November 28, 2006 The next generation of gaming is either here, or just around the corner depending on your geographical location. The three heavyweight contenders are Microsoft XBOX 360, Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii - each with their own varying idea of what gamers want for their dough...and with the high price of entry, and launch-period supply issues, we can't blame you if you haven't chosen a side yet. If you're looking at an extravagant gift for yourself, junior, or the whole family this Christmas, our games expert has assembled a two-minute guide to help you make an informed decision.
Microsoft Xbox 360 US$300 (Core System)
The Xbox 360 has been available worldwide for some time now, which has it's advantages - mainly in the healthy library of titles available, and the fact developers have had more than a couple of months to learn the system.
The 360 outputs in 1080p, which is great for those with HD TV's, and there's an optional HD-DVD drive for US$200 for those eager enough to choose a side in the HD wars at this early stage of the game.
Online: This is one aspect that Microsoft has truly nailed with the 360. Xbox Live's unified way of keeping track of your friends, clans and rankings across multiple games is regarded as the best feature. With 3 million members, you shouldn't have any worries finding an opponent, and for the times you can't, there's the Xbox Live Arcade (remakes of classics like Street Fighter 2 with online play) or the ability to "rent" TV episodes and movies.
You will have to pay around US$8 a month for an Xbox Live membership, but many regard this in itself as a very effective filter for the...err, "more annoying" online opponents.
The Killer App: Gears of War
Upcoming Exclusives: Halo, Project Gotham Racing, Banjo Kazooie
Sony Playstation 3 US$500 (20GB model)
It's the most expensive console of the next generation, albeit the cheapest Blu-Ray player out there by a considerable margin. Sadly, the library of launch games for the PS3, and the library of movies available on Blu-Ray are similarly underwhemling. Thankfully, Sony have a few blockbuster franchises up their sleeve, with titles secured for exclusive PS3 release in the next quarter.
The PS3 can output 1080p, however for the moment, less than half the available games support it. The unfortunate downside is for those of you whose TV's don't support 720p - the PS3 cannot upscale to 1080i like the Xbox 360 - whether this can/will be addressed with a firmware update is unknown.
Online: Even with under 350,000 consoles out there, you'll have no worries finding an opponent - we're all drooling over the thought of 40 player battles in Resistance: Fall of Man. Those of you with a hankering for some nostalgia will be disappointed with Sony's offerings. You can download PSX games using the PS3, but can only play them on a PSP - a pale imitation of Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo's Virtual Console service, seemingly designed only to sell PSP's.
So far, developers have had to roll their own in-game friend lists and rankings systems, so you'll have to go through the tedious process of finding your mates in each game - a minor annoyance that will be long forgotten soon enough.
Despite launching last week, our US readers will still be lining up in massive queues from the crack of dawn to get their hands on one of these before Christmas (unless they can hack), and Sony will not be launching the PS3 in Australia and Europe until March 3rd, 2007. This should give enough time to sort out supply issues, and a few more must have launch titles.
The Killer App: Resistance: Fall of Man
Upcoming Exclusives: Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy XIII, Gran Turismo
Nintendo Wii US$250
While it lacks the grunt to provide a graphical experience equal to the PS3 and 360, Nintendo's innovative new controller offers an immersive experience unrivalled by the other systems.
As one might expect from a Nintendo console, a majority of the available and upcoming games aren't targeted solely to a mature, male audience - there's lots of kid-friendly titles, and party-friendly multi-player games for the social gamer. With the current killer apps for both the PS3 and the 360 being war themed shoot 'em ups, if you're looking for the console most likely to appeal to the whole family, the Wii is your best bet.
Online: The functionality is there, however online play didn't make it into any launch titles. Much like Xbox Live Arcade, classic games (Genesis, TurboGrafx, NES, SNES and N64 so far) can be downloaded and played on the console - the difference being Nintendo has not touched the original games whatsoever. Of course, you'll pay for the privelidge - the games range from US$5 (NES) to US$10 (N64).
Our Australian readers will be able to get their hands on one December 7th, stay tuned for our launch coverage.
The Killer App: Zelda: Twilight Princess
Upcoming Exclusives: Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime, Super Smash Bros