Momentum is an important thing in gaming. It’s undoubtedly with Nintendo – they’re not going to be caught by anyone this year – but the battle for second place is where the interesting things are going down, and the buzz seems to be that while one has run out of steam, the other is picking it up.
Microsoft took the 360’s extra year and used it to spring into a superb 2007, culminating in some spectacular Halo sales and a host of other great games. But Halo is Microsoft’s only guaranteed AAA property, and with a possible Halo 4 as nothing more than a rumour at this point, maybe they’ve shot their load early. While they’ll certainly have big exclusives this year, their E3 ploy of only showing 2007 titles is biting them, now that they’re perceived as having nothing to counter Sony’s current media darlings like Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2 (everyone apparently forgetting how rubbish the first one was), and maybe Resistance 2.
2008’s first big multiplatform titles, Burnout Paradise and Devil May Cry 4, are also a far cry from the shoddy ports that plagued the PS3 last year, with differences between the platforms ranging from negligible to heavily in Sony’s favour, depending on who you ask. Either way it’s a big improvement, and unless the 360 gets something to counter the graphical prowess of games like Killzone it’s going to help the perception that the PS3 is dramatically more powerful. Not to mention that they don’t break down with monotonous regularity and don’t charge you to play online. Sony should be shouting those facts from the rooftops.
PS3 is pulling ahead in sales throughout most of Europe (the 360 has a small lead in the UK – Europe’s biggest market – but is irrelevant in many countries), and is now pulling respectable numbers in Japan, something that one could never accuse the 360 of doing. While the 360 should maintain a small sales lead each month in the States, depending on how big it stays it might not be enough to ensure that it’s the global sales leader. The recent Blu-ray announcement will only help PS3 sales, and it’s how much it helps that will be telling.
Of course, it’s not true to say that the 360 has no games this year. After Unreal Tournament III has apparently flopped it wouldn’t surprise me to see Epic bounce back with Gears of War 2; Ninja Gaiden II is probably my most anticipated game of the next few months; Too Human finally has some positive buzz; Alan Wake and Fable 2 remain enigmatic but stubbornly omnipresent on release lists; Rare must be doing something more than an XBLA game about furries (camera support will be proof that there is no god); Banjo Threeie is around somewhere, of course; and Halo Wars, despite belonging to a genre that never really works on consoles, has potential. Still, there’s no totemic exclusive to get excited about like a proper Halo or a Metal Gear.
This will be the deciding year for this generation, at least in as much as it could decide who comes second to Nintendo. With E3 not coming around until July, hopefully Microsoft realises this before it’s too late. Or maybe nothing has changed and it’s just the persistent Sony Defence Force on NeoGAF getting to me. Who knows…