History repeats itself … sort of

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Back in 2006, when the PlayStation 3 was released, the Xbox 360 already had a year of sales under its belt. Yet Microsoft had hardly won the seventh-generation-of-gaming race. Months of failing machines, with angry gamers succumbing to “the red ring of death”, meant that the market was looking for a solid, reliable machine. And into that vacuum the PS3 was born. It was more expensive and bigger, but also quieter and more reliable with free online play and Blu-ray. The 360 was left louder and less reliable, but with a stronger multiplayer experience, faster load times, and greater connectivity. As an owner of both systems, I’ll weigh-in: PS3 has always been the better machine; the 360 has been the better system.

But that was 2006. Now we stand on the edge of another battle royale between Microsoft and Sony. This time around, Sony’s PlayStation 4 was the first out of the gate with its February unveiling, while Microsoft’s presentation of the Xbox One came in May. Depending on what you’re looking for in your game console, there is a clear choice for you.

So what’s under the hood of each machine? They are surprisingly similar with neither system dominating. Both systems come with a Blu-ray drive, motion control (Kinect 2 vs. Eye), an AMD developed game processing unit (GPU), 8 GB RAM, and an 8-core CPU which means tons of gaming power for both systems. These similarities are a huge plus for gamers as developers will be able to focus their time on game development instead of adapting their software for different consoles.

Despite similarities, the PS4 outmuscles the Xbox One. Its GPU is slightly larger and the PS4’s GDDR5 RAM is a bit faster than the DDR3 RAM in the Xbox One. This means that while both machines offer multitasking, in-game footage recording and uploading, cloud gaming, integrated social media, and in-game video chat, the PS4 will likely handle all these requirements with greater grace than the Xbox One.

The Xbox One has some unique features. First off is the voice control. As quirky as it might seem, the idea of walking into my living room, saying “Xbox on” and seeing all my components come to life, or saying “Xbox watch movie” and my game pausing to watch a movie seems pretty sweet. Then there’s the striking snap mode (multitasking) where, while watching a movie or playing a game, I can also be Skyping with friends or checking what’s on TV. Though I’m not a big sports buff, the idea that a fantasy sports team can be integrated into live broadcasts is enticing.

Not to say the PS4 isn’t without its charm. While cloud gaming is available across both machines, Sony was smart and really emphasized the social aspect of the gaming experience. As well, the emphasis on cloud gaming will allow games to be played on Sony’s portable PlayStation Vita, and this will certainly give the PS4 an edge over the Xbox One.

What also stood out for me was the PS4’s new controller. The controller has a lightbar that not only allows greater tracking by the PlayStation Eye camera compared to the body-controlled Kinect, but also gives it a bit of an edge to the Xbox One in looks. An integrated touch pad will allow a shift in how gamers play while a share button allows friends to see you playing, or even let a friend take control of your character if you’re in a sticky situation.

But all flash aside, similar to the last generation of gaming, it’ll be exclusive game titles that will determine one system’s dominance over its competitor.

It defies every fibre of my Xbox being, but Microsoft’s game presentation was a tragic, faith-shattering disappointment. Sure, Quantum Break and Forza Motorsport 5 look spectacular, but two games? Microsoft? Really? The majority of their games are being saved for E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in June, and Microsoft announced last week that they will spend $1 billion on exclusive titles for the Xbox One. Still, the absence of in-game footage at their unveiling was an insult.

On the flipside, Sony’s PlayStation 4 conference really took the time to show off how powerful the PS4 would be. When I hear “accelerated particle systems and realistic transmissive materials with substantial subsurface scattering” it makes me quake in anticipation.

But tech aside, the PS4 presentation also had a ton of games. Though most were trailers, it still gave the edge to Sony in the games department. Killzone Shadow Fall will be riveting with its global implications. Knack looks just fun to play. Driveclub looks like an amazing addition to the driving genre (mmmm … Hennessey Venom GT), but with a team-based driving twist. Combined with some in-cockpit elements revealed, I’m more excited about this than Forza 5.

Those few titles already supersede Microsoft’s pathetic offerings. And Sony didn’t stop there. A beautiful barrage of riveting titles – Infamous Second Son, Watchdogs, and Destiny – were combined with the most jaw-dropping character graphics demo ever, with the game Deep Down.

In the last generation, a key battle between gamers and their chosen console was backwards compatibility, being able to play original Xbox and PS2 games on their respective new-gen consoles. That is now a thing of the past.

Neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One will be backwards compatible, meaning my copy of Heavy Rain (PS3) or the Mass Effect trilogy (360) will collect dust. This is due to the different core architecture and the new CPUs in each system.

There is some hope for future PS4 owners: the company did say it’ll make certain titles available through cloud gaming, similar to what Microsoft did with Xbox Originals on the 360.

Another thorn in Xbox’s side involves used games. One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the new conference is the fact that you won’t be able to play used or borrowed games on the Xbox One, not without paying a licensing fee. This is because the Xbox One requires all games to be installed onto the machine and that game – whether a physical disc or a cloud-based title – will then be tied to your individual Xbox One machine. Once again, PlayStation outshines the Xbox One in this regard: you will be able to play used games on the PS4.

Who wins? Well, like the last generation, it depends what you are using the machine for. If you want the all-in-one machine, one that allows you to integrate and control all your entertainment and social media needs, then the aptly named Xbox One is for you.

If you’re a hardcore gamer at heart, then the confidently named PS4 is the clear winner based on its game lineup, hardware horsepower, free online, used game capability, and gamer focus.

Now, when it comes to getting your hands on one of these systems, you’ll need a wee bit of patience. Both are slated to hit stores shelves in time for the 2013 holiday season. Though no prices have been released (I’ll toss out $600 as a guess), I’ve already started saving. And despite my love for Xbox and my 47K gamerscore, I’m leaning heavily towards the PS4. The tipping point being the one thing that is at the core of this whole debate: the games.

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St. Albert Gazette

The St. Albert Gazette has been the source for news and community information in St. Albert and area since 1961. Today the twice-weekly full-colour tabloid delivers award-winning journalism in print, online and on mobile.