At this week’s E3 trade show, the big video game console manufacturers — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — each took a turn in the spotlight to show off their marquee games for the next year.
And I have to tell you: It’s really stressing me out.
I already own a Nintendo Wii U (with 9.5 million sold globally), which is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. But choosing between the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) and the Microsoft Xbox One (XB1) is proving to be a much harder decision.
Let’s break it down.
Where the games are
These days the vast majority of high-profile games are released for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One simultaneously.
Top-tier games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and my personal most anticipated game, Fallout 4, are all hitting PC, PS4, and XB1 on November 10th, 2015.
But there are exceptions.
For instance, Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, is coming to Xbox One exclusively, at least for a little while. The Microsoft-published Halo 5 is also Xbox One-only.
Similarly, PS4 is getting No Man’s Sky, a hugely buzzed-about game where you fly a spaceship through a universe so massive, the developers promise that it’s literally impossible for players to explore every single planet. Plus, Uncharted 4, the latest in the smash-hit series of Indiana Jones-style globetrotting adventures, continues its Sony-only streak.
These kinds of deals are fantastic news for Microsoft and Sony, but terrible in the long run for consumers. It means that no matter which console you choose, there are going to be plenty of big-ticket games you can’t play.
It makes the purchasing decision murky and, yeah, stressful because you’re not just buying the games that are out for the console now — you’re banking that your choice will have more and better exclusives down the line. The fear of missing out is huge.
Battle of the consoles
The rival gaming consoles have other pros and cons.
First off, there’s price. Currently, Microsoft is offering the Xbox One in a $US349 bundle with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a high-definition remaster of the first four games in Microsoft’s flagship first-person shooter series.
Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 is selling at $US399, with a copy of The Last of Us: Remastered, a high-definition remaster of Sony’s PlayStation 3 hit. If you wait until next week, Sony is offering a new $US399 bundle with Batman: Arkham Knight, the newest entry in the Arkham series, instead.
That gives Xbox One the price advantage, but not by much in the grand scheme.
On the services front, Microsoft offers its Xbox Live online gaming service for $US60 a year; Sony offers its PlayStation Plus for $US50 a year. You’ll need either to play games online with the XB1 or PS4, but they both come with additional subscription benefits, including a monthly selection of free games.
The Xbox One has a neat feature to let you connect it through your cable box and use it to pause live TV or play a game in a window while you watch a show. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 has PlayStation Vue, a streaming TV service that soon will let you choose cable channels a la carte, beating Apple to the punch.
Microsoft will support Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with some Xbox One games, so long as you stream them to a Windows 10 PC (which, incidentally, is another cool Xbox One feature). Sony is working on Project Morpheus, a VR headset for the PlayStation 4.
There are some features that don’t quite line up. For instance, Xbox One is getting backwards compatibility with previous-gen Xbox 360 games, which is compelling because I have a lot of Xbox 360 games.
There are very good reasons to go with both. So many good reasons, in fact, that it’s easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis.
But a final note for videophiles: Xbox One games tend to run at a slightly lower resolution and framerate than the same games running on a PlayStation 4.
The final word
Eventually, you have to make a choice.
There are only two sane ways to pick a console, given all of this back and forth.
First, just look at what your friends are getting. With so few practical differences between the consoles, and so many games coming to both, you’ll at least want to make sure you’ll have people to play online with.
Second, look over what games are coming out, and see which ones you’re absolutely positive you can’t live without playing first, keeping in mind that the “exclusives” may eventually be available for both systems.
For those two reasons, and those two reasons alone, I’m leaning towards the PlayStation 4. No Man’s Sky looks really cool, as does fellow exclusive The Last Guardian.
But every time I see an only-on-Xbox One game go by, I’m always going to wonder “what if?”