As of this writing, we’re already three weeks into 2010. The “new” year is already practically ancient, and pretty soon we’ll have run out of time to make wild, erratic, entirely factual predictions about things that will happen over the next 11 months. So with January nearly over, we’re going for the jugular and answering the question that’s on everyone’s mind: between the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PC, which gaming platform will claim victory by the end of this year.
Above: It’s anyone’s game at this point… or is it?
We don’t just mean in terms of sales, of course; if our premise was as boring as that, we’d just say “Wii” right here and that’d be the end of the article. Instead, to give each console (and yes we know PCs aren’t “consoles,” shut up) a fighting chance, we’re going to pre-emptively choose a victor based on what we think they’ll be able to offer users over the course of this year. And to ensure a fair fight, we pulled together four editors, each with a vested interest in a different platform, to make five arguments for why their machine of choice will stomp its competitors into paste this year.
Obviously, we could end up being fantastically wrong – there’s still a lot going on this year that hasn’t been revealed, and likely won’t be until E3 in June – but based on everything we know right now, here’s how we think the next round of the console wars is going to play out:
1. Project Natal is the future…
You may not think so, but by the end of this year, the rest of the world probably will. Microsoft’s motion-sensing, face-recognizing, voice-commanded new peripheral is exactly the kind of gee-whiz technology that the mainstream media loves to cover, that Best Buy loves to set up in the front of its stores and that the casual audience loves to buy in holiday-frenzied droves. If priced and marketed right, Project Natal could replace Wii as the industry’s most popular and most desired toy.
And what if it’s not a fad? What if hardcore cynics are proven wrong, and Project Natal delivers on the hype? Maybe driving with an imaginary steering wheel, or kicking an imaginary ball, will actually be fun. Perhaps signing onto Xbox Live via a facial scan, talking to teammates without a headset or moving through menus with the swipe of a hand will actually be possible. Milo and Kate – the first game designed specifically for Natal, in which players interact with an A.I. child or dog using familiar, real-world actions – could actually revolutionize the industry, or at least pioneer an incredibly accessible and appealing new genre.
Microsoft certainly seems to believe in all of the above, with officials insisting that Project Natal is integral to the Xbox 360’s future, and rumors swirling that Project Natal will eventually replace the console. If either proves true, 2010’s victor is clear.
2. Halo: Reach. Need I say more?
This point should be painfully obvious, but just in case you doubt or deny the power of Microsoft’s most famous franchise, here’s a quick rundown of the numbers. According to VGChartz, the original Halo sold nearly 6.5 million copies, while its sequel sold 8.5 million. Master Chief’s third adventure, and the first on Xbox 360, moved nearly 11 million copies in just over two years. Even ODST, widely considered a subpar spinoff, managed to sell 4.5 million in the past four months. Compare to Sony exclusives like Uncharted 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4, with sales (so far) totaling just 2.7 million and 4.5 million, respectively.
Halo is a remarkably reliable moneymaker for Microsoft in any year, but 2010 should be especially good for the company and for the series. Although Reach remains a mystery overall, glimpses at the concept art, teaser trailers and a single screenshot have gamers hoping for a major evolution to the familiar formula. If the multiplayer beta this spring confirms those hopes, prepare yourself… 11 million will soon sound like chump change.
3. The other exclusives
Halo: Reach not enough to convince you of Xbox 360’s dominance? That’s okay, since the console will be home to plenty of other, hugely anticipated exclusives as well. Fable III promises to lead the way on Project Natal innovation. Crackdown 2 could easily end up the best co-op experience of 2010. Splinter Cell Conviction marks the return of an iconic gaming hero – Sam Fisher – while introducing tons of new tools to his repertoire. Alan Wake is finally scheduled for release, and if worth the wait, could steal the survival-horror crown from increasingly less frightening franchises like Resident Evil or Silent Hill.
Don’t forget Mass Effect 2, in stores next week, and already a shoo-in for RPG of the Year… unless that goes to Final Fantasy XIII, of course, which is on Xbox 360 too.
Yes, I realize that many of these games will also be on PC, but that doesn’t really hurt Microsoft. Yes, I realize that Sony and Nintendo have their own exclusives, but stuff like Last Guardian and Heavy Rain (on PS3) aren’t known brands yet, and stuff like Metroid and Zelda (on Wii) aren’t completely confirmed yet. That leaves God of War III and Mario Galaxy 2, up against everything I just listed above.
4. The best online community gets better
By now, every gamer has heard of Achievements, Gamertags and Xbox Live. Trophies, IDs and PlayStation Network? Maybe not so much. Friend codes? Don’t make me laugh. Microsoft was the first company to make online a priority – an integral component – of their consoles, and the results of that head start are still readily apparent. Nintendo has practically yielded the field at this point, and while Sony gets closer each year, stupid little decisions continue to trip the company up. You have to pop a special disc in your PS3 every time you want to stream Netflix? Really?
Meanwhile, the Xbox 360’s online community continues to improve. In late 2008, we enjoyed a complete dashboard overhaul, new avatars, a truly instant Netflix component and much more. 2009 saw the debut of 1 vs 100, Facebook, Twitter, Zune and Last.fm. Early 2010 will give us Game Room, a customizable social environment full of retro arcade machines and decorative items, and late 2010’s update could very well start implementing Project Natal’s motion-sensing, face-recognizing and voice-commanding capabilities.
Where does that leave Sony and Nintendo? Playing catch-up, once again.
5. Value shoppers
In case you hadn’t noticed, the economy sucks, and will most likely continue to do so for the remainder of 2010. During times like these, the average consumer doesn’t care about the differences in graphics, exclusives or online communities. What we can argue about for weeks and months at a time are relatively insignificant to parents shopping for their kids, or newcomers shopping for their first system.
They look at the price, and how much they’re getting for that price. The basic Xbox 360 is currently $100 cheaper than the basic PS3, and the exact same price as a Wii. If Microsoft drops the price even lower sometime in 2010, that may be the only difference that matters.
Next page: five reasons PS3 will win