In recent months, Sony and Microsoft announced their entries in the latest battle between the consoles. Monday brought Round One of the brawl.
Dueling news conferences prior to the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles provided an odd spectacle: One fighter landed heavy body blows while the other punched himself in the face.
The news conferences primarily covered the games that will be available in coming months for Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. The briefings were filled with fluff and fun. However, some significant news still managed to slip out the door — and it wasn't good for Xbox One.
The day opened with the Xbox One show, where it was revealed that the console will come out in November and cost $499 in the U.S. The price news brought a loud groan from the audience the Galen Center.
That's the type of sticker shock that knocked the PlayStation3 down a peg at the dawn of the current generation of consoles and has seen Nintendo's new Wii U slide toward obscurity over the last few months.
Nothing was said about persistent speculation that Microsoft would start charging gamers extra to play used games or would require gamers to always be online — a move designed to ensure that every game was authenticated before it's played.
Sony was ready to attack at its briefing at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on Tuesday evening. After softening up the crowd with some excellent gameplay demos and videos, Sony Computer Entertainment of America's president Jack Tretton announced that Sony would place no restrictions on used games, which caused the audience to burst into the loudest and most sustained cheers of the day. Tretton then hit again with the announcement that the PS4 would not require a constant online connection or any other form of authentication before playing a game.
The next blow connected even more solidly: The PS4 will cost $399 — $100 less than the Xbox One — when it launches in time for the holidays.
Although the price may give PS4 an edge, many gamers are likely to make their decisions based on the games that are available for each console.
Many of the most popular games highlighted during Monday's conferences by Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft will be available on both platforms. These include Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag," "Tom Clancy's The Division" and "Watch Dogs," as well as EA's "Battlefield 4" and EA Sports' solid stable of titles.
Each console trotted out some exciting exclusives. Sony's include the previously announced shooter "Killzone: Shadow fall," the racing game "DriveClub," and action game "inFamous: Second Son," as well as "The Order: 1886," which features Victorian-era heroes who fight supernatural beings.
Microsoft gave a peak at an upcoming "Halo" game featuring Master Chief, an open world shooter called "Sunset Overdrive," the driving game "Forza Motorsport 5" and "Ryes: Son of Rome," which looks like a more realistic version of PlayStation's "God of War."
In virtually all cases, the graphics for the next-generation consoles were much better than those available on current consoles, offering incredibly lifelike faces and character motion as well as richly detailed backgrounds.
Publishers boasted of new game engines that make characters act more realistically and make gameplay more interesting and intense. One of the most interesting changes is the movement toward more multiplayer action, much of it reminiscent of massive multiplayer games on computers.
Despite the impressive titles and upgrades, neither company can count on big sales. It has been easy to find gamers online, in stores and even at E3 who say they are pretty happy with their current consoles and aren't all that impressed with the new wave heading their way. While the next-gen graphics are markedly better, the current generation is still pretty impressive in top-tier games. And the new gameplay possibilities just don't seem to fall into the must-have category — yet. They're also aware that third-party publishers aren't going to turn their backs on the millions of Xbox 360s and PS3s out there and will keep new games coming for another year or two if the previous transition is any guide.
Finally, it probably should be noted that the third major console maker, Nintendo, has already released its entry in the latest competition. The Wii U boasted a dramatic upgrade in processing power and graphics capabilities over the Wii. However, these improvements simply brought that system to the levels slightly above the PS3 and Xbox 360. That, and the $300-$350 price tag, seem to be reasons why so many of Nintendo's latest consoles are languishing on store shelves.
It's probably significant that Monday's news conference for mega-publisher EA didn't even acknowledge the Wii U. Nintendo itself decided to skip a news conference this year and opted to show off its upcoming games at a low-key event on Tuesday morning.