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Monday, May 16, 2005
Video Games--- The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have both been officially revealed to the public. I have put together a comparative breakdown of the information that has been revealed about both systems, everything from the hardware to the controllers to the online gaming networks to the games.
-PlayStation 3 Launch Date: Sony has announced a release date of "Spring 2006" for the PlayStation 3. When video game companies announce release dates, "spring" normally means that they're planning on a March, April, or May launch. In the case of the PlayStation 3, Sony would not be specific about which market or markets will get the system in "Spring 2006." Until Sony says otherwise (which hasn't happened yet), the widely held belief is that the Spring 2006 release date only refers to the Japanese launch of the PS3. A release date in the summer of 2006 is much more likely for the North American and European markets.
-Xbox 360 Launch Date: The officially announced launch date for the Xbox 360 is Fall 2005 (most likely November) not only in North America, but also in Japan and Europe.
-PlayStation 3 Price: Mum's the word from both companies at this point. The expectation for any new system is that it will be no less than $300 and no more than $400, and there's no reason to believe that the PS3 and Xbox 360 will be exceptions. Previous reports were that a souped-up "multimedia version" of the PlayStation 3 with all kinds of extra functions would be released for over $500, but none of that has been confirmed or denied by Sony at this point.
-Xbox 360 Price: Again, mum's the word, but the expectation is somewhere between $300 and $400.
-PlayStation 3 Hard Drive: Sony announced at its press conference today that the PS3 will have a hard drive, but the company never specified whether the hard drive would be bundled with the system. Given how vague Sony was about its hard drive plans, it has to be considered a legitimate possibility that the PlayStation 3 hard drive will be sold separately, which would cut down on the number of games that are developed to take advantage of the hard drive's capabilities.
-Xbox 360 Hard Drive: Microsoft has announced that every Xbox 360 system will come with a 20 GB hard drive, so third-party developer support for the hard drive will not be an issue.
-PlayStation 3 Backwards Compatibility: It was expected that the PlayStation 3 would be backwards compatible with the PlayStation 2, and Sony didn't disappoint. Sony announced that not only will the PS3 be capable of playing PS2 games, but it will also be capable of playing PlayStation One games.
-Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility: The big question for Microsoft going into E3 was whether or not the Xbox 360 would be backwards compatible and able to play games from the original Xbox. It was considered unlikely as recently as a few weeks ago, but Microsoft surprised everyone (including Sony) by announcing today that the Xbox 360 will indeed have backwards compatibility... but only to a point. The Xbox 360 will be able to play most, but not all, Xbox games, in much the same way that the PlayStation 2 can play most, but not all, PlayStation One games.
-PlayStation 3 DVD Movie Playback: You'll be able to play DVD movies right out of the box, just as with the PlayStation 2.
-Xbox 360 DVD Movie Playback: You'll be able to play DVD movies right out of the box. You will not be required to buy a "remote control add-on" in order to watch DVD movies, as was required with the original Xbox. There will be a DVD remote control made by Microsoft for the Xbox 360, and it might even be bundled with the system, but it will not be required to watch or control DVD movies on the system.
-PlayStation 3 Hardware Design: To be perfectly honest, the PlayStation 3 console (picture available here) looks like a copy machine or a desktop computer printer. It's bigger than the Xbox 360 in terms of its physical dimensions, and it just doesn't look like a video game system. It's not hideous in a "My GameCube looks like a damn lunch-box!" kind of way, but it's far from pretty.
-Xbox 360 Hardware Design: The Xbox 360 console (picture available here) has a slimmed down and very sleek-looking design, and it has the "Ring of Light" that will be a consistent theme on the system and the controller, and it has a side opening for the hard drive to seamlessly slide in or out of the system so that you can take your game saves and Xbox Live identity to a friend's house. Like the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 will be able to stand vertically or horizontally.
-PlayStation 3 Appearance Customization: Sony picked up on the "customization" theme that consumers are now demanding with multiple color choices for the PlayStation 3 (gray, white, and black).
-Xbox 360 Appearance Customization: Microsoft really nailed this on the head with the whole "removable face-plate" concept. This allows you to completely change the look and feel of your Xbox 360 console simply by removing the default system face-plate with the press of a button and replacing it with your choice of hundreds of custom face-plates that will be available. The whole "Pimp My Ride" culture that is increasingly prevalent with cars and cell phones is already going nuts over the Xbox 360's removable face-plates.
-PlayStation 3 Controller Design: To be brutally honest, if there's any area where the comparison is not even close, it's this one. The PlayStation 3's controller (picture available here) has a downright putrid "boomerang" shape, which might have looked good on an artist's sketch pad somewhere, but it looks like it would be very uncomfortable to hold in your hands. It's not like the boomerang shape is some kind of new, revolutionary idea... it has been tried many times before by many different third-party controller manufacturers, and it has always failed because it's simply not comfortable. If the original Xbox was hurt by its original controller design, the PS3 will be hurt far more by its awful controller design. On the positive side, both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 controllers will be wireless, so there's no more worrying about cords.
-Xbox 360 Controller Design: The Xbox 360's controller (picture available here) is pretty much what you'd expect--- wireless, looks nice, nothing revolutionary. All Microsoft had to do in order to top Sony in this category was do better than "putrid," and they've done that.
-PlayStation 3 Technical Specs: This has been the most surprising thing to me so far. If you're releasing a video game console six to nine months after your competitor's console, you better make damn well sure that it's far more powerful than the system that is already on the market. That's why it was so ridiculous when the GameCube was released in 2001, a full year after the PlayStation 2, and was in some areas actually slightly less powerful than the PS2. There's no doubt that the PlayStation 3 will be more powerful than the Xbox 360, but again, it better be if it's launching 6-9 months after the Xbox 360.
-Xbox 360 Technical Specs: What's surprising is that the PS3 is not really leaps and bounds above the Xbox 360 in the technical specs department, as we were led to believe it would be in recent months (the number floated had been "about three times as powerful as the Xbox 360"). In some areas, the PS3 is only slightly more powerful, and in one particular way, the Xbox 360 actually has an advantage. Having 512 MB of unified RAM will make it easier and more efficient for developers to make games for the Xbox 360, as compared to the PS3 with its 256 MB of RAM dedicated to the CPU and 256 MB of RAM dedicated to the graphics processor. Again, there's no doubt that the PlayStation 3 is the more powerful system, but that's not a surprise given the launch dates.
-PlayStation 3 Online Gaming Network: Sony has never had a centralized online gaming service and was very vague during the press conference about its plans for the PS3's online network. The phrase "PlayStation World" was used once, but it was not clear if that will be the actual name for the online gaming network. What Sony did say is that the network "will be fundamentally focused on community, communication, commerce, and content." Believe me, if Sony had specifics to show off, they would be all over the place right now. The lack of any specifics could mean that Sony is well behind Microsoft when it comes to developing and nurturing a centralized online gaming community, which would not be surprising given that Sony is about four years late to that particular party.
-Xbox 360 Online Gaming Network: The Xbox 360 will feature the next generation of Xbox Live, which will be backwards compatible with Xbox Live for the original Xbox and will allow members to seamlessly transfer their accounts from one system to the other. The big points for Microsoft are the "GamerCards" that will give you a complete online identity, as well as a host of other community-building features. There will also be a two-tiered service plan. What we now know as "Xbox Live" will be "Xbox Live Gold," and now there will also be "Xbox Live Silver," which is free and will still allow people to have unlimited voice-chat with friends, transfer files, and play games for free on certain weekends. Every Xbox 360 system will come with one free month of Xbox Live Gold so that hopefully more people will stick with its added features and seven-days-per-week online gameplay.
-GAMES: The most important thing, as always, is the game line-up for each system. In this area, both companies (Microsoft and Sony) have shown off a huge number of games for their respective systems. Sony has not been specific about the number of games it expects to launch alongside the PlayStation 3, while Microsoft has said that it expects somewhere from 25 to 40 games to be released in the Xbox 360 "launch window," which Microsoft characterizes as being released at launch or shortly after launch.
Both Microsoft and Sony announced and/or displayed a number of new installments in existing franchises, some or most of which could end up being released for both systems companies instead of just one or the other. The only exception to this is first-party games, meaning that a Microsoft-published game is never going to be released for the PlayStation 3, and a Sony-published game is never going to be released for the Xbox 360.
In the case of the Xbox 360, the third-party franchise games on display include brand new installments of Quake (not Doom), Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Dead or Alive, Call of Duty, Madden NFL, Tiger Woods Golf, Need for Speed, Tony Hawk, Battlefield 1942, Burnout, Test Drive, NBA Live, NBA 2K, Top Spin Tennis, and Amped (Top Spin and Amped are now going to be published by 2K Games instead of Microsoft). First-party franchise games that have been announced, which will definitely be Xbox 360 exclusives, include brand new installments of Halo, Perfect Dark, Fable, and Project Gotham Racing.
In the case of the PlayStation 3, the third-party franchise games on display include brand new installments of Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, Tekken, Fight Night, Unreal Tournament, Red Dead Revolver, Spider-Man, Formula One, and Mobile Suit Gundam. First-party franchise games that have been announced, which will definitely be PlayStation 3 exclusives, include brand new installments of Gran Turismo, Warhawk, Killzone, and The Getaway.
So, both systems have a lot of games in the pipeline that are new additions to existing franchises. The most startling thing about the game line-ups so far is that the Xbox 360 appears to have an advantage in the number of new franchises being created on the system, at least in terms of what is being shown at E3.
The PlayStation 3 has MotorStorm and Heavenly Sword from Sony, a new first-person shooter from the creators of Ratchet & Clank, Killing Day from Ubi Soft, and Fifth Phantom Saga from Sega, but the list of new franchises being displayed for the Xbox 360 blows away the number of new franchises currently being shown for the PlayStation 3.
On the Xbox 360, the list of first-party "new franchise" games, all of which will be published by Microsoft exclusively for the Xbox 360, includes: Two new RPG franchises from the original creator of Final Fantasy (called Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey), Kameo: Elements of Power from Rare, and Gears of War from Epic Games, the creators of Unreal and Unreal Tournament.
The list of third-party "new franchise" games for the Xbox 360 is staggering. Despite being shown as Xbox 360 games at and before E3, many of these games will also be released for the PlayStation 3 eventually, but many of them won't be. These games include a new horror game from the original creator of Resident Evil, Ninety-Nine Nights from the original creator of Space Channel 5, two excellent-looking games from Sega called Full Auto and Condemned, The Outfit from the creators of Homeworld and Sigma, Saint's Row from the creators of Red Faction, Alan Wake from the creators of Max Payne, Dark Sector from the creators of Unreal Championship, Frame City Killer from Namco, and Dead Rising from Capcom.
Two franchises to keep an eye on in the future will be Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy. Grand Theft Auto has been hinted at for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but Rockstar is keeping its cards very close to its vest and is not going to reveal anything until the next-generation Grand Theft Auto game is much closer to completion. The game could be released for one system and not the other, or it could be released for both systems at the same time, or it could be released for one system and then be released for the other system six months later (which has been the set-up with the PS2 and original Xbox).
As for Final Fantasy and other games from Square Enix, it appears that the company is no longer in bed strictly with Sony. After completely shunning the original Xbox, Square Enix has announced that the massively multi-player online RPG Final Fantasy 11 is coming to the Xbox 360 with full Xbox Live support, and it will be cross-compatible with the PC version. Square Enix also showed video footage of a currently untitled new game for the Xbox 360. As for the single-player RPG Final Fantasy 12, Square Enix has announced that the game will not be released until 2006, and it is apparently still scheduled to be for the PlayStation 2, not the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.
So far, I'm more excited about the Xbox 360 than I am about the PlayStation 3, but there's plenty to be excited about on both fronts. I'm not someone who is going to put all my eggs in one basket and say, "System A rocks and System B sucks!" Why anyone would have that kind of attitude in today's day and age is beyond me. Right now, both systems are looking like must-haves for any hardcore video game fan.
Labels: Video Games
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