As I sidled up to the sofa for yet another hour of Sony's MLB 14: The Show for the PlayStation 4 yesterday, it dawned on me how, despite the obvious sports trappings, it really is the ultimate action Role-playing Game (RPG), setting a standard that the more typical fantasy-themed games in the genre would do well to emulate. Now, don't get me wrong, for the most part, MLB 14 is a standard sports videogame, one obviously themed to the well worn game of professional baseball. However, it does have among its cavalcade of modes, Road to the Show, which is as much of an RPG as any RPG that ever RPG'd (or something like that).
Road to the Show lets you create a baseball player from scratch. You have a pool of stats to distribute over a wide range of abilities (hitting, throwing, running, fielding, etc.), determine physical characteristics, design the player's features, determine preferred position, decide on the player's age, etc. In short, you can mould exactly the type of character you want to play, albeit only a male one (you can thank Major League Baseball for that particular restriction), right down to the name, which can even be spoken by the announcer who calls the games if you choose something common enough (my first name was there, "Bill," but not my last, so I chose a nickname of "Train," as in, "freight train - look out!," for my last name (don't judge me!)). (Read more)
With the Xbox One's release this past Friday, November 22, we have the final piece to the next gen console puzzle. Whether you consider the Wii U next gen or not, or that neither the PS4 or Xbox One can truly be considered next gen in the face of a good PC, the fact remains that the Xbox One represented the last major new system we were waiting on for the forseeable future. Certainly the Steam Box will get some buzz once that's released, but price and compatibilty may represent hurdles to the type of adoption both the Xbox One and PS4 have thus far received. Plus, there's the argument - which I tend to agree with - that you don't necessarily gain any benefit investing in a Steam Box over a good PC. Final judgment will be reserved though once Valve's Steam Box initiative gets fully underway.
Naturally, both the PS4 and Xbox One launches can be considered a success, with each selling over 1 million units in the first 24 hours. The Xbox One needed 10 or 11 more countries with which to reach that number, but it was also priced $100 more, and faced similar supply constraints (meaning its arguable both could have sold more if stock was there). Like the PS4 and Wii U before it, a small percentage of Xbox One launch consoles were affected by technical issues, but, luckily, overall, all three seem to be solid hardware out of the gate. That does nothing to soothe those who actually have a unit with issues, but it seems that, based on percentages, all three major new consoles had reasonably smooth launches. To wrap up the sales commentary, if sales don't pick up for the Wii U this holiday and beyond, it's certainly reasonable to think that both PS4 and Xbox One will surpass total Wii U sales by or before June 2014 (as some analysts have suggested), which would also put to rest the idea that the industry's new norm is greatly reduced sales, i.e., the Wii U's sales issues are its own. No matter what, console gaming is still small change compared to smartphones and tablets, but we at least have the potential of still being a very vocal percentage of the technology ecosystem if sales for both the PS4 and Xbox One maintain positive momentum into 2014.
Now, with all that out of the way, I'll provide my impressions of the Xbox One. Since my wife and I are writing a book on the Xbox One, My Xbox One, follow-up to My Xbox, which covered the 360, we needed our usual two consoles: one to play with, and one to keep pristine so we could methodically document the goings on. For now, I just opened up the one to play with.
First off, it's clear that there have been widespread reports of PlayStation 4 (PS4) consoles that have had various technical issues, requiring a call to Sony technical support. The resolution for many of these individuals seems to be a roughly 10 day turnaround to get a replacement console. Not good. With that in mind, I can report I've had no issues with mine, so I can safely judge the PS4 on its own merits rather than frustration with a damaged unit. Hopefully the Xbox One consoles we ordered will be similarly trouble free in the coming week.
Anyway, I have the PS4 console, the camera, a second controller, and three retail games on disc: Knack, Killzone Shadow Fall, and Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (the latter two games got various pre-order add-on bonuses, and in fact Killzone itself was free from Amazon with the purchase of the other two games). I was able to supplement that with two free games thanks to my PlayStation Plus subscription, as well as a third game with a $10 credit in the PS4 box. I have some of that credit left still and will likely get one more games from the digital store: Sound Shapes. Anyway, the three digital games I have now are: Contrast, Flower, and Resogun. There was also a free offer for Warframe, which I believe is a freemium game where pay for additional in-game items. As a Plus member I got a bundle of in-game items to get me started.
I integrated my smartphone, a Galaxy Note II, with the PlayStation app, as well as my PlayStation Vita with the PS4 Link app. There were no issues with either pairing--just enter the numbers that appear on the PS4's screen and you're linked. The smartphone app gives you access to various account settings and the digital store and allows you to connect to the PS4 for control purposes, but there's nothing particularly intriguing about it. It's functional, but I probably won't use it much except to prepurchase items.
The Vita integration on the other hand is incredible. Taking the Vita's previous integration with the PS3 to a new level, the Vita can now display anything that the PS4 displays on its screen and also play any of the games the PS4 plays. My PS4 is hooked into my network via a powerline network adapter, and my Vita of course connects to the same network over WiFi. While I haven't tried it from every room in the house yet, there was little lag or delay in streaming the one game I tested with the setup so far, Knack. It felt nearly as good as playing it on the TV. This is a VERY promising feature.
Anyway, back to the console. It was easy to set up the PS4 and login to my existing PSN account. I was also able to integrate Facebook and use my Facebook picture as my account picture. Speaking of Facebook, the PS4 automatically records the last 15 minutes of whatever you're doing, which can be uploaded to the social network (live streaming to other services is also an option) either in screenshot or video form. The videos can also be edited and cropped. Simply hit the "Share" button on the controller and you're in business. Again, a very nice feature.
Here are some links to videos I posted on Facebook (I trimmed the latter videos on the PS4 itself):
Before the year is out, we'll have the choice of the latest console systems from the three big manufacturers, with three very different value propositions. I'll briefly break each of the three down, one-by-one, then I'd like to continue the discussion in the comments.
First up, there's the Wii U, relying mostly on the same type of technology found in the current generation's Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles, with its primary hook being its tablet controller that allows for touchscreen interactions and off-TV play, priced between $300 - $350. There's a good chance, despite Nintendo's insistence that they won't or can't, that this will drop in price just before the launch of Microsoft's and Sony's new consoles. I base this on the jockeying Nintendo already seems to be doing, for instance with eliminating the $300 BASIC version of their system in favor of the DELUXE (and no doubt different future bundles). The negatives for the Wii U are that, for various reasons, third party support has already dried up, and there's no evidence that their tablet controller hook has resonated (or will) with the public. There's always a chance for things to change, but right now, I don't see how Nintendo recovers a dominant console position, particularly since there's really nothing that reeks of "next gen" in their forthcoming software line-up. Certainly with their first party software they'll continue to appeal to the Nintendo faithful, and that should be enough to help the platform stick it out for the next few years. Beyond that, it's impossible to speculate, particularly since we don't know how Microsoft and Sony will ultimately fare (it could just be the new norm, in light of smartphone, tablet, and PC competition to have a tough time with traditional consoles and gaming handhelds).
Though some were no doubt disappointed in Sony's PS4 announcement for every reason from general ennui with the whole videogame thing to a passionate allegiance to a competing platform, I fail to see how any real videogame enthusiast can come away anything but impressed at the promise of it all. The keyword of course is "promise," since everything sounds great on paper, but we don't really know how much will be executed how soon (and how well), nor did we have an actual appearance by the apparently camera-shy console itself. You can find many summaries of what Sony did unveil online, including a good one by PlayStation Universe, but I'll try to cover some of the high level highlights.