Before we stumble headlong into what will surely be a touchy subject to some, allow me to clarify something. As many of you will be aware, Nintendo Life is but one third of a network of gaming-focused sites. Nestled in the bosom of a growing media empire, this site is flanked by Push Square (for Sony fans) and Pure Xbox (for Microsoft aficionados). While I am mainly involved with Nintendo Life on a daily basis, I have input in those other sites, too. That basically means that despite my ardent love of all things Nintendo, I occasionally need to dip my toe into Sony and Microsoft-flavoured waters — and that means owning systems which aren't produced by everyone's favourite Kyoto-based video game giant.
With that in mind, it was with some degree of excitement that I took possession of a shiny new PlayStation 4 console this week. Having decided that I would have to jump aboard the "next generation" bandwagon at some point, I picked Sony's machine as my platform of choice — at least initially. The console appeared to have the most going for it at this point in time, and Sony has done an excellent job of not shooting itself in the foot in the run-up to launch — a trick which rival Microsoft seemed to perform on an almost weekly basis until very recently.
There's nothing quite like the allure of new technology, and — as has been the case numerous times in the past with systems like the Mega Drive, SNES, N64, PlayStation, Saturn, Dreamcast and Wii U — I genuinely relished those opening moments where irksome packing is removed, cables are lovingly uncoiled and vital connections between television set and new console are forged.
However, what followed wasn't quite the extravaganza I had in mind. Yes, the PS4 is a lovely piece of tech, and yes, it clearly offers a solid platform for future gaming exploits, but as of now — December 2013 — I still don't think it makes a better purchase than the console which gets the most use in the McFerran household: the Wii U.
The first title I loaded up was Need for Speed: Rivals, which admittedly is a cross-generation title and therefore doesn't give the clearest indication of the PS4's raw power. What struck me first was the excruciatingly long load times; even with the game installed to the system's 500GB hard drive, the waiting time when switching between menus and racing is atrocious. The next issue was that the game didn't really look all that amazing — in fact, my wife was hard-pushed to tell the difference between this and the Wii U title Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Then there's the dismal frame rate, which is up and down like a bride's nightie — so much for the promise of 60 FPS gaming being standard in the next gen.
Next up was Knack, arguably not the best game in the PS4 stable but the one my son was most inclined to play. Putting aside the shallow gameplay for a moment, what struck me was the relatively drab visuals. Granted, the Wii U might struggle to replicate some of the vegetation detail in the forest levels, but there is precious little else that suggests this is running on a brand new piece of cutting-edge hardware. It's telling that my son — who hasn't been able to leave Super Mario 3D World alone for weeks — quickly grew bored.
With the family safely tucked up in bed I decided to load up Killzone: Shadow Fall — arguably the closest thing Sony has to a AAA exclusive on the console right now — to see if that would alter my dismal perceptions. Visually, it has moments that are truly breathtaking and the character models in particular are worthy of praise. However, I never felt as engaged in the action as I possibly should have done — not being the biggest FPS fan probably doesn't really help.
That leaves Resogun, a downloadable shooter which plays like a dream and looks amazing, but arguably could have been achieved just as effectively on the PS3. At the time of writing, Resogun is probably the game that has entertained me the most on PS4, but I'd be hard-pushed to claim it was worth spending £350 on just to play.
During these opening moments with Sony's hardware, my mind is drawn back to this time last year, when the Wii U was just beginning to thrill us with its unique delights. The launch line-up would undoubtedly be bettered in the months that followed, but I recall being genuinely enthralled by New Super Mario Bros. U, and the fact that Nintendo Land is still being played in our household speaks volumes for the quality of that vastly underrated outing. However, it's ZombiU which springs to mind the most; Ubisoft's title may not have been your traditional family-friendly Nintendo fare, but its incredible atmosphere, gripping gameplay and inventive use of the GamePad made it my Wii U launch title of choice. Nothing I've played on the PS4 has come close to reaching the same level of enjoyment — at least not yet, anyway.
Some of you reading this might suggest that the reason for my disenchantment with my new purchase has more to do with flimsy fanboy allegiances than anything else, but I can assure you that isn't the case. I've been trying to put my finger on it for the past few days, and I think it all boils down to how much a new generation can impress. Historically speaking, consoles launch with their weakest games. Granted, there are exceptions — Super Mario World and Super Mario 64 being two — but usually, the titles which hit a system first are the ones which have had the least development time and don't benefit from the improved programming and graphical tools which come later on in a system's lifespan. As such, the games available on the PS4 right now do not show it running at its full potential — that is a given.
However, I also think these two new consoles are struggling to impress us because the leap from current-gen just isn't striking enough. Consider the moment when you first saw a game running in glorious high definition — it was like night and day compared to standard def. The Wii U has benefited from this jump, and as a result Nintendo fans are still dazzled by the prospect of Mario running in crisp clarity on their whopping 46-inch plasma TVs. However, with some next-gen titles on PS4 and Xbox One struggling to achieve true 1080p, things are less noticeable. There has been no similar "HD leap" this generation — presumably the next time that will happen is when games consoles support 4K resolution television sets, which won't be until the next cycle comes along. The absence of a gob-smacking visual upgrade — coupled with a rather average selection of launch titles — is probably to blame for my rather downbeat impression of "next generation" gaming. Do I regret purchasing a PS4? Not really, as I know full well that a games console is an investment which pays back in years rather than weeks.
However, if I wasn't a video game journalist and was having to make that difficult choice of which console to pick this Christmas, I'd be echoing what The Financial Post and TIME have both said recently: the Wii U is the only real choice. It has some amazing titles — possibly not as many as we'd like, but still more than its rivals — and it's cheaper than both the PS4 and Xbox One. That situation could potentially change as more titles are pushed to Sony and Microsoft's fledgling systems, but in my humble opinion, any household which isn't ringing to the Super Mario 3D World theme tune this festive season is missing out, big time.
Have you had chance to sample either the PS4 or Xbox One? Are you blown away by the graphical difference, or, like Damien, do you feel that the leap just isn't obvious enough at this moment in time? If you had to pick one home console this Christmas, which would it be? Be sure to vote in the poll below and post a comment to tell us your thoughts.
Do you think the PS4 and Xbox One offer the technological leap that has been promised by their makers? (645 votes)
Yes - the visuals are obviously better, and the additional power will make for more impressive games
Maybe - the visuals might not seem to be much better now, but the games will improve over time
No - From what I've seen, the visual upgrade isn't great enough and gameplay seems to be much the same
I don't have an opinion either way
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