The time has finally arrived, the pre-Christmas gaming release rush with two more new systems hitting the market, namely the Nintendo Gamecube and the Microsoft X-Box. But just how do these systems and their next gen siblings, the Playstation 2 and the now defunct Sega Dreamcast rate against each other and more importantly against the gamers who will buy them. Being fortunate enough to have a roommate who loves games as much as myself we own all of the above systems plus a few others and have run them through a rigorous review and torture test. First though a brief introduction to the minds and guts of each system. The Dreamcast: Sega’s last chance at a home platform system boasts 128-bit 3D processing for enhanced graphic effects and CD quality sound. Capable of 3 million polygons per second at its release it was the most powerful game console in production and even though Sega has ceased its life span it still maintains the ability to compete with its newer brethren. Only the poor reputation of Sega from previous duds and being in close proximity to the release of the PS2 really killed this system. The Playstation 2: Also a 128-bit system this workhorse is equipped with a 300-Mhz processor to bring you crystal clear graphics and sound. Also included in the package is DVD decoding software so you can watch your favorite movies without having to spring for more equipment even though it may look more impressive to guests. This systems major bomb for the competition though was Sony making it backwards compatible so that all the original games, controllers, and memory cards from the original Playstation could be used here as well, saving players money for extra controllers and other items they would normally buy. The Gamecube: The newest Nintendo offering to the battle for the buck. Faster in raw power then the previous two systems its clocks out at around 485-Mhz and absolutely drips in bandwidth for its main bus and memory, which are both over a gigabyte and 2 gigabytes respectively. Teamed with IBM to use their processor technology also helps the cube in competing against its release date rival the X-box who is utilizing its close ties with famed chip maker Intel to help power its machine. Among other features the cube has are the 4 controller ports like the Dreamcast and being the most affordable in price. The X-Box: The trampling demon of the PC world has descended upon hapless platform gamers with a storm by bring out the X-Box. Microsoft is once again moving in directions that many feel it doesn’t belong, but when they’re bringing the amount of power in a gaming system as they are with the X-Box I’m willing to give them a chance. The X-Box has power like an ocean has water. The core is a 733-Mhz Intel processor backed with Nvidia graphics technology and an internal 50-gigabyte hard drive. This makes it easily the most powerful and fast machine on the market, the internal hard drive means you don’t have to buy a memory card for a LONG time and also gives you the ability to mix and store sound tracks to play with your games without a stereo. Also like the PS2 it is equipped with DVD support, though you have to buy a special remote. However Microsoft faces the very stunting problem of little software and as we all know, the games often make the system. So from here lets see how these beasts rate against each other starting with the first thing you need to play, a controller. The Dreamcast controller is large and square feeling. To a first time user it can be a little daunting however after a few minutes and not being afraid to use the digital pad rather then the analog stick at times made this controller easy to adapt to. Its not dietary thin of chubby fat either which gives a nice weight balance to it. The Sony motto for PS2 must have been, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” The PS2 controller is nearly identical to the PS1 model and brings with it the familiarity and comfort the first had. Just like a well fitting glove this controller is a welcome return design. Nintendo also had a motto in the Gamecube design, “If it worked for someone else, lets steal it.” The Gamecube’s controller is nearly an exact copy of the Playstation one except for a slight rearranging of sticks and making it narrower where it doesn’t need bulk so that it seems to have growths. I felt that it was too narrow and should have been allowed to keep some meat on it. People with smaller hands and children will love this however because it will be easier for them to hold. You can tell its Microsoft’s first time at bat in the consol market because their controller feels like a club. It’s bulky and uncomfortable to start with and takes some time to get used to. If anything it always lets you know its there. It shares similarities with the Dreamcast design and players of the Sega system will have an easier time adapting, but this controller’s girth is definitely a new and not so revolutionary idea. The one great thing however that it comes with is an auto break point in the cable so no one can trip over your cord trying to get past and drop your investment to the floor. Also of note is the high grip rubber on the analog sticks and dimpled heads making it much easier to maintain control with a light touch and a far lower rate of thumbs slipping off. Overall I felt that the PS2 tried and true design won this category though if the X-box hadn’t had so much bulk to its controller it could have easily taken. The next step is the need peripherals, although I only bought one that I needed for someone who’s just gaming, a memory card. Although all systems use it to store game information, some offered a little more. The Dreamcast has a special card with a built in LCD screen that can be used to play mini-games and act as a private screen for head to head sports action where you need to choose plays and tactics in secret. It is however large adding significant weight to the controller that made it tipsy. The Dreamcast also has several alternate controllers and other gimmicks to equip to its system. The one I got the most chuckles from was the fishing controller, just for fishing games. Sony stuck to their motto and kept memory cards the same as on PS1, just added more space. Nothing special but then nothing lost either. It also happens to be the least costly of the bunch. Also of note is that the card plugs directly into the machine instead of the controller keeping the weight and balance of your hands down for those marathon gaming days. Not also of other items available at the moment, though Sony has a few add-ons planned, the most promising is an external hard drive. The Gamecube card was much like Sony’s, practical and tiny. It also follows suit by plugging directly into the system. However its amount of storage space left much to be desired as saving a season of All-Star Baseball takes up 49 of the 59 available blocks. Other games take up much less space, an average of 4 blocks. But this much like the problem with Diablo on Playstation inspires me to need to have a second card just for one game, which is costly to those without unlimited cash. Nintendo has its own fair share of gimmicks available at release though they pale in comparison to the Dreamcast numbers. Give them time and I’m sure they pull ahead though. Microsoft broke fresh and welcome ground in this category however by having a 50gig hard drive built into the system, completely removing the need to have a memory card for anything besides taking saves to a friends place or after you use all your hard drive space. Although the external cards run at about $50 a pop you shouldn’t need one for a long time and with the X-box you’ll never have to worry about losing it in your couch. There were rumored problems before the systems release about getting the hard drive fully configured to the system, but it seems that the folks in Microsoft’s tech labs got it all worked out. Microsoft has kept a no-nonsense feel going with no true gimmicks for its system other then a steering wheel style controller and a joystick. Other then this however there’s little to say. Winner in this area was the X-box by a mile and then some for memory card quality. Useful built in components are just too nice and cost effective. For sheer numbers the Dreamcast is laughing all the way to the bankruptcy bank. Next up is the whole reason we blow all this money on platforms to begin with, the games. Software as I said before is what makes a system, not the other way around. It’s often the single deciding factor in what people buy unless they’re technophiles who just buy everything. Show me the game play! Dreamcast came out of the box with promise. Having the technology to bring their old characters to life and some good games in the starting line up this system should have sold more games, but alas it didn’t. Amongst the titles I’ve played for this include Soul Caliber, Skies of Arcadia, and Spiderman. Soul Caliber is this systems fighting game and I’m not sure another system could do it as well. Having bright colors that are easy on the eyes while being fun to watch even if you aren’t playing make this true eye candy along with the great game play that made this an arcade hit. Skies of Arcadia is quite possibly the best RPG I have ever played and if this system were still in the mix fully would be the best competition against the Final Fantasy series. Once again featuring bright and attractive graphics, this treat is only dwarfed by an incredible world that the story takes place in. It is also the first RPG to have really good airship combat adding another dimension to a lagging genre. Spiderman is an action/adventure style game based on the old cartoon series. With great and challenging game play it made for a true challenge and I have yet to beat it despite playing it for over a month on and off. It also features the voice of Stan Lee for you Marvel Comics fans. Playstation 2 brings with it an avalanche of all its predecessors’ old titles along with its own new taste sensations. One of the great new titles however is Devil May Cry. All I can say is tough, tough, tough. I’m still trying to get through this and we’ve had it since the release date. Showing great graphics with stunning backgrounds and in depth sound this game has it all for the action fan. One of the first to bring the PS2’s power into great use. Another HUGE title that was just released is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Gamers have been waiting over a year for this to hit store shelves everywhere and its not going to disappoint. Having all the stealth action of the first this game could break platform sales records in many places. As well the PS2 has some of the monster series in its arsenal including the before mentioned Final Fantasy RPG series and almost exclusive rights to all Squaresoft releases. Sony knows where its bed is made and is doing a great job of keeping it that way. Now we have the Gamecube. I’m so far really disappointed in this systems game quality. Having played Waverace: Bluestorm, Luigi’s Mansion and Rogue Squadron II. All the games so far have been remarkably easy and didn’t do much to keep me interested with challenge levels. Waverace despite Nintendo’s promotion of it being all new is boringly similar to the first and offers very little in new experiences other then the new and much improved graphics, it takes more then eye candy to keep me happy however. Rogue Squadron II was also really simplistic, and while this may be a bonus to some I like my flight combat games to be a little complex and dynamic. One of the things that really bugged me about this was the ability to belly bounce my X-wing off the surface of the death star without blowing up. Not really realistic as far as running into a really solid object goes, I think the Death Star should count as solid. Also on the normal difficulty setting the computer AI is mostly asleep and doesn’t do a whole lot to keep you from ordering a pizza, having a drink, or going to the bathroom while your shooting them down. “Pause? Who needs pause? I’ll just fly in a straight line and they’ll never find me.” As for Luigi’s Mansion, well, I can understand why Mario wasn’t in this game, he was probably embarrassed. This game just reeks of Ghostbusters rehashed into a cartoon world and offering little in the originality and greatness that previous Mario bro games have brought to us before. It really felt like it was just made to make money, not make a great game. A sad yet constant trend that Nintendo started doing with the N64 and will probably be their undoing if they keep to this path. Luigi running around with an overgrown vacuum and flashlight was just tacky, adding to the Ghostbusters feel but doing nothing for the game itself. I really hope some of the other games offer more challenge and quality then this, otherwise this will just be another expensive kids toy from a has been company. Also they opened with a huge number of sports titles, just like Microsoft, which I don’t care for. Microsoft has a big climb ahead of it at the moment as they have a very limited selection of games and most of them are sports titles. However we managed to avoid all those and get three games that we’re somewhat interesting. The first of which is AirForce Delta Storm. A typical air combat sim for the most part with one unique feature that I personally loved. Being able to buy and collect your own fighter planes to use for each mission. Different planes have different abilities and combined with the beautiful rendering on the sky, sea, and land combat zones made for a simple yet enveloping game. There’s nothing quite like taking an A-10 Thunderbolt down to 50 feet above sea level and cutting a battle ship in half with your chain-gun. The next title we have is Dark Summit, a snowboarding game. I personally hate snowboarding and skateboarding games these days because they’ve been done to death, but this one was at least interesting to watch, as it becomes a survival game too. The military has closed your slopes and you want to know why. To keep you out they’re laced the place with toxic waste pools, land mines, and other devastating traps that you have to grind and cut your way around to find out what they’re covering up all while performing stunts to gain points and get more stuff. Great scenery especially made this game fun to watch. The third title and certainly the most interesting is Halo, the much advertised first person shooter. All I can say is that this game did not disappoint. Once you get used to the controls this games run like silk and is far more interesting in environment and play then any other FPS game I’ve played since Half Life for the PC. Graphically this game beats the pulp out of just about every game I’ve ever played and puts its FPS platform cousins to shame. Unique because it has a limited selection of weapons, 8 different firearms and 2 types of grenade, it goes in the opposite direction of many other FPS games that keep adding more and more weapons with bigger and bigger explosions. The biggest fall back of this game I could find was that it was absolutely dripping in references to the Aliens movie series from drop ship and rifle design to what the marines say under fire, somewhat disappointing considering Microsoft’s budget but nostalgic enough to not be totally irritating. This category was a toss up between PS2 and the X-Box. For sheer numbers it leans to PS2, for over all quality I’ll give the nod to X-box. If Dreamcast has stayed alive it may have been a different story. The fourth area of concern to a prospective buyer of course is the price tag. “Can I afford it?” is often something asked by gamers of themselves. I’ll note though that prices listed below are the retail prices in Canadian dollars from the area I live. They may be lightly different in your area. Dreamcast: $299.00 and worth every cent. Shocking considering that the last great system Sega made was the Sega Master System back to compete with the original Nintendo. Now because the system has been discontinued stores sold them off cheap and we got ours for $70 brand new. Have fun trying to find one now though. Playstation 2: $469.95 Expensive to be sure but worth it for the hardcore gamers out there and owners of the original Playstation. Gamecube: $249.00 The cheapest of the next-gen systems and with it you basically get what you pay for. After we got past the gamers torture test we decided this thing should be at least $50 lower in price. However for the cash conscious this is the system to get. X-Box: $499.00 As with all Microsoft products, this one asks you to give up your next born to acquire it. So if you need to save some bucks, this is not the system for you. For the hardcore players however, this could be the box to beat 6 months down the road when they’ve got more software out. Winner in the cost factor is as plain as numbers on their price tags, Nintendo’s Gamecube. So far the point spread looks like this: Playstation 2 – 2 points for controllers and game selection X-Box – 2 points for raw horsepower and game quality Dreamcast – 1 point for number of peripherals Gamecube – 1 point for price Now if game systems were solely based on their stats and numbers then I’d be able to get a masters degree in English for reciting my ABC’s. Its not going to happen anytime soon and neither is a system only having nice stats going to make it a great system. So we bring in the gamers torture test. From this we will abuse, neglect and generally treat our systems like garbage and see which one pulls through. * The Crusher: Who here has a messy games room, living room, or bedroom where their systems get set up. In this test we subject controllers, systems, and disks to the deadly step test. Dreamcast – After stepping on top of the system itself we got a small crack in the top load cover, otherwise no damage. The controller didn’t fare as well in this as we managed to impact some of the buttons into the shell making it very difficult to use. After taking it apart though and popping them back out it was good as new. The disks we couldn’t even tell we were stepping on due to the wonderful thinness and flexibility. Playstation 2 – System in horizontal setup. The case is now fractured and the CD tray doesn’t quite slide out as smoothly, however the system still plays fine so we can’t complain. System in vertical setup. As long as this thing was standing straight up all we could do is knock it over, its too narrow and high to ever worry about stepping on. The controllers maintained their strength from the PS1 and proved to be indestructible; we couldn’t do anything to this by stepping on it. Like the Dreamcast stepping on the DVD and PS1 game disks did nothing proving that disks are superior to cartridges. Gamecube – Gods this thing is delicate. After stepping on it we cracked the top load cover in three places including a hinge and damaged the inner workings because the mini disks constantly skipped afterwards. The controllers thankfully carried most of their strength from the original design by Sony with only an analog stick snapping off. After applying some crazy glue it worked fine once again. The disks small size makes them even less noticeable then the larger ones of this systems cousins, no damage. X-Box – Invulnerable block of plastic comes to mind with this. Even after standing on it with a grown, pudgy, male gamers weight it didn’t even notice and kept running smooth. The same is to be said with the controllers and disks, though an unfortunate accident with the disk test occurred. Our official Godzilla stomper guy caught it at the wrong angle and pulled a banana peel slide onto his ass. The only damage sustained with the X-Box was a bruised ego and sore butt. Well done Mr. Gates. The Free fall: Most people have had the unfortunate event where a cord is tripped over or your little drooling cousin Jimmy-Bo-Bob decides to use it for a pull toy. In this test we go about dropping the systems from an average shelve height of 4 feet. Dreamcast – Skipped out from impact and turned off. After replacing on the shelf and listening to the CD reading eye align itself again we were back in business with only a slight scuff on the corner. Playstation 2 – Vertical setup yanked and tumbled like a gymnast on a trampoline. Also skipped out and then froze completely but after restoring to its place on our shelve it was back in working order. Horizontal setup was a little different. It literally belly flopped onto our floor and the only thing that happened was some minor skipping, as soon as the read eye caught itself we were back in business like nothing happened without even having to get up. Gamecube – This little beast did surprisingly well in this test. The cube crashed with a thud and the top load door popped open, but it kept playing anyways despite our controller having come un-plugged. X-Box – Being the largest and heaviest system of the group this one made a crash that had our landlord coming to see what the hell we were doing to his house. The problem was however that after the crash we experienced some minor bugs with the hard drive such as not being able to access saved games and losing the music tracks we recorded into it. The problems seemed to fix themselves somehow though as we were able to use the saves again a few hours later when we tried, probably an intermittent glitch. Also to note, the controller’s cable break point did its job and came unplugged. All these systems did well for the impact test, a tribute to their designers everywhere. Its about time. Though in this case we gave the nod to the PS2 because in horizontal mode it took a licking and kept on ticking. The Red Baron Lives: Ever gotten pissed at a game? Ever gotten pissed at an opponent? Ever decided that its your controllers fault and gave it a one way ticket to a wall or used it as a bludgeoning weapon? Well we have and in this test we went deep and started giving our controllers a crash course in aviation. Dreamcast – Its saucer like shape must have helped its flight because it was one of the only two to hit the wall. It impacted, left a small dent and dropped while still holding onto its memory card. After plugging it back in we found no problems with it and went back to play. The only flaw is that it yanked the system itself fairly hard giving the reason for the previous test. Playstation 2 – Like its predecessor, flight is not in its design. As soon as the controller reached to end of its cord it tugged the system a bit and dropped like a stone. No damage and barely an effect on the PS2 itself. Gamecube – Like the PS2 this controller won’t be making it into any super bowl games anytime soon. No weight and no aerodynamic design meant for a short flight despite popping itself out of the controller port. At this point however we were starting to feel that the analog sticks were getting a bit loose feeling, much like the N64 sticks did after too much use. X-Box – At this point I’d like to ask people to consider this thing a lethal weapon. Not only did if fly into the wall disconnecting from the break point as its designed to, but it put a nice size hole in our wall and decided to make itself a home there. In short, do not hit someone with this. Also one of the analog sticks snapped when it imbedded itself in the wall. Easily fixed with crazy glue once again, but a nuisance. Sony once again proves it’s near invincible to angry gamers. The Coaster: We have to put our drink somewhere right? The table is covered in pizza boxes, car magazines, and other assorted junk, but we have a nice flat surface over here that isn’t doing anything, so what if it happens to be our expensive game system. I won’t spill… really. Dreamcast – its flat so that works out so far. Nothing slid around on it, which was nice, but when we “accidentally” spilled the true problems began. Top loaders are bad for being leaky, mind you they aren’t designed to go sailing. Coke ran across the curved top and into the edges of the CD area and then ran into the guts of the machine. We don’t know what kind of damage this will cause, if any, but it made the clean up difficult. Also if you ever want to open the CD door for any reason you have to move your drink. All in all, this machine isn’t very good as a coaster. Playstation 2 – Vertical setup, there isn’t enough room to stick a coke can on this thing so it wasn’t even worth the effort. Horizontal setup, nice and flat and because it’s a front loading machine no pesky loading doors either. When we spilled on this there weren’t any openings for stuff to leak into so it was a simple clean up with no problems. Gamecube – This thing is so tiny it made an idea coaster as far as size went, but it suffered all the same problems that the Dreamcast did being a top loading system that leaked from spills. Very messy but not shocking. X-Box – The contoured surface of this made clean up even easier as out spilled coke ran into certain areas and away from any openings and ports. Just as the PS2, you can’t beat front tray loading systems when it comes to spillage and other food accidents. PS2 and X-box got the tie for this for exactly the same reasons, so we split the point for them. The Scraper: The last leg of our torture test was directed at the disks themselves. Which had the best flexibility and scratch resistance. Using 70 grit coarse sandpaper and our bare hands we committed to destroying a few demo disks. Dreamcast – The special gig disks they use for their system to prevent such things as copying are just like regular CD’s to the naked eye and didn’t prove any stronger. The sand paper easily scraped its pretty shiny finish into nothing and on the stress test we found that it was fairly flexible but still snapped into splinters without to much effort. Playstation 2 – The original Playstation’s black disks were tough as nails, would the new PS2 disks prove the same? Almost we found that even after much scraping we were still able to use the game disk despite how ugly it now was. Sadly it was no stronger in the stress test then the Dreamcast disks and snapped easily. Gamecube – Maybe they had the right idea making them so tiny, we found it very difficult to snap this disk because we couldn’t get enough leverage on its small surface. In scrapings though it begged for mercy and refused to be read again no matter how much we tried. X-Box – If you try really hard you’ll be able to protect these little saucers. Otherwise even with minor scratching we couldn’t get it to read on the otherwise working machine. Despite how sturdy the rest of the equipment is, the disks are just like computer CD’s. It won’t read and didn’t fare any better in the stress test with shards going everywhere. We gave both PS2 and Gamecube the nod in this area for being scratch readable and nearly unbreakable to our meaty paws respectively. So after the torture test the points are standing thus: Playstation 2 – 3.5 new points for the impact test, the red baron, the coaster, and the scraper. Add their previous 2 points for a grand total of 5.5. X-Box – 1 point for the crusher, and .5 for the coaster plus 2 previous gives a total of 3.5. Gamecube – 1 point for disk stress test plus 1 previous point gives a total of 2 points. Dreamcast – Sadly scored no points in our torture test leaving it with only 1 little point. Maybe that’s why they stopped making them after all. So our big winner is the Playstation 2. While all these systems are good in their own rights, some just offer a little more and can do a lot more with their abilities. Personally I’m looking forward to what the X-Box is going to do in the future, as I believe it has the most promise in a system right now. I am sadly disappointed in Nintendo’s offering, giving off the impression that it’s a system for younger gamers. Something I thought they would have expanded on by now with most of the video game generation getting older and PC’s starting to really chew into the platform market. For the time being however I’ll stick to my PS2 and drool over the time we wait for the online Halo servers to be activated as its probably the best multi-player FPS ever made for head to head or co-op play. Feel free to make up your own mind about what you buy, these are just our opinions and discoveries. * The wonderful store and its kick ass owner shall not be named as they do want their systems and parts replaced as "flawed" by their respective distribution companies.