Sony and Microsoft have managed to ship several million PlayStation 4 and Xbox One units out to customers over the past couple months. While it’s thrilling to get our hands on a new generation of consoles, the initial launch lineup for both systems has been pretty bleak.
However, there are a few gems among them. We’ve pulled together our own impressions along with critical and user reviews around the Web to call out some of the best (and worst) titles from this new generation of gaming.
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We found the Xbox One offerings to be more fun than the PS4, but we also expect that to be temporary. Sony’s PlayStation Now service will be a game-changer when it arrives in the US this summer, as it will open up access to a collection of fantastic PS3 games.
PlayStation 4 Exclusives
The Resogun arcade shooter is the best PS4 exclusive, but that says as much about the game’s quality as it does the state of the PS4 lineup. It’s free with a PlayStation Plus membership – which you’ll need anyway for online multiplayer on the PS4 – or you can pay $14.99 for the title.
Your job is to pilot a ship around a cylindrical world protecting humans by shooting down their alien captors. When you free a human, you have to pick it up and take it safely to an escape pod.
Resogun’s difficulty ramps up pretty quickly and the screen gets crazy with all the bits and bullets bouncing around. However, both those elements contribute to making the title a literal and figurative blast. This is the one PS4 game that has our full recommendation, but I should also warn that it is very addicting.
Killzone Shadow Fall
The latest installment of the popular Killzone franchise does an amazing job at showcasing the graphical potential of the PS4, but its many flaws keep it from being a truly great game. That said, it’s still worth a buy if you think you’ll appreciate the stunning visuals and science-fiction first-person shooter action.
You’ll also see the new features of the Dualshock 4 controller put to interesting use in Killzone. The new lightbar glows with your health status, and you’ll use the touchpad to control your OWL, a drone assistant that can be used as a weapon, shield, zipline and a hacking device.
Killzone takes you through some gorgeous set pieces, but the in-game world lacks the detail that would make it feel real. We also found it difficult to feel invested in Killzone’s story. Developer Guerilla Games tried to add drama to the single-player campaign, but the game ultimately feels too contrived to care about.
Knack is ostensibly the most kid-friendly title in Sony’s first-party launch lineup, but it’s also the weakest. The game starts off cute, but it doesn’t go anywhere.
You control Knack, a mystical creature that grows or shrinks as you accumulate powerful relics of an ancient civilization. Unfortunately, it feels much more like an extended tech demo of the PS4’s ability to swirl tiny bits around a flowerpot head than it does a fully-realized game.
I also encountered some major glitches at launch that, for a time, made it impossible to get through the introduction. After a couple days, the game mysteriously righted itself.
The coolest part about Knack is that you can grow to the size of a house, but the game fails to tap into the potential fun that could come of it. As it stands, we don’t recommend that you buy Knack unless you think your kids don’t have anything else better to play.
Next up: Xbox One Exclusives
Xbox One Exclusives
Dead Rising 3
I almost gave up on Dead Rising 3 because of long load times, frustrating controls and unnecessary complexity. However, mid-way through the game, I got the hang of it and it became my favorite Xbox One exclusive. Those issues didn’t magically disappear; the game simply began to offer more entertainment than annoyance.
The immensity of Dead Rising 3’s environment is remarkable, and the combo weapons and vehicles are hilarious. There’s enough to do in the fictional city of Los Perdidos that it feels a bit like zombie Grand Theft Auto, but with lower production values than Rockstar.
My favorite part of the game is running around trying to find silly combinations for weapons and vehicles, but the plot did draw me in. The story had its own share of inconsistencies and jumps, but I cared about the characters and what happened to them.
It is disappointing to see load times of a couple minutes, though. If these next generation consoles are supposed to be so powerful, why does it feel like loading is actually getting longer? In one particular section, I got stuck fighting a boss and spent more time waiting for the level to reload than I did actually playing. The whole experience was worsened by the control system’s tendency to pick up the wrong item when you’re aiming so that I’d die because I picked up a crate instead of the food lying next to it.
Online multiplayer adds another dimension to the game, but getting it set up is not intuitive. When I wanted to play with a friend, it took more than half an hour each time to finally get a game going. That needs to be fixed.
Even with its wonky controls and seemingly interminable load screens, Dead Rising 3 is still one of the best Xbox One games this season. You’ll need some patience to get through it, but it’s worth a play.
Zoo Tycoon isn’t exactly a blockbuster of a premise, but the game turned out to be surprisingly fun. It has a nice range to it where you can play Kinect mini-games with the family while geeking out on your own to the simulation aspects of it.
The animals in your zoo look good. Realistic enough that when coupled with the Kinect motions, it’s easy to develop an emotional attachment to them. It was precisely that attachment that kept me going back to the game. I didn’t find much use for multiplayer mode, as my zoos weren’t really something I wanted to share with others, but I did enjoy inviting a friend in for the occasional buggy race and to show off my animals.
Zoo Tycoon isn’t particularly exciting, but I found it to be the perfect game to play when decompressing after work. If you have kids or like sims and animals, this game should provide hours of entertainment.
Forza Motorsport 5
The new Forza certainly looks and drives great, but the general consensus I’ve been hearing is that missing content has limited the value you can get out of the game. User ratings on Metacritic have criticized it for being a full price game that leans too heavily on micro-transactions for additional tracks and cars.
While I’m curious to see how realistic these driving games can get, Forza actually takes things too far for me. I’d like to see the game rethought in terms of how to make the overall player experience enjoyable, instead of focusing on hyper-realism and in-game purchases.
If you’re interested in seeing what the Xbox One can do graphically, Forza 5 is a must-see, but those of you worried about value will probably want to skip it.
Ryse: Son of Rome
I had low expectations for Ryse, so it turned out slightly better than I hoped, but it’s still not a game that I can recommend. The gameplay is frustrating and repetitive. You end up feeling like a really weak God of War.
Ryse is very cinematic, but that often turns out to be a downside. It’s kind of like you’re mashing buttons while watching a very sluggish period piece.
Ryse’s narrative is stilted, and even if you do care about it, fighting your way through each level will take an act of Olympian endurance.
Multiplayer just flat out didn’t work. The concept of battling with a friend in a coliseum is a great idea, but crippling bugs prevented us from killing enemies and advancing, so we would get stuck and have to quit and restart. After several tries, we eventually gave up. It’s inexcusable that the product shipped with such a major error.
Ryse has been through an arduous development process, and, unfortunately, it shows. If you’re still interested in spite of its flaws, I’d recommend that you rent or borrow it to see if you can stomach it.
Xbox Fitness isn’t exactly a game, but the gamified aspects make it very effective. DVD workouts have been extremely popular lately, and Fitness takes things a step further by showing your silhouette, scoring your performance and awarding achievements.
The selection of workouts includes Beachbody, Jillian Michaels and Tracy Anderson, but it’s still pretty limited. However, there are quite a few free options for Xbox Live Gold members. If more celebrity trainers offer their videos through Xbox Fitness, this will emerge as one of the best ways to work out at home.
I would, however, like to see an update to the app’s navigation, as it’s quite confusing in its current state.
Xbox Fitness earns our recommendation simply because most of us could use more exercise in our lives and we’ve already filled up our gym quota for the year. The gamified features do help me stay motivated to work out, but Microsoft needs to add more videos for this to stick.
Next up: Both platforms
Pirates plus assassins is pretty much a dream come true, and Ubisoft has executed well on the concept. Sea battles and stealth missions were fittingly dramatic, and the overarching universe of Assassin’s Creed has grown into a compelling one.
I’d like to see more intelligence in the controls, though, as I’d often run up the wrong wall or grab the wrong ledge while in hot pursuit of a victim. Most of that’s my fault, but the game does get finicky when there are lots of places to interact with.
The game’s settings and backgrounds look good, but I found the game’s depictions of people to be distractingly unconvincing. Movements and facial expressions just felt awkward and wooden.
If you haven’t played through Assassin’s Creed already on the previous generation of consoles, it’s worth picking up for the PS4 or Xbox One.
DICE aimed high with its Battlefield 4 launch, but the game has been held back by its many bugs, which continue to persist months after launch. In fact, the situation has become so severe that the developer released an issues tracker. DICE said it always keeps a tracker going internally to monitor the status of the most high priority issues, but this is the first time it has released one to the public.
Battlefield 4’s single player campaign is woefully underdeveloped, but most of you are probably buying it for the epic multiplayer sessions anyway.
We suggest you wait until DICE finishes addressing the bugs before buying the game. This is another case of an incomplete game that got rushed out the door.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Ghosts is far from the best game in the Call of Duty franchise, but I still enjoyed playing it. You can definitely see the difference between the Xbox One and PS4 versions and the graphics on the last-generation systems.
The single player campaign tries to keep things intense with space battles, underwater missions and tank madness, but the game suffers from an overabundance of gravitas. I appreciate that the franchise is trying to do something new with its alternate timeline, but it came at the cost of believability.
The best thing about Ghosts is a new Extinction co-op mode that pits you against hordes of alien beasts. It’s not quite entertaining enough to compensate for the game’s other weaknesses, but it does offer something new. Upcoming DLC add-ons will add more to the Extinction story.
If you’re experiencing CoD fatigue after buying a new title every year, Ghosts will only make things worse. However, if you’re coming back to the franchise after a bit of a break, there’s enough here to keep you interested.
Just Dance: 2014
Just Dance is another solid family game. I was disappointed by the limited song selection, but Ubisoft almost made up for it with the inclusion of Aladdin’s Prince Ali. I’m probably not the target market, but it’d still be nice to see more song choices and a wider range of genres.
The Xbox One can accommodate up to six players on some songs, so it’ll work well for parties (or big families). You can play the PlayStation 4 version without the camera, but you’ll be tied to the Move motion controller.
Buying a game like Just Dance is a very personal decision. While I can always play it off as for the wife and her friends, the truth is that the game can actually be lot of fun for anyone if you’re willing to let yourself go a bit.
Expectations for next-generation consoles were so high last year that many of us were setting ourselves up for disappointment for the initial games. Even so, there are genuine moments of entertainment and wonder to be found in this crop.
The PS4 and the Xbox One won’t really hit their gaming strides until later this year. We’re looking forward to blockbuster titles like Titanfall, Destiny, Halo and Infamous: Second Son, but we’re also trying not to get our hopes up too much.