Like many (most?) people, I was determined to never purchase an Xbox One after its disastrous reveal event. Not much has changed to the machine since then – apart from the removal of the demand for an internet connection, the removal of the demand for Kinect to be plugged in, the removal of Kinect from the box altogether, the removal of the emphasis on “TV TV TV”, the addition of several features that weren’t present at launch, and a huge reduction in RRP – but, for some reason I can’t quite grasp, Microsoft’s latest console is now somewhat more popular than it started off.
I still haven’t bought an Xbox One. Not exactly, anyway. I now own one because my mobile contract was up for renewal just before Christmas, and I went for a deal that came with an Xbox One, Kinect, and Titanfall as a “gift”. This isn’t (only) because I’m a skinflint, but because I don’t have nearly as much disposable income as I used to. Anyway, let’s say you received a disgusting amount of money at Christmas, and you still somehow have hundreds of pounds left and you’re at a total loss for how to spend it. Should you buy the only sequentially-incorrectly-numbered console on the market, or one of the others?
First of all I’m going to talk about Kinect, and how I’m not going to talk about it for long. I own one of the things but it still sits in the box, untouched and lonely, weeping softly when it’s sure nobody can hear. Let’s face it: the number of people who actually want Kinect in their living room is so small as to be negligible when considering the gaming audience as a whole. It might be because people feel uncomfortable having a camera provided by a company who secretly provided huge reams of data to the NSA pointing at them in their own homes all day. It might be because the first version of Kinect failed so badly. It’s most likely, however, because there are no must-have games for it and almost certainly never will be. Yes voice control can be convenient, but is that enough? Why else would I want to plug it in? Are Microsoft expecting me to buy crap like Fighter Within and Kinect Sport Rivals? With real money? When I live in an English house, and therefore can’t get the sensor to recognise my movements properly?
The whole “TV TV TV” thing has quietened down, but it’s still there skulking about in the shadows. You can use your Xbox One to watch TV, but I’m not going to do that. I use my TV to watch TV, without feeling the need to invite another box to the party. Besides, my TV has a built in Freeview tuner. To watch channels through my console, I’d have to subscribe to a service that gave me yet another box under the TV, or – hah! – buy the Xbox One TV tuner. No thank you. There are also the streaming video apps you’d expect, the only one PS4 doesn’t have that caught my eye being Wuaki. You can also use the Xbox One to watch DVDs and, yes, blu rays. You have to download the (free) app, though. The PS4 can play both too, but the Wii U can play neither.
App. Short for ‘application’. In the Xbone’s case, I think it actually stands for ‘applying far more squares to the screen than is truly necessary’. I don’t feel I’m exaggerating when I say that everything has its own app. You even need to click on a square to open up a damn app just to look at the games you’ve bought and downloaded. Squares upon squares, a labyrinth of screens that is a farce of itself. Both the PS4 and Wii U have easily navigable, user friendly menu systems. Here, let Asterix show you what it’s like trying to find the app or setting you want from the Xbox One dashboard:
While I’m stuck firmly in ‘moan’ mode, I’ll add that I think it’s pretty disgusting that Microsoft are the only company to not bundle in a way to charge the controller with the basic package. They give you two AA batteries in the box (great excuse to not include a rechargeable battery) and that’s it. I can at least say that AAs last an absolute age in the joypad, massively longer than a single charge of the DualShock 4, and sure as hell longer than the pathetic play time Nintendo’s GamePad provides per charge. Very annoying there’s no way to tell how much charge the batteries have left, though.
On a personal note, one advantage that both the Xbone and Wii U have over the PS4 – and the Xbone has an edge here – is the display of colours and shadow. On my 32” LG LCD TV, the PS4 (and PS3) struggles, in terms of display, to distinguish between objects and shades in very dark environments. The blacker things are, the more one thing melts into another. No such issues with any of my other consoles.
Looking at the wider picture, both the Xbone and PS4 now demand a subscription in order to play online (the Wii U, of course, allows you to play online for free). Both machines also offer free games on a monthly basis as an extra incentive. Yes, the Xbone games are free in a more accurate interpretation of the word; they’re yours to keep even if you let the subscription expire, while you only have access to the free PS4 games while your subscription is active. Balancing that, however, is that the value and quality of the free PlayStation Plus games consistently flattens that of the free Xbox One ‘Games With Gold’. Besides, once you’ve finished a digital game, what are you going to do with it? What can you do with it?
There are still good reasons to value Xbox Live Gold over PlayStation Plus, though. Firstly, our good friend money. Shop around online, and it will quickly become apparent that a year’s Live subscription can be had for less than a year’s Plus. I bought my twelve month Gold subscription in the form of an e mailed code from an online retailer for £24.99 (the price there has since gone up a few pounds). The cheapest I can find a year’s Plus is £32-£35. What will be more important to many is the issue of security. There’s no way around it; Xbox Live is more secure than PSN. It’s far from infallible – both networks were taken down by the infamous 2014 Christmas DDOS attack – but it’s clearly a much tougher nut to crack. If security and stability are your top priorities however, why not go for a Wii U? Its online network has never had an attack that we know of, and Nintendo have certainly never been forced to shut down their entire network for a fortnight like Sony were.
Now let’s talk about the important stuff: games. This is where the Wii U takes its turn to shine… for the most part.
In terms of exclusive titles, the Wii U is – for me – the clear winner. Super Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2, Pikmin 3, Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails, Zombi U, Mario Kart 8, The Wonderful 101, Monster Hunter 3… and on top of that, the only format exclusive games I’m excited for in 2015 (Zelda, Splatoon, X) are again on the Wii U. The other side of the games coin however – and it’s a not insignificant one – is that thanks to its very poor sales and underpowered innards, the Wii U is now in a position where it’s missing out on virtually every single major third party release. It’s finally started to build up a decent collection of indie games to supplement the first party library, but the other two consoles – particularly the PS4 – are doing better in that respect. There may be very little to distinguish between the Xbox One and PS4 apart from tedious resolution and frame rate arguments (and incidentally, you’ll find more games running at 1080p 60fps on the Wii U than either of those consoles), but one of the things they have in common is that they share a great many top quality games that the Wii U will never see.
However, the fact is that the vast majority of quality third party releases are also available on PC (or soon will be) and, often, even on the much cheaper previous-gen consoles. See Advanced Warfare, Black Flag, Shadow of Mordor, GTA V, and Destiny (if you’re into that sort of thing) to name but a few. Even company-specific games are sometimes available on an older machine, either through remakes (The Last of Us, Master Chief Collection) or simultaneous releases or late ports (Forza Horizon 2, Resogun, Titanfall, LittleBigPlanet 3).
The graphical capabilities of both the PS4 and Xbox One completely destroy that of the Wii U, but the shiny looks come at the price of user friendliness. Each game for Sony and Microsoft’s latest demands a gargantuan amount of hard drive space for the compulsory installation, whether you buy the retail version or the digital one. When you remember that, the truth is that – relatively speaking – the gulf between the Wii U Premium’s 32gb storage and the Xbox One/PS4’s 500gb storage isn’t nearly so vast as it appears. On top of that, only the most fervent denier of reality would try to ignore the fact that a depressingly huge number of PS4/Xbone games are, essentially, released broken or incomplete. If you already own one or both of these machines, think about the last 5-10 games you bought. How many had a day one patch? How many had a patch released within three weeks of the game hitting shelves? Heck, how many had three patches within six weeks?
That simply does not happen with Wii U games. A Wii U game patch is almost unheard of, even – interestingly – for third party releases, while those were still happening. If you own a Wii U, you can buy a game from the shop, put it into your console for the very first time, see it load within a matter of seconds, and start playing a game that works within a minute or two. No installations for retail games ever, no need to download then install a patch just to render your purchase usable, and no having to worry if your internet connection will need to be working before you can start an offline campaign. No subscription for online play (admittedly, there aren’t many Wii U games that make good use of that), full backwards compatibility with the previous console…. come to think of it, why on earth haven’t you bought a Wii U yet?
In terms of controllers, well… I’ll get back to the Wii U in a minute. The DualShock 4 doesn’t ‘feel’ massively different to the DualShock 3 but, in case you weren’t aware, the analogue sticks have seen a huge improvement. The dead zones have been improved immensely, and the difference is immediately noticeable. The L2 and R2 buttons are much better now too, no longer shaped to encourage your fingers to slip off. Be aware however that the first round of controllers manufactured had dodgy rubber on the sticks – very shoddy on Sony’s part – which a great many people have found starts rubbing off after just a week or two of use. The new ‘Share’ button is a big draw however, allowing you to take screenshots and save your last 15 minutes of gameplay quickly and easily, in a way that the Xbone can’t currently match at all (and the Wii U simply doesn’t offer). You can then share your captures via Facebook and/or Twitter and, since a fairly recent update, you can finally upload gameplay footage to YouTube. The Xbox 360 controller was already perfectly suited to its task and, for all the talk of magical force feedback triggers, the Xbox One controller isn’t very different at all; but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
The Wii U GamePad deserves a feature all to itself, but let’s dispel a few myths right now. Firstly, despite its size (and it isn’t huge), it’s just as comfortable to hold and use as any other joypad. Secondly, although many people who have never played a Wii U game seem to be under the impression that pretty much every title released demands use of every GamePad feature present (motion controls, touchscreen, camera etc), this simply isn’t true. In fact, the frustrating truth is that the capabilities of Nintendo’s controller are largely ignored by the majority of games released. ‘Off TV play’ is something that most Wii U owners love making use of – that is, playing a game on the GamePad while the TV screen is used for something else – and in terms of graphics, responsiveness and everything else, it’s absolutely perfect. Although it’s also great for, say, watching something on Netflix, it’s worth remembering that not every game is compatible with this feature; and as previously mentioned, the battery life on the GamePad is extremely disappointing (roughly three hours).
If you’re reading this, you almost certainly own at least one of these three machines already. But if you don’t – or if you’re in the market for one more – which should you go for? That’s for you to decide, but I like to believe in my egotistical way that this may have gone a little way to help you choose.