While Sony’s held steadfast through its tremendous lineup of independently made games, the Xbox One has had —by far— a stronger year in terms of exclusive AAA games on a console. Debuting with Dead Rising 3, Killer Instinct, and then mustering up the likes of Dance Central, the excellent Forza Horizon 2, D4, and Sunset Overdrive. Not to mention Titanfall, which despite being available on PC and 360, is a title sorely absent on the PlayStation 4 — it’s safe to say Microsoft has brought plenty of unique exclusive games to the system. But things aren’t altogether peachy for the Xbox One. Right now it seems like the Xbox can’t compete toe-to-toe with the PlayStation in terms of raw horsepower, which by itself isn’t the end of the world, as time goes on developers will get better and better at optimizing their games for the platform. The issue is that poor horse power, coupled with the fact that the system simply isn’t selling as well as the PlayStation 4, means developers have less incentive to keep up performance parity with between the two platforms for cross-console games.
More troubling is that Microsoft still clings to its release date parity clause for games, which which essentially states that a game cannot be released on the Xbox One if it came out first on another console platform. As a result, any independent developer who chooses to prioritize a PlayStation release (which makes sense given the install base) will need special exemptions from Microsoft to release on the Xbox One. It’s a terrible premise.
Nonetheless I can’t shake the feeling that the Xbox One is the more interesting console. For starters, it has received constant tangibly useful updates. The Xbox One that released in 2013 was a train wreck and Microsoft has proven it can take care of problems. Quickly. Now, I won’t say the Xbox One UI is problem free —hitting a load screen for applications like ‘achievements’ and ‘friends’ is ludicrous— but it has some phenomenally useful features. Things like suspend and resume —which allows players to load back exactly where they were when they stopped playing— are notably absent on competitive platforms, and make the system feel more modern. This is all especially true if you have a Kinect.
Speaking of the Kinect, it’s still a weird thing. In spite of being unpredictable —and anything but intuitive— I still think it’s a useful addition. Simple things like, being able to say “Xbox volume up, volume down, and mute” are surprisingly useful (it’s my new blu-ray player) and the exclusive games designed for it, notably Dance Central and Fantasia: Music Evolved are both good. It’s not a must if you can’t afford it, but I would recommend getting one if it’s feasible.
One of the bigger criticisms I would levy against the Xbox that it still hasn’t justified the cost of Xbox Live. Where being a PlayStation Plus subscriber now means you’ll get at least two games on PS3, PS4, and Vita each month in addition to access to online multiplayer, being and Xbox Live subscriber has been a less than fruitful experience. Microsoft has been much stingier about giving away new and exciting games each month. It’s not to say that there haven’t been good games coupled with the service, just that if you’ve been a subscriber since launch you’ll have gotten six different free games on Xbox —not all of them good— and I dunno, say 20 or so games to choose from on PlayStation 4. Suffice to say the value still isn’t there.
What the Xbox has done is try really hard to be new. Where the PlayStation 4 doesn’t feel newfangled compared to its predecessor (despite being exponentially more powerful on the inside), the Xbox One is trying something — even if that means there are some missteps here and there. Having had access to independent games on the pc already has made the Xbox feel doubly fresh compared to the PlayStation because it simply has had more genuinely exclusive stuff. However, not having games like Transistor and Sports Friends, or some of last year’s hits like The Swapper and Rogue Legacy, is a big blow to the Xbox. Also --and lastly-- it’s a big hulking ugly box, so if you like to consider your decor when buying consumer electronics, this is as bad as it gets.
As I said in my PlayStation 4 article, it’s all still too early to call. There is no ‘better’ or obvious console between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. No matter which machine you pick there’ll be great games to play, so I’ll say the same thing I would’ve said about the last generation of consoles. Just get the ones your friends have so that you can play together or so that you’ll be able to discuss games together. Keep talking about games — they’re the best.