Console wars heat up for 2008: Sony impresses, Microsoft surprises, Nintendo disappoints
by Mike Smith
In the two days leading up to the year's biggest video games trade show, E3, it's become something of a tradition that the competing console manufacturers face off in a series of lavish press conferences. Now that 2008's round of announcements, demonstrations, trailers, and posturing are over, which console came out on top?
Despite rumors of price cuts, Microsoft opted to expand the hard drive of its mid-range offering instead of delivering any real savings to consumers. All the same, the 360's Dashboard interface is undergoing a serious overhaul this year, and looks to be coming out cleaner, with more downloadable games, and including custom avatars that are, not to mince words, a complete rip-off of Nintendo's Miis. ("Where else could you get an avatar creation system but on Xbox Live?" one developer commented. We have no idea.) On-demand movie and TV programming courtesy of Netflix will expand the 360's already bulging video abilities, and a new motion-sensing microphone controller will deliver new horrors to the terrifying world of karaoke games.
Sony put together a similar performance, shuffling its PS3 package offerings to little real effect (although you might pick up a bargain as retailers clear stock of the older lines). It's also expanding its video offerings by offering online movie rentals from an impressive portfolio of studios -- and you can take them on the road on your PSP, too. Unlike Microsoft's offerings, which have a vague "fall" ETA, Sony's new online features should be available by the time you read this.
That wasn't all, though. Sony's press conference rolled out a set of game trailers that had fans cheering: a new God of War game on PS3, a vast-looking massive action game named MAG, and a couple of promising superhero games: one massively-multiplayer title based on the DC superhero universe, and one futuristic, open-city game from the Sly Cooper studio. It's a great selection, and one that leaves Microsoft's roster of Gears of War 2 and Fable II looking a little tired.
WATCH RESISTANCE 2 TRAILER
Mind you, that wasn't the end of the software story. Although the Sony execs weren't visibly injured, Microsoft's press conference delivered them a metaphorical punch to the gut: the absolutely huge Final Fantasy series is no longer a PlayStation exclusive. Final Fantasy XIII will be coming to the 360, and unless you count the oddball, massively-multiplayer XI (we don't) it's the first time any of the modern Final Fantasy games have gone cross-platform. If nothing else dropped jaws at the Microsoft do, this announcement sure did.
In contrast, it was hard to dodge the grumbling on the way out of the Nintendo event. Where were the classic franchises we all know and love? Where, for that matter, was Mario? Nintendo fans had to make do with a new Animal Crossing title, and an oh-so-vague mention of a Grand Theft Auto game on the DS handheld. Accessories like the MotionPlus controller plug-in and the WiiSpeak microphone (pictured below) are all very well, but don't we have enough bits of plastic cluttering up our houses already?
Which, naturally, is Nintendo's modus operandi since the release of the Wii. For every disgruntled Nintendo hardcore fan, there's a whole houseful of delighted non-gamers enthused at the thought of getting together to play music without needing a bunch of instruments or, you know, any skill. But can Nintendo really deliver a music game experience that's as compelling as Rock Band?
Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, this year's E3, so far, belongs to Sony -- and if you're still on the fence about which new system you're going to spring for, your decision just got a whole lot tougher.