Next-Gen Game Consoles Are Hideous, Except Xbox Series S
Next-generation video game consoles deliver beautiful visuals. Too bad the boxes themselves are ugly as sin.
By Jordan Minor
After a truly strange year, game-related or otherwise, the next generation of video game consoles is here. No longer hypothetical concepts, you can actually buy a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Although I recommend you read our reviews before dropping $500 on either of these bad boys, console launch reviews only have so much value. Consoles succeed or fail based on the strength of the game libraries, and those libraries grow with time.
However, there’s one thing about these boxes that not even the greatest game in the world can fix. With the exception of the humble Xbox Series S, next-gen consoles are super ugly.
Keep It Simple
I’ve stewed on this take since the PS5’s full reveal, but I wanted to wait until I got my hands on some hardware before making a final judgment. My fiancée and I nervously waited for whichever next-gen behemoth I would need to cram into our apartment for work purposes. The Nintendo Switch sits nicely at the edge of our TV stand, but even my original Xbox One takes up more space than I like. From the beginning, I’ve resented how big and dumb that brick is, despite playing some very good games on it. I feared this generation would be more of the same.
Fortunately, fate decided that I would receive an Xbox Series S, Microsoft’s budget- and space-friendly next-gen gaming alternative to the full-fledged Series X. In retrospect, this was the only acceptable choice. The unassuming box delighted us with its cute and compact design. The striking white color scheme with its evocative circular black fan looks like a console Ikea might have made to take on the Nintendo Wii. Currently, it sits on top of my Xbox One, where the Wii U used to rest years ago. So far, games don’t look drastically better, and I’m sticking with my Elite Series 2 controller rather than the new model. Still, I enjoy how fast matches load in Injustice 2 and Tekken 7 thanks to the SSD.
The sleek design comes with drawbacks. There’s no disc drive, so while the console plays all my old digital Xbox One games, I’m still using that Xbox One as a Blu-ray player. The limited internal storage means I need to rely on a tiny, yet pricey, external SSD. And the limited GPU specs on Series S may hamstring my ability to play later AAA games to their fullest potential on my 4K TV. Still, when it comes to physical aesthetics, the Xbox Series S knocks it out of the park.
Outside the Box
Aesthetics matter. How attractive a console looks may not be as important as how attractive its games look, but it still shouldn’t be a complete afterthought. These are expensive machines meant to be displayed prominently in your home for years and years, a home you may share with other people who care more about timeless decor than the newest Call of Duty. Even if these consoles do eventually get redesigned (and history tells us they will), it’s not too much to ask that they look appealing from day one.
At worst, the Xbox Series X is just boring. Our review says this is the most literal example of the name “Xbox,” as the console itself really is just a big black box. The most intriguing thing about it isn’t any particular part of the design, but just its sheer size, measuring 12 by 6 by 6 inches (HWD). Ever since the Xbox 360 disaster, I appreciate that Microsoft gives its powerful machines the space needed for proper ventilation. However, going back to the original Xbox and its Duke controller, the running joke is this American company makes things that are too dang big, and Series X keeps the gag going. Heck, Microsoft went and made a real refrigerator shaped like a Series X, and from the right perspective, you can hardly tell it’s a different product.
Points for Originality?
The Xbox Series X may be an imposing monolith, but its chassis looks positively conservative next to the PlayStation 5, the real culprit when it comes to next-gen consoles so ugly that its appearance is a deal-breaker. I want to say upfront that I do appreciate Sony for trying something unique here. Funky cases may be the only tangible thing left separating consoles from bland gaming PCs. How many classic consoles can you recognize from their iconic silhouettes alone? We still love the purple GameCube and its nifty handle.
Between its unwieldy size (16 by 4 by 10 inches) and bizarre gaudy shape, the PS5 just looks bad. I’ve seen it compared to everything from popped collars to “the concept of gentrification” to an uncomfortable number of erotic devices. The stand you must unscrew and reattach before flipping from vertical to horizontal, and the rounded, stack-proof surfaces are the same kind of arrogant bordering on antagonistic design we saw with the original, George Foreman Grill PS3. Don’t dare put anything on top of this box, bow before your king and its obnoxious footprint.
Again, games remain the most important thing. Sony’s PS5 launch titles Demon’s Souls and Spider-Man: Miles Morales are two of the few real next-gen first-party exclusives, and even Spider-Man got a PS4 release, too. Sony has a deep bench of other popular first-party franchises with Gran Turismo, God of War, Ratchet and Clank, and more on the way. And at least the DualSense controller seems neat. But don’t try to convince anyone the PS5’s appearance is one of its strengths. And it was somehow originally going to be bigger?
Eye of the Beholder
Normally, none of these subjective industrial design annoyances would bother me so much. I’m not Jony Ive. Like I said, weird-looking hardware is a cherished part of video game history. But there’s just something so indulgent about how huge and hideous these next-gen consoles are-next-gen consoles that are already indulgent purchases that many may not have the privilege to purchase in the middle of a pandemic. I look at the PS5 and it says to me that Sony doesn’t care about asking me to jam its pointed flaps inside my cramped media center, ridiculous no matter how you lay it, because what else am I going to do? Not buy it?
Eventually, Sony might be right. The right game or hardware feature may push me to get a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, home furnishing be damned. Besides, waiting before buying a next-gen console, even one that isn’t painful to look at, is typically the smart move. Right now, my new Xbox Series S plays pretty new games just fine, without ruining my feng shui, so bless its stylish little heart.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.