The next generation of games consoles are almost here. The Xbox One hits the shelves on 22nd November and the PlayStation 4 (PS4) one week later. Should you be stuffing one into your stocking this Christmas? I recently compared each one at the EB Games Expo in Sydney.
Playtime was all about the games. Media hub functions were not on display – I was at a games expo, after all. My time with the Playstation 4 was quite limited due to high demand, but I spent some quality time with Assassins Creed: Black Flag. This swashbuckling adventure is already available on PS3 and Xbox 360, but a next-gen version with improved visuals and performance will be released alongside the new consoles.
The demo took place in the middle of a fortress siege, where I led a band of pirates from the helm of a mighty ship. We were intent on bringing down the coastal fortifications of our enemy, and with the help of some well-aimed cannonballs, we managed to shatter the stone foundations before slicing through the handful of soldiers foolish enough to stand their ground.
While the PS4 showcased a substantial improvement over the PS3, the first impact wasn't as exciting as my experience with the previous generations. Colours had improved, graphics felt more realistic, and the image was cleaner overall, but the "wow" factor wasn't quite as satisfying. By comparison, the performance leap between the PS2 and PS3 was jaw-dropping.
That’s not to say that the PS4 is a big letdown. Once I noticed the little details that weren’t present in PS3 games of a similar ilk, the power of the PS4 became obvious. The environment retained the same level of detail as far as the eye could see, with little evidence of low quality textures and jagged edges around objects. While some effort has been put into making games look nicer, most of the PS4’s power seems to be directed towards filling in the details that the previous generation couldn’t handle.
Modern games push the current generation of consoles to their limits, which can cause choppy visuals. Even with the high level of detail, the PS4 provided smooth, consistent frame rates that could handle the fast-paced action. The overall effect was much easier on the eyes.
Sony was showing off more than its new console – the EB Expo was a chance for consumers to try out the redesigned DualShock 4 controller. Although it follows the design of the DualShock 3, the new controller is a bit larger, and a few ergonomic aspects had been adjusted. Strangely, even though it looks bigger, the controller feels smaller and it didn’t sit as comfortably in my hands as I would have liked.
The Assassin’s Creed demo lasted around 15 minutes, which also marked the end of my time with the PS4.
I managed to spend a substantial amount of time with the Xbox One, starting with a spin around a racetrack with Forza Motorsport 5. The leap in graphics quality between the Xbox 360 and Xbox One felt similar to the PS3-to-PS4 transition, but a lot of effort has been put into improving the controller.
On the outside it looks pretty similar to its predecessor - save for the battery pack, which has been moved inside the case. It's light, comfortable, and intuitively designed to match finger placement. Within the case are vibration triggers that have been individually programmed to mirror actions within the games. For example, when I banked hard on a left-hand turn, the vibration triggers on the left side of the controller shook with greater force than the right.
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t win the race. It was a stark reminder that I’m not cut out for a career in motorsports. With that in mind, I turned my attention to my gladiatorial ambitions in Ryse: Son of Rome, where I engaged in bloody battle in the name of the emperor. I fared slightly better in the Colosseum than on the track, but not quite well enough to start brassing with professionals.
My final stint of the day was with the Kinect 2.0 motion sensing camera. The original Kinect was a good start, but it lacked a lot of the finer details and many of the games were quite gimmicky. Microsoft promised to redesign Kinect 2.0 from the ground up, and as I scurried up the wall in a rock-climbing game, it looked like they had kept their promise.
Many of my character's actions accurately mirrored mine, right down to my hand and finger movements. The response was so accurate, I found myself having to ‘grip’ the handles so I could pull up the rock face. It was a huge step up from the previous generation of motion control, where you would often find yourself desperately waving your arms around to move your character an inch to the left. Kinect 2.0 was a very impressive piece of technology, and it’s exciting to think about how developers could utilise it.
It should be noted that it’s difficult to judge the quality of these consoles in expo conditions. When both consoles are released, a direct comparison of the same game on each unit will provide consumers with a much more accurate depiction of what each one can offer. Nevertheless, based on what was on display at the expo, I can safely say that this month is going to be a very exciting time for gamers around the world.
The EB Expo will return to Sydney in 2014.