It is nearly a year since PlayStation 3 hit the UK and so I felt it was about the right time to sum up my feelings on the next-gen console wars.
I love a good console launch, lots of excitement, people importing foreign machines for silly amounts of money, simply because they have to have the latest kit before anyone else. Then there is the pre-ordering, the ebaying and the random stories about Yanks whooping at big midnight launch parties. What’s not to like?
During the PS2/Xbox days I was very much in the Sony camp – they had a better controller, a quieter, sleeker machine, far more games and some really good exclusives such as Tomb Raider, Pro Evolution Soccer & Grand Theft Auto (for a time), Gran Turismo, Ratchet & Clank, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, WWE Smackdown, Virtua Fighter (I won’t include Metal Gear Solid as I’m not a huge fan of sneaking around and watching cut scenes for hours). Hell, I even liked Killzone.
Microsoft had tried going for grunt and raw processing power but in trying to steal into what was the PC-only territory of online First Person Shooters, they ignored the key PS2 younger audience and priced themselves out of the market. The depth and classy infrastructure of the first two Halo games (especially online) was very tempting but the original Xbox had little else to offer.
On the flip side, the only thing for Sony to improve after the success of PS2 was their online gaming service. But they got complacent. Bunging a Blu-ray player into PlayStation 3 is all well and good for those who have already upgraded their TVs, but for many others it wasn’t enough. In a reversal of fortunes, Microsoft focused on the fun and a community spirit with 360 whilst Sony meandered into multimedia hub territory.
I didn’t actually get a 360 on release day. I wasn’t intending to get one straight away anyway as I felt the PlayStation 2 still had plenty left to offer. I did pick up a core 360 system from johnlewis.com at 9am on launch day back in 2005 but I ebayed it to raise some funds.
After doing so, however, and having seen some of the early 360 games in action on HD televisions in Game, I decided to get a 360 for myself. Eventually, after lots of exciting chats with store employees over stock availability, I managed to snaffle one from argos.co.uk.
Upon firing it up and playing a bit of Call of Duty 2, Quake 4 and Perfect Dark Zero I was hooked. It didn’t matter that Microsoft were playing safe with sequels, these were all top drawer sequels and only scratched the surface of what the 360 could do.
Sony missed a trick again by delaying the European launch of PS3 until March 2007. The 360 had time to build its fan base and library of games. People got bored of waiting and so switched allegiances from Sony to Microsoft.
Suddenly Microsoft could do no wrong. The second wave of 360 games brought modern classics such as Lost Planet, Gears of War and Call of Duty 3 to the machine, then two years down the line we got real triple-A next-gen titles such as Bioshock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Halo 3. Even though some of these appeared on PS3 as well, it was too little too late.
When PS3 did launch, I dutifully picked one up from Virgin after pre-ordering but it was soon apparent that I didn’t need to do so as stock was plentiful. Whether this should mean kudos to Sony’s manufacturing plants or whether it is a worrying sign of people not having £400+ quite soon after Christmas to spend on another new console I am still not sure to this day.
PS3 launch games were okay but not great – Motorstorm is admittedly one of the most fun racing games of recent years and Resistance was a half-decent shooter, but there was no real excitement over the exclusive titles. Where was MGS? GTA? DMC? GT? What else could Sony offer the gamer? Motion sensing controls which felt like a tacked on, badly implemented, last minute idea? Less backwards compatibility than every other world territory? No controller rumble? All sadly present and correct.
Within a year of release, it is telling that Sony first bundled Motorstorm and Resistance: Fall of Man and an extra controller with the machine for the same £425 launch price, then cut the console price itself by nigh-on £100, then released a more basic model for £299.
It is also telling that Sony are in the process of releasing a rumble-enabled controller, and launching their online Sims/Myspace/Facebook hybrid interactive social “game” Home, complete with achievement-style “trophies” for nailing certain feats within games.
I cannot believe it has taken Sony this long to realise the impact that the achievement system has had on modern day gaming. Similar to the old-school arcade high-score battles of the eighties, achievements really force people to make the most of their games and add a sense of competition against friends and even unknown online acquaintances. I have (perhaps tragically) sold some PS3 games without playing them in order to get them on 360 simply because of the achievements adding a little something extra. I always used to get the majority of my games on PS2 and just get exclusive titles on Xbox but now this situation has completely reversed.
Also, the head start now really shows – I have 11 friends on Xbox Live, all of which I know personally. I have yet to encounter anyone else I know who has bought a PS3, therefore the online elements of many PS3 games are redundant to me.
I don’t usually bother with that much online gaming, apart from when friends are online anyway, but it is fascinating to get a snapshot via Xbox Live of what other people on my friends list are doing and how far they have gotten in their games compared to my own progress.
When I do venture online, Microsoft’s advantage is even more apparent. Through their long-standing relationship with Bungie, they have really nailed the very best in online gaming systems with Halo 3, including the ability to check stats on the Internet after marathon frag-fests. Shooting your friends has never been such fun, and by being backed up by third-party developers, Microsoft are riding the crest of the modern gaming wave.
To sum up, Sony will no doubt cope with all the PS3 uncertainty and produce some killer titles in the next couple of years. We can expect them to really start harnessing the processing power of PS3 and show us things we never thought possible and that the 360 simply can’t compete with – but do not forget, this is what Microsoft tried to do in the last generation and they fell well short of success.
Sony will probably consistently come second to Microsoft in Europe due to the ground already lost. It is important to note, however, that the videogaming landscape of 2008 is a very different place to that of a couple of years ago. Third-party developers will no longer produce so many exclusive titles as it simply isn’t cost effective to release a game on only one system. Similarly, we cannot expect first party titles to always blow us away, there will eventually be a limit to the technology – although with not even a rumour of any PS4s or Xbox 720s, the two big guns look to be in this current-gen war for a long while yet. Something has to give, but this particular war is far from over.