Coinciding with the release of two hotly-anticipated next generation consoles, Sony’s Playstation 4 (already available in the U.S and launching here on Friday) and Microsoft’s Xbox One, debuting today across the globe, both companies have created companion mobile phone apps with the aim of further enhancing game play and gaming experience.
Respectively entitled the Playstation 4 App and more inventively, the Xbox One Smartglass, it appears that both Sony and Microsoft have realised the value of having an individual app to compliment their main systems; the success of Facebook, Twitter and Ebay as Smartphone shortcuts are a huge testament to this. But it certainly seems for the most part that both of these apps supplement, rather than enhance or add any real substance to, the games that each user plays.
The PS4 app allows users to ‘shop on the go’ and download games from a remote location that will be sent straight to their main console system and pioneers a type of instant messaging that optimises the speed of communication by eschewing conversations controlled by the console remote in favour of IMing friends through an easier ‘texting’ method. There’s also a system in which players can schedule, for lack of a better phrase, ‘game dates’ with friends, sending a notification including the time and date to their friend’s console or app.
The fundamental features of the Smartglass are remarkably similar, but probably less well executed than the PS4’s, with Microsoft’s ‘shop on the go’ only getting items ready-for-download rather than actually downloading them and a method of instant messaging akin to the PS4, as well as the ability to browse the accounts and trophies of your friends from the comfort of their Smartphone.
The only really groundbreaking element of these two apps is that, with a handful of titles, each companion can be used to assist game play. Preventing gamers from rubbishing Microsoft’s claim that the Smartglass is a ‘second screen to elevate gaming experience’, certain aspects of games such as Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Rising 3 only become apparent if played with both console and app. In these examples, the Smartglass presents itself as a sort of Easter Egg for players savvy enough to deploy it in conjunction with the main game. Yet, for the most part, the companion guides, commentaries and behind-the-scenes footage that populate the app are more curious and interesting than useful, and all a bit superfluous to gaming experience.
The PS4’s incarnation of the ‘second screen to elevate gaming experience’ is perhaps a little more clear-cut with big-name games such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty making full use of this exciting new feature to augment their gaming content. To be utilised in conjunction with a player’s tablet, AC’s additional app content consists of picturesque, detailed maps that are replicated on the big screen whilst COD grants the ability for a secondary player to compliment the tactical warfare of the main action. Sony, unlike Microsoft, has also allowed developers to use this ‘second screen’ technology for free, so expect an influx of new innovations and features as the PS4 becomes an established console.
PS4’s ‘The Playroom’, is a slice of augmented reality geared up to allow players to draw inanimate objects on their tablets or phones and fling them into a world of AR robots on their TV screens. Sound confusing? See it in action on Jimmy Fallon. Devoid of any practical application whatsoever, it’s aim is purely to entertain and flex Sony’s considerable technological muscle. But that’s what console games are all about, to entertain and offer a way of escaping from reality into a virtual world.
Two competing apps released by two gaming heavyweights to support the launch of the latest addition to both of their console catalogues. Which is better? The PS4 may just edge it owing to its more fleshed-out use of the ‘second screen’ to enhance game play but there really isn’t much to choose between them. Equally effective, and arguably both rather elementary and superfluous. But, watch this space.