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Xbox vs. PS2 Redux
November 15, 2001


xbox_consoleandcontroller_s.jpg (2573 bytes)One of the most popular articles on our site has been Xbox vs. PS2. It was written over a year ago by Matt Baldwin, who is still a part of GamesFirst! At that time the PS2 had not launched and the Xbox was a long way off. Information was sketchy, but Matt felt strongly about his position. I am happy to report that Matt has now completely changed his opinion and is now a big GameCube supporter. This is the way the video game world goes – you never really know anything until you can play. And that’s why I’m writing this editorial. I’ve been bombarded in the past few weeks with letters asking which is better, Xbox or PS2. So here is one man’s opinion. Feel free to disagree. I genuinely think that it will be hard to go wrong with either of the three next generation systems.

TAMER3-01.jpg (5402 bytes)I’ll make this easy on you, the reader, and come right out with it: Xbox rules. The PlayStation 2 is simply an inferior system. It has inferior hardware, put together in a completely bizarre configuration with utter disregard for the standards that have arisen to govern computer system design. There is not nearly enough memory in the system. The Emotion Engine is some wacky processor that doesn’t really mean anything to most folks familiar with hardware. It has no hard drive and no network connectivity. Sure, these things are coming, but who wants to upgrade their console system? Didn’t you PS2 owners already pay $300 for the system? Why should you have to invest more just to get up to par. Hands down, the PS2 is the least technically impressive system. GameCube and Xbox have it beat with no contest. These are not debatable points – they are facts.

The Xbox has an excellent hardware configuration. A 700 Mhz Intel processor combined with buttloads of system RAM and a GeForce 3 equivalent Nvidia graphics processor all come together to make the Xbox comparable to most decent gaming PCs right now. That power is amplified over the power of a PC with similar hardware because of the integrated system architecture. Some folks have thought of the Xbox as a PC in a funny box, which turns off many console gamers. Rather, you should think of the Xbox as a conceit that game developers can buy into. And it’s a mistake if you think the Xbox is simply geared towards satisfying console gamers – this sucker is going to sway PC gamers to the darkside, too. The ethernet card built into the Xbox will be used next year to facilitate broadband gaming. As anyone who games online already can tell you, there is no other way to go except broadband. Currently, the network adapter is useful for hooking Xbox units together and hosting the most amazing LAN bashes around. The piece de resistance is definitely the hard drive. We’ve needed one of those for so long, and nobody seemed to know it. The hard drive removes the need for memory cards, although the system does support those so you can tote your save data to a friend’s house. But you don’t need one of the little suckers. At 10GB, the hard drive has plenty of room to save game files for ages, even archive them. In addition, you can insert a music CD, rip songs to your Xbox hard drive, then tell your games to play your music when you tire of the game music. Even though games like Amped feature over 100 songs on the soundtrack, this is a great feature.

Of course, one of the hardware aspects of the system that gets bashed is the DVD playback. You must buy a DVD Playback Kit, which is basically a remote control for your Xbox and will set you back about $30, in order to watch movies. Granted, the PS2 does this out of the box, although most folks I know who use their PS2s to watch movies have invested in a wireless remote so they don’t have to use the controller. The systems are about comparable in the quality of DVD playback, although it should be noted that the Xbox is already using the DVD format for their games, while only a few titles have done so on the PS2 (and did The Bouncer really need to be on a DVD?).

halo_03.01.01_print_7.jpg (2902 bytes)The superiority of the Xbox hardware is best conveyed in the superiority of the system menu and navigation. The PS2 was pretty snazzy when we first saw it, but the Xbox configuration and menu system is just phenomenal. It’s one of the coolest interfaces I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s much more intuitive than the PS2’s menu system. This is a small factor, and shouldn’t really make a difference in which system you choose, but it seems emblematic of the superior hardware and design qualities of the Xbox.

The next most popular thing to email me about is graphics. Which is better, Xbox or PS2? Well, the Xbox, duh. I mean, the PS2 is working with hardware that is over two years old (don’t forget that the graphics processor was designed well before the system released), while the Xbox uses a modified GeForce 3 card, which is the standard for PC gaming RIGHT NOW. Sure, amazing things can be done with the PS2, and future generations of PS2 games will look great, but the Xbox has more potential to reach a higher top end of graphics quality. The Xbox is just more powerful and provides more opportunities for developers. Beyond the constraints of hardware, it is up to developers to make pretty games. So you’ll see some Xbox titles that don’t look as good as PS2 titles, but the potential is there to far outpace PS2 games. This is evident in launch titles like HALO, Munch’s Oddysee, DOA3 and Project Gotham. These games look gorgeous. Even games that don’t look so great, such as Azurik, feature amazing lighting, particle and shadow effects that are just obviously better than anything we’ve seen on PS2. It is impossible to say that one or the other system will always feature better graphics, but it looks like the Xbox has the PS2 beat in this arena.

Screenshot-11-01.jpg (4504 bytes)What about that controller? I hear it all the time – it’s too ugly, too big, too much like the Dreamcast. Well, it isn’t the prettiest thing, but it is damn comfortable. It does look a bit like the DC controller from the top, but look at it from the side and you’ll see a striking resemblance to the PS2 controller. In fact, the controller has been designed to be completely ergonomic, and it feels better than any controller I’ve used. The buttons are well-placed, and the control just feels silky smooth. Those nine foot long cables don’t hurt, either – finally, I can sit at a comfortable distance from my TV and not have to move my console to the floor.

Let’s see, is that all of it? Oh, the games. That’s right – the games are what count, right? You hear that mantra all the time. However, it’s difficult to predict how good games will be, or even what titles we’ll see for these systems in a year or two. So on the one hand you have to pick a system that has games you want to play now, but on the other, you kind of want to guess what system will have the best games in the future. Undoubtedly, this is the PS2’s strong suit, although it’s only been recently that it has built a decent library. It took the PS2 a full year to really get enough good games for people to risk it. Many folks were disappointed with the launch lineup, and delays all the way through last spring and summer further saddened PS2 owners. Finally we are seeing some truly great titles come out for the PS2.

spray03-01.jpg (3880 bytes)The Xbox is launching with 19 titles, most of which will appeal to niche audiences. It does feature some really great games, such as HALO and Munch’s Oddysee. Fighting fans will dig DOA 3, and racing fans will get their fix with a whole array of racing games: Project Gotham Racing, Test Drive Off-Road, NASCAR Heat, and 4x4 Evo 2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X gives die-hard THPS fans a chance to see a new take on their old faves while they wait for THPS3 to come to Xbox. Amped caters to the realistic snowboarding fans, and Dark Summit caters to the SSX fans.

However, this is not the whole story. The gaming industry has become an environment where publishers see more value in making games for all platforms rather than exclusively supporting any single platform. This will only become more prevalent as developers and publishers sink more money into their games – they must recoup their costs as much as possible. Think of it less like we’ve traditionally thought of ports and more as we think of movies being released on both VHS and DVD. This means that most of the really good third-party titles will be available on all systems. So the only games you really need to worry about are first-party titles, developed and published by Sony or Microsoft.

Kane_ent.134.jpg (7015 bytes)Overall, as I said before, you’re not going to go wrong. All platforms will offer amazing gameplay and lots of it. Gaming is becoming more and more mainstream every day, and the hardcore gamers will be the folks with multiple systems. Sony is not going to go away, although I imagine they will push development of the PS3 because the PS2 just isn’t going to enjoy as long of a lifespan as the PSone. Microsoft is here to stay – they have vocally committed to the console gaming market, and seek dominance. Will they get it? I don’t know. I would much prefer to see the market divided in three ways. That’s how the consumers win – we want choice and variety and we want these companies actively competing to win our approval.

Let’s face it, none of us stands to benefit or lose if any of these companies succeed or fail. We only win if we get to play great games. In order for that to happen, we need to support the good stuff and voice our disapproval of the bad. So while the bickering and debates about which system is greater rage on this holiday season, keep in mind that all of them have something to offer, and diversity of platforms will serve us all well. Make friends with folks who have different systems and you will always have a great game to play.

Shawn Rider


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