PS4 is unquestionably the leader in these categories for now.
Shooters: Xbox One
My first question to any naysayers on this one: Can you play Titanfall on your console? If your answer is no, you have no case here. Beyond the Titanfall advantage, though, the Xbox One has distanced itself from the competition in this area. Killzone is an absolutely great franchise. However, the Xbox One not only dominates shooters now; they will dominate shooters for years to come. The controller is tailor-made for shooter fans. While the PS4 is the most shooter-friendly controller they have ever released, it will never be as good as the Xbox controller for playing shooters. Xbox has Halo and (for now) Titanfall, two very popular franchises, locked down, and nothing Sony puts out can compete with that. They even have exclusive rights to Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, the only self- described "weird" shooter. Put all of this together with timed-exclusive content on the two biggest third party franchises, Call of Duty and Battlefield, and the superior online service of Xbox Live, and you'd be flat out stupid to get any other console if the only games you play are shooters. Oh, and did I mention the Xbox One has Titanfall? That's kind of a big deal.
Exclusives: Wii U
Two titans of the industry battle it out, amassing first party studios galore, many varied franchises for each platform, and the winner in exclusives is Nintendo's "Little Device That Could???" The review scores say it all-- Nintendo has some killer exclusives for this console: Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, Zelda: Windwaker remake, Super 3D Mario World. Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 are forthcoming. More info will be shared at E3 about an all new Zelda title. Outside of Infamous: Second Son and Titanfall, what do the PS4 and Xbox One have right now? Dead Rising 3? Decent, fun co-op, but short. Knack? Please stop. My only gripe is that such cool titles as A Link Between Worlds and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon are not on this console. Maybe Nintendo is afraid of being too competitive. Seriously, though, if you want unique experiences that are better than any other, the Wii U is the only one for you.
User Friendliness: Xbox One
This is another one of those all-encompassing categories in which the leader is well ahead in all areas. I would lump multi-tasking in with user friendliness, and I believe the Xbox One has a distinct advantage in both. The Kinect may not yet be a viable gameplay device, but it sure does make navigation a breeze. Gesture controls are still quite choppy, but voice controls are nearly 100% effective once you get used to the lingo. Everything is where you would expect it to be, too. I find myself having to Google search anytime I need a setting changed on my PS4, and the Wii U setup would be OK if it was the tiles on screen and not the gamepad. This is where the Xbox One's focus on the full entertainment value plays in their favor. Along with Youtube, the Xbox One has so many entertainment apps to choose from. The PS4 and Wii U, while they include some of these apps, just don't work well as streaming devices. I know some people will say that they want their devices to be gaming consoles only, but it's frustrating to want to watch TV and not miss out when a friend is online, and the Xbox delivers the convenience of not having to worry about that and is really the only console that can.
Indies: Playstation 4
This one is a runaway. The number of studios with PS4 dev kits: 2000. The number of studios with Xbox One dev kits: 250. I'm not entirely sure any third party studio even cares about the Wii U anymore. Go to the PS4 store now. You will have many options if you have $10-$20 to spend and want to play a new game. Fun games--Mercenary Kings, Flower, Resogun, Outlast. We are not even five months out from launch, and the PS4 is loaded with these games. The Xbox store is a joke. Their ID@Xbox initiative really needs to succeed if they want to stay relevant this generation. You could argue the success or failure of a console in the current market is most directly tied to the degree to which indies are accepted on the platform. The sales numbers seem to back my theory. Both Sony and Microsoft have slimmed down their AAA first party studios. Mobile gaming has primed the public to expect cheap or free games. Indies can deliver awesome fun and meet the price point people are increasingly demanding. The PS4 has delivered on this very early in the next-gen cycle, and it has allowed them to mask their exclusives shortage and multimedia dearth to become the early sales leader.
Value: TIE--Wii U and PS4
Bang for buck. Isn't that what life is all about: getting the best experience for the least amount of money possible? In my opinion, both of these consoles deliver great bang for few bucks in their own way, and I don't feel comfortable giving it to one over the other. While the PS4 is a graphical beast and is the preferred platform for most third party games, the Wii U offers so many rich first party experiences for $100 less (bundled with one of those awesome games, no less) that it can't be overlooked. Throw in the inexpensive Virtual Console offerings (I know, 16 bit games are not very high tech, but these are undeniably fun and nostalgic) and the fact that it is the only console with a second screen packaged in with the system, and it's downright cheap. The PS4 is a cost- effective option in its own right. The aforementioned killer graphics with a lower price point than its most similar competitor, the Xbox One, AND the aforementioned wealth of cheap, entertaining games and a few important apps make this an attractive option for a gaming enthusiast on a budget. Microsoft has sold the One bundled with Titanfall for as low as $450, but even at that price point, the overall experience doesn't provide enough for me to label it a "value" purchase. The two Japanese-produced consoles deliver a great experience while leaving your wallet a little heavier.
So there you have it. What are your priorities? Line them out, make your choice, then meet me online.
Check out Daniel on Twitter @DanJapan7