As the fall lingers on and the last stretch of the year is upon us, the closing seasons bring with them a sense of reflection as we look back on the experiences we’ve had over the year. And what better way to reminisce over 2015 than a good old fashion console war debate!
I’ll readily admit, I’m a PlayStation fan at heart. My time with the lengthy PS3 lifecycle is when I really became engrossed in gaming culture, and I heartily jumped at the purchase of the PS4 without a second thought for the Xbox One. After all, Microsoft infamously fumbled incredibly hard with their initial launch of the 360 successor. From the online-only debacle, to the new focus as an “entertainment center”, it seemed like Microsoft had shot themselves in the foot and swiftly lost the lead on the console war for this new generation. But after almost two years and numerous changes to what the Xbox One means, maybe I was too eager to write off the console so soon.
With the PS4 continuing to outsell the Xbox One, it’s now becoming very clear that Microsoft has shifted focus on their initial goals and begun the arduous task of winning back their audience. And with the numerous improvements to the system, it seems it may be only a matter of time before they succeed. After plenty of exclusives for the holiday season, the launch of backwards compatibility, and maybe Sony’s own missteps, the competition may become much tighter.
This year even Sony themselves have mentioned that their first party lineup for the holiday is looking a bit barren, with Xbox comparatively releasing the likes of Tomb Raider and Halo, but even beyond 2015 the Xbox exclusive lineup is looking very tantalizing. When first purchasing a PS4, I was certain that Sony favourites like Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, Sucker Punch, and more would be enough to keep me satisfied. But after having a look at Xbox’s exclusives this summer, I can’t help but feel some intense jealousy. Crackdown 3, Scalebound, and especially Quantum Break are already making me think twice about an Xbox One purchase, and with the announcement of something unexpected like another Halo Wars, Microsoft is showing it isn’t shying away from more diverse and less safe endeavors. Not to mention, I haven’t heard the word “Kinect” in a very long time.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft’s achievement in allowing backwards compatibility for the Xbox One – touted as an impossibility – is both the console’s greatest feat and most expressive illustration of their renewed focus on making the system as amazing for gamers as possible. Hardware-based backwards compatibility, which was once thought of as an unfortunate relic of the past with its absence in both Sony and Microsoft’s newest generation, has become a potential system-selling feature. With this new feature, amazing collections such as Rare Replay are possible, putting other HD collections to shame. It even bolsters the future of Xbox One versions of third-party software, with games like Fallout 4 and Gears of War Ultimate Edition coming with the addition of free 360 games only playable through backwards compatibility.
While PlayStation Now was a valiant attempt, not only does true backwards compatibility blow it out of the water, it makes it laughable in comparison. Frustrating price points, limited Internet-based usability, and the problem of lag through its online nature make this once possibly revolutionary feature downright forgettable next to the experience on Xbox One. There’s just no comparison between the two, and if Sony hopes to combat this move by Microsoft and maintain its PS Now functionality, the whole system will need to be seriously reworked and priced down.
Unfortunately, with some of Sony’s recent efforts at updating the PS4 infrastructure, it’s beginning to get hard to hope for largescale and innovative improvements. The long awaited firmware update 3.0 failed to meet many expectations, with many desired features still missing, lackluster community implementation, and some smaller features even being taken out like the USB music player app. It’s a far cry from the lack of improvement apparent for many years on the PS3, but with required payment for online functionality, one still wishes there could be bigger advancements on many aspects that fans are clamouring for (we still can’t change PSN names!).
Despite all this, Xbox still has a huge battle ahead of themselves if they want to retake the top spot over Sony. And the ones who will truly win and benefit from higher competition is us, the players. If Xbox One can come back and make Sony start to sweat by pulling off some cool new features and innovations, thereby continuing the back and forth rivalry over who can provide the greater gaming experience, then this console cycle will potentially be one of the greatest yet. Sony is already picking up some more steam with a newly announced price drop, and I’m sure December’s PlayStation Experience will offer enough to level the playing field once again and keep that console war fire burning.