Excellent Consoles for Your Backlog of Shame
The one bright spark in 2020 for the fortunate few of us was the release of the “NEXT GEN CONSOLES!”. COVID-19 and its disruption to our economic stability along with the supply chain and manufacturing disruptions meant that demand far exceeded supply and that many people who could afford them still cannot get their hands on them. Given these issues amidst the insane demand we must ask one simple question – are you really missing out?
Functional vs Bonkers Design Philosophy
Right off the bat, we cannot talk about the consoles without mentioning the industrial design philosophy of each. The Series X (I can only talk to this as I have never seen a Series S in person) is a monolith. A black plastic rectangle that looks like the Xbox Design Team simply looked at a PC case and said, “Right, we’ll have that minus the obnoxious RGB.” When it was first unveiled many gamers immediately looked at Corsair’s One pre-built PC and thought, “What’s the big deal?” And as much as I hate RGB I must admit that MS missed a trick by not making the green glow on the top vent RGB. Instead it’s just some sort of painted accent.
On the other hand, the PS5 is distinctly bonkers in its design. The sweeping white side plates ensure that the console will never blend into the background, something that the Series X quickly achieves. The fact that the side plates jut out above the top of the console just adds to that cool factor, in a 90s yuppie popped collar kind of way. The All-Digital version is the more attractive of the two, with its symmetrical lines, but when placed horizontally the disc drive bump gives the console an asymmetrical flying UFO look. In a way, it reminds me of Cleveland Booker’s ship from Star Trek Discovery.
I much, much prefer the bonkers design of the PS5, I like that every time you look at it, it announces its presence and cannot be ignored. Couple that with the yellow, blue, and white accent lighting, particularly in a darkened room and this is the console design for me. The only downside is the colour. The white scheme is going to pick up and show grime and dust immediately and an almost daily PS5 cleaning regimen has been added to my list of daily chores.
Control is Everything – Convenience vs Evolution
Given the high cost of these consoles, I appreciate MS’s stance that your old peripherals will work on the new consoles without you needed to do any more than sync them. MS’s philosophy is to make the transition to a new system as painless as possible and for someone with a slight Xbox Elite Controller obsession, I really appreciate this. If all the money, substantial money, that I invested in controllers last gen was now suddenly worthless I would be salty. Salt plains of Chile salty.
However, when you compare that convenience to the advancements that Sony have made with tactile inputs on the DualSense controller, you do wonder if MS may not have misjudged our desire for a full and proper distinction between generations. Having played through Astros Playroom I can confidently say that the DualSense is a revelatory experience. The claims are not overly exaggerated as you can feel the difference in the surfaces Astro is walking on and the adaptive triggers do give you a true and real sense of different tensions on different devices. The triggers can lead to finger fatigue, a very modern affliction and they do of course use more energy, so the controllers do need charging more often. Speaking of battery life, Sony has thankfully figured out that problem as, unlike the DualShock 4 controllers, these things last for not only extended play sessions but short ones too. My only problem now is what the heck am I to do with my five DS4s now that I have moved the PS4Pro to my study and can just plug the one I am using into the console?
The only criticism I have of the DualSense, and by extension the MS controller, is the fact that they have not added some of the premium features from the Elites and Sony’s own back button DS4 extension to their current controllers. If we are willing to pay for premium first and third-party controllers, we would be ok with a slight price hike for less premium versions of these controllers.
Old and Comfy vs a True Next Gen UI
Once again MS’s philosophy of what works, versus Sony’s of “things must change” is evident in the UI/UX. The Series X still follows the old Windows 8 Metro Tile approach, an approach that was never, ever one that should have made it out of focus testing. Seriously even for a touch OS, which Metro was initially developed for, it was horrible. But it is functional as in I can eventually find what I am looking for. Why MS got rid of the 360’s Blades UI I cannot fathom.
Contrast that with the PS5 UI. Firstly, while it is more resource-intensive, the PS5 wallpaper/desktop is rendered in 4K as opposed to what I think is 1080p on the Series X. The real innovation in the PS5 UI are the new info tiles that they have incorporated into games. Tap the PS button and the tiles pop up at the bottom of the screen. From here you can track your trophy progress, track any side quests you have not completed yet, and even fast travel to those side quests. Sony has included functionality that allows developers to create video guides to show you exactly where that last bloody Riddler trophy is located. It really is a clever system and one that is going to only get better as developers get to grips with all the tools that Sony has given them.
It Really Comes Down to the Games
No matter how powerful the Series X may be or how innovative Sony is, if there are no games the console is useless. MS learned that the hard way last gen and is still fighting that reputation. With this damn pandemic new games are thin on the ground, and with more and more getting delayed into 2022. Sony, though, has a head start in new game releases with Demon’s Souls and Miles Morales. Even Astros Playroom, a bundled game, is more than MS has and is far more than a tech demo.
Where MS has the upper hand and continues to build a lead is via their efforts to ensure that as many games from previous generations as is possible are playable on the Series X and S. Add GamePass on top of that and while you may not have brand new, next-gen only games to play just yet, you do have an enormous library available to you for extraordinarily little. The first game that I installed on my Series X was Forza Horizon 4. The second is the brilliant and sadly now almost forgotten Sleeping Dogs. On top of the extensive library available to you, MS has been working some technical magic to first enable Auto HDR on almost all titles, sometimes to extremely poor effect admittedly, as well as enabling a 60FPS minimum on select last-gen titles. These enhancements give games a new lease on life and coupled with the super-fast Velocity Architecture as well as MS’s Quick Resume function makes getting into any game at any time simple.
Sony, while behind MS, is not resting completely on their laurels. They pushed out patches for God of War and Ghost of Tsushima that enabled a 60FPS mode on both the PS4 Pro and the PS5 and have grudgingly acknowledged fan demand for backwards compatibility by enabling the PS5 to play 99% of all PS4 games. They also launched the console with a library of about twenty last-gen games available at no extra cost to PS+ subscribers. While not enhanced these are some of the best games available from last-gen and at least ensures that you have something AAA to play once you are done with Spider-Man, Miles and Demon’s Souls. While the PS5 does not have a Quick Resume feature, it does have what feels like a faster SSD so loading these games up is not as much of a chore as you would think.
So Are you Missing Out?
Whenever new tech is released, we are all tempted, and I obviously was, to go out and grab it immediately. In the case of these consoles, even ignoring some obvious early adopter pain points and failures, I do not regret getting them on launch.
I can, however, easily say that if you did not get one yet, do not panic. While I am more than happy with the consoles and their performance, neither has that “killer app” that makes them a must buy. Sure the backwards compatibility in both ensures that these are not just expensive decorative pieces for your TV unit, but we still do not have games that fully show off what these consoles are capable of. The first that is likely to do that is Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank but after that, with all the delays being announced, that is going to be it for some time.
Patience will be rewarded, so if you do not need to replace a console just yet, hang tight and you will have more than enough to play and those of us who got the consoles early will have beta tested them for you.