Every seven or eight years, one gaming console generation ends and another begins with futuristic boxes filled with incomprehensible numbers and hardware along with a mountain of promises.
Unlike the iterative changes to new smartphones and computers, home consoles make massive jumps every few years that make the previous systems worthless pieces of plastic.
This year brings the new PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series. Both have two versions at varying costs, the PS5 Standard Edition ($499) and the Digital Edition ($399), and the Xbox Series X ($499) and S ($299).
While finding a console online or in stores is near impossible at the moment, it can be helpful to break down what differentiates the two in a way that makes sense for when they are eventually available again.
Xbox Series X and S
Microsoft’s new consoles are the Xbox Series X and S. The Series X is the primary console, with a disk drive and more power than the Series S, the budget console, with no disk drive and less power to justify the $200 difference. At launch, the Xbox does not have a large number of new or exclusive games, but that does not mean there are no games to play.
Following the weak launch of the Xbox One, Microsoft focused on two things: backwards compatibility and a subscription service. Backwards compatibility, where one could play any game from older generation systems, was a feature of older consoles that was taken for granted until it suddenly disappeared with the Xbox One.
The removal produced vocal backlash and hurt the Xbox One’s sales, causing Microsoft to reimplement the feature, making it a selling point of the Xbox Series X, which can play thousands of games dating back to the original Xbox.
The subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, has been described as a “Netflix subscription for video games.” Customers can pay $9.99 a month for the console or PC version or bundle them together for $14.99 a month. The combined version, called Ultimate, also comes with access to Project xCloud, a service with which users can play games on multiple devices, including Android smartphones, wherever they are.
Microsoft bought a number of game studios like Double Fine and Bethesda, hoping to fill their library with Xbox-exclusive games besides Halo and Gears of War to compete with PlayStation and their iconic exclusives.
Overall, the Xbox is focused on providing its users with an ecosystem of services that support and add to the gaming experience. Whether you’re looking to play a nostalgic favorite or traveling and looking to continue your new game throughout the trip, there’s more to your purchase than just a 2001-esque black monolith or a thin white speaker.
The PlayStation 5 also markets standard and budget options for its console, with the only differences being the inclusion of a disc drive and price.
Sony and the PlayStation have long been the home of iconic gaming franchises, like God of War and Little Big Planet, which helped the PS4 — launched in 2013 — sell over 113 million units globally in the last generation.
That remains the focus of this new system, with nearly all of the marketing for the PS5 carried by the games that can only be played on PlayStation. The largest exclusives available at launch are Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls, both intended as “system sellers,” meaning people are likely to buy the new console just to play one or both of these games.
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a spinoff of the hit PS4 title, Marvel’s Spider-Man, that sold over 20 million copies. Miles Morales is part of a small list of games featuring a person of color as the lead, a trend that will hopefully continue throughout the generation and in the studios making them.
Demon’s Souls is a very different game. Originally released for the PS3 in 2009, it began a new genre of games known for hyper-difficulty and punishing players when they make a mistake. The remake keeps the dark, fantasy aesthetics and difficult mechanics that made the original popular, with visuals meant to show off what the new consoles can do.
Sony has also started taking notes from Microsoft, particularly with backwards compatibility and the Xbox Game Pass, hoping to emulate the success they found with those practices.
While the PS5 cannot play thousands of PlayStation games from every generation like the Xbox Series, Sony has promised the PS5 can play “99%” of PS4 games as well as providing the PS Plus Collection, 20 of the best games from the previous generation PS Plus subscribers get on the PS5.
Another focus of the console is the controller, which Sony is hoping will be another way to immerse players in their games. It includes haptic feedback, which basically means the controller can rumble and move in ways that imitate what the character is doing on screen, like walking on sand or standing in the rain.
Additionally, the triggers are adaptive, meaning game developers can make pulling the triggers difficult in certain situations, like adding resistance when pulling a bow or when a character is too tired to sprint or even blocking its use when a gun jams.
Sony is hoping to make the PS5 a continuation of the PS4’s success, focusing on exclusives while adding its own futuristic flair in the controller and diminished load times. While it’s popped-collar aesthetic and size may not fit with most living rooms, it does look like a new era.
But until the two boxes are available and out of the reach of staplers, it may be best to work on your backlog or jump back into Animal Crossing for the holidays.