With the Xbox 360 hitting store shelves next month and the other companies getting new consoles ready for release in the near future, I would be derelict in my duty as an Internet game journalist if I didn’t provide some coverage and critical analysis of the upcoming hardware. I’m kidding of course — as evidenced by Gamespot and IGN, the duty of the Internet game journalist is to provide endless hype and rave mindlessly about how great these consoles are going to be without writing anything of real substance. This is in stark contrast to print magazines, which have adopted the much more profitable method of simply letting the marketing staff for each console manufacturer write the preview articles for them. In case you didn’t know, most game magazines are filthy rags. Not just any rags though, these are the kind that you shouldn’t store in your garage over the summer because they are probably oil-soaked and will burn your house down.
Anyway, we are coming up on a new generation for game consoles, and for the most part, they all look pretty terrible. I know that may sound like a baseless, sweeping generalization that I’m only saying so that I can be different from everyone else in the gaming media, but I believe I can back up that statement. Besides, going out of my way to do the opposite of what the rest of the gaming media does seems like a pretty easy way to always be in the right. In this article I’ll break down all three of the upcoming machines, starting with the one that is scheduled to hit store shelves first.
Imagine if, before I even started writing for this site, I told everyone about how much original content I was going to put out, and how even when I reviewed the same games as other staff members, my reviews would have exclusive bonus content not found in other reviews. Now imagine if all I ever actually did was just take Fatsquatch’s reviews, and republish them with a nicer looking font. That’s pretty much what the Xbox offered gamers; most of the same stuff as the PS2, but a little bit nicer looking. Ok, now imagine if I started taking all of those reviews I had already put out and released them yet again, except with an even nicer font and maybe a really good looking background, too. Hey look! Now I’m an Xbox 360.
The Strategy: Believe it or not, the launch of the Xbox 360 is now only about a month away. Yeah, I was pretty surprised when I heard that, too. Has there ever been a system launch that was surrounded by such media disinterest and gamer apathy? Well, besides the Atari Jaguar? I mean, as long as Microsoft is willing to spend millions of dollars selling consoles at a loss, they might want to direct a little bit of that money toward running a few print ads or maybe sponsoring the opening theme to Monday Night Football. They could even try to pull off a good publicity stunt like when Sony convinced the government that the PS2 could be used to launch nuclear missiles. That got people talking.
Then again, if you were Microsoft, what motivation would there be for you to sell more Xbox 360s? Even with a $400 price tag, the system is probably going to be sold at or below cost, much like the original Xbox. This is a common practice with console manufacturers (they try to make up the losses with game sales and accessories) but the Xbox was sold even farther below cost than usual. At the time, a big deal was made about how it showed that Microsoft was serious about becoming a player in the industry, and that they were willing to take short-term losses in the hopes of making big profits later on. Of course, if you only have one or two games people want to buy, you’re going to have a hard time making up those losses unless you can somehow trick people into buying games like Amped or NFL Fever. Although it would probably be easier just to get everyone to just buy four copies of Halo instead.
The Fan Base: There are a few hardcore Halo fanboys out there, but for the most part, Xbox owners aren’t dedicated gamers. They’re the people who refer to their system as the “Madden Machine” because that’s the only game they ever play. We all know how this begins…they go to Best Buy or Circuit City with their friend to get a new HDTV or something. The store doesn’t have what they were looking for, but by this point they have raging hard-ons for new technology, and can’t leave the store empty-handed. As they walk past the Xbox section, their friend tells him how sweet some of the games looked when he saw them on Mtv. They talk about how much fun they used to have playing the NES (the last system either of them owned) “back in the day” and how it would be fun to hang out and have friends over and play games. Then they decide to get one. A week later, the guy remembers that he doesn’t even really like that friend, he only brought him to the store because he allegedly knew somebody who worked there and could “totally get them a sweet discount”. His real friends go out and get hammered every night and have no interest in video games at all. The system ends up hardly ever getting played, and aside from a yearly Madden update, this guy spends almost no money on gaming. Oh sure, one of the employees at the game store talked him into getting Halo 2 the last time when he went in to buy Madden, but he played that for about two weeks and then it was right back to football. In fact, he’ll probably trade Halo 2 in toward the new Madden once he gets around to it.
Then again, that’s the perfect demographic for the Xbox 360 because guess what the system’s “Killer App” at launch is going to be? That’s right… Madden! Because nothing says “innovation” and “cutting-edge technology” like a slightly better looking version of the same damn game we’ve been seeing every year since 1990. Oh, and nothing says “profitability” quite like having your most highly anticipated launch title be from a third-party publisher. Pretty slick move there, Microsoft.
The Games: The opening-day lineup looks uninspiring for the most part, if not completely dismal. I won’t fault publishers for trying to play it safe and releasing a bunch of sequels at launch, but they could have at least found some games that people actually wanted sequels of. Aside from the aforementioned Madden, these look to be the “highly anticipated” titles of the Xbox 360’s early days:
- Perfect Dark Zero – If there’s ever been a game that didn’t need a sequel, this is it. The first Perfect Dark took everything that was great about Goldeneye and ruined it, and the last thing anyone wants is another chance to be reminded that things will never be that good again. Besides, if anyone really wanted to play a Perfect Dark game, they could go to Circuit City and buy some of the remaining unsold copies from when it was released over five years ago. They’re like $7 now.
- Call of Duty 2 – When I reviewed the last Call of Duty game for the Xbox, I blamed any glitches as a result of the game testers committing suicide from having to play it for eight hours a day. Then I gave it a 41% score. Call of Duty 2 could be, literally, twice as good, and that still would barely justify spending $60 on the game itself, let alone another $400 for the system.
- Dead or Alive 4 – This sequel promises to deliver everything you liked about the previous games, but with enhanced graphics. Honestly though, if you’re really excited about a more realistic looking Dead or Alive game, it might be time to stop kidding yourself and just buy some regular pornography.
Outlook: Microsoft will probably sell enough of these systems to ensure a big loss, but not enough software to make up for it, thereby establishing themselves as a major player in an industry they can’t seem to turn a profit in. Within a few years, they may even be able monopolize the entire unprofitable console market. Not that they can’t afford it, but if I was going to throw that kind of money away, I’d at least do something more fun with it, like genetically engineer unicorns, and then hunt them. I bet they taste like fajitas.
Nintendo used to dominate this industry, but they’ve been their own worst enemy for about the last 10 years now, and their declining market share has pushed the company near the brink of gaming obscurity. Nintendo knows they have to do something drastic this time around and has decided to set their sights higher then ever. Of course, when you’ve spent the last ten years shooting yourself in the foot, aiming higher means pointing the gun at your face.
The Strategy: Last month at the Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo announced that their upcoming console would have a radical new controller design. This new controller will make extensive use of motion detection, and be able to recognize when it is tilted, or moved around. It can then translate these movements into game input, like some kind of three dimensional computer mouse.
No sooner had this information reached the internet than legions of drooling Nintendo fanboys were dreaming up ways that the new controller would marginally change the way people would play Pokemon, Zelda and Mario. “Wow!”, nerds everywhere said, as they wiped the Cheetos residue onto their “Know Your Mushrooms” T-shirts. “They could make it so that in order to swing your sword in Zelda, you swing your controller!” “No, wait…imagine if instead of pressing a button to make Mario jump, you moved the controller up and down really fast!” “Oh wait, I know! To throw your Pokeball, you could just chuck the controller across the room! That would be awesome!”
That should give you a pretty clear idea of just how bad things have gotten over at Nintendo. Even their biggest fans can no longer imagine the company doing anything with innovative technology that doesn’t involve them regurgitating the same four or five franchises that they’ve been riding for the last two decades. Nintendo hasn’t had an original idea for a game in ages, and giving their new system a gimmicky, hard to use controller isn’t going to change that. It just means that you’re going to get to play StarFox with a gimmicky, hard to use controller.
The Fan Base: Nintendo fans are completely delusional. They talk about how the company has been unfairly branded with a “kiddie” image, while the Big N rides Pikachu’s bloated corpse for every last dime they can squeeze out of it. They’ll talk about how the entire industry has gone creatively bankrupt, and that Nintendo is going to be the savior of modern gaming, while failing to acknowledge that the Big N has probably contributed significantly to that creative rut with their unwillingness to do anything other than rehash their old franchises. Nintendo might have the smallest market share of the big three, but they can rest assured knowing that they will always have the allegiance (and financial support) of the most loyal fans in gaming — all five of them.
The Games: I haven’t seen an official list yet, but can we pretty much just assume that there’s going to be a Mario game, a Zelda game, and a Mario Kart game. Does that sound like a pretty likely lineup? I’m sure we’ll also be treated to another bad F-Zero game, and probably another attempt to cash in on whatever interest people still have in Pokemon. Also, considering that everyone is already talking about how the new controller is perfect for first person shooters, you can pretty much count on Metroid still sucking for many years to come.
Outlook: Move over Sega, the “Game Companies That No Longer Matter Club” is about to get a new member.
Sony has dominated the console scene ever since they released the original Playstation. They’ve wrestled market dominance away from Nintendo, killed interest in the Dreamcast simply by announcing that they were going to release a new system someday, and handled what should have been a serious threat from Microsoft with ease. In any other business, this would put Sony in an enviable position.
Of course, things are different in the gaming world, where companies can only stay on top for so long before they start making some of the most boneheaded decisions ever. Just ask Nintendo or Atari, both of which looked invincible, but who each ultimately helped engineer their own downfall. It is with that in mind that we look at the scarcity of information regarding the upcoming PS3 and have to wonder just a bit…
Strategy: It’s hard to say what Sony’s strategy is going to be. Information on the PS3 is scarce, and very few things have been confirmed. The release date may or may not be pushed back until 2007, the controller design so far is just a prototype, and nobody seems to know for certain what the price is going to be. Considering that Microsoft is about to release their new generation system, Sony may want to, you know, at least get started on theirs.
Fan Base: Have you ever heard a Boston Red Sox fan complain about how the Yankees have an unfair advantage because of all the money they spend on players, and thought to yourself “Yeah, but the Red Sox still spend a lot more than all the other teams”? Playstation 3 fans are like Red Sox fans. They like to complain about “Micro$oft”, whining about how rich they are, and act like the Playstation is some kind of underdog that overcomes long odds solely because of its quality. What they fail to acknowledge is that the Playstation is made by freakin’ Sony. Not exactly a lightweight.
The Games: The only worthwhile footage of a PS3 game so far has been the eight-minute long trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4. Many people were impressed with the trailer, and the game is really expected to show off the PS3’s ability to render lengthy cut-scenes during which characters babble about anime and discuss nonsensical conspiracy theories for hours at a time. The improved graphical quality ought to really help distract gamers from the fact that the series has no concept of pacing or how to tell a story.
Outlook: Sony is too reputable of a company to be considering “vaporware” for their next console, but with the lack of information available, you almost have to wonder if maybe they aren’t planning on skipping the next generation of consoles altogether. Not that I could really blame them.
So there you have it — a detailed analysis of why this looks to be the worst generation of consoles yet. If anything here has offended the simplistic, fanboy-biased optimism you have about your favorite upcoming system, feel free to let me know. But as always, just remember, sending me an angry letter doesn’t make you any less wrong.