E3 is coming to a close, and what an amazing week it’s been. We finally got a look at the two major next-gen console powerhouses; Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, and a sneak peek at dozens of great games in development for the next full year. As per tradition in the gaming community, it’s customary to rank the three console manufacturers against one another as part of some sort of arbitrary, trivial “console war” that rages on in the imaginations of misguided fanboys who are curiously loyal to a single console in particular.
Personally, I’m “loyal” to (read: in support of) whichever company provides quality content and customer care, be it one of them or all of them, and don’t understand why fans are so eager to defend a corporation which admittedly only has a singular interest: Making money. But, who am I to deny people the right to be passionate about consumer products? Take up arms if you so choose, fellow game-loving nerds, just remember that loving a corporation is a one-way street. With all that in mind, I plan on rating “The Big Three” based solely on their individual showcases at E3, so I won’t be drawing any comparisons between them. Each console maker will succeed, fail, or exist in perpetual mediocrity, completely on their own merit. Here is my final verdict for Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony as we come to the end of E3 2013.
Microsoft: Final Grade- C-
Microsoft had the largest uphill climb headed into E3. Their poor explanations leading to confusion and misinformation about the Xbox One’s features and policies upset gamers and set the gaming media on fire. Not a single day could go by without a new nightmare scenario cropping up concerning how the Xbox One would invade our privacy, destroy the used game market, and take away what little feeling of ownership we had over our software purchases. Even worse, Microsoft chose to handle the situation by keeping quiet; otherwise suggesting that these issues were only “possible scenarios” and fueled by “misinformation.” When it came time for Microsoft to take the stage at E3, a show they decided beforehand would focus solely on upcoming software and console features, the rest of the world also expected some straight answers. The world would not have such luck.
To Microsoft’s credit, they promised a presentation full of games and that’s exactly what they delivered. Microsoft Game Studios promised the return of a “historic” Rare franchise, and they delivered a new Killer Instinct. They teased a new Halo by 343 Industries, showed us a taste of Forza Motorsports 5, and offered a first look at gameplay for Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming Titanfall. They revealed that the MMO World of Tanks was coming to the Xbox 360 and showed support for some indie titles with trailers including titles like Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Of the 15 exclusive titles coming to the Xbox One during year-one, Microsoft debuted Sunset Overdrive, Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3, and D4; plus offered some more gameplay of Remedy’s upcoming TV/game hybrid Quantam Break. They’re even building an intuitive and user-friendly game-creation tool kit in the form of Project Spark. By the time the hour-and-a-half long presentation was through, Xbox fans had plenty of reasons to cheer. Except for that whole “you still need Xbox Live Gold to access any of those media features that a dozen other devices in your home can already do better” thing. Oh, and the $499 dollar price tag. And that mandatory Kinect that’s needed whether you want one or not. But hey, Master Chief makes everything better, right?
Unfortunately, Microsoft completely dodged the issues concerning used games, DRM, and sharing games with friends. It wasn’t until after the presentation it was finally made clear that all of that “misinformation” detailing “potential scenarios” was actually 100% accurate. While many rightfully take issue with an outrageously anti-consumer console that, among other things, forces them to have access to an internet connection of at least 1.5 mbps, the sad truth is that Microsoft can build whatever console they want to build. It’s the consumer’s choice whether or not to purchase an Xbox One. Where I do take issue is when folks like Adam Orth tell consumers to “deal with it,” or when Don Mattrick tells the world that, “fortunately, we have a product available for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity. It’s called Xbox 360.” This level of arrogance shows a level of disrespect I didn’t think corporate mouthpieces were capable of displaying. It’s one thing to tell consumers that “we know best,” and it’s completely another to talk down to them. If Microsoft was looking to widen their install base by creating an “all-in-one” media device, billing the Xbox One as an exclusive rich-boy toy was probably not the way to go.
While Microsoft offered a number of great game announcements during E3, their anti-consumer policies, arrogant attitude, high console cost, and reluctance to allow features such as Netflix to be accessible without a Gold subscription weigh down their overall appeal. The Xbox One may very well be the future of entertainment, but it’s a not future I’m looking forward to.
Nintendo: Final Grade- B
Nintendo is somewhat of a mystery. I can’t tell if the entire executive staff is suffering from mass hysteria or is secretly a race of highly evolved Aliens thinking on a level we mere mortals cannot begin to comprehend. Because from where I’m standing, The Big N should for all intents and purposes be failing as a business. They are a console manufacturer which survives solely on first-party software sales. Nintendo fans buy Nintendo consoles so they can play Nintendo games, and somehow that’s good enough to turn a profit. Even though every analyst in the world will tell you third-parties are the sustenance on which console makers thrive, (with first-party titles being the heart, and third-party games being the blood being pumped through the body in this metaphor) Nintendo has spent years recycling their favorite five franchises, most of which star the same damn character, and still manage to come out on top each and every time. Given the fact that this business model still seems to work out, I honestly can’t tell who’s crazier: Us, or them.
Take Nintendo’s E3 showing this year. They announced Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Breeze, Super Smash Bros., and Mario Kart 8. They showed off new footage of Yoshi’s Island and Windwaker HD, plus announced that Wii Fit U is on the way, after a short delay. All first-party titles, not one single surprise. (Unless you consider the fact that Retro is making another Donkey Kong instead of returning to Metroid Prime a surprise.) Where Nintendo does deserve some credit is the number of quality third-party offerings they managed to secure this upcoming year. Considering most third-party publishers are too scared to publish on Wii U, Nintendo managed to display some noteworthy demos on the show floor. Platinum Games is working on both Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101, Sega is exclusively publishing the upcoming Sonic Lost World on both Wii U and 3DS, and Monolithsoft’s X brings the spirit of an open-word Xenoblade to life. If Nintendo can keep up this level of support for the Wii U, the console will go from “doomed” to “Belle of the Ball” in no time flat.
If there’s one thing holding Nintendo back, it’s their complacency. Since the launch of the Gamecube, Nintendo has only created a handful of new IPs: Luigi’s Mansion, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and Wii Sports/Fit. With the exception of Wii Sports, which was bundled with the console, these original ideas targeted a very niche audience. In the absence of any strong third-party support for the Wii U’s first year, Nintendo really needed to come up with something original to reignite interest in their console. There are only so many Super Mario Something‘s one can play before enough is enough, but Nintendo went yet another E3 without announcing an original IP. It’s disappointing, but not unexpected. It’s funny, because if you ask someone what they thought of Nintendo’s offerings at E3, you’ll get the same response each and every year: “Nintendo is Nintendo.” I felt exactly the same way, and I can’t think of a more perfect description to justify my B rating.
Sony: Final Grade- A-
Sony definitely had the most to prove this year. With Microsoft’s Xbox One policies absorbing the spotlight for the weeks leading up to E3, it was Sony’s job to remind us they had a next-gen console coming out this holiday as well. And boy, did they remind us. Sony hit all the right notes at just the right time, delivering a well-balanced mix of solid game announcements and quality console features that delighted both PlayStation fans and noncommittal gamers alike.
First, let’s focus on the things Sony did right. They announced a strong lineup of first-party support, complete with a well-balanced mix of sequels and original titles releasing across a spectrum of genres. From Killzone: Shadow Fall, Gran Turismo 6, and inFAMOUS: Second Son, to original titles like Knack, The Order: 1886, Drive Club, and The Dark Sorcerer, there appears to be something for everyone. Sony also cemented their popularity with developers by reinforcing their commitment to publishing indie games, showing off promising titles like Rain, Outlast, Transistor, and Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Features-wise, access to media content like Netflix and Hulu Plus will still be free; PS+ will only be required for online multiplayer, a completely fair and reasonable evolution of the service. To offset the cost of PS+, Sony is providing a free PS4 game at launch, Drive Club, with the promise of more free games monthly, as is already the case with the Instant Game Collection.
What’s equally as important is that Sony proved the PS3 will receive just as much support as the PS4 for the foreseeable future; reminding us of such upcoming releases as The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and Grand Theft Auto V. Then, to top off an already impressive showcase, Jack Tretton delivered the fireworks finale with the announcement that the PS4 will retain the same policies in place for the PS3 in reference to used games and DRM. Sony stated they have no intention of blocking used games in any way, and won’t require any type of online authentication. This was followed up with the announcement that the PS4 would retail for $399, a completely expected and reasonable price point. By the time Sony’s presentation ended, it was clear they felt confident with themselves.
Still, Sony still couldn’t quite reach perfection. The announcement that cloud-based service Gakai isn’t coming until 2014, considering how heavily the console relies on it for so many of the promises made during the PS4’s unveiling back in February, is a major letdown. In addition, a complete lack of PS Vita support in terms of first-party content also comes as both a surprise and disappointment; especially since Sony is pushing hard to make the Vita the ultimate companion device for the PS4. While it’s nice that Sony is mandating all games feature PS Vita compatibility, I doubt anyone wants to purchase a Vita just to play their PS4 games on it. What could have been a golden opportunity to really sell their portable system to fans hungry for more Sony content ended up a complete misfire. (They stated more than 85 games would be coming to the Vita within the year, but neglected to mention any titles that weren’t HD remasters or console-companion games.)
Another E3 has come and gone, and while each console maker gave a valiant effort this year, there’s unquestionably a winner this time around. Sony dominated the next-gen opening gauntlet with the right mix of games, features, and accessibility. Not to be left in the dust, Nintendo showed a strong first-party lineup of new games featuring decades-old mechanics; which somehow still enamor us even after all these years. Unfortunately, while Microsoft managed to announce some really strong core titles for the Xbox One, there’s still just far too many unreasonable policies in effect to make the console look appealing for consumer rights-conscious folks. Unless they make some changes, it’s hard not to imagine Sony commanding a strong lead in the “console wars” for at least the initial launch year. We won’t have to wait long to see how things play out, as both systems are launching this holiday season.
How would you folks rate “The Big Three” this year? What game in particular are you most excited for? Which next-gen console features are you looking forward to? Let us know in the usual place, and don’t forget to like IGXPro on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or give us the ‘ol +1 on Google+. If you can’t get enough of my shenanigans, (who could blame you?) you can check me out @GamingsNirvana, or add +VinnyParisi to your circles.