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Los Angeles: it has begun. Yesterday, as has been customary for the last few years, Microsoft had the first at-bat hosting an early morning press event to get the Electronic Entertainment Expo ball rolling, while Sony's PlayStation show closed Day One in the late afternoon. Microsoft's was at the Galen Center USC while Sony's was at the LA Coliseum. (Traditionally, Nintendo's is the next morning, at the Nokia's LA Live.) Peppered in between the Big Three are third-party giants like EA and Ubisoft. Except that Nintendo (for the second year in a row) opted out of doing a big fancy event.
So really, it all comes down to Xbox versus PlayStation. I was fortunate to attend both, and from where I sat it really wasn't even close. Despite having some strong games, Microsoft didn't come to play.
Sony absolutely did.
Here are the ways Sony kept me interested while Microsoft barely could.
1. All About Balance: Sony Knows.
At the start of the Xbox media briefing, the focus for the entire show was laid out: it would be purely focused on games. Naturally, the crowd went nuts. The thing is, that's the kind of thing that sounds great until you sit through what is basically two hours of videos, each one trying to be louder than the next. Don't get me wrong: there are some cool games coming to Xbox One, but a "games only" presentation gets old fast. After so many clips, fatigue set in.
Sony knows this (really, ANY big videogame studio should.) So while Sony did preview a ton of game vids they also showed hardware (Sony is at a heart an appliance company, after all). Thankfully, Vita only really came up as part of the whole PlayStation experience with not much time used for Vita games. Even better, Sony pushed forward, beyond games and hardware to discuss new and exciting features for PSN like...
2. PlayStation NOW, Xbox NEVER?
The PlayStation Now service will begin as an open beta July 31st. Of all the cool games shown, that Project Morpheus VR helmet, and much more, Now is potentially, the biggest game-changer. Essentially, you'll be able to stream PS3 games from your PlayStation devices: PS4, Vita, PS3 and the soon-to-be-released PlayStation TV and Sony Bravia sets the same way you watch movies and TV with Netflix. If Now works as well as Sony is boasting then they've pretty much solved the backwards compatibility issue.
Think about that. Not only do you get to re-live past gaming glory on the fly, you can also catch up with titles you've never played.
This big question was with so many different DSL/cable modem speeds in various households, how can Uncharted 3 possibly play well as a live-streamed experience? If Sony's confidence is to be believed, then playing these older games will be a dream come true. Which means the question, er, 'now' is why hasn't Microsoft announced a similar service? Again, by only focusing on games these kind of developments weren't even addressed at Microsoft's nearly two-hour presentation.
3. Franchises Are Great and Necessary, but They Can't All Be Named Halo.
Both events stressed a bunch of IPs that have been around for ages: Uncharted, Halo - heck, even Tomb Raider got a big applause at the Xbox One show - but Sony managed to do two things well where Microsoft could only muster one: making both old franchises and the yet-unheard of ones feel engaging. Again, it's not just a matter of a cool video - although Sony's Dead Island 2 trailer was a showstopper - but it's also about context. Microsoft opened with an impressive look at the next Call of Duty, yet a lot of the other big moments felt less memorable. (Why everyone was so excited about Crackdown coming to Xbox One, I'll never know.) For every surprise like Rise of the Tomb Raider there were plenty of titles that really wanted to grab me, but left me cold. Sunset Overdrive, with its meta dialogue and extreme-sports motif open world, felt instantly dated.
However, The Master Chief Collection, which bundles Halo 1 - 4 all in 1080p, looks great. Coming this fall, it's sure to be a system seller for Microsoft, and I'll be first in line to pick it up. All the content is on one Blu-ray disc, and as such one of the cool new features is the ability to make playlists of the game's levels. So, yay for not ever having to play the library section ever again! Seriously, though, this is pretty much a slam-dunk, and was arguably Microsoft's best moment in their press show.
What does that say that their oldest franchise is the one I'm most excited for? Oh, and Halo 5 is coming in 2015, don'tcha know? I think it means that Halo is becoming Mario. Hmmmm...
4. Microsoft Knows Their Demo Too Well.
Speaking of Halo or shooters in general, another thing that makes me cautious about Xbox's future is that like Nintendo, Microsoft plays up the first person shooter genre whenever possible. Worse, it's not usually about advancing it. I mean, I like the booster rockets that are seen in the new COD too, and hey, they've got a mech just like Titanfall, but these leaps just aren't big enough. Even if they were, isn't that pretty much the same deal as getting Mario Kart 8 with those new anti-gravity moments? I love Kart 8, but that's a 22-year old franchise. Halo is only a little more than half that. The real issue is not about more hang time with Cortana, but about yet another shooter shown amongst several other shooter video clips. It's repetitive.
Sony has shooters too, but it doesn't feel as integral to the PlayStation experience. (Maybe it's a good thing Killzone never reached the levels of success that Halo did?)