Opinion: The PS3’s 2012 Line-Up Trumps Xbox360’s – Is Kinect To Blame?
With the New Year almost upon us and gamers beginning to cast their eyes towards the possibilities that await in 2012, there has already been much talk about the relative strength of PlayStation 3’s upcoming exclusive titles compared to those heading for the Xbox360.
Both consoles will get hugely-anticipated games such as Mass Effect 3, Bioshock: Infinite and Kingdoms Of Amular, but when it comes to the exclusives, there’s little doubt that Sony’s platform has the choicest cuts.
PS3 owners can look forward to Twisted Metal, Starhawk, The Last Of Us and – most likely – God Of War IV, not to mention Team Ico’s new project The Last Guardian, which is a mouth-watering prospect for anybody who has had the pleasure of sampling the developer’s earlier masterpieces. Added to this, the quite brilliant-looking horror Amy will also be hitting the PlayStation network.
Xbox360 owners, on the other hand, are left with PC ports Minecraft and Witcher 2, latest Molyneux hype-athon Fable: The Journey, the new entry in fanboy cause celebre Halo, and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare – a downloadable successor to the solid but underwhelming exclusive of 2010. Not only are these distinctly less exciting than their PS3 equivalents, they are also notable for a worrying lack of originality and ambition – with the rival console mustering at least a couple of new IPs, but the Xbox’s line-up relying on the same old names, and high-profile titles that have already made a splash on PC.
Of course, if we’re taking ‘new’ experiences, you could always point to the seemingly never-ending roll-call of Kinect games that have been announced (including Kinect Star Wars), but therein lies a substantial part of the problem that the Xbox is getting itself into. For although there are a number of possible reasons as to why the PS3 has better console exclusives next year (its hardware has more potential and developers are finally getting to grips with its complexities; its in-house production arguably has greater pedigree; certain developers have closer working relationships with Sony, forged over many years etc.), the explanation for Xbox360’s comparable lack of competition in that department may lie in a problematic over-reliance on the motion-gaming possibilities of Kinect.
While PlayStation Move is being treated by Sony more as a fun supplement to its ‘hardcore’ range of titles, Microsoft appear to be placing more and more faith in the power of its motion technology, to the extent that almost all of its 2012 exclusives will utilize the Kinect system.
No one doubts the impressive nature of Kinect’s motion capture and voice-recognition attributes, but in an attempt to win over the substantial and lucrative casual gaming market currently dominated by the Wii, Microsoft seem to think that their baby can provide the real goods above and beyond conventional console games – and are investing heavily in that belief.
The trouble is, the vast majority of Xbox360 owners – of which I happen to be one – fall firmly under the ‘hardcore’ banner. And many remain unconvinced that Kinect is anything other than a fun gimmick, or a cool toy with which to keep the kids happy, or entertain an occasional house-party.
Microsoft appear to understand this, as they have gone to great pains to encourage third-party developers to come up with Kinect titles that will appeal to the Xbox360’s core ownership. Howewer, the initial results on this front have been at best disappointing, and at worst outright embarrassing. Zombie brawler Rise Of Nightmares received a less than glowing reception earlier this year, while Kinect’s ‘first FPS’, Blackwater, has been savaged by critics.
That really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Popular hardcore games – particularly FPSs – are already perfectly served by that beautiful old innovation known as the control pad, and the fact is that nothing breaks immersion more than prancing around like a tit in your living room – just as nothing makes less sense than manually turning to look, or rearranging your stance to move, when a mere flick of a single analogue stick would do that for you normally.
Ultimately, Sony’s understanding of the time and place for motion gaming appears to be paying off, as their PlayStation Move titles will serve exactly the kind of audience who are open to them, while continued focus on serving up top new traditional console games will delight hardcore fans who would much rather get stuck into the latest epic RPG or immersive shooter, than dance around in front of their TV.
Microsoft, on the other hand, seem to believe they can convince millions of gamers that the future lies in motion gaming, ahead of the experience they have grown up with, know and love.
Such a strategy is unlikely to succeed. Gamers can be a stubborn bunch at the best of times, and they happen to know pretty damn well what they do and don’t like. Even that half-way house – the integration of Kinect features into games that predominately utilize the control pad – faces a problematic future. You only have to remember the uproar unleashed by the announcement that Mass Effect 3 would support Kinect, to see that.
Microsoft and its partners can can serve up Kinect Star Wars and Gears Of War: Take Cover Behind Your Sofa Edition to their hearts’ content, but the simple truth is that what most of its consumers want is a reboot to rival Twisted Metal, or a new IP to compete with The Last Guardian.
Judging the year ahead on that basis, it’s fair to say that 2012 may be significantly more rewarding for those with a PS3 to their name. And this is something that Microsoft should work seriously hard to prevent from becoming a trend – even if it means acknowledging the limitations of their favourite new toy.