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With all signs pointing to Fall 2013 being a warzone between Sony and Microsoft, it really should not come to anyone's surprise that we are on the verge of some major console announcements. But is the average gamer prepared for this new cycle of consoles, and more importantly, should they be? Yes.
I hate to admit it, because I have not enjoyed a console cycle as much as I have this this one. The closest comparison I can give would be the days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. However, if anything has become abundantly clear to me over the last year that we need some new consoles, pretty desperately.
I'll turn to Microsoft's Xbox 360 for my first point. How much evolution have we seen to the Xbox dashboard over the past eight years? From the original “blades,” to the NXE in 2008, to the current state of the dashboard, we've seen about five different major updates to the basic dashboard of the 360. While the several massive overhauls have added some fantastic support and features, up until the recent dashboard update, the dashboard was crushingly slow. So slow, that I resorted to using applications like Netflix and Hulu solely on my Playstation 3, just so I did not have to wait upwards of ten minutes for the application to load. Thankfully, the December update seemed to fix most of these basic problems, however there is still an increasingly long load time when looking at items on your hard drive, something that should never be a problem.
The second argument would be that games just simply are not looking as great as they could be on consoles. We have hit the limit on what these systems can produce, people. Some of this year's bigger releases, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs are all great games, but look incredible if run on a halfway decent PC. The worst offender of these three is by far Hitman, however I would argue that it should have been released in 2010. Still, that should not excuse how awful the cutscenes in that game look. Sleeping Dogs and Far Cry 3 also run at a fluid 60 frames per second, with no slow down at all, if you are running a halfway decent PC. However the worst offender of the year I have to throw out would be Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Solider, in which the cutscenes looked so bad I thought I was looking at a launch title for the 360. Still, even with all this bad, there are a few games that floored me this year on console, where as Halo 4 will probably go down as the best looking game of this console cycle. A more recent example would be Capcom's reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise. While the game runs fairly well on your console of preference, it does have a few moments of framerate issues. These issues are apparently resolved when playing on a PC, and from the specs that I read, pretty much any PC from the last three to four years can run the game. While personally, I didn't have really any problems playing DmC Devil May Cry, I know that others did.
When these consoles launched in 2005 and 2006 respectively, no one was talking about streaming media of any kind. I remember discovering the joys of streaming .avi files on my Xbox 360 in early 2007, and since then with services like Netflix and Hulu overtaking these consoles, I think it is safe to say that the next generation of consoles is going to be more user friendly for these kind of services. I do not think it should surprise anyone just how friendly these new consoles will probably be to streaming services. While yes, it could upset the average gamer that his/her console has turned into a casual experience of streaming services, this does not bother me. Prime example: I gave my parents one of my older Xbox's when I upgraded to the slim unit, and they have since enjoyed using the services of Netflix and Hulu Plus, and now, two years later, they are still using these services and are very happy with things. With more and more stories like this coming to light, I know Microsoft is looking at casual experiences a bit more then they have in the past.
And what about Sony? I feel like I have spent a lot of this article talking about Microsoft, but Sony needs to play catch up here. With a handful of excellent exclusives coming out the first half of this year, Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us, Sony at least can go out with a bang this time. However, if they want to catch up with Microsoft, they need to develop a better online service. While I know this gets into the grey area that people love to argue about: the $60 a year you will pay for Xbox live versus the $50 you could pay for Playstation Plus, but $0 for everything else, that really is not the issue here. While I own both consoles, I have to say the Xbox 360 gets the most use out of me. With great integrations like party chat options, mostly fantastic server maintenance on different online games, and access to all of these other services, I have to choose that over PSN. Any online game I've played on my PS3 has been a lag fest, something I guess I should expect from a free service. It is also why I would not freely give them money for PSN and how come when I play an older game I am forced to download every update? Recently, I watched my friend load up Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the first time on his PS3 only to discover he had to wait nearly 45 minutes to download 9 essential updates. However, Playstation Plus has an excellent idea with the instant game library, and I think that is something that should continue into the next generation, and something I'd love to see Microsoft take some pointers from. However, at the end of the day, while I have played some really excellent games on the PS3 (Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavy Rain), the system became nothing more then a Blu-ray player and media streamer for me. I won't be in line day one for the next Playstation as I will for the next Xbox.
The final thing I'd like to bring up, and one that will really make an impact if anything comes of it, would be the rumors that this generation of consoles will block used game discs. With Sony putting a patent on some software the other day, things seem to be possibly pushing in this direction, but I don't think we are going to see any blocks on used games this generation. That patent looks like it will turn into a way to put a online pass on a disc, more then completely block a used game on a console, and that would be much easier then generating the billion codes that these companies have to in order to lock online features from their games. While I don't think it should surprise anyone that we are moving towards a feature without physical copies of games, a digital age is coming, so we are not going to see that this generation. I do see us getting pushed further into a digital age, with games on demand becoming a day one thing on the Xbox. I'm not ready to predict the downfall of Gamestop just yet, but I think their sales are going to suffer at some point during the next console cycle.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to user preference. The bottom line is simple however: we need new consoles. We are going to be heading into the biggest, best, and heaviest battleground of an E3 this June that we have not seen since 2005. While there have been some signs that point to a reveal of something at GDC, I do not think that Major Nelson would have put up a countdown to E3 in his blog unless it was not something massive, so I think it is safe to say, at least for Microsoft, we won't be hearing anything until June. However, Sony is a wildcard here. They could really go either way at this point. While I am almost positive we will see the new Xbox this fall, I can not say the same for whatever Sony has planned despite saying they do not want to go first in the next generation. I look to see them release a new console in the Spring of 2014, but that's just me. They really can not afford to be behind again, but time will tell whatever they decide.
Only one thing I can say for sure: I welcome any new consoles at this point. After eight years, it is time.