So, after a solid week of trying to put my Playstation through it’s paces, I’ve realized quite a few similar and quite a few contrasting things between the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Having never owned more than a single system since the SNES/Genesis days, “console wars” haven’t really been part of my vocabulary for the past decade or so. I completely skipped over the Xbox vs PS2 era. I can say however, that I understand better where people are coming from. Both systems have blatant strengths and both have some glaring weaknesses. These are just a couple observations from an impartial (ha!) gamer.
Compared to the 360, the PS3 Slim (current gen) is about as heavy as a calculator. It’s ridiculously small and lightweight. Almost to the point of feeling “cheap”. It doesn’t have a “power brick”, it doesn’t weigh 30lbs, and compared to even my regular DVD player, it’s small. That’s both a pro and a con. The upside is that it’s portable, easily fits into an entertainment console, and is easy on the power consumption. The con is that it really does feel “cheaper”, like a $20 toaster oven. There’s not a lot of meat on the bone and you have to wonder what you’re getting for your $300. The 360 on the other hand is so beefy and has so much (probably extraneous) stuff inside the box that it’s too heavy, too bulky and too fragile. It feels like a computer and that you need to treat it as such. Also, since I have a launch console, and since its so incredibly prone to randomly dying, I haven’t moved it in 4 years. Ever. Conversely, I could throw the PS3 into my messenger bag and wouldn’t be concerned about it. Again, pro and con.
I honestly can’t figure out why there’s a “war” about this. Both systems look fantastic, especially in HD. Both games I picked up for the PS3 are gorgeous, especially Uncharted 2 and it’s a good 2-3 years old now. If I had to pick a winner I couldn’t. It’s like the “war” between Nikon and Canon. It’s really a personal preference thing. Canon has a better auto-focus and lens system, Nikon tends to reproduce colors a little better. Both are super strong. Same thing here. I find that the 360 is more fluid (possibly slightly higher frame rate), where as the PS3 has incredible colors and textures. If I was playing something like Call of Duty, I’d probably get it for the 360, but something like Uncharted is right at home (where it is) on the PS3. Draw.
In terms of quiet design, the PS3 wins hands down. It should also be noted that in this case, I’m comparing a launch 360 (with a super loud fan) to a PS3 Slim, which has been “redesigned” and trimmed down. I honestly don’t think it even has a fan in it. I’m 97% sure it’s all “passive” cooled. The only sound I can hear is the occasional disk loading…
Speaking of loading times, here’s something where the 360 comes out on top. I’m not sure if it’s the larger buffer on the Xbox, extra memory or what, but loading times on the 360 are a fraction of the PS3. Every level, every cinematic, even the menus on the PS3 require some sort of loading time. I wanted to checkout the multiplayer in Uncharted 2 and spent 5 minutes “syncing data” to… somewhere… before I got to the mutliplayer menu. And that was before I ever actually played any multiplayer. Saved games load in about 30-45 seconds, give or take. Compare that to 10-15 second loads for any Xbox game I’ve ever noticed, and you’re waiting for what feels like a long time on the PlayStation. 30 seconds isn’t a deal breaker, but overall I feel like I could go make a sandwich while the PS3 loads and with the 360 I barely have time for a pee break. How’s that for a real world example! lol.
Packaging / Setup:
Starting completely from scratch with a PS3 is a bit intimidating. There’s ZERO instructions in the box. Nothing. There’s a “quick start” card that shows you how to plug in the power cable and that’s it. Nothing about PSN, nothing about peripherals, nothing about games, nothing about accounts, nothing. There’s a help item, hidden about half way down one of the menu items, that launches a web browser that accesses an wiki/faq of sorts, but if you didn’t know it was there, you’d be pretty SOL. I actually had to figure out how to charge the controller. No joke. I thought the included USB cable was for transferring data and so I ignored it until I realized what the connector on the Six-Axis was and figured it out. That’s basic stuff that really should be included in a manual.
Here is where we get into the fan-boy stuff. Honestly, I like the “idea” behind the PS3’s menu a lot more than it’s execution. I’m sure at one point it was supposed to be minimalistic, clean and simple… but it’s none of those are the moment. The top-level horizontal menu is nice… until you roll over an item and 50 things pop above and below it. The entire thing is in desperate need of some organization. Surely they could have just left the primary icons alone and created subpages or sub-menus when you selected something and not when you merely scrolled past. Unfortunately, by comparison, the Xbox dashboard isn’t much better. Each primary item has 10 crappy, usually animated, things shoved to the right of it, 9.5 of which I usually don’t care about. The Xbox dash bothers me so much I turned on “auto load CD tray” in the options and only have to look at it when I change games. I’ll probably do the same with the PS3. No winner in this one.
Completely nit-picky things, but again, in terms of “heft” and perceived quality, the Six-Axis is actually a step down from the 360 controller. That could also be years of 360 use talking. My main complaint are the “triggers”. The 360 has decidedly obvious triggers. There’s no confusing what they are or any question what’s “left trigger” and what’s “left button”. The Six-Axis however, has L1 & 2, R1 & 2 pretty much on top of each other, with the lower being just a tad bigger but still not “trigger” shaped. It also doesn’t help that L2 and R2 aren’t used as triggers in the first place. Coming from a 360 world, that’s probably the single most confusing thing. Why am I using a “shoulder button” to shoot and aim? Seriously. Also, I do need to mention the charging again. With no replaceable battery (big no-no Sony!), I’m charging the entire controller. That seriously blows goats if I only have one of them. Also, the cord you gave me to do it is about 18″ long. There’s no way I can play and use it at the same time. I either need to purchase a docking station, a longer charging cable, or a second controller. That’s an extra $20-60 dollars, depending on which way you go, because Sony didn’t feel the need to let me use AA batteries. At least with the 360 controller, even if I don’t have a rechargeable battery, a cord, etc, at least I can still play if I find AA’s. If your Six-Axis is dead, it’s dead and you’ve got to wait.
There’s two separate things I want to mention when we talk XBL vs PSN. Technical aspects (price, connection, servers) and Competition (other players). If you’re evaluating things from a purely monetary perspective, you can’t really go wrong with “free”. PSN is completely free to play against other people. XBL charges $50 a year, just to make your game work. I’ve always felt this is wrong, and continue to try and weasel my way into super cheap XBL. $30 subscription cards from NewEgg are my favorite. I also can’t understand why XBL needs to charge since 99% of the games are PvP and “matchmaking” anyway. If it’s my box and my connection, why am I paying Microsoft to play??? So, the PS3 gets brownie points there. In terms of connection, perhaps there’s something to the fee after all. The XBL connection, server browers and matchmaking systems seem to run smoother and faster. I’m actually going to reserve final judgement on this one until I play a more modern game with current player loads on the PS3, just to compare. My thoughts at this point are only based on trying to find a game lobby with a game no one is playing. That said, there were multiple times I left it searching and walked away to do something else (change a diaper) and came back to discover it hadn’t found a single thing to play. Again, could just be the game.
Competition however, is something I can evaluate. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m some fantastic uber gamer with all sorts of mad skillz. I know there are honestly a lot better players than me. Most of the guys who compete at tournaments and in leagues could easily crush me. That said, I feel strongly that I’m slightly “above average” and could probably beat most casual players. On XBL I’m probably in the middle of the pack. If I’m in a 1-100 scale, probably somewhere in the 60’s. On PSN however, in my 2nd game, ever, after setting the game to find “any game type, any map”, I got put into a 1-on-1 duel with someone who had an Uncharted 2 rank of 55. I beat them 12-4. This was while I was still learning to use the controller. I then landed in the top 2 in every single game I played the rest of that afternoon. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I really want to try something like Call of Duty now because my hunch is that the “hardcore” players who are really into it, are probably playing on the 360. My hypothesis is that most players on PSN are casual gamers, or gamers of other genres (JRPG?) that are just taking a break from questing. That’s the feeling I get. I also didn’t hear any loud mouthed 12 years olds smack talking. Actually, I didn’t hear anyone. Since a headset also doesn’t come in the box, you have to buy one separately. Anyone who’s not in a group or a game clan just isn’t going to care enough, which probably accounts for most of the silence.
The main reason I bought the PS3 was for movie playback. I received a HD-DVD player a couple years ago as a gift and it simply didn’t win the format war. I had played maybe 2 HD movies in it. The rest of the time we played regular DVDs. Being such animated movie fans as we are, and after buying more Disney Bluray combo sets than I owned HD-DVDs, it just didn’t make any sense to keep using the old player. It was a Toshiba, it took (and I’m not exaggerating) 3-4 minutes to start up, and it was “ok”. When I ordered the PS3, I also picked up the remote for movies. It works as expected and is a completely acceptable player. There’s really not much else to say. It works well as a Bluray player, and I didn’t really expect any less from the company that created the format.
I’m really liking the PS3 so far. The loading times are atrocious, the system updates are completely insane, and the controller is crap, but the games are really top notch. PS3 exclusives should be proud they’re on a system that lets their games shine. Cross platform titles I’m still going to pick up for the 360, but I’m not going to be concerned about picking up a PS3 game in the future. Quality vs Quantity I suppose. I can play 150 different shooters on the 360, and 5-10 on the PS3, but they’re a real solid 5-10. In the end, I like it. I give it a solid B. It’s not perfect, it’s got some issues, but if my 360 dies tomorrow and I really really need to get my game on, I’m not going to feel left out.