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The Battle for Beige

Game On


Published April 25, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

Coke or Pepsi?

The cola wars used to provide the best example we had of a functioning free market. Whether you bled red for Coca-Cola or were true red, white and blue for Pepsi, most people had a preference, yet no one could really argue they were all that different. It was a perfect competition.

These days, the battle of taste rages between Sony and Microsoft, between the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.

Like their carbonated counterparts, these twin titans of home gaming have more things in common than they have differences. Sure, the PS3 is sleek and black next to the 360's cool, modern, off-white casing. But once you load the games, the difference becomes a matter of details that most gamers will hardly ever notice.

If you want to know how similar the machines really are, just spend a couple of days comparing games available for both platforms.

"Armored Core 4" shows the futility of such comparisons. You may find the graphics in the PS3 version a bit more detailed and the screen display a little wider. But once the giant, armored robots rumble into battle, the fun stays the same regardless of the platform. Even the PS3 and 360 controllers follow the same model so closely that switching between the two consoles won't cause a single hitch when it comes to releasing a flurry of homing missiles at the enemy.

Sega's "Virtua Tennis 3" follows the same logic - two different machines, same game. Whacking a little green ball back and forth across a high-definition net remains eternally amusing, despite any allegiance you may have to a particular game company. If 360 gamers need a reason to gloat, they can note that the PS3 version curiously lacks online play. While playing a computer opponent works well for practice, nothing beats smashing a serve past an opponent who's in another state.

Back on the PS3 side of the argument, Sony gamers finally get access to a 360 favorite - "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion." This "Dungeons & Dragons"-inspired role-playing game promises to suck up the hours in your real life and trade them for time spent in an enormous, detailed fantasy environment. In the translation to the PS3, the graphics picked up a little extra shine, and the game got a bit of new content. Otherwise, the new version remains almost a photocopy of the original.

Of course, cross-platform titles tend to work to the lowest common denominator of both systems. These games never show off the best that either system can offer. And every gamer knows that the exclusives, more than cross-platform titles, really define the machine. Until "Grand Theft Auto" was on Xbox, PlayStation was the only machine for many gamers. And as long as Microsoft owns "Halo," you can count on resounding sales of its gaming hardware based on that title alone.

Given all this, you can probably understand the recent obsession with Nintendo's Wii. In the world of cola, the Wii remains as unique as diet orange cream soda.

Which One to Choose? PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360? In the end, the choice between these two game machines comes down to preference. While the 360 currently has a bigger game library and better online play, the PS3's backward compatibility with older PlayStation titles and potential as a market leader keep the systems competitively balanced. In the end, the choice may come down to game exclusives, such as "Halo" on the 360. Or you may want to buy into the system that your friends already own. After all, you will want to borrow games.