Into the Fray: Who Won the Console Wars?
Like Halo the generation before it, Gears of Wars has been the killer IP that has driven the Microsoft 1st party sales more than any other in this generation. Gears has been the king of the cover-based 3rd person shooter genre and has been a trendsetter for other developers. RPG fans had a few things to sink their teeth into, Fable was a revered series until its later stages and the Mass Effect Series was exclusive up until after the 2nd game was released.
You couldn’t mention an Xbox console without making mention of the Halo series and the raving fan-base that comes along with the title. Halo has taken many different and daring steps in the current generation. They’ve branched out into the side stories of the lore with ODST and Reach and they’ve even done the impossible, releasing a successful Halo game that was not developed by Bungie.
When Microsoft developed the Kinect I don’t know if they expected that the most well received and critically acclaimed game to accompany it would be Dance Central, but that is certainly the case with this title. Rhythm gamers and casual gamers alike flocked to the dance game and helped make the Kinect a more viable piece of technology than its counterpart Sony’s PlayStation Move.
As far as 1st party titles go PlayStation is the current king of the video game industry. They have the most sought after franchises and also feature the most compelling gaming experiences out there. Probably standing at the top of the PS3 exclusive titles is the insanely popular God of War series. Kratos has only seen 1 full feature title so far this generation with another in the works, but the franchise has still managed to grab players with HD re-launches of the first 2 games. PSN has seen releases of the previously PSP only versions of the game as well. It is quite clear that Kratos has established himself within the gaming community, and is more than capable of being the flagship title for a console.
It isn’t just the big triple-a titles that make Sony’s console the home of the best exclusive games. This point has never been more prevalent than when one is discussing what I would the greatest downloadable game of all time… Journey. Journey faced some extremely tough competition this year and was still able to come home with the LevelSave Game of the Year award. Featuring flawless gameplay and a uniquely quick, yet compelling story, Journey is a literal masterpiece within the gaming community.
Story telling has become an integral part of the video game industry and it is yet another Sony exclusive that is at the forefront of this evolution. The Uncharted series has long been respected for the mind-blowing mixture of story, graphics and gameplay that few studios can accomplish. The team at Naughty Dog has certainly armed the Sony console with the firepower it needs to sit atop of the gaming heap. Fans of the PS3 have long been following Nathan Drake’s Exploits and loving every single moment of it.
It is this very diversity that separates the PS3 from the rest of its competitors when it comes to console exclusives. It doesn’t matter whether you are looking for a full length epic adventure worthy of the gods or a simplistic yet beautiful trip up the face of the most maniacal mountain gaming has ever seen, Sony has something for all of us.
It has been a long time since Nintendo has brought us a compelling new IP. Each and every console cycle we see a re-hashing of each of the Nintendo games and characters that we have grown tired of over the years. We saw a few Mario titles, a new Zelda, and games featuring all of the same Nintendo personalities we have met in the past.
The most compelling and entertaining games in the series would have to be the Wii Sports title that was packaged in with the console itself and its sequel that was developed to show off the Wii Motion Plus sensor. To say that the 2 most interesting new games from Nintendo are the ones that released along with their hardware shows us that their ability to compete when developing top-notch titles is dwindling quite rapidly.
Xbox Live Arcade was certainly the 1st of its kind. A console marketplace that was fully supported and loaded with content was in my opinion, the biggest change to this current console generation. The games and graphics have improved exponentially, there is no doubting that. However, the fact that having a competitive online marketplace is now a keynote for gamers looking to purchase their next console is a huge change to the gaming landscape.
While Microsoft deserves credit for being the originators of this model in the console world, there are a few draw backs to their ultra-popular service. The fact that gamers are required to pay money for the right to play the games they purchased online is asinine to me. The $60 yearly subscription is not an incredible amount of money, it’s just the fact that I am paying to do something that my game was developed to do is crazy to me. Unlike micro-transactions, this model is set to allow Microsoft to capitalize on the multiple features of today’s games instead of the developer themselves. The other issue that I have with XBLA is Microsoft Points, they make me feel as if I’m at Disneyland using Disney dollars and truly have no idea what amount of money I just spent. It’s a model that truly doesn’t make any sense to me. Nothing else in the world uses such an obtuse and confusing method and makes me feel as if I’m being ripped off.
PlayStation Network is a funny case because they have some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows when it comes to their online model. It is no secret that some of the more popular and critically acclaimed downloadable titles are only available on PSN, and that in itself is a huge reason so many people have gravitated towards it as it has grown.
Things have not always been so bright for PSN however. A few years back there was a breach in online security in which hackers gained access to hundreds of online profiles. This granted the hackers instant access to players personal information and, allegedly, their credit card as well . PSN was shut down for an extended period of time while Sony fixed the issues and made changes that would prevent this from happening in the future. This incident left the PS3 as a whole in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position as their fans weren’t sure if they could trust the company to protect them as they enjoyed their favorite games.
It would have been really easy for Sony to have folded and lost the console wars right there in that very moment, but they didn’t They came back swinging and taking chances that put them right back into the forefront of online gaming for the right reasons. Upon re-opening the PlayStation Store, Sony launched the Welcome Back Program. The program was designed as an apology to Sony’s loyal fans and rewarded them for their loyalty with a selection of free games.
The free games didn’t stop there as Sony introduced their rival model to the trend setting XBLA Gold Accounts. PlayStation Plus is an annual $50 fee, but the content players are given access to is far beyond what they’re getting with Microsoft. PSN is already free to play online so the things gamers are getting with their money is free games, game discounts, exclusive betas, and also the ability to play an hour-long demo of a new or upcoming title for not a penny more than your yearly subscription. Free games have included Infamous 2, Little Big Planet 2, Resident Evil 5, Borderlands and many more. Obviously the free games and game discounts are the #1 draw, but the exclusive betas are nothing to sneeze at either.
While it is barely even worth mentioning next to its competitors, the Wii Virtual Console does exist and there are games and a few select apps that are available. It is nothing when compared to XBLA or PSN. Players can select from multiple games that span the entire Nintendo console history and even some outside publishers as well. While none of the games are exactly new, it is always fun to take a trip down memory lane and play some of our favorites from our childhood.
One big mistake made by Nintendo was the rest of its online model. Adding a friend was insanely more difficult than it should be and they also decided it was a good idea to model their pricing system after the dreadful XBLA model and come up with something called Wii Points. These are some of the reasons why hardcore gamers have stepped away from Nintendo and, despite its huge sales, is comes in a distant 3rd when considering to the console wars as a whole.
In my mind it is clear that the winner this go round was the PlayStation 3. With its unrivaled library of games, its flexibility to be improved via firmware updates, and their bar raising online model. Sony has clearly risen above the competition. After a slow start due to a high price point and late release date Sony battled back time and time again because they knew they had the superior hardware and software developers.
Both the 360 and the PS3 have had their issues with systems failing on consumers. I personally have experienced this with both consoles and don’t think it would be fair to hold that fact against either. Whether it be the Red Rings of Death of the 360 or the Yellow Light of Death for the PS3, it is not something I put a lot of weight into.
With everything I considered it was easy for me to realize that Sony clearly had the superior product this time around. Not only is their technology superior but the way they managed and utilized it is the #1 reason that I crowned them the champion. Whether it is their incredible stable of exclusive games, their mold shattering new online model, PlayStation Plus, or their ability to bounce back from near disaster, Sony has provided its fans with the most robust and entertaining console experience that we have seen in gaming history.