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Which console will win 2011?

PLAYSTATION

1. The NGP

We knew Sony wasn’t about to keep the floundering PSP around while Nintendo busted out a flashy new handheld, and so it didn’t come as a surprise when it unveiled the PSP’s successor – tentatively named the NGP – at a press conference in the last week of January. What did come as a surprise was how many bells and whistles the damn thing had.

In addition to the long-asked-for dual analog sticks, the NGP will sport a touchscreen, a second touchpad on the back of the device, a built-in camera, motion sensors, 3G connectivity, no UMDs and an interface that looks a lot more interesting than the dumb old XMB. After the disaster that was the PSPgo, it looks like Sony’s really learned from its mistakes – although we won’t know that for sure unless the NGP ends up priced competitively with the 3DS. In that case, Nintendo will have a real fight on its hands.

It’s true that a lot of us (wrongly) predicted the same thing when the PSP came out in 2005, and if the last six years or so of Nintendo dominance have taught us anything, it’s that a lower price point and a strong gimmick can outsell fancy hardware every time. But things are different now. Nintendo’s entering a market that’s gotten accustomed to iPhone gaming, and it’s doing so with an antiquated stylus interface, PS2-quality graphics and an online setup that it should have implemented six years ago. And while its 3D effect is awesome, it’s not for everybody.

Meanwhile, the NGP (which could really use a better name) looks almost as good as a handheld PS3, and it’s covered in cool interface features that – according to PlayStation: The Official Magazine Editor in Chief Gary Steinman, who had a hands-on with the NGP in Tokyo – allow all sorts of interesting (and probably optional) control schemes. These range from the ability to “pinch” onscreen objects in Little Deviants using the NGP’s touchscreen and rear touchpad, to moving the handheld like a camera to line up a sniper shot in the Uncharted demo. The NGP is also, according to Gary, a lighter, more comfortable-to-hold handheld than the PSP was. And while that seems relatively inconsequential, every edge Sony has going into a holiday battle with Nintendo will help.

2. Badass exclusives

Out of the Big Three console makers, nobody’s been more open about their plans for the coming year than Sony has. And while Microsoft appears to be dumping a lot of its exclusivity money into Kinect titles, Sony’s plans include a slate of exclusive sequels and originals that will be extremely difficult to ignore.

The PS3’s already gotten off to a fantastic start with LittleBigPlanet (which we gave a 10), and Killzone 3 (which also scored high) is just a couple of weeks away as of this writing. And those aren’t even the heavyweights – Resistance 3, SOCOM 4, InFamous 2, Ratchet & Clank: All For One, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection, Yakuza 4, MotorStorm: Apocalypse, a new Twisted Metal and goddamn Uncharted 3 are all confirmed for release this year. If Last Guardian makes it into stores as well, anyone without a PS3 is going to be deprived of some of the year’s best games.

And as for the ones that aren’t exclusive? Well, at least the PS3 versions will be able to fit on a single disc.

3. The PS3 still has room to grow

I rolled my eyes when Sony called the PS3 a “10-year” console, but now that we’re in the fifth year of its lifespan, I’m beginning to see what the company meant. By this point in the PS2’s existence, it was already showing its age. It chugged noticeably under the weight of limit-pushing games like God of War and Shadow of the Colossus, and everyone was looking forward to the PS3.


Above: And its Banana Shock 3 controller

By contrast, the PS3 still feels like it’s at the top of its game, easily handling 3D effects and split-screen in visually intensive games like Killzone 3 with hardly any noticeable dip in performance. As developers get more comfortable with and knowledgeable about the hardware, we’re going to see a lot more games like it. Add in the potential benefits of Steam support with Portal 2, the eventual mainstreaming of 3D TVs and the fact that Move seems to have a future as a peripheral for hardcore gamers, and it looks as though PS3 still has a lot left to show us.


Above: Bringing Steam to PS3 could open up a whole new dimension of something or other

I still love my 360, don’t get me wrong (and yeah, I’m aware it can do 3D) – but I’ve got a feeling it’s gotten about as good as it’s going to get, technically speaking. The hardware’s simply not as robust as what the PS3’s got under its hood. That doesn’t mean Microsoft couldn’t crush Sony with the release of a new successor console, but this article’s about who wins this year, and anything like that actually hitting stores by the holidays seems extremely unlikely.