What games console to buy – Christmas 2015
With Christmas fast approaching, we take a look at the main console options available.
For most, the choice is going to be between the PS4 and XOne, they’re the two big mainstream monsters, both of a similar vintage and going toe-to-toe on most aspects. The Wii U is a slightly older console, with rumblings of a replacement – the Nintendo NX - possibly coming next year, but it’s the only place for most Nintendo games.
The classic 16bit vs 32bit console wars are long over. The PS4 and Xbox One are more PC-like than ever before and both have nearly identical CPU’s powering them. Where the big difference is found is in their graphics processing unit. On paper the PS4’s is about 50% faster. That’s brought about some differences in recent games, with the PS4 often winning out on resolution (more often using 1080p) or framerate (60fps rather than 30fps.) Both consoles allow for great looking games, but if this was down to a playground face-off, the PS4 would win every time.
The Wii U is a tricky one because its exact specs are subject to non-disclosure agreements, but it’s commonly agreed that the Wii U hits harder than the Xbox 360 and PS3, but doesn’t challenge the latest generation.
Unless you’re the type of person that re-boxes their console every night, you’re going to have to live with it in your bedroom or living room.
The Wii U looks like the Wii had a growth spurt. It’s slightly bigger, but still has the same clean white rectangle design. It can be placed horizontally or vertically and should fit in most entertainment units without hassle.
Both the PS4 and XOne have gone for black rectangles this time out. The PS4 is significantly better looking, with smaller dimensions and an angled front, but then appearance is subjective. The XOne is no eyesore, but it does feel a bit like it should be a rack-mounted server. The PS4 can be placed vertically, unlike the XOne which is recommended for horizontal use, so that might be an issue.
Another concern here is the power supply. The PS4 has a built in transformer, which is tidier than the brick that needs to be hidden when you plug the Xbox One in.
Both the XOne and PS4 have limited edition consoles as part of game bundles. Some of these look great, others are approaching bad taste. If you’re buying the console as a present for someone, they may want the console and the game, but not necessarily the version of the console that appears in a bundle.
All three consoles are quite quiet, so thankfully the days of obnoxious fan whirring are behind us.
This one is open to a lot of debate. The PS4 and XOne controllers take cues from the original Playstation and Xbox controllers, so there are armies of gamers who already have a preference. The Wii U on the other hand is a pretty unique.
Both the PS4 and XOne controllers have had a slight form change, but still feel very familiar to players used to their last-gen counterparts. Each controller has some fun new bits. The XOne controller features vibration motors for each trigger, so you get some great stereo feedback through your digits. May sound pointless, but think about racing sims where you can feel the traction loss on each side of the car.
The PS4 packs quite a few special features in. A touchpad allows game developers to go wild and get creative, with gestures, drawing and such all available. Some just use it as a big button. Next we have the light bar at the front of the controller. This can be tracked by the Sony Camera is you have it, but you’ll really notice it when games use it to communicate. Games will use it to show health (changing gradually from green to red) or to pulse. Gaming in the dark takes on a whole new feel. The final trick we’ll mention is the built in speaker. Again this is all down to how the developer uses it, but having a beeping motion tracker in your hand while playing Alien: Isolation really raises the terror levels.
The Wii U Game Pad is essentially a tablet embedded in a controller. It may not be as ergonomically pleasing as the other two, but it allows for some great second screen functionality. Again, it’s down to how the game developers use it, but most of the Nintendo produced games manage to make it an essential and natural part of the gameplay.
In terms of Christmas morning fun, the XOne controllers take two AA batteries. The PS4 and Wii U Gamepad contain internal rechargeable batteries (but can be played while charging.)
Microsoft recently launched a pro controller for the Xbox One, but at about €120, we’re not going to include it here.
The PS4 and XOne are now priced competitively against each other. Microsoft made a serious error by launching their console costing nearly €100 more than their rival, so they’re not going to make that mistake again.
There are different bundles available and it’s the time of the year where retailers will be trying their best to edge out the competition.
Something to factor in, especially if you’re a parent paying the bills, is the cost of online subscriptions. Games increasingly require an always on online connection and revolve around multiplayer. Nintendo’s online offering is free, while Xbox Live comes in at €59.99 and PSN €49.99 annually.
Realistically this is the factor that will make your mind up.
So far the Wii U has been lagging behind, but here we have the console’s major selling point. If you want Nintendo games, you’ll need a Wii U. There’s an incredibly strong exclusive catalogue there such as Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros, Splatoon and Super Mario Maker. The Wii U is also backwards compatible with Wii games, so add in all the beloved Mario Galaxy and Wii Sports titles.
Unfortunately the Wii U fares poorly when it comes to 3rd party games. You’ll find no Assassin’s Creed Syndicate or Fallout 4 on the console. Generally if a game doesn’t appear on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, it likely doesn’t have a Wii U release.
The Playstation 4 and Xbox One are quite similar in terms of the big cross platform releases. Some games will have exclusive content deals with a console, but these are usually minor additions or timed exclusives that you can do without.
The real difference comes with the console exclusives. If you did this article last year, the PS4 would have probably won out, but the Xbox One’s pre-Christmas line-up has been very very strong.
Right now, Halo 5: Guardians and Rise of the Tomb Raider are two of the games grabbing our attention the most. Yes, Tomb Raider will eventually come out on Playstation, but if you want to play it this Christmas you need an Xbox. Halo 5, despite a mediocre single-player, is probably the best multiplayer shooter around. Also, Forza 6 is currently the best racing game around and only on Xbox One.
The Playstation 4 has some real gems. Bloodborne is there for hardcore gamers who want punishment and Tear Away Unfolded is an imaginative piece of pure joy. The PS4 also has two great remastered exclusives in the form of The Last of Us and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake collection, but the trend for remasters is going to continue on both platforms (Xbox One has remasters of Halo and Gears of War.)
Playstation have some big exclusives coming next year in the shape of Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian and Gran Turismo but that’s no good for Christmas.
In terms of overall exclusives and indie games, the PS4 is streets ahead in terms of numbers, but it must be noted that a lot of those exclusives are games that will sell well in Japan and few other places. If you like your JRPGs, the PS4 is the obvious choice.
Game releases go in cycles. Xbox tends to have a strong Christmas schedule, while Playstation is more consistent throughout the year. So right now all the buzz feels like it’s around Xbox.
Backwards compatibility is one area that the Xbox One currently leaves the PS4 in the dust. Though limited to a 100 or so Xbox 360 games at present, Microsoft have added a free backwards compatibility service and will be adding more games as time goes on. As the list grows, the Xbox One is going to gain a seriously deep catalogue of games.
The PS4 has been shown to be capable of backwards compatibility due to some recently released PS2 Star Wars games, but no firm plans have been put in place and compatible PS3 games need to be bought again in digital format.
If you’re a younger gamer or buying for one, the Wii U feels like too strong a contender to ignore. Nintendo make such good family friendly games, it really is the best choice and won't break the bank.
For everyone else, especially those conscious of the buzz around blockbuster releases, the choice is far more difficult. Right now, I can’t stop playing Halo 5, which is really clouding my judgement. The Playstation 4 feels like a far better console for games. Everything about it screams games first and everything is there for the developers to go wild. I keep feeling like the Xbox One is trying to put an extra step between me and my games. Sure, if I wanted it as a media centre it would probably be the winner, but I just want to game. Given the choice, I’ve gone with PS4 whenever I get a multiplatform release. Still, Halo 5 keeps drawing me back in.
To conclude: The war between the big boys is too tight. By now you should know what controller you prefer and whether Halo or Forza 6 is something to sway you. If you just have a craving for Mario, well the Wii U is your only cheap and cheerful man. Regardless of your choice, there’s no Atari Jaguar in the bunch.