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Diary Of A Cutman : 360 Vs PS3


Every console generation has been witness to a healthy amount of competition and debate.

From Magnavox and Atari in the 70’s to Sega and Nintendo in the 80’s and 90’s; right through to the contemporary titans of Microsoft and Sony, arguments have raged the world over from boardrooms to bedrooms about what was the ‘best’ console of its time.

And whilst in the past, different consoles have offered arguably more distinctly different flavours, it has perhaps been in this seventh generation of consoles, one borne out of burgeoning production costs, that developers and publishers have sought to avoid, where possible, platform specific releases and have opted for as wide a net as possible to be cast. It could be argued, then, that of all the great console battles, the fight between the Xbox 360 and the PS3 has been harder to call than any other.

Indeed, with near neck-and-neck sales, it’s difficult to even rely on the age-old witchcraft of statistics to make the call.

As both their respective stars begin to fade and as their successors wait patiently in the wings, now is perhaps the best time to take stock of whom, if anyone, ‘won’ this most recent of spats. And, yes, before anyone asks, I’m discounting the Wii from this comparison as I believe that history will show that Nintendo, limping from its utterly resounding defeat to the PS2 in the sixth generation of consoles, chose wisely to follow its own path, quite apart from the vicious battlefield that it left behind.

Hardware

It is perhaps not entirely surprising that of the two, it would be the hardware manufacturer that opted for the arguably more elegantly designed solution. Packed full of features from memory card slots to Blu-ray to a cell processor, the PS3 truly presented itself as a bit of a technical showpiece, even if it was one that would prove to be more challenging to develop for than its distinctly more ‘off the shelf’ competitor. Hounded by the RROD in its early years, the software developer learned quickly from its mistakes and the revised beast that we see in our lounge today is light years ahead in terms of overall build quality.

Both machines, then, present as quiet, sleek and reliable products offering a rich array of media-centric features. It’s impossible to escape, however, the need for a Blu-ray player if the only console that you have to hand is an Xbox.

Developers were, however, very quick to harness the relative power of the 360 due to its very PC-friendly architecture whereas those porting work across to the PS3 found many an obstacle along the way. Titles built from the ground-up for PS3 arguably demonstrate a level of finish unachievable on the 360 but it requires a discerning eye to really tell the difference; an inferior port is a much easier spot.

Ali Vs Frazer

But are we to judge this contest on which device chose the path of least resistance or on which was the bravest and boldest? Depending on your point of view, you could come up with two radically different outcomes. Personally, I don’t see how anyone who’s a lover of technology can’t, by definition, be a lover a progress.

It’s for that reason alone that the PS3 gets my nod in this category.

Interface

The original Xbox ‘Duke’ controller was about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but to Microsoft’s credit, they learned. Fast.

Perhaps an avenue where an apparent corporate-wide obsession with market research and the ‘end-user-experience’ has paid dividends, their rapid and confident evolution in this area has led to what many would agree is the pinnacle of game-pad design.

Sony, on the other hand, stuck somewhat romantically with a tried-and-tested formula, but their lack of ambition held the Dual Shock back from being a true classic for the third time running. Uncomfortable trigger positions and a somewhat small form factor for the ageing core gamer meant that the 360’s pad gets the clear nod. Yes, whilst the Dual Shock is master of the d-pad, it is arguably an interface reflective of a bygone era, rather like the Dual Shock itself.

Beyond the standard game-pad, both manufacturers have made interesting forays into the world of motion control.

With Sony electing to master the formula that Nintendo chose to experiment with and Microsoft eschewing controllers’ altogether, gamers were spoilt for choice. Move is undoubtedly a more refined experience but there’s no denying that Kinect was a much braver and more exciting one. Whilst one offered a perfected vision of something we’d already been using for several years, jumping, quite literally, into a Kinect game was like a breath of fresh air, even if the technology was clearly a work in progress.

Ultimately, though, neither platforms have been particularly well-supported by developers with very few, if any, standout titles on either. Interesting but ultimately failed experiments, it will be fascinating to see how both Sony and Microsoft build upon them in the next generation.

The impact of either, then, is null and void, which leaves the 360 the clear winner here thanks to its superior, old-school interface.

Software

Although now a removed feature, the fact that the PS3 shipped with the option of installing Linux and using third-party mice and keyboards speaks volumes about Sony’s philosophy. Microsoft, on the other hand, as one of the earliest critics of the free-software movement, adopted a predictably more ‘walled garden’ approach.

I’m a liberalist; you don’t need to be Einstein to know which approach I’m more of a fan of.

The 360 dashboard has, however, evolved considerably since launch and whilst it’s clear that many changes have brought greater functionality, it has become increasingly clear that the most recent changes have been driven more by hard-nosed business tactics than outright usability. Sony has all but left the Xross Media Bar alone (if it ain’t broke) but this has left the interface feeling that bit more dated and prudish than its counterpart’s. Interesting experiments such as Home give the PS3 more of an experimental feel, but are little beyond mildly amusing distractions as opposed to real game-changers.

In terms of outright performance, there’s little, if anything, to choose between the two with both platforms offering perfectly serviceable interfaces to their hardware and features. However, my nod goes to the PS3 for sticking to its simpler and cleaner approach and for not getting too carried away with decidedly westernised, focus-group driven business tactics that Microsoft have arguably and increasingly done.

Less, as they say, is more.

Batman Vs Aliens

Online

With its robust, premium service in the form of XBL, Microsoft is the undisputed winner of online performance and integration; but at a cost.

Whilst many argue that the price of a new game each year is a small price to pay for such a reliable and invaluable facility, it’s still the price of a new game. Sony’s PSN has become increasingly competitive over the years but still feels like a much more solitary experience, which is completely counter to the point of the exercise.

But we’re not in the business of gaming because we like to save money and so XBL gives Microsoft the clear lead here. Sony has to be given immense credit for the lessons it’s learned and for keeping PSN free at the point of delivery, with the optional PS+ being both a savvy, optimistic business decision and genuine value for money at the same time.

One area where I would say that Sony has snuck out in-front, however, is their online store. The most recent rebuild of the PS Store is a pure joy to use on both a visual and ergonomic level and is, for my money, the equivalent of the 360’s controller in terms of being the pinnacle in its field. In comparison, the 360’s Marketplace has, if anything, regressed under the weight of a series of incoherent, business-driven decisions by Microsoft and is, in comparison, rather a confusing mess.

This isn’t quite enough to sway the balance, however, unless of course you plan on spending more time shopping than you do playing.

Xbox it is.

Games

Ah, yes; I’d almost forgotten about these.

As discussed at the start of this lengthy debate, there’s perhaps even less to choose between the 360 and PS3 than there has been between any other consoles in any other generation.

With the absolute vast majority of games being made available on both machines by developers and publishers driven to recoup as much money as possible, and with even the exclusives being very evenly matched in terms of both quantity and quality, it’s near impossible to say which one is outright ‘best’ in terms of its game collection.

The PS3, however, does have a couple of small aces up its sleeve.

Firstly, Sony seems to have been more encouraging of leftfield and experimental titles on PSN than Microsoft have been on XBL. Both have produced some absolute gems but I’ve been consistently impressed by the breadth and depth of downloadable and independent titles available on PSN. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what that difference is, but there’s simply the sense that developers are offered just that bit more support and freedom on PSN than XBL and that the medium is therefore given that bit more room to grow and evolve at its own pace.

This philosophy is reflected in Microsoft’s apparent Activision-like obsession with a high number of sequels in a limited number of franchises, which is something that I don’t sense quite so greatly with Sony. It’s as though Sony is that bit better trained at looking to the future whereas Microsoft seems to be more content with gathering up as many jewels as it can now, clinging on to them for all they’re worth.

I’m quite sure that someone could present me with statistics and facts that would present a different argument, but all I know is that the atmosphere is tangibly different with PSN titles than it is with XBL. And as we all know from walking into restaurants, shops, clubs and houses: atmosphere counts, in spades.

Secondly, through a handful of wonderfully re-imagined compilations of PS2 classics, Sony have quietly but confidently reminded the world that they have history and heritage – and a touch more class to boot. And that’s something that Microsoft, beyond Halo Anniversary, simply can’t compete with.

So based on a photo-finish and a bit of subjective interpretation, I’d say that Sony gets the nod for games. Just.

De Niro Vs Pacino

Conclusion

As someone who’s been around to witness every console generation since the first, this sixth one has been, hand-on-heart, the most entertaining and thrilling of all.

I’ve seen my beloved hobby evolve from niche, closet-secret to topic of conversation in lounges and workplaces up and down the country. I’ve been witness to the evolution and fruition of a plethora of genres and the birth and infancy of a good many more.

Sony dominated the sixth generation and it’s therefore to Microsoft’s immense credit that this has been so difficult to call. With more money than God to throw at a problem, the Redmond massive have generally thrown it in the right direction and have enhanced the lives of millions of gamers as a result.

For that, I applaud them.

But it is perhaps the volume and pace with which Microsoft have so famously thrown money into the console business that has led to some of their less, shall we say, attractive decisions. The clumsy, burning desire to timestamp every device in their arsenal with the ‘Metro’ interface; the need to plaster an advert almost everywhere; the sense that they’re falling over themselves to please everyone all of the time; the feeling that you’re a number not a gamer. It all adds up to paint a very ‘corporate’ picture.

And so whilst its near impossible to make a scientific call on who ‘won’, I’m going to make a decision based on my heart: Sony won.

They won by virtue of being the more experienced and mature kid on the block; by stepping back and giving the medium that bit more space to breathe; by celebrating the past that bit more romantically and enthusiastically; by being a greater champion of the leftfield and obscure; by being that bit more passionate about hardware features and attention to detail and by having a slightly more, well, eastern outlook on things.

But that’s just my humble opinion, for what it’s worth; you’re entitled to one all of your very own.

There is one thing though that I’m sure that we can all agree on: the eighth generation of consoles is going to be interesting to say the very least.

 

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m sick and tired of this generation: it has been the longest ever gap between console cycles. Consider: we went from SNES launching in 1993 to 360 launching in 2005, with incredible excitement and a ton of new things in-between. The last eight(maybe 9 by the time the new consoles hit) years have been a slow, desperate stodge in comparison, and will be looked back on as very dull times indeed, with hardly ANY true gameplay innovation from 2005.

  2. Fair point, but hasn’t the same happened in other mediums long before now? I think people like us who are old enough to have been witness to tremendous pace and change are going to just have to get used to a slower pace from here on in! Go with the flow, I say 🙂
     
    But, hell yeah, I’m ready for a change!!

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