Backing The Wrong Horse

Is the grass greener on the other side? Having put up with the Xbox for many years now, I’m starting to wonder whether I should have kept my temper, and my patience, in check and held out for the arrival of the Playstation 3.

It was back in February 2006, a friend of mine had just moved house and invited us round for a few beers and some pizza. What made the invitation all the more appealing was that he’d also just managed to purchase the newest console to hit the market, the Xbox 360. It had only been available in the UK for three months and wasn’t something I’d really taken much notice of, being more concerned with saving up for the Playstation 3.

To say I was a Playstation fanboy would be wrong, although my last two consoles were both the Playstation and Playstation 2 I had bought a 2nd hand Xbox machine. I was never wowed with it as a console but I did enjoy the graphical horsepower it had over the PS2, and that I could play Doom 3 and Half Life 2 on it… something my PC at the time would certainly struggle with.

He fired up the 360 upon our arrival and I was initially impressed at how much thought and consideration had gone into creating a central hub for the games system. The live integration in particular was a revelation in terms of how well thought out it was. I’d never actually gotten a console hooked up online, PS2 veterans in Europe may remember that we had long wait before getting the Network adaptor that gave the console its online functionality. We were subjected to numerous delays compared to our Japanese and American counterparts and when it finally did hit our shores it was two years after its release in Japan.

Anyway, he then loaded up EA’s Fight Night Round 3 on his widescreen Samsung TV. Without descending into hyperbole, all three of us were absolutely gobsmacked by jaw dropping graphics that filled the screen. The fourth member of our crew was a PC gamer… he was impressed but it wasn’t anything his rig had been capable of producing in the last few weeks (albeit at a considerable financial cost).

We played, we slugged each other’s guts out, all the while remarking on the sheer beauty of the graphics and what the 360 was capable of. It was a good night and we had many more, but overall I wasn’t swayed from my decision to hold out on the next generation until the launch of the PS3.

I still have a soft spot for this game, not only was it incredible to look at but great fun to play as well.

However, in September Sony announced that they had postponed the European launch of the Playstation 3 with US and Japan release slots remaining as they were. Now bearing in mind that European Playstation customers were still sore after the 2nd class treatment we received over the whole Playstation Network debacle… it’s fair to say this wasn’t what we wanted to hear coming out of Sony’s quarter.

This bad news came the day after we’d spent another night round my friend’s house playing Fight Night until the early hours. This news got me dwelling about a quote from Sony’s keynote speech at E3 2006 as delivered by Kazuo Hirai:

“The next generation of gaming starts when we say it does” – Kazuo Hirai

“No it f**king doesn’t” – Me

Having SEEN next generation gaming for the last six months in England, at my friend’s house, the arrogance coming from Sony and yet another kick in the teeth for the European market I realised that Sony had been the top dog for too long. It was quite clear that the they no longer valued custom but they expected it, no matter how much or how little they invested in their consumer base.

The next day I went out and purchased a brand new Xbox 360 console, I voted with my feet, I decided when the next generation of gaming would start.

All was good with the world… I still remember firing up Oblivion and thinking, during the opening cinematics “oh wow that’s a really nice CGI introducWAIT A MINUTE THAT’S THE IN-GAME ENGINE”. I fiddled endlessly with me dashboard (steady now) and finally hooked my games machine online so I could enjoy the thrill of being called a faggot by some 13 year old douche.

It was great. It was good, the PS3 was finally released and I couldn’t have given a flying one.

But I do now.

Before we go further I’ll admit that I’m not known for my strategic long term thinking. I’m very much a “go in guns blazing, burn my bridges and leave a turd on my boss’ desk even if I’m not expecting to get fired” kinda guy. There’s a board game called Diplomacy that my friend always tried to get us to play. It’s actually played by Diplomats and politicians across the world, and one of my first acts in one game was to declare war with a neighboring country who had moved his boat too close to my shore line. I got wiped out by a united effort from all other players who labelled me a despot and a war criminal.

Basically I’m not great at making decisions that play out well in the long term.

You see, if I had more disposable incoming, and a wife who appreciated gaming as much as I do… then the last few years wouldn’t have been a problem. I’d have simply bought the PS3 and be done with it. But the fact is I feel slightly “wedded” into the Xbox 360 in spite of the fact that I now see the errors of my ways.

I hate the stupid exclusivity it has with games that I cannot abide. I don’t mean to be rude to those who like Gears of War or the Halo series, but to me these are just not very interesting or engaging to play. No brains necessary gaming, they’ve become the staple diet of young teenagers who consume broadband usage across the globe with their retarded homophobic, racist and rude behavior. Fable I could quite happily live without (and I do)… I actually come from a part of England where people have the same accent as the locals in that game so to me it’s no different from stepping out the door.

I know I do

Meanwhile, I look at what the PS3 has and I’m envious. Metal Gear Solid 4, the Uncharted series, Killzone, Heavy Rain. I’ve seen these titles played through on YouTube and I’m sorry but they just look slightly more mature, more considered, better crafted and more original and daring. These are the games that I want to play, but Microsoft would rather I play Gears of War III, well I did for a bit. It was identical to the first GoW game I played back in 2006. Halo to me as always been overhyped, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as or as original as to me as other people would suggest, the weapons were dull and uninspired, the enemies repetitive and bland. The Halo series just doesn’t grab me in the same way that the grittier and darker Killzone series did.

I know console exclusivity doesn’t count for much these days as most titles are released multi-platform, but that means that the ones that are exclusive to a system are all the more important to get right. For me, Sony has the 360 beat hands down in terms of the variety of exclusivity and that there has been a concerted effort to go for originality through titles like Heavy Rain, and then giving the same developers complete artistic freedom to make the game that they believe should be made rather than conforming to the conventional, the norms and the tropes.

“Many publishers, after the success of Heavy Rain, would have said, “Well, you need to do Heavy Rain 2. And do what you want, but it’s going to be called Heavy Rain 2.” And we never had this conversation with Sony. They just asked me, “What’s next? What do you want to do?” “Well, I have this idea, what do you think?” “Yeah. It looks great!” – David Cage in a Gameasutra interview

I’m not a huge fan of the Gold subscription system as well. I know the grass isn’t always greener but I look at what the Playstation Network now offers FOR FREE as well as what it offers for paid membership and it seems to me that, after a considerably protracted period of time, Sony have at least made an effort to make their as much of their core service as publicly available for people as possible (including personal account information… arf arf arf).

I’ve just cancelled my Gold subscription for Live and the difference? None, I still get bombarded by adverts, I still have to pay through the nose for online content but I’m £40 richer per year for the downgrade and part of that money went on Counter-Strike: Global Operations for the PC. I got that cheaper than I would have on Xbox Live and I don’t need to pay an additional fee to play online. I’m going to need to take up a coke habit just to get rid of all the extra money I now have.

I can't say I'm a massive fan of the metro dashboard either.

That last part is definitely another mistake that I made, ditching PC gaming so rapidly with the advent of the 360. Certainly my latest upgrade, whilst far from a gaming powerhouse, has given me a bit of breathing room to enjoy gaming from a different angle… a cheaper angle as it were. An angle where I’m not constantly being eye-raped by the same nauseating adverts that I have to endure as part of enjoying free TV shows. An angle where my gold subscription money is then used to provide online services that I either don’t want or already use on my PC with a perfectly functional mouse and keyboard… again for free.

But there you go, my overwhelming collection of games is built on the 360 foundations and frankly, pending a lottery win or a massive price cut from Sony, I can’t quite see me jumping ship at this late stage of the generation. The 360 has been more bad times than good if I’m totally honest. Of course the joy and thrill of such classics like Red Dead Redemption and Deus Ex: Human Revolution can never be distilled by the choice of console you’ve made. My opinions of Fable, Halo and Gears are entirely my own and they cut considerably against the mainstream opinion, but for me the PS3 has grown and developed into what next generation gaming finally should have been… largely thanks to the games it provides exclusivity for and perhaps an underlying knowledge that the Playstation Network, at its heart and core, should be about *gaming* and not about how many revenue streams you can jam into it whilst still expecting people to pay a premium rate for the service.

So do you feel that you’ve made the same mistake with the Xbox? Or are you a PS3 user who looks longingly at the Halo and Gears franchise and feels that they’re missing out? Do you wish you paid to play with your friends online? Let us know below.

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Backing The Wrong Horse, 4.0 out of 5 based on 63 ratings
Playing games since I'd developed enough motor functions to hold a joystick. From Commodore 64 all the way through to the latest gen. Favourite games to play are FPS games and anything with a deep and compelling story with a world that draws you in. I also enjoy writing, film making and bass playing.
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  • yamagata47

    I bought both within a year of each other so I’ve had the benefit of playing the best of each platform, but even among those who buy more than one platform, or even all in a given generation, there will typically be a platform of choice.

    Over the course of about 5 years, the Xbox definitely fell by the wayside when I dropped the Gold subscription, making any multiplatform releases with online play an easy choice for the PS3. The only times I found myself using Gold for basic online play was when the latest Gears of Halo game was released, making it a sporadically used console, more so after the split in HD formats on disc (HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray) was settled and HD-DVD became the new Betamax as all studios turned to BD.

    By late 2009, any Xbox games that were on Windows, were being played on PC with better hardware, minus the conveniences inherent in a console, making the Xbox somewhat of a regrettable purchase barring the rare exclusive title typically beginning with “Gears” or “Halo.”

    By dropping the Gold subscription, it no longer mattered which friends were on XBL and it became PSN or Steam or nothing and again, the Xbox became the unwanted stepchild.

    On the other hand, the PS3 really left the starting gates backwards and stumbling while insisting that initial $600 admission price was worth it because it was a Playstation by Sony. As a result, they spent the entire hardware generation attempting to win over new customers and continually fix all the initial shortcomings with the free online play, more A level exclusives than the general public cared to buy and when they finally devised a paid subscription service, a laundry list of perks from discounts to free games to make it worthwhile.

    Ultimately, with the emphasis on online play this generation, platform choice more or less boiled down to where your friends were playing which also dictated what you were playing. Fewer choices perhaps on the Xbox in terms of exclusives, but also irrelevant if your gaming buddies were on XBL rather than PSN.

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  • DarthDiggler

    How can you be a PlayStation fan and a video game writer and not properly format the name PlayStation.

    It’s not Playstation it’s PlayStation.

    Peeps just look dumb as shit writing for a website and calling it Playstation.

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