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 The next-gen consoles have arrived — now what?
December 28, 2006 5:27:58 PM

SUPER MARIO GALAXY: shows promise with its mind-bending outer-space effects and innovative use of 3-D.

No more hype. No more inflated eBay auctions. No more fanboys waiting in line overnight to get their hands on a game system. Okay, maybe a little more waiting in line overnight, depending on supply. With the holidays gone, so too vanishes the frenzy that surrounded the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. Most of our questions have been answered. (“The Nintendo what?” “The PS3 costs how much?”) Now the focus will be where it should have been all along: on the games.

Anyone paying attention will have noticed the rich irony of the holiday season: notwithstanding all the buzz surrounding the PS3 and Wii launches, the venerable PlayStation 2 had the highest number of top-quality games. The Xbox 360 and Wii had one killer app each (Gears of War and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess); the PS3 clocked in with exactly one well-received original title (Resistance: Fall of Man). PS2 owners were treated to an embarrassment of riches: Okami, Final Fantasy XII, Bully, Guitar Hero II. And though the original Xbox and the Nintendo GameCube are now relics, there’s no reason to believe that 2007 will be any different for the PS2.

Due in March is GOD OF WAR II , the sequel to one of the most popular PS2 games. Although it undoubtedly would have been a system seller for the PlayStation 3, Sony Computer Entertainment has kept it a PS2 exclusive. That’s good news for everybody who doesn’t want or can’t afford Sony’s next-gen behemoth. God of War II will retain the original’s responsive, highly polished platform gameplay and add a few twists. Kratos will cast different spells and acquire powerful new weapons, and of course you can expect a bevy of gruesome new kill animations.

Nevertheless, Sony will be emphasizing the PS3 as it’s able to roll out more units to stores. Its survival hopes pinned to the fortunes of the new system, the company plans to release one sequel after another. High-profile franchises like METAL GEAR SOLID and DEVIL MAY CRY should see updates by the next holiday season. During that same period we should also be treated to exciting new titles like ASSASSIN’S CREED , a brand-new franchise from the folks at Ubisoft, which was responsible for the recent Prince of Persia adventures. Of course, delays are as common in video-game releases as cheat codes, and there’s no doubt that some of these titles will miss their ship dates.

Sony’s nearer-term prospects look bleak. The next big game is MOTORSTORM , which you can already see running on demo units in various stores. No question it looks great. And you can go off-road in a variety of vehicles from dirt bikes to monster trucks. Not to slag racing games as a genre — some of my best friends are racing games — but it will take something more to convince casual gamers to plunk down $600 for a system. Of course, given the supply problems the Sony folks will have for the foreseeable future, they’ll likely sell plenty of copies relative to their installed base. But that may not be enough to offset the massive losses they’re incurring with each PS3 sold (more than $200 a unit). MotorStorm is expected to ship in America this March.

METAL GEAR SOLID: should get a PS3 update sometime this year.
And though the processing power of the PlayStation 3 is impressive, nobody expected Sony’s one-upmanship to extend to borking its launch even worse than Microsoft had one year earlier. It’s easy to forget now, when piles of Xbox 360s adorn the show floors of every electronics store in town, that it was almost impossible to get a 360 for months after its launch. Those lucky few who did often encountered manufacturing defects. Yet after a rocky beginning, Microsoft’s second console found solid footing with games like Ghost Recon, Oblivion, and Gears of War.

The 360’s prospects for 2007 look even better. On January 12, Capcom’s LOST PLANET: EXTREME CONDITION hits. This one’s a third-person shooter set on a frozen rock in deep space. The environment is so cold, in fact, that the hero’s health is constantly failing, and the only way to resuscitate him is — wait for it — to blast the heck out of space pirates and giant insects. A multi-player demo has already rung up more than a million downloads on Xbox Live — which may speak less to Lost Planet’s appeal and more to its status as the only available outlet for everybody’s Halo 3 jones. But don’t worry, HALO 3 will make it out this year too.

If 2006 is to be remembered as the year that Nintendo came roaring back, then the company will have to make good on the promise of its oddly named Wii, in 2007 and beyond. As much as, say, METROID PRIME 3: CORRUPTION will probably be a good game, there’s no reason to believe it will depart in any fundamental way from its predecessors. You’ll probably just aim with the Wii remote instead of a joystick. SUPER MARIO GALAXY shows a little more promise, with its mind-bending outer-space effects and innovative use of 3-D. Still, there’s reason to be concerned. For all the good press The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess got, it failed to deliver a revolutionary gameplay experience. Using the Wii remote simply provided a different means to achieve the same ends. That’s the biggest pitfall the Wii will have to avoid.


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