Ultimate Gaming Champion

Published Date
01 - May - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - May - 2007
 
Ultimate Gaming Champion
Long we have awaited this day. Much quality time has been spent with The Three. The moment has arrived for Digit to speak unto its readers, bearing the Final Word on which console deserves that hallowed space upon your TV cabinets. Read very carefully, for we shall write this only once.

We've had the Xbox 360 in our office for so long now that it's become just another fixture. No longer do people trip over themselves to have a go at it, except when new titles come in for review; even so, our fingers itch for more. We've been longing to plaster our fingerprints on a shiny new PS3 and break a window or two with that satanic instrument of death, destruction, and weight loss-the Wiimote. Long hours in front of HDTVs, eight sore fingers-the little finger is usually spared such torture- and (horror of horrors) plenty of exercise later, we bring you the ultimate battle for console supremacy...

The Rules Of Engagement
The winner will need to (these are in no particular order):

1. Prove it's hardware-worthy
The PS2 is going strong even today for the simple reason that it's still possible to create good-looking and complex games for that hardware which won't turn it into a brick. A console's hardware must be future-proof, and provide gaming joy for years to come.
2. Not bankrupt you
If you think your monetary woes end with just buying a console, think again...
3. Be in tune with the Force
This is the most intangible part-the experience. Will it rock your Casbah? Does it have Mojo? Will it bake you cookies when you're depressed?
In the first corner, we have the reigning champion of the market, M-Dollar's favourite child after Vista itself, please welcome...

The Xbox 360
(We reviewed the Xbox 360 back in August 2006, so this will be somewhat short.)
It must be nice to lead the life of the Xbox 360-take the market over just by virtue of existing, and while your closest competitor takes a year to release, spread your word far and wide to everyone who'll spare you twenty seconds of their time. Not that the 360 doesn't deserve to be at the top.

Powerhouse
With a tri-core IBM CPU and an ATI-built GPU at its heart, the Xbox 360 is capable of incredible visual detail and excellent physics. See the In A Nutshell table for more on the 360's innards; you'll see why we still haven't seen a game that the 360 has trouble handling.

In the HD department, the 360 supports up to 1080i-one step lower than the PS3's 1080p-but it has a neat trick up its sleeve, and it's called Ana. Ana is a chip that scales game resolutions up to the maximum that the TV is capable of. Play a 720p game or movie on a TV that's capable of 1080p, and you'll see the Xbox 360 scaling up to that resolution. To most eyes, however, the difference between regular TV and 720p can be summed up as, "This is waaaay better"; the difference between 720p and 1080p is just barely perceptible, and even then, only because you know it's there. Ana's benefits will become clearer some time in the future, when all we see is HD content.

The Adventures Of The Wallet
You can get yourself the Xbox 360 Premium System for Rs 23,000, and this is the one we recommend. It comes with a wireless controller and a Media Center-esque remote, and most importantly, it comes with component cables for your HDTV. Good quality component cables are hard to find, and when you do, they're painfully expensive. If you've got an HDTV, this is a godsend.

Speaking of HDTVs, the 360 is wasted on anything but. On a regular old TV, the most that can be said about the 360's graphics is that they are significantly better than the PS2's. So when you buy your 360, make sure you're building up another Rs 30,000 or so for a decent HDTV. Titles come at nearly Rs 3,000 apiece, so this is going to pinch a bit too.

Going Online
You get a trial membership for Xbox Live when you buy your 360, but Xbox Live has yet to officially launch in India-this should happen later this year. You can still access Live, however-browse content, download game demos and so on, but you're banned instantly when you try to enter the Video section. Most importantly, you can play your games online. With our current broadband situation, though, Live will have a limited Indian audience.

There are plenty of nice things to be said about the Xbox 360, but there's trouble brewing… or is it?

The Sony PlayStation 3
Thanks to plenty of media hype and CEO Ken Kutaragi's obnoxious jingoism, the PS3 seems to have acquired legendary status well before its time-its very presence inspires awe. The design of the console itself oozes style, and yes, that shiny exterior is just begging for fingerprints. Put it next to a sizeable HDTV, and your view of the PS3 is more realistic. It's not a Formidable Forceâ„¢, it's just a big console.

Roaring Engines
The PS3 is powered by the Sony-Toshiba-IBM (STI) Cell Broadband Engine, or the Cell processor as it's popularly known. This processing behemoth sports a single PowerPC core, helped along by a team of eight Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs), one of which has been reserved for redundancy. Paired with NVIDIA's RSX GPU, the system is theoretically capable of nearly two teraflops (floating-point operations per second)-nearly double the overall capability of the Xbox 360. In terms of raw specifications, then, the PS3 leaves the Xbox 360 in the dust-no worrying about game developers running out of power on this one. If anything, the biggest challenge they'll face is making a game that will truly exploit the power of the Cell, complete with ultra-realistic graphics and insanely complex AI.


Coming Soon To A Console Near You
When you fire up a title for the PS3, it undoubtedly looks amazing, but one question niggles-what is this doing that the 360 isn't? Today, that answer is "nothing." Whether the PS3 looks better than the 360 is a subjective matter, but while you sit and expect to be blown away by something that is technologically superior to the 360, all you find is something that is at par, if not marginally worse (no hardware scaling chip, remember?).

Read on for our views a couple of launch titles later in this issue, but first…

Lost In Space
When you first pick up the PS3's new wireless SIXAXIS controller, it feels, well, cheap-almost like a bootleg PS2 controller. The vibration is gone, making the controller lighter, but this may not be as good as it sounds-we were to find this out later. The controller is also motion sensitive, so you can control games by tilting it in the right direction. In the games we tried it out, though, it seemed rather twitchy-its lightness makes it easy to over-tilt, even when you're not in the throes of excitement. We'd have appreciated something that felt a tad more substantial. Overall, this has potential, provided game developers are able to use it properly.

Everything about the controller is the same as the PS2's, but the L2 and R2 buttons have been replaced with analogue triggers, and they're plain awful. They're convex, for one, so your fingers are going to slip off them when you apply too much force-not too palatable when it's what's keeping your character alive or your engine revving. They're also placed awkwardly, and holding them down is decidedly uncomfortable-this was quite obviously an afterthought.

Going Online
You'll be able to access the PlayStation Network (PSN) free as soon as you buy your console, so you'll have access to all the free content-game demos, HD videos et al-and will be able to play multiplayer games, but you won't have access to paid content till later this year, once some issues with the payment gateway have been ironed out. Later this year, we'll see PlayStation Home, which seems to be a Second Life of sorts. You'll be able to create your own avatar, build your virtual home, buy virtual furniture, play virtual games, die a virtual death (we're not so sure about this bit), and so on.

In a Nutshell
  Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 Nintendo Wii
 Processor IBM PowerPC-based custom-built processor with 3 symmetrical cores, running at 3.2 GHz Sony-Toshiba-IBM Cell Processor with 8 cores, running at 3.2 GHz IBM PowerPC-based "Broadway" CPU
 GPU Custom-built ATI Graphics with Unified Shader Architecture NVIDIA RSX GPU ATI "Hollywood" GPU
 Output Resolution Up to 1080i, lower resolutions scaled up  Up to 1080p, no scaling  Up to 480p
 Storage 20 GB HDD (Premium System only) Xbox 360 Memory Unit60 GB HDD, Memory Stick (Standard and Duo) / Stick Pro, SD, CompactFlash    512MB Flash Memory ,GameCube Memnory Card, SD
 Connectors 3 USB 2.0 ports 4 front and 2 rear USB 2.0 ports 2 USB 2.0 ports
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Ethernet  Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.0 Wi-Fi, Ethernet (via Ethernet to USB adapter)
 Bundle "Core System: Console, one wired controller, composite AV cablePremium System: Console, one wireless controller, media remote, HDMI cables, 20 GB HDD"   Console, SIXAXIS Wireless Controller Console, Wii remote, Nunchuck, sensor bar for remote
 Price  "Core System: Rs 19,000; Premium System: Rs 23,000" Rs 39,990  Rs 19,000(grey market);
Rs 15,000(expected retail price)

The Gamer's Burden
As with the 360, by playing with the PS3 on a standard-definition TV, you're preventing it from fulfilling its destiny. If you have no qualms about shelling out the Rs 39,990 for the 60 GB unit, we're assuming you don't have any hang-ups about plunging for an HDTV as well. Unfortunately, you'll have to go hunting for your own HDMI cables-acceptable ones should come for around Rs 3,000; better ones, even more.

Titles will release at Rs 2,499 each, and there's a slim chance that this number will fall-Sony has already started replicating PS2 DVDs in India, bringing some prices down to as low as Rs 999, and we're hoping this happens for the PS3 as well.

And from the darkness, another emerges…

The Line-up
Ridge Racer 7
Every Sony platform has had at least one Ridge Racer (RR) title to enjoy, and RR7 is the latest in the line. The franchise has long been one of our favourites-how could you not like a game where most of your responsibility entails drifting your car around corners and winning races? This game offers you raw, unadulterated fun and beautifully unrealistic gameplay-you could be in a car that's moving forwards, but at a 135-degree angle to the road's direction!

Naturally, RR7 has gone HD, and can't help looking good on the PS3. It's also become a tad more difficult. In the previous versions, especially those on the PSP, racking up the drift points for more boost was quite easy; you'll have to drift really well for these points now, and if you botch up, your opponents will leave you far behind. The only grouse about this game is that all that drifting can get a little monotonous.

Whether you've played an RR title before or not, this one is highly recommended-no nonsense, all fun.

Rating: 8/10

Lair
Lair isn't part of the launch line-up-it's due for release in the end of July-but it's the first game we'll see that uses SIXAXIS extensively and almost exclusively, and deserves a mention. There'll be battling dragons and much fire-breathing in a world "torn by conflict and strife."

A total of nine games will launch with the PS3, and Milestone Interactive (the ones who are bringing the console and its games to India) has many more lined up for the months that follow.

You use your SIXAXIS controller to control the flight of your dragon as you hunt the skies for enemy dragons, engaging them in fireball-filled dogfights or close-range kick-and-bite attacks. The first mission is training-getting you used to controlling your dragon and learning some basic moves, and even when you consider the fact that we saw some very raw review code, we can see that this is asking for trouble. You have no option but to use the controller's motion sensitivity, so if you're uncomfortable with it like we were, tough. To attack enemy dragons close-range, you need to go near them, jiggle the controller (looking like an over-excited idiot), jiggle some more and finally hit a button combo to kill the enemy dragon rider. We're hoping for a cleaner, tighter control system when the game finally releases. The game has a Lord Of The Rings-ish feel-it's set in ancient times, and the little we saw of the environments suggests the same. Shooting never-ending fireballs at enemy dragons has its own promise of fun. 'Twould be a pity were it to be let down by its controls.

The Nintendo Wii

Look at this thing. That small, clean white body belies its cruel black heart. After all, what manner of insolent machine seeks to get people off the couch and exercise? And then there's that deadly projectile, the Wiimote-the litres of blood that it's drawn from so many innocents… appalling. We had our go with this satanic device thanks to Yogesh Nagdev, who owns a popular gaming café called Plugin in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. You can, too, if you're ever in the vicinity-it's one of few places (and the only one we know) that will let you game on a Wii.

The Mini-console
The Wii's innards-practically as diminutive as its exterior-are almost embarrassing: where the 360 and PS3 talk teraflops, the Wii's IBM "Broadway" processor and ATI's "Hollywood" R520 GPU place it a wii bit ahead (couldn't resist that one) of the older PS2 and Xbox in terms of raw performance. It's not even truly HD-its  480p resolution will look excellent on a good standard-definition CRT TV, but is quite likely to die on a true HDTV-especially when you look at how beautiful games look with the 360 and PS3. But then, Nintendo isn't banking on wiining (couldn't resist that either) on looks…

All That Hubbub
All Wii-talk is pointless without mentioning the Wiimote-the TV-remote-shaped controller for the Wii (the official name is the Wii remote, but we prefer the corruption). It connects to the Wii via Bluetooth, and detects motion using accelerometers and an infrared sensor bar that you're supposed to place above or below your TV. The controller itself is quite simple-one trigger-like button (B) at the bottom, and a classic NES-like button set on the top. It also features vibration and a little speaker that attempts to give you an added sense of immersion-imaging hitting a baseball and hearing the crack of the shot come from between your hands, and you've got the premise. It sounds a bit tinny, but gets the job done.

Most importantly, the Wiimote comes with a fairly sturdy strap to prevent you from chucking it across the room in excitement-we didn't have any such episodes, but there are people all over the world with bruises and broken furniture that will testify to the need for this strap.

Also part of the package is the Nunchuck, which plugs into the Wiimote, and is quite obviously built for first-person shooters. You use the analogue stick to move your character around, while you use the Wiimote to aim and shoot. The Nunchuck is motion-sensitive too, and also serves as your second punching fist in Wii Boxing.

During the first five minutes, we realised that you don't really need to stand up or jump around to play on the Wii-flicking your wrist from the comfort of your couch works quite fine. A few minutes later, you wonder whether standing up might actually help, and this is where the trouble begins…

We highly recommend a basic warm-up before hitting the Wii courts / greens / boxing rings, lest you suffer the pain we did.

Are Those…People?
With the hardware that Nintendo had at its disposal, it's surprising that they chose simple, skittle-like models for Wii sports-and surprisingly enough, it's easier to connect with your ridiculously unrealistic in-game avatar (or Mii) than it is when playing any other character! The lack of modelling detail has almost no effect on your game experience; in fact, it adds to the light-heartedness of it all, and will no doubt aid the Wii's Primary Main Objectiveâ„¢-garnering the interest of non-gamers.

Wii Sports features Tennis, Bowling, Baseball, Golf, and Boxing (in order of how much fun they are), and you're explained how to work the controls the first time you play each game.

One Wii Step At A Time
You don't have to go through it, but Wii Sports gives you a Wii Fitness Test, built to "test your skill and stamina." It takes you through a series of mini-games-based on Wii Sports' main games, that is-that will put you through your paces. You'll be asked to return as many balls as possible in Tennis, score some mildly challenging putts in Golf, get as many strikes as you can in Bowling, and so on. At the end, your scores are tallied and your Wii Fitness Age is calculated. The idea is to be as young as possible (at the very least, get your own chronological age), and you should take this test once a week to see how much progress you've made. This writer started out at a shameful 54, but after four hours of Wii-ing, came down to a less embarrassing 35. Clearly more Wii time is warranted.

On The Fields
Tennis is easily the most entertaining game of the lot-while the rest are simple to pick up and play, it's here that you'll find yourself wanting to improve continuously. The game is all about timing and power, and it's by balancing the two that you control the direction and speed of your shot-miss your timing, and you'll be hitting the ball right out of the court.

Controlling your shot with the Wiimote is much like you would do in real life, and feels as natural as being there on the grass.

With some more practice, you can also get some spins in, though all we were able to accomplish were little more than flukes. You can also tell quite easily that this is going to be an excellent game if more people join in.

After Tennis, it's Bowling that's quite captivating-you can either use the simple hold-down-B-and-twitch method to get your strikes, or practise more elaborate moves like spinning the ball to nail difficult shots. Here, too, the Wiimote fits in as naturally as your own arm, and the moves are similar to the ones you would use in reality. We don't wonder why this is the most popular game in Wii Sports worldwide.

Golf and Boxing are the game's disappointments. Golf has some pretty challenging holes, but the Wiimote detection doesn't work as seamlessly as the rest of the games, and isn't as immersive. Boxing requires you to hook up the Nunchuck for your other hand, and while the idea of boxing with the Wiimote in one hand and the Nunchuck in the other sounds excellent, the execution is quite badly flawed. For one, we couldn't really throw punches the way we wanted to, and there were even instants where the wrong fist would shoot out.

When you get bored of the games, there's always the Training Room, which gives you three levels of challenges for each game. These challenges are grossly underplayed in all the hype, but can be the best part about Wii Sports-imagine facing off with a friend to see how many strikes you can get in a row, and you'll see the potential in this.

In the end, Wii Sports makes for ideal party or family fun-especially Bowling-even though Golf and Boxing aren't what they could be.
Budget-friendly The Wii is the cheapest console available today-we don't have the price for India, but it should be a bit more than the $250 (Rs 11,250) that it retails for in the US. On the grey market, you can get one for as much as Rs 20,000-that's just Rs 3,000 less than a legal Xbox 360 Premium! We'd recommend conning a visiting relative into bringing you one, or waiting for the Indian launch. Titles cost around $50 (Rs 2,250), which will quite likely become Rs 2,500 here-perhaps even Rs 3,000.

However, you don't need an HDTV to enjoy the Wii-a standard TV should do just fine. If you do have an HDTV, you'll have to shell out for the component cables as well.

Endgame
What do you look for in games? Would you rather see cutting-edge technology in action or enjoy a new concept? Do you want to be blown away by visuals and sound, or do you just want to have fun? Everyone has their own philosophy on the ideal gaming experience, and most are quite hard-headed in that respect. But we dodge the subject: which console wins?

We'd compare the Xbox 360 and the PS3 on an equal footing for now-the games that have released thus far bring nothing to the table that propel the PS3 into its own class. Unless we see a title that exploits the PS3 in new and unimaginable ways, it can be compared to the 360 with no bias, and the latter takes the podium in that case. The 360's head start has given developers time to create games that showcase the 360's capabilities marvellously, and the number of titles that are releasing for it is just obscene. Unless Sony can catch up to those numbers, the PS3 will always lag behind.

We don't dispute the PS3's technological superiority, but games that can truly exploit the Cell will take some time, and should make the PS3 the flavour of the season a year or two down the line-just not now.

And then there's the Wii. Just as we're bored with the same old keyboard-and-mouse for gaming on the PC, we're bored with the two-analogue-stick-four-button console controller. Where the Xbox 360 and PS3 redefine games, the Wii redefines gaming itself. Scoff at the ridiculous idea of getting up and sweating it out all you want, but there's no disputing how much fun it is. We're just hoping that third-party developers put their minds to the task and build better control dynamics.

Today's winner is the Wii. It's terribly addictive, and this is one addiction that will actually help you lose a bit of flab. It breaks away from the old to bring you something so radical and fun it'll leave you gasping for more. If, however, you're not like us and prefer beautiful and more complex games without having to get off your hindquarters, the Xbox 360 is for you. It's cheaper than the PS3, has more titles to choose from, enjoys a healthy, throbbing community online, and even makes some games look better. There's also an embarrassment of accessories, and there's rumour that one of these will bring SIXAXIS-like capabilities to the 360 as well.

The PS3 loses today, but its time will come. There's a lot of technology to be exploited there, and someone will do so soon enough. Until then, keep your Wii strap firmly fastened and stand clear of furniture and wayward family members.


Team DigitTeam Digit

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