It still doesn't quite seem real--the "next-gen" platforms we've anticipated for years are now officially "this gen." Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 have been released into the wild, joining Nintendo's Wii U in the ranks of the eighth console generation. Tensions were high, what with the two most recent systems launching within a week of one another. But now, the dust has finally started to settle, and the lines have been drawn. The new console war is well underway, which begs the question: who won the launch battle?
Loyal fans will have already made their choice, while open-minded gamers might very well pick up both systems. But no matter your preference, there's nothing quite as stimulating as a (hopefully civil) argument over who to claim as the victor. We're not here to feed your inner fanatic, but we reckon that one system--be it the Xbox One or the PS4--has an edge over the other, speaking only about the post-launch high. Things can, and will, change drastically over the next seven or eight years. But right now, it's time to pick a winner. We're breaking this battle down into individual points of interest, starting with…
Xbox One: There may not be any one truly excellent standout in the launch library, but the Xbox One's starting lineup is packed with solid games. Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, Killer Instinct, Ryse: Son of Rome--they're all a great time, even if they're not earth-shakingly amazing. And even the B-list games are surprisingly fun; downloadable titles like Crimson Dragon and Powerstar Golf may not be system-sellers, but they're well worth playing.
As of right now, the Xbox One has the better exclusives; Forza, Killer Instinct, and (surprisingly) Ryse are games that PS4 owners will pine for. In terms of genres, there's also a wider range of variety on Microsoft's system. But it's something of a hollow victory, because the exclusives aren't nearly as good as the third-party games that look better on PS4. Big-budget releases like Battlefield 4 and Assassin's Creed 4 are the best games on either system, and when the PS4 has the superior versions, that's a pretty great equalizer.
Xbox One: Kinect 2.0 is by no means perfect. When you're first getting acclimated to this all-seeing, all-hearing eye, you'll need to be patient. But once you've learned the voice commands and familiarized yourself with its functions, the new Kinect is damn impressive, giving you a Star Trek-like command over your technology. It's also great for hands-free control, giving you the power to channel-surf or adjust volume without a remote. Plus, the Kinect's ability to automatically sign you in via face recognition is totally a next-gen "Woah" moment (not to mention convenient).
PS4: The PlayStation Camera feels like a $60 Kinect Lite: it's got some similar functions, but at a far more basic level. Booting up games with voice commands works fine, as does the facial recognition. But it doesn't offer the breadth of voice control that the Kinect does, and few games actually utilize it. That said, the Camera can be used when streaming, which is awesomely convenient.
…and the winner is: Xbox One
Kinect is the superior camera at launch, because Microsoft has a lot more riding on it. Every Xbox One owner gets one, so it makes sense that Microsoft would put more effort into making it more powerful and accessible. By comparison, the PlayStation Camera will be a much lower priority for Sony, because its status as an optional peripheral means the install base will always be relatively small. For now, the PlayStation Camera is pretty much a novelty, while Kinect can effectively change the way you use your next-gen console.
Xbox One: At launch, the Xbox One is without streaming functionality--that means no broadcasting to Twitch just yet. To make up for the lack of livestreaming, the Kinect does enable some pretty cool features. Just pulled off a crazy kill or combo? Call out "Xbox, record that" and your machine will store a clip of your digital triumph. It's also much easier to access these video files after the fact, seeing as you can upload them to your Skydrive or post them directly to Facebook.
PS4: The ability to Share is a huge feature on the PS4--so much so that it's built right into the controller. With a simple press of the Share button, you can easily start streaming your play session to the world, capture a screenshot, or save (and edit) the last 15 minutes of gameplay. Presently, there's only one drawback to all this intuitive sharing: for now, your clips and snapshots can only be uploaded to social media like Facebook and Twitter. But it's all forgiven when you can broadcast to Twitch or Ustream within seconds. All you need is an account, and you're good to go.
…and the winner is: PS4
The fact that you can easily stream your gameplay from a PS4 gives it the edge, letting you share your experiences with the world in real-time. The Xbox One's sharing functionality in the Upload Studio is impressive, with the ability to add voice-over to your videos and easily access them from a computer. But when it comes to showing off your gaming accomplishments to your friends, the PS4 comes out on top.
Xbox One: It's not particularly flashy, but the Xbox One's SmartGlass integration is pretty nifty. SmartGlass is available on pretty much any tablet or phone you have at your disposal, and works great for games with optional second-screen features. For instance, Dead Rising 3 lets you use your SmartGlass device as what amounts to an in-game smartphone.
PS4: Streaming next-gen gameplay to a handheld has often seemed like a pipedream, given how latency and controller lag always seemed to spoil the fun. Not so with the PS4. Remote Play using the PlayStation Vita is extremely impressive, letting you enjoy next-gen experiences on a handheld. If you're on the same network connection as the PS4, the latency is almost nonexistent; you can even play a game at work while your PS4 runs at home, though the connection stability will be far less consistent.
…and the winner is: PS4
The ability to play your PS4 games from another room--or another neighborhood--is stunning, and the typically smooth play lets you forgive the occasional lag spike. When it doesn't work, it's usually a product of circumstance--and when it does work, it's pretty damn incredible. Sony has been making a push for the Vita as the ultimate companion to the PS4, and it looks like they've made good on all the hype.
Xbox One: Xbox Live is still fantastic, offering some of the best and most consistently smooth connection speeds in games with optimized netcode. Xbox Live Gold is still worth the extra money, providing a strong infrastructure on top of the multiplayer experience. Gold also comes back with tons of great new features, like the ability to designate a "Home" console that bestows your siblings or dorm mates with Gold privileges when you're logged in on that system. Unfortunately, some services, like Netflix, are still locked behind a pay-wall, and it remains to be seen what Microsoft deems worthy of the free game rotation that's still in the works.
PS4: PlayStation Plus has been an incredible value on the PS3 and Vita, and that trend continues on PS4. Being able to download classic and new games for free is a huge value, and Sony has an eye for selecting quality picks that are actually worthwhile. Online play is generally quite smooth, though multiplayer does require PS Plus. After multiple iterations, the PlayStation Store is as easy to browse as ever, and will be instantly familiar to PS3 owners. The only drawback is a need to use the average Video and Music Unlimited services for all your movie, TV, and song needs.
…and the winner is: PS4
Now that both systems are on an even playing field when it comes to multiplayer stability and subscription cost, the real determining factor comes down to what they can provide for you. In that regard, PlayStation Plus is currently the undisputed champion--getting an ever-changing selection of free games is too good a value to pass up.
Xbox One: We'll say it straight up: The Xbox 360 controller feels like one of the most comfortable, intuitive controllers ever made. By comparison, the Xbox One controller is a step down--but only by a few notches. The basic design is still ergonomic and comfortable, with a far superior D-pad and joysticks that have great grip. But the triggers can feel mushy, and while their built-in rumble can be incredibly immersive when used well, they can also be kind of ticklish when not. There's also the fact that the bumpers simply can not be pressed in if you're coming at them from certain angles.
PS4: The DualShock 3 rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way, and Sony seems to have listened intently to your complaints. Like a phoenix rising from melted plastic, the DualShock 4 is a huge improvement in almost every way, with a fantastic D-pad, satisfying buttons, and a wider gait on the joysticks that eliminates any thumb collision. The new touchpad works well when it's implemented, and thus far, the in-controller microphone is quite cool when utilized. Admittedly, the mono headset that comes with the PS4 is garbage--luckily, you can plug your own headset into the controller with ease.
…and the winner is: Both
If there's any winner here, it's your hands. Both the Xbox One controller and the DualShock 4 are incredibly comfortable, treating you right even after marathon gaming sessions. The Xbox One's impulse triggers and PS4's touchpad both leave a lot of room for interesting growth, whenever developers decide how they want to incorporate them into their games. When it comes to either system's input devices, there's very little to complain about.
Xbox One: The Xbox 360's interface was a mess, but the Xbox One's UI is much cleaner. It's also hard to use at first, but once you learn the voice commands, and once you figure out where everything is, it goes from obtrusive to super easy to navigate. Being able to jump between Apps nearly instantly is a huge deal, and resuming games after you've shut down the system is a game-changer.
PS4: Compared to the Xbox One's complex, powerful interface, the PS4's UI is much more simple and straightforward. Navigating through menus is easy, and hopping in and out of games with the PS button is a cinch. Load times are minimal, though you'll still need to do some irritating installs before you play a physical disc. Don't worry--it's nowhere near as groan-inducing as the PS3's incessant updating.
…and the winner is: Xbox One
The Xbox One's speedy UI, mixed with the ability to easily resume games (something the PS4 is lacking at launch) gives it the edge. Yes, you'll have to endure a few hours of frustration when learning the ins-and-outs of the system--but once you come out the other side, the Xbox One becomes a lean, efficient machine. Snap, though downright confusing at first, becomes a big deal... once you take the time to actually learn how it works.
Xbox One: Halo, Quantum Break, whatever Black Tusk is working on, and, oh, how about that little console exclusive known as Titanfall? Besides the heavy hitters, the Xbox One has room for a variety of intriguing exclusives, like D4 and Sunset Overdrive. It's also packing all the standout third-party, multiplatform games. Thing is, the majority of these upcoming releases are shooters; the Xbox One does (for now, at least) seem to be lacking some variety when it comes to AAA titles.
PS4: PS4 owners have some pretty great exclusives to look forward to, like Infamous: Second Son and Uncharted. Of course, you'll also have access to the headliner non-exclusives like Watch Dogs, Metal Gear Solid 5, and Destiny, with Sony making a bid for additional content on its systems. There are plenty of extra features that Sony has plans to implement, like taking over a friend's system, and using the Share button to upload footage directly to YouTube.
…and the winner is: Both
It's impossible to name a winner, because both systems show limitless potential. Most of the games we know about look amazing, and all the super-secret projects in the works are sure to wow us when they debut. Both systems have some truly exciting exclusives coming down the pipeline, as well as a host of much-anticipated multiplatform games. We've got high hopes for the futures of the Xbox One and PS4, and from what we can tell, Microsoft and Sony are prepared to deliver.
Overall winner at launch: PlayStation 4
None of those "They're equal!" cop-outs here, despite both systems' greatness. You want a winner; we're giving you a declared winner. By our estimation, the PlayStation 4 is the better system at launch, if only by a hair. You're getting more next-gen bang for your buck, with a streamlined interface, the best console versions of multiplatform games, and a superior rewards system for PlayStation Plus members. The Xbox One is quite the contender, and we fully expect Sony and Microsoft to stay in close competition over the course of the coming year. But judging strictly by the launch, as a complete package, the PS4 is the ever-so-slightly better next-gen console.
We're all winners, though
This is only the beginning. Microsoft and Sony both have tricks up their sleeves that we seriously couldn't even comprehend. For all we know, Halo could drop early in 2014, or Uncharted could be pushed back to 2099. Who knows? Which did you pick up at launch, and are you happy with your choice? Let us know in the comments, below.
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