In the wake of a Gamescom that greatly revolved around peacock-like posturing between Microsoft and Sony and very little in the way of actual news, all eyes now turn towards November.
With both consoles likely to launch within weeks of one another and with strikingly similar hardware specifications, it is once again down to software to separate these consoles.
Nintendo of America’s President, Reggie Fils-Aime’s well considered and tactful appraisal of Microsoft and Sony’s launch line up? “Meh.” One can only imagine the noise Fils-Aime uttered when first reading Nintendo’s last financial report.
Meanwhile, Phil Harrison asserts that the Xbox One has the best launch line-up in the history of consoles whilst Sony remain quietly confident with a set of launch games punctuated with a strikingly strong indie showing.
Considering both consoles share much of their respective launch line-ups, one time Sony VP Harrison’s comment could be seen more broadly to indicate that early adopters of either console have an embarrassment of riches in terms of software.
But are the launch line-ups for the Xbox One or PS4 the best ever?
Confirmed Day One European Launch Titles.
|| Assassin’s Creed IV
|Dead Rising 3
||Call of Duty: Ghosts
||DC Universe Online*
|Forza Motorsport 5
||Just Dance 4
||Killzone Shadow Fall
||LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
||Madden NFL 25
|Ryse: Son of Rome
||NBA Live 14
||Need For Speed: Rivals
|Zumba Fitness: World Party
||Skylanders Swap Force
**Pre-installed/bundled with console
(Note that many of the titles listed in the Xbox One or PS4 columns are available on other formats such as PC, PS3 or 360.)
“Is it possible that we are seeing what are simultaneously the best and worst software line-ups in console history?”
Historically, discussions of console launches often revolve around the killer apps – that is, those titles that justify a decision to purchase a new console. Super Mario 64 and Halo: Combat Evolved for the N64 and Xbox respectively are held as prime examples of launch titles which are noted for their quality and use of new hardware to convincing effect.
Rather notably, both the Xbox One and PS4 are missing a broadly appealing, system exclusive killer app. Whilst each system has several exclusive titles, none are of a convincingly high caliber necessary to highlight a distinction between the two consoles. It would not be a stretch to predict that the five top selling titles on each console will be multi-platform. Whilst Ryse or Killzone make for visually impressive sizzle reels, the general consensus is that neither are of a system selling quality.
Considering past form, it is likely that Killzone will be inferior to this year’s iterations of Call of Duty or Battlefield. The large communities that the next generation versions of those titles will inherit from the current generation will likely be a deciding factor in the long term viability of its multiplayer portion. Killzone has often been positioned as Sony’s ‘Halo killer’ – as visually resplendent as each title in the series has been, it has still struggled to command the respect and more importantly, the sales of Microsoft’s flagship franchise.
Of all of Microsoft’s line-up, Ryse strikes me as the most launch-titley – an attractive demonstration of the next generation of hardware that looks ultimately lacking in the gameplay department. Having been met with some amount of trepidation from the gaming press, Ryse may yet prove to be a strong addition to Microsoft’s campaign but as yet, demonstrations of the game have been underwhelming.
And what to make of the rest of the big system exclusives? On one hand, Microsoft appear to have the stronger showing. Forza Motorsport 5 is the latest in the commercial and critically acclaimed franchise – whilst coverage of the title has been limited, and in spite of a lack of ground-breaking new features, there is little doubt that Turn 10 Studios will produce a solid, if not unsurprising next gen iteration of Forza.
Dead Rising 3 trades some of its trademark humour for a more homogenized version of the zombie apocalypse. With what appears to be a tick box approach to game development by featuring co-op in an open world zombie action game, Dead Rising nonetheless represents a strikingly different experience in comparison with the rest of the next gen line up. In that regard, Dead Rising is the closest thing the Xbox One has to a unique system seller.
Much of the rest of Microsoft’s launch line up is uninspiring – as much as I loved Killer Instinct on the SNES, one cannot escape the feeling that its inclusion is down to some mandatory one-fighting-game-per-console-launch rule. Being free-to-play or as Phil Harrison put it, “a generous demo,” Killer Instinct appears to have something of an identity crisis. With Beat-em-ups being the stomping ground of a hardcore crowd who eschew free-to-play, Killer Instinct may struggle to capture the audience of giants such as Street Fighter or Soul Calibur on the strength of nostalgia alone.
Even with less than three short months to launch, there are still titles which are relatively unknown quantities. The just announced Fighter Within hinges on whether Kinect 2.0 can deliver on the promise of intuitive 1:1 motion control. Similarly making use of Kinect, pleasant surprise Zoo Tycoon could very well be the sleeper hit of the Xbox One launch. Incorporating lessons learnt from the development of Kinectimals, Frontier are combining the micromanagement of previous Zoo Tycoon titles with child friendly Kinect mini-games – in lieu of Kinect Sports Rivals, Zoo Tycoon is Microsoft’s attempt to justify the inclusion of Kinect with the Xbox One.
Crimson Dragon, spiritual successor to cult title Panzer Dragoon looks like a functional though not game changing rail shooter, and its appeal will be admittedly niche. LocoCycle appears to be a suitably insane genre mash-up featuring TwistedPixels’ unique brand of humour. An endless runner by way of Road Rash, LocoCycle is one of just three confirmed Xbox One digital launch titles alongside Crimson Dragon and the rather self-explanatory Powerstar Golf.
It is in this digital arena that Sony show the strides they have made in recent years with ten games available on their online marketplace at launch in comparison to Microsoft’s three. Minecraft’s appearance on a Sony console is a cause de celebre amongst Playstation fans – not least for the fact that Minecraft will be available day one on the PS4 though it is only penciled in loosely for the launch window of the Xbox One. Sony’s console is also launching with not one but two free-to-play multiplayer shooters in the form of Blacklight: Retribution and Warframe. Though unlikely to attract large amounts of players away from Call of Duty or Battlefield’s multiplayer, the two titles are key to the PS4’s positioning as an accessible, better value for money console. With DC Universe Online and War Thunder also being free-to-play, the PS4 provides a multitude of titles out of the box for those online without the need for further outlay. Already cheaper than the Xbox One, alongside Dualshock 4 tech demo The Playroom which is included with every console (though the camera needed to access a large portion of the game does not) and the PS Plus version of Driveclub, the PS4 represents an immediate sense of value that the Xbox One cannot match.
Whilst not ground shaking, the rest of the PS4’s digital line-up looks to be full of strong, idiosyncratic titles:
A Sci-fi Spelunky with four player couch co-op, Super Motherload looks to be charming, one-more-go fodder. Resogun is a twitch happy, twin stick bullet hell shooter from Super Stardust developer Housemarque that promises to fry brain synapses. Contrast is a film noirish platformer that channels indie darling Limbo whilst Tiny Brains is a four player puzzle-platformer that wears its love of Little Big Planet on its sleeve.
Whilst the PS4 has a greater number of launch exclusives, ten are digital whilst only three are retail releases. Compare this to the Xbox One’s three digital and seven retail exclusives and it is clear which console will have a stronger presence in regards to software from a bricks and mortar retail point of view. Knack and Driveclub, the two Sony exclusive titles not yet discussed, are unimpressive in the same way as Ryse – they will be no doubt functional, playable and enjoyable, but they do not offer a convincing answer to the question of whether one should purchase an Xbox One or a PS4.
Beyond the platform exclusive titles each system has an enviable launch line-up, with many of this generations principal franchises appearing. With Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Need for Speed, FIFA and Watchdogs featuring for both consoles on launch day, it would be difficult to argue against Harrison’s claim that we are about to see the best console launch line-up in history – except for the fact that all of those titles are also appearing on current gen consoles. Whilst it certainly might be true that we are seeing the best console launch line up ever the fact remains – you do not need to purchase a next generation console to enjoy the majority of those titles. That in itself is problematic for both Microsoft and Sony’s hope to position their new consoles as essential purchases. The amount of titles that absolutely necessitate the purchase of an Xbox One – eight. There are five titles on PS4. Is it possible that we are seeing what are simultaneously the best and worst software line-ups in console history?
Ultimately, the success of either console launch is dependent on many factors separate from software line-up. The PS2 had a notoriously mediocre set of launch games though it went on to be the most successful home console of all time. Whilst it could be argued that either console has a better software line-up, in terms of AAA titles that provide a distinctly next gen experience, the Xbox One edges it with Dead Rising being the closest thing either console has to a must have. Admittedly, as a man who spends most of my time on Indie gems acquired through Steam, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, I find more in the PS4 exclusive list to be excited about.
It is with a hint of irony that I admit that I will most likely spend Christmas and the New Year playing Battlefield 4, a game that, even with an increased player count and next gen only social features, will be a none too dissimilar experience to the one I would find on my current console.
In our second part, TwinStickGaming will compare the PS4 and Xbox One launch line-ups to those of previous generations and consider the importance of initial software releases to the overall success of a console.
In the meantime, sound off with your opinions on the next generation line-ups. Which console has the better software, and are either of them destined to be the best console launch line up in history?
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