Come on, big blue!
Sony’s had a successful generation, to say the least. While November is the third month in a row the Xbox One has outsold the PlayStation 4, the PS4 has sold somewhere between 10 and 20 million more units than Microsoft’s latest console in its lifetime, while the Wii U has sold substantially less than either console. And according to Sony, their VR offering has seen sales “on track” after the company predicted it would sell hundreds of thousands of units.
As we near the end of 2016, Sony has known incredible success for over 3 years but is now facing stronger competition than before. In the face of brilliant work the company has done to earn their success, PS4 Pro missteps, halfhearted modding support, a lack of true backwards compatibility, and completely lackluster PS Vita support may leave the company scrambling to move forward.
The newest PlayStation, the Pro, boasts HDR support (which the old PS4 does as of update version 4.0), an extra gig of DRAM, and an upgraded GPU, as well as 802.11ac wi-fi (that the revised PS4 also offers) and a faster SATA III hard disk interface. The original PS4 had around 1.84 TFLOPS of power (whereas the launch Xbox One had 1.31 TFLOPS and the S version, 1.4 TFLOPS). The Pro has 4.2 TFLOPS of computational power, and that all sounds well and good until you look at Microsoft’s upcoming Scorpio console, which has a staggering 6 TFLOPS of processing punch.
While we don’t know exactly what the Scorpio’s price will be, Phil Spencer has said it will be priced comparably to other consoles. The Pro retails for USD $399.99, which was also the launch price of the original PS4. Assuming the Scorpio is indeed reasonably priced, the choice will be between two boxes aiming to do the same thing, but with one significantly more powerful than the other. This power divide will be much starker than that between the Xbox One and PS4 and Xbox 360 and PS3 combined.
Sony’s Interactive Entertainment Head, Andrew House, has said “the majority” of Pro games (though not all) will be upscaled to 4K, while the Scorpio will have the additional resources necessary to render natively at 4K. And currently, the Pro’s support is entirely uneven. Some games, like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, are upscaled to a higher resolution with no great visual improvement while simultaneously performing worse. Sure, some games like Shadow of Mordor or Rise of the Tomb Raider offer awesome customization, allowing players to play in beautiful 4K or in 1080p with higher framerates, but every game is different. And some games, like Mankind Divided, don’t even allow in-game resolution selection, forcing players to change the system’s output resolution if they want to avoid steeper framerate drops. Even if Microsoft stumbles in getting comprehensive support for the Scorpio from developers, the games that do come to the console could very likely look and play better than their PlayStation counterparts.
The Pro is even lacking compared to Microsoft’s Xbox One revision, the S, which comes with HDR support and a 4K blu-ray drive, a feature noticeably absent from Sony’s latest console. The decision to not support 4K blu-ray playback in a console with 4K gaming as a major selling point seems rather odd and feels similarly backwards to when the 360 opted for a standard DVD drive over blu-ray support. Andrew House has claimed the decision to eschew the drive was based on data suggesting trending towards streaming over physical media, but the end result of this decision is the same: the Pro does not offer a feature its competition does, and what they do offer (4K video upscaling) is likely a negligible improvement, if at all, over 1080p video.
But, after all, these are just problems with Sony’s newest console. There are some 40+ million PS4s out there; there’s a substantial user base, and a box that’s not as powerful as its competition doesn’t take away from that, but user-unfriendly policies definitely do. Skyrim: Special Edition recently came to next-gen consoles and got a substantial 64-bit PC update. Skyrim is well-known as one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, and an enormous part of its lasting influence is in its modding community, still active years after the game’s 2011 release. On the Xbox One, users are free to upload mods using external assets (scripts, textures, meshes, and sound files) and they can install up to 5GBs of mods; PS4 users cannot use those assets and they have a 1GB cap, which seriously limits modding possibilities.
Early this summer, another Bethesda title, Fallout 4, received mod support on the Xbox One, while the PlayStation 4 just now, a year after the game’s release, is finally set to receive similar functionality. Exactly why mod support was delayed and has eventually arrived in a limited form is unclear, but Bethesda’s claims hint that the problem lies with Sony, whose issue with full mod support has been suggested to be with proprietary file formats used on the PS4.
Sony’s history with backwards compatibility is similarly lacking. PS3 consoles offered hardware-based PS2 backwards compatibility. Later models emitted PS2 compatibility, conceivably to cut costs. Some PS2 ‘classics,’ as well as PS1 games, eventually came to the PSN, giving players the chance to re-purchase favorite titles (with no added graphical capabilities or trophy support), but popping in a favorite title from PlayStations past and enjoying a nostalgia trip is very different from paying, again, for the pleasure of playing a game you might already own.