A PC Perspective on Xbox One vs PS4

11 Jun 2013  by   Peter Parrish
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Yesterday, the twin powers of Microsoft and Sony made their best efforts to woo players to their new consoles. It’s actually the second attempt, as both companies held separate ‘reveal’ events for their respective consoles earlier in the year. Sony used their first event as a corporate buzzword showcase and tried to rekindle our stunted powers of imagination by making us picture the PS4 in our minds, while Microsoft accidentally held a press conference about televisions.

After that, E3 2013 could only be an improvement.

Typical offerings left at an Xbox One shrine.

Typical offerings left at an Xbox One shrine.

As a PC user, writing for a PC-centric site, watching each company fall over themselves to make a good impression without having any particular ties to either is an interesting experience. I’m not an impartial observer, of course. It’s in the interests of the PC for Sony and Microsoft to push the technology of their consoles (god knows it’s been eight years) because that should, in turn, improve the scope of any multiplatform ports which come our way.

Seeing so many references to “and it runs at 60 frames per second!” is a weird experience for a seasoned PC owner. It’s really, really hard to avoid being smug about a platform being lined up for sale in 2013 with a gaming ‘feature’ that’s been standard on the PC for quite some time. So I am going to be smug about it. Sony, Microsoft: nice to see you’re trying to catch up a bit.

Imagine a parallel universe where one of the conferences tried to make a big deal about a game using “all three dimensions, for the very first time!” They’d be laughed off the stage. But that’s kind of how it feels for PC gamers to watch references to half-decent framerates.

Experience headshots at a scintillating 60fps! In 1999.

Experience headshots at a scintillating 60fps! In 1999.

It’s intriguing, actually, to see console conferences adopting the linguistic flourishes of the PC in the first place. We’re used to these events being a parade of dead-eyed corporate shills glumly allowing stock phrases like “visceral depth of combat” and “unprecedented next-gen experience” to tumble from their mouths. Any technical details tend to be framed in simplistic ‘bigger is better’ terminology or attributed to ethereal wizardry. 5 billion transistors. Magical cloud power. As if any of that has meaningful value.

But now, maybe as a result of both the Xbox One and PS4 being constructed around x86 architecture (a PC staple), the presenters think their audience is ready for a new page of lingo. After tentatively getting people acquainted with frames-per-second this year, maybe E3 2014 will introduce the concept of anti-aliasing, or field of view.

Likewise, it’s difficult for a PC user to get too excited about additional features like “you can now browse the internet,” or “it’s possible to stream a TV show while doing something else!” Multitasking in different windows was already pretty familiar to PC folks by the mid 1990s. Almost as if the major operating system was named after this, or something.

The clue to its main function is in the name.

The clue to its main function is in the name.

The fanfares surrounding the announcement of Elder Scrolls Online as an Xbox One and PS4 game are also pretty funny to witness. It’s hard to boot up my PC every day without accidentally downloading another fantasy MMO, but on console it may actually be a bit of a novelty. Given how much cynicism Bethesda has attracted from the PC crowd over the title, sending it out to the fresh pastures of the consoles might be a very smart move.

This all sounds like typical PC elitist arrogance, I know. I’m (mostly) sorry.

In truth, a lot of the above should actually be a positive for the platform. If major console releases settle on 60fps as standard, that means an end to ropey porting embarrassments like Dark Souls (saved in traditional PC style with some elegant modding). Great technological power on familiar x86 architecture could lead to games with greater scope, ambition and graphical fidelity that are also more straightforward to port.

Of course, if all of that is pissed away on quick-time events, unskippable cut-scenes and social network integration then we may as well not bother. But let’s think positive for now, eh? If it all goes wrong we can always go back to playing indie games.

Not like this, Microsoft. Not like this.

Not like this, Microsoft. Not like this.

There were plenty of multiplatform titles announced or detailed over the past day or so that are worth looking out for. Mad Max is coming from Avalanche, who’ve already demonstrated their skill at channeling absurd, open world fun with Just Cause 2. We’ve also had confirmation of a new Mirror’s Edge, a DICE-developed Star Wars: Battlefront and Respawn’s first foray into gaming with Titanfall. Plus The Crew, a driving game from a combination of developers responsible for Test Drive Unlimited and Driver: San Francisco.

Then there are the interesting holdovers from the former set of consoles, like Watch Dogs, Dark Souls II and Batman: Arkham Origins.

Not everything went our way though. Destiny and Metal Gear Solid V (both of which looked promising) are still hiding their faces behind fluttering fans and giggling whenever anyone asks about a PC version. Meanwhile, The Division is currently set on being Xbox One and PS4 only, despite looking perfectly suited to the PC platform. Though that could all change in the blink of a PR man’s eye.

Ok, yes, can we have this one on PC please?

Ok, yes, can we have this one on PC please?

Of course the major event of the day was the ding-dong battle over console DRM, with Microsoft already having doubled-down a closed digital platform (similar to, but not at all the same as, Steam). Thanks to this misguided, complacent decision, all Sony had to do was reveal it intended to maintain the status quo for used, traded and disc-based games and lap up the applause. The company generated so much goodwill from this that it was even able to sneak in an Xbox Live style paywall for multiplayer with barely a hint of backlash.

Amidst the hype and the glamour, the pomp and the ceremony, both console conferences unveiled a world where 60fps is ‘next gen,’ fantasy MMO announcements are a welcome novelty and everybody is expected to pay for the privilege of multiplayer gaming. The technological gap may be closing for the first time in almost a decade, but to the PC user looking in through the console window, some parts of the landscape look just as strange as ever.

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