Microsoft and Sony's next generation consoles are barely three months away from release, and we're finally starting to get really excited about what's in store.
Why? Because after months of pretty tedious jostling on specs, privacy settings and online policies, both sides are now starting to get down to brass tacks, and talk about what really matters - games, prices and release dates.
We've just returned from a week at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, where the big publishers made their final news-heavy announcements before launching headlong into their marketing strategies.
Last week we covered what's exciting us most about the Xbox One. This week it's time to look again at the PS4.
1. Indie Games
Both Sony and Microsoft talked a lot about indie gaming at Gamescom - and both made serious new commitments to working with developers and showcasing their work. But Sony's line-up of actual indie titles was incredibly impressive, and cemented their reputation as the most vibrant ecosystem of the two for fans of indie titles right now. Among the announcements were N++, the final version of the incredibly addictive platformer (PS4 exclusive), Vlambeer's 'Wasteland Kings' (PS4/VITA console exclusive) and more enigmatic titles such as the cell-shaded adventure game by Tequila Works 'Rime':
2. Exclusive Titles
The PS4 has its share of great exclusive games including DriveClub and Killzone: Shadow Fall, which both look impressive - if not all that innovative in terms of genre-busting new ideas. Knack and inFamous: Second Son are exclusive too. The console also has some great exclusive content for big cross-platform games, including 60 minutes worth of exclusive Watch Dogs missions and some exclusive Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag content too.
3. The Price
Let's face facts - the PS4 is £349, the Xbox One is £399. And while we were impressed by the Kinect 2 (which accounts for most of the price disparity) as well as the inclusion of FIFA 14 as a pack-in bonus for Xbox pre-orders, for a lot of people that £50 is going to make a lot of difference at Christmas. And the truth is that unless you're ready to jump (literally) into motion gaming and TV controls, nothing we saw in terms of raw power makes us think the PS4 lacks anything in comparison to the Xbox.
4. The PS Vita
Sony's long-suffering handheld had a great Gamescom, with a raft of new games (Borderlands 2, Fez) a price-cut to €199 (about £170) and best of all a renewed focus on its ability to play PS4 games remotely when somebody in the house is watching the TV. An on-stage demo with Assassin's Creed 4 showed the next-gen game running amazingly well over WiFi on the smaller screen, with a perfect translation of controls and gameplay. If you own a PS Vita, or are thinking about getting one, it seems like a no-brainer to pair it with a PS4.
5. Infamous: Second Son
In terms of potential for a rich narrative-driven experience, Infamous: Second Son might be Sony's best chance for a true genre-busting knockout punch. We haven't seen enough of the game to judge how close it will come to delivering on that promise, but the new Gamescom trailer was a great start:
6. The DualShock 4 controller
Gamescom was the first time that we got a chance to spend serious time with the new PlayStation 4 controller, and we have to say we're a little bit in love. The DualShock 4 is a solid, weighty, premium-feeling gamepad which adds a number of fine refinements to a classic formula. The touchpad gives new options to developers and is reliable in-use, while the analogue sticks feel even more responsive. The overall impression is of a piece of hardware that we're going to enjoy using - a lot - when the console finally arrives. Which brings us onto...
7. Release Date
The PS4 will arrive in Europe on November 29. The Xbox One will be launched on... we don't know. If you're of a nervous mindset, that might be all you need to make your choice.
8. Twitch Integration
Streaming and sharing live gameplay has never been more popular - and it's about to get a lot more visible after Sony announced that the Twitch online game streaming platform will be built into its PS4 consoles. Users will be able to share and broadcast gaming videos directly to their friends on Twitch, from launch. Similar features will also arrive on the Xbox One, but with the PS4 you'll be able to launch it directly just by hitting "share" on the controller.
9. Broadband Partnerships
Sony has announced that it will partner with Virgin Media for the PS4's release, giving benefits such as reserved bandwidth for gaming services, and other "exciting benefits". As Techradar reports, we're still waiting for details on what that actually involves. But we're looking forward to seeing the results, and if you're also looking for a new broadband provider this could even be a killer feature.
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