Gaming 2007: Total Recall

Stop what you’re doing and drop that keyboard or controller: It’s time for a reality check. Or, as we like to say around these parts whenever asked which of the new gaming platforms is most worth buying: “Um, er, yeah, well, uh… at this point, depending on your situation, quite possibly none.”   Don’t get me wrong – like many self-styled hardcore gamers, I see great merits in all three recently-released console units: Sony’s PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Similar to desktop upgrade Windows Vista, another recent introduction, they each offer high points ranging from eye-popping visuals to cutting-edge games and fully-integrated broadband connectivity. The selection of titles either out on shelves now or coming soon ranging from Virtua Fighter 5 to Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 and Super Paper Mario is equally gratifying as well.   What’s more, online services such as Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store (not to mention the variety of Internet-downloadable outings available for the Virtual Console) are starting to get really compelling. Windows Vista itself isn’t exactly a slouch either, as all-star outings like Supreme Commander and Crysis prove. And, hey… as prone to hyperbole as a group of mostly twenty-something males who get paid to play games for a living is, I’m even willing to admit the interactive entertainment press’ continued enthusiasm for next-generation PCs/consoles is perfectly understandable.   But let’s not pull punches here – diehard gaming fans are, by far, a proven minority amongst the general population. And for those who don’t view themselves as home theater nuts, or feel compelled to be the first on the block touting the latest and greatest tech toys, these upgrades all have yet to be effectively justified. Killer apps are in short supply; cost-affordable HDTV solutions lacking; and compelling reasons to make the leap forward above and beyond better sound and graphics have as of yet been loathe to present themselves.   In other words, I’m saying the best entertainment devices don’t necessarily cost $400-600, ask you to cough up $50-60/game or require an HDMI cable to truly appreciate. They may, in fact, already be sitting right in your living room. Before rushing out to spend a week’s pay or month’s rent reequipping your den, pause and consider the facts:   PlayStation 2   Despite intentions by most major publishers to start phasing support for the system out, it would be a grievous mistake to count this console out of the running early. Designers and programmers have just begun to master the machine’s intricacies, whipping up stunners like Okami, Final Fantasy XII and Guitar Hero II in the last year alone. Significant time at retail has resulted in redesigned hardware that’s sharper and smaller than ever and – at $129.99 for a base unit that’s also capable of playing DVDs – goes for a song. Best of all, a full range of software including a massive back catalogue of proven hits that presents plenty of choices at varying prices from $9.99 – $49.99 (average cost: $30) presents compelling value for any shopper.   Recent/Upcoming Picks:  

  • God of War II
  • Burnout: Dominator
  • The Red Star
  • Tomb Raider: Anniversary

  GameCube   The selection of standout games for this set-top stalwart might not be as large as on other platforms, but it’s going one thing going for it other consoles don’t – specifically, exclusive Nintendo originals like Metroid Prime and Super Mario Sunshine. Plus, let’s face it: With its chunky square casing and built-in handle, this is the type of machine that’s meant for kids to lug along on sleepovers or vacations. (What – you think that PSP would be able to take as much of a beating?) Easily the most family-friendly of the last-generation consoles, it’s also the best suited to continued use and abuse. After all, when it comes to choosing between this and an Xbox 360, remember: It’s not like your 5 year-old will really appreciate the finer points of 1080p.   Recent/Upcoming Picks:  

  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
  • Tomb Raider: Legend
  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent
  • Meet the Robinsons

  Xbox Yes, public sentiment’s not exactly been overwhelming for this big, black beast of a videogame system, but it nevertheless plays home to some great amusements from Halo 2 to Forza Motorsport and Blinx: The Time Sweeper. (Yes, that last one’s a joke). Better yet, there’s still plenty of online multiplayer excitement to be had through Xbox Live, which remains the gold standard in broadband networking services for home consoles. And hey, if you’re even a little tech-savvy, the vast selection of emulators now available for the machine – which let crafty geeks play everything from Atari 2600 to Apple II and coin-operated arcade outings – really offer great bang for the buck.   Recent/Upcoming Picks:  

  • Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
  • Justice League: Heroes
  • Scarface: The World is Yours
  • Major League Baseball 2K7

  Windows XP   You’ve already heard my rant about casual games, so I’ll instead focus on the fact there’s literally thousands of A-grade outings ranging from independently-developed diversions to big-budget smashes available here. What’s more, a decent video card costs now less than the cheapest next-generation console, and can breathe new life into an existing system, letting you enjoy the widest variety of entertainment software on the planet. Never mind that it’s the only real system to own for first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, adventures and massively multiplayer outings. If you posses an XP-equipped PC, then you’re also probably aware it’s the intellectual’s platform of choice – and that there’s just not enough titles due until, oh, 2008 that’ll really show off Vista’s beefier chops. Besides, man, three words: World of Warcraft.   Recent/Upcoming Picks:  

  • Command & Conquer 3
  • World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
  • Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle
  • The Sims: Life Stories

Scott Steinberg is managing director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants (www.embassymulti.com).

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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