After last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, the console war drums are now beginning to beat in a frenzy. Microsoft and Sony have unveiled details of their next-generation video-game consoles, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.
Which one should you buy? We have a radical proposal: neither.
Gamers can save themselves both money and mental anguish by taking note: The leading current-generation consoles, the Xbox 360 and PS3, are going to stick around for a while, and they're still getting nearly every huge game release for this year and next.
How long? Well, consider this: Sony didn't discontinue the PS2 until January of this year—nearly 13 years after its release.
Games Of Future Past
The new console generation is less of a leap than the shift to high-definition video was seven years ago. In unveiling their new game machines, Sony and Microsoft were forced to play down advancements in graphical realism and hardware punch. Instead, they trumpeted features game players don't care about, like television and social media.
The flip side of that: The latest games will be available for older consoles—and they won't be much of a downgrade. Game developers know this full well: The vast ranks of current console owners are a far more compelling market than people shelling out for new machines, and likely will be for years to come.
So what's the end result? Five of the biggest, most highly-anticipated titles at E3 were launched as cross-generation titles. That means your battle-battered Xbox 360 or PS3 can play them just fine, no new machine required.
The bottom line: If you have to have the latest-and-greatest console, more power to you. If what you want are the latest-and-greatest games, you don't have to wait.
Will these games look and feel better on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Of course. Enough to matter? That's your call.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
Because it's not officially confirmed yet for the PS4 or Xbox One, the fifth installment of Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto isn't technically cross-generation yet. So right now, it's candy for current console owners. Set in the same universe as 2004's GTA: San Andreas, which involved recreations of Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, this high-definition take on the West Coast crime underworld is slated to be the most ambitious, massive. open-world game to date.
One example of its ambition: there are three protagonists you can switch between at any point.
It's almost a given that, at some point in time, this game will make it's way to the next-generation consoles. Pre-release footage of the title is at a level of graphical fidelity unreachable by current hardware. Recent rumors suggest that these versions might come early in 2014, but you can be sure that Rockstar will be tight-lipped until long after the game launches this fall. With this strategy, Rockstar is expressly targeting late adopters.
Given that, GTA V will still be the best reason to own a current-generation console come September 17. It will likely provide years of play. Heck, I still play 2008's GTA IV regularly on my Xbox 360, and I shelled out the $15 for a PS3 version when I switched consoles earlier this year.
Check out the trailer below, which lets you toggle between the narrations of each of the game's three playable protagonists.
2. Watch Dogs
Watch Dogs is half open-world action/stealth game, half social commentary on surveillance and connectivity. (The NSA will probably hate it ... or maybe love it, depending on how the game's plot moves forward.)
Developed by publishing juggernaut Ubisoft, maker of the Assassin's Creed and Tom Clancy series, Watch Dogs features Aiden Pierce, an antihero hacker who finds his way into the networking infrastructure of an alternate version of Chicago in which every piece of tech is wed to a system called CtOS, or Central Operating System. This access lets Pierce hack smartphones, control traffic patterns, and basically leverage any form of digital connectivity as weapon while he navigates a world wrought with information warfare.
Watch Dogs is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U on November 19 and then the next-gen consoles when they launch.
3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
From Japanese video game legend Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the tenth installment in one of the gaming world's most cinematic and plot-heavy series.
I really won't try to explain the plot to people unfamiliar with MGS's unique brand of alternative world history, because I'd fail. There are occasional clones, some well-placed supernatural elements, and, of course, giant robots capable of launching nuclear missiles.
While the Metal Gear series has often stuck to a single console line, most recently Sony's, those not willing to upgrade to the new systems this holiday season won't be left out. Even better: Those still cross that 2008's mind-blowing MGS 4 was exclusive to the PS3 can rejoice: this title is going to be both cross-platform and cross-generation, so Xbox owners can finally join in.
Kojima Productions has yet to open up about a release date for MSG V, but here's a nice lengthy trailer showcasing some of its gameplay. For those interested, there's also a director's cut version that features some highly disturbing torture scenes that shed light on some of Kojima's boundary-pushing plans.
4. Call of Duty: Ghosts
Despite some of the mounting criticism aimed at publisher Activision for having turned its massively successful Call of Duty series into an annual update, Call of Duty: Ghosts is supposed to break the trend … sort of.
Developed by Activision's Infinity Ward, COD: Ghosts departs from prior storylines and introduces a new world where America is no longer a superpower. Set ten years after some currently-unknown event that shifts the world power balance, a band of soldiers fights for … well, you get the idea. To be fair, Call of Duty story lines have become increasingly more engrossing and philosophically interesting since Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops began exploring the truly darker sides of global conflict.
More importantly, players will get endless hours of highly-competitive multiplayer, the aspect of the series that has gotten it likened to an annual sports game yet still generates mind-boggling profits because players migrate en masse to the new versions every holiday season. A pleasantly refreshed storyline and a massively deep base of players have long since proven the COD games are worth their price tags.
Call of Duty: Ghosts will hit PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC on November 5, and then the next-gen consoles at launch.
Destiny is the incredibly ambitious project from Bungie, the studio best known as the creators of the original Halo series. Set in a futuristic Earth, players craft their own character who gets to interact with thousands of others within a environment that is described as "alive," meaning many aspects of the game will be a dynamic result of people interacting with one another.
There's not much to know right now about the project except that it aims to be a wholly unique mix of first-person shooter and massively multiplayer online game. For instance, how many people can play at once on one server? Will there be a main storyline that players take part in together, or on their own? Will players on the old Xbox or PlayStation get to interact with those on the new consoles? These kinds of questions will fuel Destiny's popularity in the coming months, though it's already one of the most talked about titles of E3.
Destiny's release is not yet set, but it is confirmed for both the old and new Xbox and PlayStation consoles for some time in 2014. Here's a look at the extensive gameplay footage that debuted last week.