From Playstation to Xbox and Back Again
I loved my original PlayStation. It was my very first console. Not the first one in the house, but the first one that I could safely say belonged to me. Being young and living in a house with two brothers, you can imagine how often quality console time was fought over. Thankfully, they weren’t particularly interested in the PlayStation, preferring the Nintendo 64–we were a lucky family. That meant I could have the console in the safety of my room, affording me more time to grow into the new types of games I was now exposed too.
It was the first console that demonstrated to me the power of storytelling in games. That game characters could be so much more than brightly clothed mascots with endlessly sunny dispositions; that they could be both complex and flawed at the same time. It taught me that a good narrative could drive me emotionally, pulling me further into whatever carefully created world I was in at that time. It was my first experience with true-3D rendering in video games, something that I felt was truly ground-breaking at the time, even in my young age. Of course, not all PSX games went all in on narrative and world-building, but it was my first exposure to a level of production and craft that I had previously only experienced in films. It thrilled me beyond what I thought possible.
The PlayStation was my console of choice for several years until Microsoft decided it was time to leap into the Hardware pool with their debut console – the Xbox. It was a big, imposing piece of tech that had the backing of one of the biggest software companies in the world. It was also the first major, non-Japanese console that really threatened to make a big splash on the modern scene. Both of these things excited me to no end, so once the Xbox was released in Australia, the PlayStation was first phased out of my bedroom, before being retired indefinitely a short time later. When Microsoft came to the party, they brought with them western ideas of what a game system could be. At a time where the Japanese consoles ruled the roost, the idea of a new approach from end to end–hardware to games–was both invigorating and appetising. I never looked back.
As I started getting into writing about games, I made the conscious decision to actively start looking through the PlayStation news articles again. I wouldn’t be able to play the games, but I could at least get a look at them to see what they offered. This was all happening around the same time that the PS3 was heading to the discount shelves and fresh, straight-off-the-line PS4’s were taking its place. But merely seeing or reading about the games or the system didn’t do anything justice. It doesn’t mean a thing until you actually get your hands on it and feel it for yourself.
Fast forward the better part of 20 years to 2016, and we come to a little game called No Man’s Sky; the only title that could convince me to put my money where my mouth is. How that game turned out is a whole other conversation to have, which I’m going to save for another time. What is for certain is that No Man’s Sky was the catalyst I needed in the grander scheme of me returning to the PlayStation family. That was just over a month ago now, and in that short time not only have I barely touched my Xbox One, but my PS4 games library has grown considerably. I already have a pile of shame for a console I’ve owned for 6 weeks. What the hell is wrong with me?
Or perhaps the question should be: what the hell was wrong with me? Ignoring the obvious financial barrier, I’m not sure why it took me so long to jump back aboard the Sony train, but I’m so glad that I did. To give you an idea of just how far back in I am, I even went and bought a PSVita–Sony’s brilliant little handheld that has been utterly ignored by first party developers for years–because I’m finally getting a sense of what I might have missed out on all this time.
I’ve been nothing but impressed at how simple and zippy getting around the PS4 is. From finding my games to reading notifications, everything feels quick and responsive. I press a button, a thing happens. No loading. No waiting. Simply navigating the PS4 interface is a far better experience than it is on the Xbox One which, admittedly, has come a long way since launch, but still lags heavily by comparison. Using the PS4 is simply a joy; far more so than the Xbox One.
Another huge difference is the length of time it takes to install games. It seems almost instantaneous compared to the Xbox One, and I’m not entirely certain how they’ve done it. I could speculate about it having something to do with only installing essential files and relying on the disc for the rest, but I really don’t know. All I know is that when I put a disc in the PS4, I can get straight to playing it after a very short wait. Compare that with the Xbox One’s install times, which can blow out often to ridiculous lengths. It can be a few solid hours between popping in the disc and actually playing the game. That Sony has been able to retain some of the immediacy of the pre “install-everything” era of gaming is something to be lauded.
Then we have the games themselves, and I’m not really talking about the cross-platform blockbusters, but the exclusives – be they AAA or indie. While there are some superb games on the Xbox One, there is a freshness that seems to emanate from PS4 titles that is both invigorating and refreshing. One example is Earth Defense Force 4.1 – an insane, giant-bug-killing action game made in Japan that, whilst flawed, is so unique and so far removed from anything I’ve played on the Xbox One before that I’m adoring it. Then I look at games like The Last Guardian or the Yakuza games, and it becomes glaringly obvious that this can all be boiled down to culture.
As I mentioned nearer the top, Microsoft brought a fresh approach to the console space that was sorely needed at the time, especially in the wake of Sega’s fall from grace. There was something about the Xbox lineup that was tantalising, bringing the scope of PC titles to a console in a way that could be easily ingested by people not quite so tech savvy. The thing is, that approach hasn’t really changed. In fact, I’ve had such little interest in playing any of Microsoft’s first party offerings this year that when I try to think of them, they start to morph together in my head like some kind of horrible, gelatinous beast. Forza Horizon 3 comes to mind as something worth getting excited about, but not much else grabs me personally, and I really think it’s because I’ve just enjoyed a bit too much Microsoft over the years. I’ve hit my limit, and now that I’ve had a taste of something else, I’m finding it very hard to go back.
Don’t get me wrong here, I will still definitely play my Xbox. It’s a great console that does many things very well. Xbox Live is a faster, more reliable service than the PlayStation Network. I prefer the layout and feel of the Xbox controller over the DS4, especially since I laid out the extra dosh for an Elite Xbox controller. Plus, Microsoft seems to have the momentum going forward. Sony has had some significant setbacks recently, be that the delaying of various first party titles to the leaking of the PlayStation Neo/PS4 Pro developer documents back around GDC time.
With both the PS4 Pro hitting later this year, and Project Scorpio–as well as Nintendo’s NX–marked for a March release in 2017, the console market is the middle of a considerable shake-up. With this veritable mess looming on the horizon, it’s hard to tell whether or not which side of the fence will be the one to jump too. Of course, you could take a leaf out of my book and get everything, but that’s probably very silly and expensive. All I know is that right here, right now, I’m very happy with the PS4 I have sitting in my lounge room. It’s a fantastic system with some fantastic games that are hitting me in just the right spots. Now I just need to find some more time to clear that pile of shame.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.