The "next gen" is currently in full swing. Which I suppose makes it the current gen... currently... what is the protocol here? Doesn't matter. I thought it might be fun to share some early impressions of the new toys we all have to play with and see if others share my views. So here goes.
Some of those who have read my comments in the forums will already know this, but my time with the PS4 has been extremely limited. It is going to be my Christmas gift and therefore I only have the slimmest exposure to it as of writing this. I, like many, had heard the rumblings early on of the "RED LINE OF DEATH" and it worried me enough that I persuaded the family to allow me brief access to the device to ascertain if I was among the minute percentage affected with this issue. I'm happy to report, I was not.
The test run did allow me a brief opportunity to try out the interface, get a feel for the controller, and see the italicized and elegant design of the machine. I've got to say it, I'm very impressed with all of them. As one who was very turned off by many of Sony's decisions regarding the PS3, I'm happy to report that the PS4 is a case of a company bouncing back to what made them great in the first place. It's hard to verbalize it really. It all just "feels right" if that makes any tangible sense.
This looks to be the first time Sony has shipped a console with a controller I can actually enjoy. The grips of the Dual Shock as far back as the PS1 have always left my hands achy after extended play and this new one fixes all my problems with the design. It's got heft, it's comfortable, and it's button, stick, and D-pad layout all just feel natural. Thumbs rest in obvious places and even though my time with it was brief, it was enjoyable.
Since my time with it was so limited, I'm going to leave the PS4 for now. I've spent far more time with the X1 so far, so I'll move on to that for now. Once Christmas rolls around, I'll probably try to update this, though by then no one will care. But still, this is more for me than anything else.
Microsoft's Xbox One
As I said earlier, this is where the bulk of my next gen time has been spent thus far. The decision to use the Xbox first wasn't a tough one. Regardless of internal chipsets or memory bandwidth or resolution, those things are all in service of the one thing I truly care about and that is the games. And for the launch offerings, Xbox had more games I wanted right out of the gate. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the hardware.
Man the X1 is big. Taking up a significant portion of my entertainment center for it's big fat ass is a bit of a drag. As most electronics manufacturers have moved toward a simpler and more elegant design, here comes Microsoft selling us the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. This has always been a strange choice and even the original Xbox was a beastly size, but it's obvious to see why they went this way. After the RRoD became a stigma, they put a fan inside that is about as big as my hand. Good on them I suppose. Anything to ward off the gremlins I guess. Still wish this thing was a bit smaller, but again it's the games that will make or break it for me.
A brief mention of the Kinect now. I've been no fan of the device since it's inception. While I liked the idea of barking orders at my machinery, I'm not in a position to jump around in my living room as a means for playing a game. And even if I were in a position to do so, I wouldn't want to. When I want a workout, I go to 24 Hour Fitness. When I want a game, I go to my television and turn on the Xbox or Playstation.
That said, the focus of the new Kinect doesn't seem to be games so much as navigation. And for me, it seems to be working well enough in that regard. I'm not opposed to using it in this manner, and in this manner it's actually kind of cool. Voice commands have been working really well for me, though I've heard reports of people having issues. I can only speak to my experience though, and my experience has been a pleasant one. From turning the machine on, to the snap feature, to navigation it all works pretty well. The issue though, is that since the entire thing is designed around this feature, the menus seem cluttered and less intuitive than the 360. Not really a deal breaker, but a bite in the butt just the same. I'm a night owl, so often times I cannot simply bark out orders for fear of waking the rest of my family. But if the Xbox 360 showed us anything, it's the value of having a malleable infrastructure that can grow and change over time through firmware updates and such. From the Blades to NXE to that current Metro design, I'd be shocked if the first design isn't reorganized a bit by this time next year. And none of it is non-functional mind you, it's just that if you're not keen on voice commands it may take a bit to get used to the new design is all.
I'd also like to mention the controller briefly. This controller is basically just a solid evolution of a near perfect design. The 360's controller was already a great design, and the additions to the X1 controller are fantastic. The impulse triggers are a nice addition and the new D-pad is a much needed improvement on the old design. There's not a lot to say really. If you used a 360 controller, you know what to expect. Comfortable, elegant, and with trigger feedback that makes a game like Forza even more immersive.
I've read a rumbling here and there about the bumpers not being as responsive for some gamers. I am not sure how they're holding the controller, but my time with it has been snappy and responsive from anywhere I press on them. But I do have long fingers so I typically hold the device with the index finger draped over the bumper and trigger simultaneously and apply pressure as needed to the bumper. It's been working well so far, but I have yet to play a First Person Shooter. Perhaps a game that is more hectic will see my opinion change, but out of the gate I'd call it a delight to hold and to use.
GAMES GAMES GAMES
Lets get this out of the way. No one expects a launch lineup to be all that remarkable. We expect a few things that show us the potential of what the machine will become. That's not to say that a weak lineup is acceptable, but I don't really think this is all that weak of a launch for either machine. Losing Watch_Dogs as a launch title was a tough blow though. But what's on offer is still reasonably impressive stuff. From titles that are basically more of the same but prettier, to a few moments where "next gen" is on full display.
This game gave me my first "next gen" moment. Shortly after the opening, you are let loose in the city. And it is a sea of undead. Not like past Dead Rising games either. There are no copies, you won't see the same old woman wearing the same flowery shirt every couple of yards. It was, in a word, impressive. All of these potential threats staring towards you trying to hinder your escape from the events that preceded it. It was an overwhelming feeling. And it was a darn good time once I dove in and really started knocking around some zombies.
Combo weapons, voice commands, Smartglass... whatever. It's all functional and while neat, it never gave me that same sense of awe, that same WOW factor that the sea of undead gave me.
It shouldn't really be a surprise to me, but this game has seen the bulk of my next gen playtime. I've always liked Forza, but this one feels very well put together. The impulse triggers on the new controller lend a feeling of weight to your actions. Feeling the triggers pulse when you're in danger of losing traction is exciting, and immersive.
The Drivatar (ugh) system works really well too. Much to my surprise. The thing I thought was going to be a throwaway gimmick, ends up breathing new life into what had become a pretty standard experience. Always had fun playing Forza, but 3 and 4 are virtually indistinguishable from one another if you boil it down. Sure 4 was prettier, but only incrementally so.
If you dig Forza, this one is a no-brainer.
This is a game I'm going to have to call a total surprise. I bought it wanting to get the Xbox platform's prettiest game and this one looks like it.
What I wasn't expecting was to actually get drawn into it. I've only played the first level though. Perhaps after playing it for a while, I'll get tired of it or it will seem too repetetive and I'll mark it down for that. But this is a first impressions and my first impressions are almost completely positive.
The combat puts me in mind of Batman: Arkham Asylum, though in a much more shallow way. But the beats of the timing while combating the Barbarians made my mind go there immediately. It's never going to be the best game of the launch, but serviceable and fun is kind of all I needed it to be.
I'd like to go into more depth on this one. But I've honestly only played it for a miniscule amount of time. A couple of random matches and a few lessons in the dojo. Initial impressions are good, and I'm eager to dig in and play some more. But I want to get the fight stick before I spend too much time with this one.