The Console Wars – A PC Gamer’s Perspective

(First published in XP Magazine – 06/09/13)

As a gamer who has spent a predominant amount of his gaming time (and money) on the PC, I usually prefer my Total War to my Gears of War, my Football Manager to my FIFA and my Company of Heroes to my Call of Duty. However once again the shining beacon of E3 and the as-per lack of exclusives to my medium of gaming have lead me to glance a jealous eye over the new generation of consoles.

A few times over the last eight or so years I have cursed my luck at not buying one of the big consoles. It’s a very lonely life being someone who spends most of their gaming time sat at a desk like an overworked Tokyo businessman, and the ability to actually invite that most magical of words – a friend – over to play, was tempting. I refrained from doing so (buying a console, not refusing to have friends) however and here I sit still shaking my fist at Dan because he got to play The Last of Us.

Before I leap into this big ‘ol review I should probably assert that I am in no way a PC elitist (although Gabe Newell is a wonderful man). The thought of picking up a video games controller does not make me sweat profusely and itch all over as you may think happens to some PC gamers from their reactions to the mentioning of an Xbox or Playstation. The new set of consoles has piqued my interest in a very “oh god can I afford to pay to keep my PC in line with this kind hardware” way. In the end that’s what the entire war boils down to for some people, mere pixels. It was certainly interesting to see the toddler-esque styles of marketing strategy on display at this year’s E3, despite everyone’s “all hail Sony” epitaph. At any rate, here is my (and I’d like to stress that) opinion on the new and shiny consoles that are charging towards us come winter (or in the case of the Wii U, are already out).

Microsoft and the Xbox One

Microsoft had a fantastic marketing strategy for the Xbox One this year. Akin to a man in a birdsuit closing his eyes, crossing his fingers and flinging himself out of a plane at 30,000 feet, they chucked the Xbox One at consumers and promptly legged it, hoping no-one saw what they’d done. Microsoft spent a lot of time throwing things overboard in order to stop the ship sinking following E3, but the damage had already been done and they will have a tough job trying to catch up with Sony in terms of sales as everything they touch is now, in the eyes of the gaming community, tainted with horrible Original Sin. Still, the console, even amidst Microsoft’s nervous, continual announcements of “sorry, sorry…”, should be judged on it’s exclusive games I suppose.

The release titles for the Xbox come as the standard affair of dark and gritty, brown and grey. There’s the Roman ultra-violence game Ryse, which looks like a great rhythm game aside from the annoying fact there’s stuff happening on screen to distract you from your ever-present quick-time events. Dead Rising 3 got the next gen treatment too. Xbox One took a look at the fun, colourful ways the developers were designing the open-world zombie-a-thon and dumped a bucket of filth over the monitor; “like this” it shouted, before running off to watch someone play a dancing game through their kinect.

Even the barbarian looks tired of quick-time events

Microsoft will have to go a long way to convince non-fanboy consumers to part with their cash considering its mistakes and the fact that the Xbox One is more expensive than the PS4, which majestically rode in upon a white stallion at E3, swept away the metaphorical horse droppings Microsoft had left behind and began to immediately compare the two.

Sony and the PS4

It was a crafty move on Sony’s part to donate a fair chunk of their time at E3 mocking the Xbox One in an oh-so not subtle way. It meant they could fill up the time with not telling us anything about their console. Sony spent a long time doing that beforehand, showcasing their new controller with gusto early in the year before shuffling their feet when everyone asked what the PS4 would look like, what it might cost or when it might come out. They decided that their go-to gadget for this generation would be social media, incorporating a dedicated “look what I’ve done” button onto the new neon blue controller. Players can even watch each other and join in to help out, though I’m personally not sure I’d want someone sat in my television telling me what to do every few seconds, I get annoyed enough when someone chats to me on steam and blocks out the bottom-right corner of my screen. So let’s look at the games.

The gaming world’s first protagonist made entirely of Toblerone

Knack looks to be an interesting way to exhibit the PS4’s beefy processor, but is the only game aimed at children, and has rather been swept under the rug in this writer’s opinion. The reason for this is so Sony could show off the lovely blue and orange filters they’ve applied to the Killzone franchise. It’s come a long way from the half-decent PS2 release which I spent all night playing, and has done well to shoulder-barge its way between Call of Duty and Halo. As a standard triple-A title though, it can be expected that there will be guns, explosions, pre-rendered cut scenes and linear gameplay. PS4 also made a big deal of the ability to play indie games on the new console. That’s a pretty good feature, and something that does interest me, should I ever wish to step away from the heavyweights of indie propagation, Steam and KickStarter.

I’m slightly bias in that I used to own a PS1 and PS2 back in the glory days of gaming which we all like to look back on a sigh lovingly. However, despite it being cheaper than the Xbox One I’m no further tempted by the PS4. I can’t help but feel I would only purchase it for some excellent exclusive, which feels a little bit like blackmail if you ask me.

Nintendo and the Wii U

By now I suppose there is no need for me to discuss the Wii U at length, it’s been out for almost a year now as part of Nintendo’s “hook ‘em early” strategy. Already making a killing in the casual market they thought they’d leap into dark and sinister territory with a few gritty games like ZombiU but ultimately resorted to their usual tactics: like a crazed monkey flinging poop at passers by, Nintendo started to chuck their franchises around. New Mario, new Smash Bros. new Zelda, same dead horse. Don’t get me wrong, Nintendo have a plan and they are sticking with it and most of their games are actually very well polished and interesting, something to be commended for amongst  the usual race to see who can produce the most sequels with the least variation competition. Nintendo will keep doing what they’ve always done, march on, keep quiet and entice families and old people over to them with promises of Wii U monopoly and family fortunes.

This, however, is disturbingly Freudian

The Verdict

At risk of sounding like a cop-out I’d like to just point out my general grievance with the console wars all together. Everyone is trying to come up a new and exciting gimmicks these days. “Press a button to creepily watch a child in France play FIFA”, “Spend your afternoon wondering if your kinect knows that you’re talking about it”. We can’t really blame the big three gaming companies though. The process of creating big title video games (not naming names here) has become such a fast-based results-now culture where you have to churn out games yearly with the same engine but with differing shades of grey, brown and knee-high walls to cover behind. The same issue occurs in PC gaming too (I’m looking at you, Creative Assembly). It used to be that games consoles didn’t need massive announcements similar to the rally scene in Citizen Kane because they sold themselves. You decided what console you’d get by what games they were releasing, not what you could do with the machine. I decided I wanted a PS2 over the Xbox back in the day simply because of the Jak and Daxter box art! Even so, the console war shows no signs of abating, and battles will be fought over social media, Netflix, network compatibility and video capture as well as graphics, gameplay and entertainment. It’s just something we have to deal with in this ever-competitive market. One thing is for sure, I can’t wait to see how weird and wonderful the consoles coming after these will be

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