Brace yourselves, everyone...This entry is likely to ruffle some feathers. First and foremost, all I ask of you, the reader, is that you try to see this as level-headed as possible. Try to take off your fanboy caps for a few minutes while you actually read what I have to say. Also note that these are my OPINIONS...I'm not saying I am right, and I'm definitely not saying you are right either. Now, without further ado...I'll do these in order of appearance.
Released November 22, 2005 the Xbox 360 was the first out of the gates, which is automatically a plus. It gets developers started sooner, and it gets it in peoples hands first. This is a similar move to Sony's PlayStation 2, which was released approximately a year before the original Xbox.
Originally off to a neutral start, like many new machines, the games available ranged from great to pretty crappy. Stand-outs like Call of Duty 2 were great examples of must-have games. Also, the much-improved Xbox Live service stands strong. Once availability had increased, reports of hardware failures became abundant, eventually leaving Microsoft with a huge bill and an increased warranty for the 360. Several chipsets later, hardware problems are still somewhat rampant.
To measure games, they must be separated by exclusives and multiplatform games. For the purposes of this entire comparison, I will be excluding PC games completely and also handhelds, so for example, Gears of War is an Xbox 360 exclusive. That said, Gears of War and its sequel go on to be huge hits in sales and Xbox Live gaming. Halo 3 goes on to be one of the biggest gaming releases in history. Steady stream of releases continue, despite seemingly tepid first party support from in-house developers like Rare. Multiplatform games with the Xbox 360 as lead development platform seem to fare better, but in most cases, any comparisons result in a wash.
Xbox Live and the 360's dashboard have undergone some major changes in the past 4 years as well. Most recently is the addition of Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM, and the Zune marketplace. Since the release of the NXE dashboard design, Microsoft seems to be trying to capture more of a "casual" market that has been dominated by the Wii since its release. No functionality was lost with the conversion to the NXE dash, however, and I feel more improvements were made than anything else. Xbox Live itself has had some rough times, but overall the service has been stable and continuously updated. Though the Gold membership is not free, the resulting cost is so minimal that it's not much of a factor. Subscription cards can be found for less than $40 online for 13 months, which ends up being about $3/month. Not a bad value, in my opinion.
Oh, and how could I talk about the 360 without talking about achievements?! For those who follow my blogs or are friends with me online, you may know that I'm a bit of an achievement slut. I do play games for achievements at times. This was one genius move on Microsoft's part to give gamers extra incentives to play games, and it's good for the retail and rental industry as well.
Overall, there are titles for nearly every type of gamer, though the focus does seem to be on mature-rated shooters. The interface is easy and accessible and the controller is possibly my favorite standard controller ever.
Game library - A Wish there was better first party support, otherwise strong titles to continue through 2010
Hardware - B- Though only having 1 RRoD from my launch unit, it's too big of a problem to simply dismiss [NOTE: This rating is NOT based on overall failure rates or anything...It's also not a rating of what it doesn't have...It's a rating based on how well the hardware does what it's supposed to do. The one failured unit I had detracted from MY score.]
Online - A+ Despite the fees, integration of friends and services is unmatched (annoying kids playing Halo aside :P)
Overall - B+ Things seem to be slowing down a bit with the looming presence of Natal, I would be shocked if we don't start hearing of a successor soon
Outlook - Natal is the next big thing for the 360, but is it enough to prolong the life of the system? Games are still getting better, but DVD limitations seem to be a major issue going forward
Released a week before the Wii on November 11, 2006, the Playstation 3 has had the rockiest time this generation. With a shockingly high price tag, very little software support that wasn't also available on the cheaper Xbox 360, but also being the cheapest and best Blu-Ray player on the market. Sony set themselves in a very weird position from the beginning, but the gamble to choose Blu-Ray has certainly paid off.
Though it's no longer the cheapest Blu-Ray player on the market, it's still one of the best. The fact that it also plays PS3 games makes it a wunderkind of sorts now. I say "now" because Sony has had a procrastinating attitude, it seems. Many features have been added from firmware updates over the years, and even now I feel like the XMB dashboard is clean, but not always that simple. Things like Home have been just a curious disaster of delays and the end result is just lame. I still haven't upgraded to a Dual Shock 3, something I believe should have been there from the start.
Luckily, exclusive gaming on the PS3 is unmatched. Games like Uncharted have set the bar in terms of just about everything, especially graphics. Much of this may be due to the Blu-Ray's capacity, which has certainly become an asset now that HD-DVD is dead. As previously stated, multiplatform support has ranged, mostly dependant on whether or not the PS3 is the lead platform during development.
With the release of the Slim PS3, Sony was able to lower the price to a reasonable amount, and with the games available gamers choosing between the three systems will likely have a hard time making a decision. It all comes down to games, and while all the systems have great games, the exclusives for the PS3 do seem a bit more varied from FPS/TPS games.
The PSN is something I have never been a fan of. By not including any sort of headset, almost no one communicates when I play, and that detracts from the experience when teamwork is needed. I have had some problems with lag and general weirdness playing online moreso than the 360, but I have heard the opposite from some folks, so who knows?
The removal of backwards compatibility has always struck me as a dumb decision as well. I completely understand taking out the Emotion Engine to save on space, power, and heat...But emulation is completely possible and has been mostly overlooked by Sony. The fact that some of the older 80GB units without the Emotion Engine will play 95+% of PS1/PS2 games, it's almost a slap in the face that they don't allow it at all on current systems.
Though I have felt kind of burned being an early adopter, my 60GB unit is still going strong. Since I prefer the 360 controller and Live more, I do tend to play all multiplatform games on that system. However, the high caliber titles that come out for the PS3 are almost always a must-buy for me. If it was my only system, I would be more than happy.
Game Library - A- The only thing keeping this score down is that multiplatform games tend to be better on the 360
Hardware - A With so many hardware iterations and configurations, it's hard to keep track of things. Luckily, problems with the hardware have been minimal, and with the Blu-Ray, integrated WiFi, make a great piece of hardware
Online - B More often than not, the lack of headsets in an online match irritates me. Also, minor issues with stability have been an issue for me
Overall - B+ While originally I would have rated it closer to a D, Sony has taken their time to get things right and they are almost firing on all cylinders now
Outlook - As long as software support keeps up, I'm sure Sony will continue improving on things. I doubt the XMB will ever match the NXE in terms of friendliness and usability, but the PS3 hardware alone is worth it for gamers that can only afford one system.
[update]Increased hardware score based on some things I had not originally considered
[update 2] Reworded outlook to better suit rest of editorial
The last contender out of the gates on November 19 2006, the Wii came in with the force of a hurricane. Stores were unable to meet demand for nearly 2 years while Nintendo sat back on their piles of money. Still the strongest selling system, though it does seem to be losing momentum now.
I have had many love/hate moments this generation with Nintendo in general. They did many things right with the Wii, but also stumbled in some areas. First party support for Nintendo has never been an issue. I have long stood by the opinion that they are THE BEST first party developer around, and one of the best around period. I still stand by that. My problem with the Wii releases is the fact that they weren't staggered. Almost all of their standard top-notch titles were released early on in the system's life, leaving us dry right now. Normally, this wouldn't be much of a problem, but third party support ranges from complete garbage to excellent with many mediocre titles in between. Toss in watered down ports of some games and the library is truly all over the place.
Nintendo in general is it's own biggest enemy, they have stellar IPs that have lasted for 20-some years, but they simply aren't advancing. When was the last great new Nintendo IP? I'm not talking about Mario Baseball, either...Some of those off-shoots work great, like Mario Kart, others are pretty boring. Maybe this has always been the case and I've been too young to take note, but I feel that it's a problem now.
I can't talk about the Wii without talking about the controller, either. I love the idea behind it, and the execution is mostly spot-on. I still remember the excitement of finding out exactly what was the secret behind the new revolutionary controller. Speaking of reminiscing, remember when they announced the name "Wii" and the collective Internet both laughed and felt queasy all at once? I do. It seemed like a huge blunder, but now I can't imagine calling it anything else.
My overall view of the system is that it's best as a secondary system behind a 360 or PS3, or as a primary system for the whole family. Innovation is great, and I can't wait to see what they think of next.
Game Library - C+ If it wasn't for the first party games, there would only be a handful of titles I am interested in
Hardware - B+ It's been 4 years and still no DVD player support? No HD support? What's with that? Otherwise solid, and taking a page from the book of Apple in terms of design and packaging, it seems
Online - D Though getting better, this is the one area Nintendo NEEDS to work on for their next system
Overall - C+ A great start from the get-go, but momentum has slowed to a crawl. Even with a price drop, I'm not sure how long it will stay afloat
Outlook - I fully expect a successor announced in 2010. They have pretty much saturated the market with their current offering and we need something new and better, even if it's just a slight upgrade like the DSi
If you can only own one system this gen, I would personally recommend an Xbox 360 since I find it to be the most diverse system that everyone can find something to enjoy. However, every system has obvious strengths and weaknesses. Find the system that has the features that YOU find important, and remember that games are probably the biggest factor in the decision. What's the point of having a gaming system if you don't like the games available?
While I know the comments will be inundated with people thinking I'm wrong for whatever reason, this just goes to show my point that what you find important is only important to you. I will never understand brand loyalty for the sake of brand loyalty. If a system offers what you want it for, that's great, but it doesn't make anyone elses wants less valid.