First Contact: Hands-on with the PS4 and Xbox One

UPDATE: I've added some more impressions on Dead Rising 3, Contrast, Need for Speed: Rivals and Killer Instinct in the comments below.

As the title would suggest, I finally got my hands on some hot next-gen iron at Digiexpo. Sure there was a lot of interesting stuff there like the new Nokia tablet, 4K televisions and so on but the main attraction was surely the lines of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles just waiting to be played. Here are some of my thoughts after spending a few hours with both machines and their respective games.

First of all let's talk about controllers. The DualShock 4 is a massive improvement over the DualShock 3. Pretty much everything about the controller has improved. The pad is heavier and bigger than before and feels much more balanced in your hands. The DualShock has always felt a bit top-heavy in my hands, but Sony have managed to draw a lot of the mass and weight down to the grips. The thumb sticks have more resistance and travel than before and most importantly of all they've been moved further apart so that you can't bump your thumbs together anymore. The triggers are actual triggers now, and while they still don't feel as good as those on the 360 or Xbox One pad I had no issue with them while playing Killzone. While the controller has improved massively over the DualShock 3 I still do have some gripes with it, mostly regarding the features which have been added to the controller.

Using the touchpad to switch abilities in Killzone felt relatively natural, but I kept accidentally hitting the touchpad which resulted in my robot buddy doing things I didn't want it to do. I'm sure that your hands get used to not going near the touchpad at some point, but it definitely will take some getting used to. The second complaint I have are the replacements for the select and start buttons (I think they're now called share and menu). The two buttons are tiny, completely flush with the surface of the controller and tucked away in the corner between the touchpad and the circle surrounding the face buttons. I found it really difficult to hit these buttons with any sort of consistency and kept again hitting the touchpad accidentally. A third negative would be the light on the top of the controller. Even in a brightly lit expo hall I could clearly see the reflection of the colored LED on the screen. As someone who doesn't want any unnecessary light sources around me when playing games I would imagine that the brightly colored LED will grow annoying quite quickly unless a patch is released deactivating the thing. The final reason why I noticed myself preferring the new Xbox One gamepad which I'll get to in a minute is that the two grips have much less of an angle to them than on the DualShock 3 or any of the Xbox controllers. This means that your hands end up sitting at a pretty unnatural angle, which again may be something that you can grow used to but it's sad that Sony probably had to do this in order to make the already enlarged and elongated controller feel more compact.

Now the Xbox One gamepad on the other hand was pretty fantastic. It's a little smaller than the 360 gamepad, but at the same time manages to be more comfortable. The lack of the battery extrusion in the back is probably the major reason why the controller feels better in my hands than the 360 pad. All of the buttons feel nice, except for the bumpers. I didn't really play any games which required me to use the bumpers (or the D-pad for that matter) but while fiddling around with the thing I noticed that the bumpers only click in when pushed from the outside edge. If you do try to click the bumpers with the tops of your fingers they just sort of mush about. After playing a few laps of Forza 5 I noticed however that my fingers were resting so that the second joint of my finger was always on the outside edge of the bumper, even while using both triggers. I would imagine that you could learn to use the bumpers without actually moving your fingers up and down at all. The textured edge on the thumb sticks felt really great although I can imagine all kinds of finger funk collecting on the finely textured surface. And the impulse triggers were much more aggressive than I was anticipating. My first lap of Forza 5 ended up being a bit of a mess because my hands were constantly surprised at all the different vibrations going through my fingers under acceleration, breaking, steering lock etc. Overall the Xbox One controller feels fantastic, and the DualShock 4 is great as well as long as you're able to live with a few of nitpicky things.

The game boxes for both consoles are the same size.

Now on to the games. I only had a chance to play Forza 5, Ryse, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack and Rezogun at the show but I'm aiming to go back tomorrow or Sunday to at least test out Dead Rising 3 and Killer Instinct. One game which I didn't get a chance to play but which I was surprised to find there was Trine 2: Complete Story running on a PS4. The game is coming out at or near launch for the PS4 and features touch screen and 3D support. I talked at length about the game with one of the developers who happens to be an old friend of mine and he was clearly excited about the self-publishing possibilities on the PS4. Sadly the game won't be cross-by due to the change of publishers. Two other stand-out games which I didn't get the chance to play yet were Dead Rising 3 and Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the PS4. The amount of zombies being pushed on screen in DR3 is really astounding and seeing thousands of zombies in every direction really telegraphed the horror of a zombie apocalypse shown in movies like Dawn of the Dead for the first time. That Lego Marvel game on the other hand was probably the most graphically impressive PS4 game I saw at the show, which may sound a tad ridiculous but it's true.

And as for the games I did play. Well Forza 5 looked and felt great. The graphical leap is not a huge one over something like Forza Horizon, but I really sensed how every little detail from the suspension and tire simulation to the way reflections effected your driving had been improved upon. And as I mentioned earlier the trigger vibration really brings a lot of depth to the driving feel. Ryse was an absolute surprise for me. I've had zero interest in the game from the time it was announced up till now, but actually playing it sort of made me think about buying the game at launch. The combat was surprisingly entertaining and challenging and the Microsoft rep actually said that nobody had passed the demo at the show. That is until I sat down and completed it in my first attempt with most of my health. What may have aided me was playing five hours of Devil May Cry the previous night. The quick-time events only really came into play when finishing off enemies, but I only played the arena battle mode and I can imagine that the campaign will have more of the pre-scripted QTE nonsense. Still the game looked better than just about anything I played on either new console and if the campaign comes together in the end I'll definitely be buying Ryse at or near launch.

Moving on to the PS4 stuff I'd say that Resogun was the probably the game I had the most fun with. The game has the same sort of addictive nature as something like Geometry Wars where you just have to keep trying again and again to reach a new high score. Again not to brag too much, but I managed to pull off a new high-score on my second attempt. Well ok maybe I am bragging intentionally, but that's because I'm usually not great at these kinds of games. The game looks great and the controls are snappy. Killzone: Shadow Fall left me a little indifferent. To my eyes it didn't look that much better than the previous two games in the franchise and everything about the gameplay is totally predictable. The only real addition is this flying drone which you can order around the battlefield to create diversions and fight for you. The concept wasn't explained super well in the section that I played but it might end up being what raises the game over a sea of mediocre shooters. And finally Knack. Well it's a pretty entertaining and nice looking (although the build I played wasn't stable at all frame rate wise) platformer action game with the kind of annoying fixed camera you usually get in these sorts of things. What surprised me most was how difficult the game was. At least in the section I played Knack only has a few basic attacks (punch, dash, double jump) and I wasn't really able to effective fight the varied ranged and quick moving enemies with these attacks. Still I'm sure that the game will go down well with plenty of families, and I definitely got a real Kameo vibe from it like a lot of people before me have seemed to have gotten as well. And I really liked Kameo!

Oh and one thing I forgot to mention earlier on was a weird thing with red lights on the Kinect sensor. I didn't get any sort of clear answer from the Microsoft reps to this, but there were three somewhat faint red lights in the middle of the Kinect sensors hooked up in the dark room where Dead Rising 3 and Ryse was playable. I have no idea if these lights will be on at all times or if they're even going to be in the final retail units but if they are then they might make me want to unplug the Kinect when I'm not using it.

You can see the red Kinect lights on both sides of the screen in this very blurry photo.

I'll write some more impressions of games I didn't get a chance to play yet in a couple of days. Go ahead and ask me questions if you want to and I'll try to answer the best I can.

25 Comments

Rambling thoughts on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4

Now that the both players have shown their cards and we're only weeks away away from the release of the next generation of consoles and most of the immediate vitriol surrounding the announcements has died down, I thought it'd be a good time for me to attempt a summary of my thoughts on the upcoming machines. I'm most likely going to end up owning both the Xbox One and the PS4 at some point during the next year or two, but at the moment I'm really only drawn towards one of them and those who've read my forum posts during the last months probably know which one that is. I'm not going to talk about the Wii U firstly because I don't really consider it to be a next-gen console and secondly because writing about Nintendo's potential future or demise would distract me from the topic. First off though I think that a short summary of my console history is in order.

This looked unbelievable back in 2001.

I started my gaming hobby with the NES and PC back in the early 90's. Back then I had no real grasp of the advance of gaming technology. My dad had bought me an NES at some point in my early childhood and a few of my friends had Amigas, C64's and I vaguely remember a Sega Genesis at a cousins house. However when I first saw footage on TV of the PlayStation I soon realized that videogames could look a lot better than they did then, and that I simply had to have a PlayStation to play those games which at that time looked practically photorealistic. The first PlayStation really cemented my love for games and when the launch of the PS2 loomed I was finally ready to buy my first console at launch and the feeling was glorious. Getting your hands on that shiny, or rather matt black, box as soon as it was available and getting to blow my mind regarding graphics once more with SSX and Fantavision was fantastic.

I'd never thought of buying anything else than another PlayStation before I started reading about the Xbox. Having had some limited experience with online games on the PC and once again seeing the graphical bump over the PS2 made me get that system on day one as well. I started to spend more and more time playing online with my friends on Xbox Live and the PS2 with its more limited graphical and online capabilities slowly started to gather dust. That's why by the time the Xbox 360 rolled around it was really a no-brainer for me to buy it and not wait for the launch of the PS3, which I did end up buying later on with the release of Metal Gear Solid IV. Oh and the Wii. I bought one of those at launch as well I guess, but was able to sell it off to a friend after a couple of years. Yes I was one of those suckers that got drawn in by the promise of motion controls, but I'm not making the same mistake again. Or am I?

You see the Kinect is probably the most interesting part of these upcoming consoles. It's the one main differentiator between the two platforms and even though I know a lot of people who got burned with the first iteration a couple of years ago I remain optimistic regarding the opportunities of the sensor. I can't really even give examples of the things I'd like to see done with the Kinect and maybe that's the thing. The Kinect remains to be something quite unknown, sort of like the vague promise of the Cell architecture on the PS3 or having an Ethernet port on the Xbox. I mean, who would ever need an Ethernet port on a console? Am I saying then that I'm buying the Xbox One because of Kinect? Of course not, that would be totally daft. Beyond the Kinect I'm mostly concerned with the three things I consider most important when choosing your console right now. Exclusive games, internet services and ecosystem.

First of all the most important component, exclusive games. Even with their diminishing numbers game exclusives matter a whole lot to all of us. As someone who's owned both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 these past few years I can easily say that the exclusives on the Microsoft side of the table simply appeal to me more. The past two Forza Motorsport games are likely my most played games of this generation and even though I've tried and bought them on several occasions, games like Gran Turismo and Need for Speed don't quite scratch the same itch for me. Another huge Xbox exclusive is of course Halo, a franchise which I've obsessed over in one capacity or another ever since I saw the first snippets of footage of Combat Evolved. On top of those there's stuff like Gears of War, Titanfall and the partnership with a game studio I adore above all others, Remedy.

Most of the interesting next-gen games, including Titanfall are still months away.

Sure there's a lot of amazing stuff on the PlayStation side of things as well and games like Journey, The Last of Us and Uncharted 2 were some of the best games from their respective years. If Naughty Dog does continue being a Sony exclusive studio in the future then their next game may be what draws me to buy a PS4 if I don't buy one sooner. And there are a lot of great looking indie games coming out on the PS4 which is great and I admire Sony for finally bringing those games to the forefront. However most of those games are ones I've already had the chance to play on my PC or will be able to buy through Steam in the future. And yes I do understand that games like Titanfall are also coming out on PC, but the difference is that my current PC will be able to comfortably run an indie game like Transistor but not something as graphically demanding as Titanfall or Watchdogs for example. Not at the same visual level as on these next-gen consoles anyway.

I want to be excited for the PS4, but I'm just not. I still haven't cancelled my pre-order and who knows the launch mania may be enough to drive me into a store to buy one but right now nothing about the platform seems appealing to me over the Xbox One. Out of the launch lineup Knack is probably the only game that interests me and there isn't an exciting hardware difference to drive me to buy one like the Wii did. The DualShock 4 seems to fix almost every issue that I had with the SixAxis and DualShock 3 and admittedly the raw hardware performance seems beyond that of the Xbox One as well. That doesn't really matter however if those technically prettier games are not ones I would be interested in playing in the first place.

During the last months a lot has been said about Sony's trustworthiness among gamers versus that of Microsoft's. Frankly I've had a much better customer experience with Microsoft than Sony these past years, especially when it comes to online services. Sony has made huge leaps in catching up what Microsoft has to offer with Xbox Live and some could rightly argue that with PS+ they have surpassed Live. But the reliability of Live has still been much better than that of PSN, and to me reliability is a huge thing because of the dependence on the internet that both of these coming consoles share. And before you ask, no I haven't had a 360 red-ring on me. On top of that I haven't had very many great experiences with Sony on the software side of things. Now I'm not talking about games but operating systems and ecosystems. The PS3 UI is functional, but would be better suited for a BluRay player than a somewhat complicated gaming machine. On the flip side I'm writing this on a Windows PC and I've got a Windows Phone sitting on my desk. The ecosystem benefits of SmartGlass (however annoying the marketing around that may seem at the moment) and Xbox ecosystem on PC and phones is something that Sony simply doesn't have.

It's absolutely true that the majority of marketing on Microsoft's behalf has not been squarely aimed at gamers like us, but frankly I feel that it is healthy for the industry to throw a wider net this time around with the uncertainty of the current model of making big budget videogames and all. Features like TV and fantasy football which honestly don't interest me at all are sure to catch the attention of the dads and moms who will after all be buying a large portion of these consoles for their families. On the other hand that marketing benefit is being all but nullified at the moment with the 100 dollar/euro/money price difference. For me the price difference doesn't really matter on a console where I'll probably end up spending hundreds of euros on games and services in the coming years, but I do understand how a lot of people will end up looking at the price of the initial investment alone.

I'm starting to ramble here so maybe it's time to draw this mess to a close. I ended up writing this thing in two chunks over a two month period, so my apologies to whomever suffered through this. I just felt like I had to reason through this for my own sake. I'm still not cancelling that PS4 pre-order but I do think that I'd rather spend that money on a trip around southern Europe for example and buy the console when there are games out on it which I actually care about. Luckily for all of us both of these upcoming machines seem like really great value propositions despite which side of the court you are at right now. And because things are so cutthroat right I'm sure that both console makers will keep piling on value on these systems to compete with one another. And with the increasing reliance on internet services the consoles may very well end up looking wildly different in two years time than they do right now. Who knows, but at least I'm excited and it seems like a lot of other people are as well. Let's just hope that that excitement translates to profit and success for both Sony and Microsoft.

5 Comments

The People's Console: How China may define the next generation

In the year 2000 videgame consoles were banned in China. Well banned officially anyway. Consoles have been sold quite openly on the gray markets of China ever since and a healthy dose of piracy has ensured that Chinese customers have had access to all the latest and greatest games which we all enjoy. In fact it is common for shops to sell consoles pre-hacked or offer a hacking service. On top of this the Chinese market is filled with the notorious knockoffs of "real" consoles.

These aren't the games your looking for.

Now however it seems that the Chinese government may finally be lifting the ban and allow the sale of consoles in the country as long as they are manufactured in Shanghai. This move may have huge implications for the struggle of dominance in the console space between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. China will soon overtake the United States as the worlds largest economy and with a population of around 1 billion and 340 million people there are a lot of potential customers out there. Now it is obvious that the majority of the Chinese public is still living in an economic situation which doesn't allow them to purchase videogame consoles for entertainment, but the millions upon millions of city dwellers in China already have the required income to play the game.

Now I ain't no expert, but some economics studies with a dose of common sense tell me a few things about what to expect from the next few years. First of all I predict that the current generation of consoles, the 360, PS3 and the Wii will have even longer lifespans than first anticipated if they are introduced to the Chinese market. These reasonably priced consoles with a huge catalog of games should become quite appealing to the lower middle income households of China. Handhelds are also likely to be popular much the same way as they are in Japan because of long public transport commutes. There are millions of potential customers out there for the Xbox One and the PS4.

China has quickly become the most important market for several luxury products such as expensive cars and it's easy to see how powerful gaming machines would appeal to this same relatively young and increasingly wealthy portion of the population. We will most likely also see a lot of competition from new Chinese ventures. I could easily see a company like Huawei try their luck at the business with such a strong brand in their local market. And talking about brands and marketing, Microsoft may have an edge here on Sony and Nintendo. Now I don't want to sound like a jackass here, but Japanese companies have got a very real problem in the Chinese market because of past and present geopolitical and racial disputes. Without much marketing effort at all, Microsoft could easily pull a lead over Sony in the Chinese market because of this despite the higher price of their hardware.

Piracy will likely continue to be a real problem for videogame companies in the country, and I honestly don't know how they will address it. Selling their consoles in China is an obvious profit deal, but if they can't make any money on software it may not be appealing for publishers to do the translation work into Chinese that they would need to penetrate the market. At this point Microsoft may be really regretting pulling a 180 on their DRM policy, since online gaming is ridiculously popular in China and with an online DRM system they could have had a pretty big stick to wave against the software thieves. Although I guess eventually no victory can be gained over hardware hackers.

And you can't have a Chinese videogames market without some Chinese videogames. It would be really refreshing to see games built through the lense of a new cultural angle and hopefully some brand new ideas. Hopefully this opening of the Chinese market will let developers build more ambitious games for a wider audience and increase the competition between the big three. In the end we will probably need to start caring about China, even though China don't care about us.

6 Comments

"You say Good Pie, I say Jello"

I get home from work and do my usual shower, sit on the computer for an hour and cook dinner routine. Before taking the first sip of a cold beer and diving into an ambitiously proportioned hot dog I check Twitter and Giant Bomb on the latest bullshit circling the web. Fifteen minutes later I hear the ping of a Steam message and get the news from a friend. At first I laugh it off and even after reading some of the first tweets I'm convinced that this is another one of Ryan's shenanigans. But then it starts to sink in, and it hasn't stopped sinking in for the last 24 hours. Ryan Davis is no longer with us.

The classiest man in the business.

Now writing that last sentence was surprisingly difficult. Sadly I've had to deal with a fair bit of death and tragedy during my life but I've never had to loose a friend. Not until not. It sounds fairly ridiculous even to myself to say that Ryan Davis was a friend of mine, but that's truly how I feel. We as the Giant Bomb community have been privileged to follow the lives of the Giant Bomb crew so closely for these past few years and for many of us years and years even before the birth of this website. Lives filled with beautiful weddings, adorable children, cyborg shoulders and durgers. And now for the first time, death.

I'm not a religious man myself so I have no comfort to take in the great beyond. I do however take great comfort in the beauty of life itself and the luck we all share in having a chance to live it. To me Ryan certainly seemed like a man who let nothing get in the way of his enjoyment of life. He did things in his own way and was not afraid to voice his own opinions. My first memories of Ryan are from the GameSpot E3 shows of 2002 and 2003, but the first vivid memory I have of him is of him and Jeff selling scwhag straight from the GS kitchen.

I always had immense respect for his honesty and felt borderline jealous of the affection and warmth he showed to everyone around him. I also take comfort in the knowledge that his last week might have very well been the best week of his life. Being surrounded by his friends, family and wife at his wedding and then spending the following week with the woman he loved the most.

On top of losing a friend, a lot of us feel like the family that is Giant Bomb is now at risk. It is clear that things will never be the same again. We don't get to hear those cheerful Tuesday announcements (I will admit that I've always found those to be hilarious since the podcast gets uploaded on Wednesdays where I live) or hear that infectious giggle. But then again things never change. There will be fewer faces until there are new faces. Videogames will continue to come out and the crew will find new and interesting ways to totally ignore talking about those videogames. And the community which has seemed so torn over the most recent console war these past months has now come together in a way which absolutely melts my heart. No other place on the internet or maybe anywhere in the world has such a vast supply of warm hearts and helping hands as Giant Bomb. I love you all for the support you have shown to Ryan, his family, his friends and other members of the community.

One of the things that helped me cope with this the best was going to work and keeping my mind off of the matter for the day just to calm down and get a fresh perspective. Jeff, Brad, Vinny, Drew, Patrick, Alex, Ian, Alexis and the rest of the GB workforce don't have the opportunity to take asylum in their work right now and I can not even begin to imagine how difficult it is to loose a friend and a colleague at the same time. I hope that you all take as long of a break from running this stupid website as you feel you have to and my thoughts are with you guys.

Thank you Ryan for some of the best laughs of my life. I will miss you.

PS: Oh, and thank you for sharing that sweet burger-patties with the bottom of your plate trick. My children shall know your name because of it.

5 Comments

The Beginning of an Annualized Console Cycle

"Well that's a stupid name. Why would they call it the Xbox One if it's the third Xbox? That's going to confuse the hell out of people." These were my thoughts a couple of weeks ago when watching the unveiling of Microsoft's upcoming console. Now I know that complaining about the names of consoles is rather stupid and pointless in the endgame, but a name like this clearly has to have some sort of philosophy behind it. It may be that Microsoft wanted the console to be the One box in your living room, the only One you will need. Yeah that would make some sense. But the name may in fact imply a much larger change in the way Microsoft is looking at its latest machine. Perhaps we will be seeing an Xbox Two much sooner than we might think.

She's grown up so fast.

The iPhone. What comes to your mind when you hear that word? A couple pieces of glass with a bunch of wizardry in between. The Apple logo, iOS and maybe Angry Birds. What most people certainly don't think of is the first iPhone. The bulky piece of plastic which now might as well be from the 1990´s. But that phone (or actually the iPhone 3G) was the phone which launched the iOS app ecosystem. Now I know that I'm suddenly talking about telephones and not video game consoles, but I'll get right back there in a minute.

Apple has built its app ecosystem slowly and methodically through several hardware and OS iterations. Games on the platform have evolved monstrously during the years, but you can still play those older iOS games like Angry Birds on modern Apple devices. On the other hand if you've decided to stick with your iPhone 3G you are not able to play some of the newer games which require an iPhone 4 or newer to work.

The Xbox One is essentially built around retail computer components. This kind of hardware is easy to develop for and most importantly, you can theoretically upgrade the console hardware without any issues with backwards compatibility. There has been a lot of talk about how Microsoft will start selling these consoles through service provider subsidies. Much like Apple is selling its phones.

What if Microsoft were to annualize the console hardware cycle? It's a fact that the Xbox One is underpowered compared to the PlayStation 4, although developers will not reach the limits of this set of hardware for a long time. When the time comes however, Microsoft could just put out a new box on the market with added performance and a new form factor. We're already used to manufacturers refreshing the console hardware visually a couple of times during the console generation.

But why would Microsoft (and likely Sony as well) want to alienate their customers by coming out with new hardware once a year or maybe every two years? Well what if the games designed for the Xbox Two would also work on the Xbox One, just not quite as well. Since these consoles are built around computer hardware it should be rather easy for developers to include equivalents of low, medium and high graphics settings in their games. A few years down the line Xbox Four games would still work on the Xbox Two, but the first gen hardware would start to slowly get phased out. Since these consoles will be sold through a subsidized model, people would probably want to upgrade their box every two years anyways.

This way we would see a much more gradual evolution in game graphics, similar to the PC. Developers would also theoretically never have to fully push the limits of the console hardware and all games would be backwards compatible in the same way as all your games from a few years back still live on your Steam account. From a business standpoint on the manufacturers side they could of course reap the benefits of selling successive consoles to customers instead of the one every seven years they have in the past.

Love them Sega lumps.

Now there has of course been failed attempts at extending the life of the console cycle through hardware add-ons in the past. These past systems however required separate media to function and the games were not compatible with their original systems. So games developed for the 32x for example could not count on the install base of the Mega Drive (Genesis for our American cousins) for game sales. With digital game sales this problem is no more. As long as the game supports a separate lower visual fidelity standard it would work on the previous iteration of the console.

After seeing how the PS3 and 360 started showing their age during the last couple of years I for one would be ready for a more gradual evolution with these new consoles rather than the revolutionary jumps we now see once in eight years.

8 Comments

Alan Wake Forever

I still have a lot of faith in my local guys at Remedy. I know people who work there and judging from their murmours it seems that whatever the final product will end up being Alan Wake will be something really special.

Start the Conversation