Whether you’re teaming up with buddies around the world to take out the Covenant or building a world with your friends on the couch, multiplayer game consoles make the play more fun. Picking out the best video game console isn’t as easy as it used to be, however. All the big companies have come a long way, so it’s become a matter of what you value most.
The most important aspect to consider when choosing a console for multiplayer gaming is whether your friends already have a specific system. As one gamer on a forum pointed out, it stinks to talk about your favorite game with your buds and find out everyone else is on a different console. This may change in the future, however: In March 2016, Microsoft and Sony started to provide cross-platform compatibility between their networks. Rocket League is the first game to have a patch allowing for play between PS4 and Xbox One players. If it takes off, we’re likely to see more cross-platform games on the horizon.
Both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live allow you to play games with friends online, although they are tied to their respective platforms. Each has its own advantages. For example, PlayStation Plus has Play Share; you can invite someone to play your game with you online, even if that person doesn’t actually own the game. You don’t have to be in the same room to play together, and only one of you needs to own the title.
Xbox, meanwhile, has started putting out versions of its games that work on both Windows 10 and the Xbox. Xbox Play Anywhere stores all your saves, add-ons and achievements to the cloud, so you can access them from any compatible device. You could be playing with your friend at home on the Xbox, quit the game, head over to his place, and resume playing on your tablet while you guys split a pizza. And should you want to game at your house party, you no longer have to have your friends lug their consoles over.
When it comes to couch gaming, the Wii U still takes the prize as far as consoles go, and the Wii Game Pad makes it even better. With the Game Pad, you can have up to five players in a game, and the pad itself has its own display. This screen can mimic what’s on your TV, show you a different angle or show an area from your point of view. The Game Pad also gives you alternate ways to play the games, including via the touchpad. Some games even have one player use the Game Pad exclusively, while the rest of the crowd keeps up with the action on the big screen.
All of these consoles offer online chat – the PS4 and Xbox One have in-game voice comms, while the Wii U has video chat that pauses your games. Each console, however, has its own unique social features.
PS4: The homepage has a What’s New section that lets you check on your friends’ pictures, trophies and recent activities, including videos of live play where applicable. You can even watch livestreams from other players via Twitch or UStream, right from your console. Players can upload video clips and screenshots or broadcast their gameplay. You can record up to 15 minutes at a time, letting you share the epic boss battle, but the system doesn’t record external input – if you yell “Leroy Jenkins!” no one will hear it in the replay. If you’d rather people not see all the pre-battle bickering, you can trim the video after you save it.
Sony also offers tournaments to PS4 players, some even for prizes. You can also find and join communities with a discussion board.
Xbox: As with PlayStation Plus, Xbox Live offers game clip sharing and the ability to see your friends’ latest achievements. In Fall 2016, it plans to have two additional community features: the ability to create your own groups with the Clubs feature and the ability to find a party to play with using the Looking for Group feature. If you’re a Minecraft fan, you can already create multiplayer worlds using Minecraft Realms.
Wii U: The Wii U Miiverse is where you can connect with communities, share a journal of your gaming experiences or show off your artwork, and chat with others on a discussion board. Some of the games interact with the Miiverse – for example, you can post a video from Mario Kart to your profile. You can also follow your friends and send messages.
A PC is probably still the top bet for the best multiplayer gaming experience, but video game consoles have come a long way, with social features, in-game chat and soon-to-be cross-platform capability. It’s a fun way to be part of a group, even from the privacy of your own living room.