Over the last couple of weeks, 2012's game-release schedule has begun to kick into high gear, with impressive titles in major franchises starting to roll onto store shelves at a steady clip. Even so, much of 2012 remains shrouded in a fog of mystery, so there's room for at least one more 2012 speculation article before we move on and focus on the concrete and tangible. And the early part of the year wouldn't be complete (at least not for us) without our annual guess at who'll come away as this year's console-war winner, based on what we know now.
Above: Four systems enter! And... four systems leave, actually, but one will be in a somewhat better market position when the dust clears and everyone starts speculating about 2013
To that end, we've gathered four of our keenest editors to represent each of our favorite gaming platforms, and to argue three reasons why each one will end this year as the victor. Then we'll pick a winner based on the strongest arguments. Ready? Let's start with...
1. Halo 4
Argued by: Charlie Barratt, Senior Editor
This is not an impressive year for Microsoft exclusives… well, unless you’re impressed by Kinect. Other than seemingly dumbed-down versions of Fable and Star Wars for the motion peripheral, all that Xbox 360 owners have to make their PS3 friends jealous in 2012 are Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, ports of PC games (Minecraft, Witcher 2) and Halo 4.
Oh right. Halo 4 is Halo 4. In other words, more than enough to win the hearts, minds and incomes of gamers all by itself, especially considering the importance and potential of this particular entry. This isn’t just another prequel or spinoff like Reach or ODST; this is the return, after five years, of Master Chief and Cortana. A whole new trilogy. This isn’t just another sequel, either; now that 343 Industries has taken over development from Bungie, substantial changes to the series – redesigned characters, tighter storytelling, darker themes and a focus on more sandbox-like exploration – are promised. Even Halo haters have to be intrigued.
2. Early or exclusive downloadable content
As much as fanboys (and writers!) love to dissect the differences between the 360 and PS3, when it comes down to what actually matters – the games – there really isn’t that much to separate this generation’s two default consoles. Outside the handful of first-party flagship franchises, 90 percent of their libraries are identical. Call of Duty’s on both. Resident Evil’s on both. Skyrim’s on both.
Look a little closer, though, and you will find a small yet significant advantage for the Xbox. Call of Duty? Modern Warfare 3’s year-long schedule of DLC, including new maps, new modes and new Spec Ops missions, drops first on 360. Resident Evil? The hugely anticipated demo for Resident Evil 6 arrives on 360 two months earlier. Skyrim? The first two expansions, each of which is likely the size of many standalone games if Oblivion’s Shivering Isles is any indication, comes to Xbox 30 days before PS3 and PC.
Sure, these aren’t true exclusives, just head starts… but in a console war waged in an unforgivingly fast internet age, days and months might as well be years. And moving beyond the household names, who knows which downloadable game – Fez, Warp, Sine Mora, I Am Alive, Battleblock Theater, Diabolical Pitch, Retro City Rampage, Black Knight Story or South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge, all timed or fully exclusive to XBLA – will be 2012’s Braid or Limbo.
3. Your 360 is now your TV, too
Okay, so I’ve run out of games to talk about already, but the Xbox 360’s real secret (weapon) to success in 2012 may come from another medium of entertainment altogether: Television.
Above: You know, television! That thing you watch Game of Thrones on
Microsoft has always marketed its console as more than just a game device with features like Zune, Netflix, Hulu and ESPN, but this year the company is making a much larger, possibly industry-shaping push in that direction. Soon you will be able to watch live cable programming on your 360, whether from Comcast Xfinity or AT&T U-Verse or your country’s particular provider. Soon you will be able to watch Game of Thrones and The Sopranos through the HBO Go app, or Family Guy and Glee through the Fox app. Soon, in addition to picking and choosing UFC matches, you will be able to pick and choose baseball games with MLB.tv.
The future of home entertainment is all-in-one systems with streaming capabilities and a la cart options. If Microsoft can lead that evolution, the Xbox 360 can win 2012.