In the early hours at the end of this month, as many find themselves clustered around the front steps of big box electronics retailers and department stores, waiting wearily (and warily) in the dark for a tired and timid-eyed employee to finally unlatch the locks and swing open the doors while proclaiming “Slowly please. No running, no running,” to no one in particular, and without enthusiasm as they press themselves into the opening with singular intent, hoping to score one of a handful of under-priced and under-stocked consumer goods.
As birds begin to wake and the sun crosses over the horizon and brightens and warms the chill morning, the eighth generation of the Console Wars will have begun.
Assuming you’re not one of those sensible types who’s content to play your games on a perfectly reasonable (and increasingly cheaper) seventh generation Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, or, god forbid, a PC, which one should you choose? Will it be worth it to wake up at hell-only-knows o’clock on Black Friday in order to score hardware now that the majority of preorders have long been sold out?
Like its handheld 3DS sibling, the Wii U spent much of its first year questioned and maligned, but last month’s price cut (to $299) and a spate of well received releases has served as something of a course correction. While Nintendo still isn’t moving as many units as they’d prefer, sales of the Wii U have increased by 200 percent.
Spec-wise, the console is hardly a jump from the nearly decade-old releases by Microsoft and Sony, so if graphic fidelity is your thing, the Wii U is not. However, the Wii U does have two advantages over its competitors, both alluded to above. First, it sells for significantly less and second, it has notable first-party exclusives, including The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Pikman 3, and the upcoming Super Mario 3D World. Additionally, unlike the Xbox One or PS4, the Wii U is backwards compatible with the console it succeeded, offering players a large library of existing titles to choose from.
I highlighted the Xbox One and PS4 during the Gamestop Expo column two months ago, and to be honest, not a whole lot has changed since then, aside from the delay of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs to early 2014. Let’s just talk about the bits that’ll be important for day one buyers.
Of the eighth-generation powerhouse consoles, the PS4 will be both the most affordable and the first available, selling for $399 on its Nov. 15 release day. While the PS4 will not feature native backwards compatibility, Sony’s 2012 purchase of streaming service Gaikai hints at support for not only PS3 games, but even PS2, PlayStation, and more down the road. Still, that doesn’t help us any on day one, and at launch the PS4 will offer 22 games in total, with only a handful of those being exclusive to the console.
The Kinect-enabled Xbox One, releasing a week later on Nov. 22 for $499, will fare slightly better in its launch lineup. Twenty-three games will be available launch day, including exclusives Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome, and a reboot of the fighting game Killer Instinct. The highly anticipated Titanfall, while recently announced as exclusive to Microsoft consoles, won’t be available until Spring 2014. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible.
So, will it be worth it to face the chaos and snarling crowds following Thanksgiving just to get your hands on a new console?
No, it won’t be. In fact, purchasing a console at launch is almost never worth it. The hardware is unproven, the library out of the gates is lousy and typically rushed, things don’t work, and everything costs too much.
Then again, scoring a console at launch means that you get to be first, and that’s a hell of an incentive. I call it a wash. How about this: Forget Black Friday and stay up ‘til midnight for the Cyber Monday sales instead. Someone will have ‘em for sale.
CHRIS AINSWORTH is a native Las Vegas and a tech dilettante. Find him on Twitter (@driph) or at driph.com.