Console prizes

arts@sfbg.com

GAMER The days of game consoles being all about pretty graphics are over. The leap in visual fidelity when we went from PlayStation 2 to PlayStation 3 isn’t going to happen this time, which is one reason it’s been seven years since the current consoles have been refreshed. All that changes this year, with the impending release of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

Microsoft had a false start last month, with the reveal of Xbox One occurring ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3. Showing off the sleek new console, the One was positioned as a unifying “everything” box, addressing the many Xbox users who regard the system as a gateway to all things movies, TV, and Netflix. However, by ignoring games and being cagey on important issues of DRM (a type of copy protection that has caused much past furor) and positioning the console as a high-speed always-online device, Microsoft willfully alienated a chunk of its audience.

The Xbox conference in Los Angeles last week saw the company hoping to gain ground by backing off its usual focus on sports, Kinect, and kids games and keeping true to “core game” experiences. In this regard, Microsoft was smart to tempt the Metal Gear Solid franchise to launch simultaneously on Xbox for the first time, and likewise big-time Sony-only developer Insomniac Games announced the One-exclusive Sunset Overdrive. Other Xbox-only experiences included Titanfall from the newly formed Respawn Games, which has the chops to be as big as the team’s last huge success — Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. And of course, more Halo is ever imminent.

Initially, Sony’s E3 conference appeared less cohesive, and quite a bit sloppier, than the Xbox conference as it proclaimed a new life for its struggling Vita handheld, but failed to follow its passionate declaration for the console with big game announcements. The company chose instead to revisit previously announced PS4 games, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son.

But Sony’s presentation deficiencies were quickly forgotten as the show drew to a close. Directly addressing complaints about Microsoft’s next-gen policies, Sony loosed a salvo of not so subtle digs against Xbox One, announcing the PS4 to be DRM-free and offline-friendly — not to mention the PS4 at $399 would cost $100 less than the One. Such brazen acts of competition are rare between these two, but Sony apparently found the cracks in Microsoft’s strategy too tempting to ignore.

Since the 2011 PlayStation network hack that left many users’ personal data at risk, Sony has performed the humble, pro-consumer act well and, even if it doesn’t always offer a superior console experience, it knows its audience. For once, it didn’t matter who had the better games, the bigger hard drive or the best specs. This E3 was all about attitude.

 

THE BEST FOR ‘LAST’

As we wave goodbye to the consoles that have kept us warm for the past seven years, gamers have been looking for a game to dub “the last great game of the generation.” Releasing amid all the hubbub of E3, The Last of Us (Naughty Dog/Sony; PS3) is a fitting final hurrah, capping the reign of the PS3 with not so much a bang but with an assurance and a confidence that are unfamiliar to the medium of video games.

Set a number of years after a worldwide infection has destabilized the country, The Last of Us follows Joel, a no-nonsense smuggler, as he attempts to transport a 14-year-old girl named Ellie out of Boston. From the developers behind the Uncharted series, one might expect big action set-pieces and witty banter, but The Last of Us is more true to the conceits of survival horror. At heart, this is a stealth adventure, until the odds invariably and adamantly force your hand into acts of ferocious brutality. There are bad people, bad monsters, and a whole lot of riveting moments — which I won’t spoil — but it’s not so much the story as how it is told. Despite its gloom, The Last of Us has sweetness and a sense of hope that shapes the characters and makes their journey all the more impactful.

In other words, The Last of Us is the game to beat in 2013.