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Holiday Tech Guide: Video Games

Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer; @Play Columnist
Tuesday, December 22, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post @Play columnist Mike Musgrove was online Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the latest video games and provide holiday gift giving advice.

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Mike Musgrove: Hi all.

Got a random question for you folks today. I was wondering - Has anybody decided to go with the PS3 over the Xbox 360 - and if so, why? I know some folks who went with the PS3 this year because of Blu-ray, and because of lingering worries about whether the 360 breaks more than it should... just wondering if this has driven other purchasing decisions out there.

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Bucks, Pa.: Please tell people planning on buying the gamer in their lives about the controversy regarding COD:mw2. Many of us who have been playing the COD series for years DO NOT WANT this game for Christmas.

The game has crossed a couple of lines that gamers have balked at. First of all, the game is extremely expensive per minute of single-player game. $60 for a game that is over in around 4 hours. Secondly, the online part of this game has been destroyed by the developers attempt to remove the gaming community from any control over cheaters, and rule-breakers, thus destroying the online experience for others. In the name of greater profits, players can not choose where they play, they can not set up their own dedicated servers - a virtually unprecented development in online gaming- and they can not choose to avoid playing with the very-precedented childish element that has always existed online.

So this is a heads-up; please be sure your gamer wants this game before you buy it for them.

Mike Musgrove: Just passing this comment along about Modern Marfare 2, which has sold a bajillion copies or so this fall.

It does have a rep for being a short game, and there are some other complaints from the hardcore folks, referred to here.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm a casual gamer, and prefer single-player FPS AI to internet gaming (the reason: I ALWAYS die within seconds). I've heard the campaign in Modern Warfare 2 is very short... is this true?

Mike Musgrove: It‘s short, yes. I know one hardcore guy who worked through it in a single day, for example. It took me a couple of weeks of casual attention to work through it.

That's a lot longer than four hours, as cited in the previous comment, but it did seem a bit short.

So you might want to consider a rental, considering your priorities.

That said, so many people are playing this game online that your chances are actually decent of being matched up with people you might actually be able to play competitively against. I usually stick to solo player campaigns for the same reason you do, but I‘ve been surprised to do pretty well in MW2 online matches this fall. And I know my skills haven't gotten any better.

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Single Player: Hi Mike! After the holidays wind down and my bank account recovers, I was thinking of purchasing a Wii -- the Wii fit and other similar games look like a lot of fun! But I'm fearful that I'll get excited about it for a week, and then never touch it again (sort of like my poor DVD player now that I have a DVR). I live in a small apartment and don't have company over very often (much easier and nice atmosphere to meet friends out at a bar/restuarant/etc. ). So my question is: Are there enough games out there to keep a single player entertained to make it worth the cost of the device and all the games/accessories that go along with it?

Maybe some of your solo chatters can weigh in, too.

Mike Musgrove: This is the ongoing question/conversation about the Wii, and I'd love to get some input from folks out there.

Anecdotally speaking, I've heard both takes. I know of a lot of Wiis that seem to be gathering dust in their household these days, but I've also run into people who do Wii Fit every day and credit it for helping them shed a few pounds.

In my household. the Xbox 360 gets the most use, and the Wii gets use every once in a while when my 8-year-old research assistant likes a game.

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Got PS3: I Just got a PS3 over the weekend and part of the reason was for the Blu-Ray player, but also because it has free online playing and Little Big Planet.

So any game suggestions I should get? I'm not real big on first person shooter type games. And not rock band :)

Mike Musgrove: my favorite games from the last few years have been Bioshock and Fallout 3. both those games have an element of shooter in them, but there's so much other eye- and brain-candy in them.

How you liking Little Big Planet?

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Washington, D.C.: Why do people still act like video games are gender-specific? I witnessed a really weird interaction the other week where a girl picked up Forza 3 and asked her parents to buy it, but they told her it was a "boy" game. I wouldn't have found it weird if they'd said it was too expensive, or if they said it was for the wrong console, but both of them specifically told the girl it was a game for boys, not girls, so she couldn't have it.

Parents, could you stop doing this? It's ridiculous and has no logical basis. I've seen it happen with the military-style games too, which is even more bizarre considering how many women join and have joined the real-life military. There's nothing wrong with getting a girl a frilly pink game and getting a boy a rough action game if that's what they want. But if you're buying your kids video games, and your boy wants Style Savvy, get it for him. If your girl wants Forza, get it for her. There's nothing that says only boys can play one kind of game and only girls can play another.

Mike Musgrove: That's just odd. I have a baby girl and can't imagine having strong opinions about whether or not she should be playing a racing game, of all things. Interesting observation, just passing this along.

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XBox 360 vs PS3: I have both consoles, and advise people to go with the PS3. You will not be able to play popular titles like Gears of War, but the Blue Ray player is first rate. Even people who aren't interested in video games but just want a Blue Ray player... I would advise getting the PS3. For the price, it's a good deal - you can update the operating system, it has wifi & HDMI capability built in, and you can get a regular remote for it so you don't has to mess with the clunky game controller while watching a movie.

Mike Musgrove: Just passing this along.

Does it seem to you that the PS3 requires more care and feeding than the Xbox 360?

Seems that I'm always having to download updates for PS3 games and for the PS3 operating system. Sure, there's a lot of updates for Xbox games too, but seems I notice it more on the PS3.

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Sweden: hi mike..i dont know what to say about the games of today....complitly boring. marie

Mike Musgrove: Thanks, sweden

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Germantown, Md.: What are the differences between XBOX 360 Elite, XBOX Premium 60, and XBOX Arcade other than the hard drive storage? Also, do they all connect to the internet and have HDMI connections?

Thanks!

Mike Musgrove: The main difference is hard drive storage, though the Xbox 360 "elite‘ also comes with a headset that‘s nice to have if you‘re into playing online and trashtalking your opponents. But you can buy a headset like that for $20 or less, these days.

The "Pro 60" comes with 60 gigs of storage, which is probably enough for most folks, unless they purchase and download a lot of video content from the Xbox Live store, especially high-definition video content.

I started buying some high-def versions of shows like Lost and my hard drive filled up real fast... You can upgrade that hard drive to 120 gigs down the road if you like, but you have to buy Microsoft‘s proprietary hard drive and that‘ll run you over $100.

I'm pretty sure the Arcade has hdmi. A check over at amazon.com and xbox.com sez "hdmi cable not included" with the Arcade. Unless Microsoft is being tricky, sounds like it does come with an hdmi connection.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Any thoughts about the Wii game Rabids Go Home?

Mike Musgrove: I don't. I liked the first "Rabbids" game or two, but that Wii franchise seems to have declined in favor with my home's other videogame tester. The reviews have been generally positive, for what it's worth.

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Washington, D.C.: We have all three systems. We got the Wii first, and played it for a while, but it's been gathering dust for quite a few months. We got the XBox 360 next, mostly to play Rock Band, and pretty much that's all we use it for. I have a bunch of games for it, but rarely play anything outside of Rock Band/Guitar Hero. The 360 is by far the best console for music games. Our newest addition was the PS3 which replaced my profile 1.1 Blu-Ray player on the main TV. I've played a couple of games on it, but prefer the 360 as a gaming console (better controlers and the excellent textpad).

Each has their own purpose, so I guess it depends on what you want. I do wish the PS3 provided more audio output options so that I can take advantage of Blu-Ray discs with 7.1 sound, but it seems to get a player with the high end audio outputs cost over $500.

Mike Musgrove: Some pretty good thoughts on the matter of consoles. I also prefer the slightly chunkier Xbox 360 controller, but don't know if that would be a dealmaker or -breaker for my money.

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Bethesda, Md.: Yes, I noticed a lot of updates on the PS3. Not sure why that is... I think Blue Ray is more software oriented than the HD DVD or the standard DVD format. May have something to do with it.

Judging from the post from Sweden, it doesn't look like there are a lot of people chatting!

Mike Musgrove: not sure why I posted that when I have some actual questions & comments in the queue. just thought I'd break it up some, I guess...

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Washington, D.C.: PS3 or Xbox: I don't have a PS3, so I can't comment on it. It looks like a great system.

One of the Xbox features my wife and I use the most is its ability to stream from Windows Media Center Edition (which I think is now built in to all Windows 7 versions). So our computer in our office records TV just like a DVR, and we watch the TV (either recorded or live) on the Xbox. It's nice to have one solution for everything.

Mike Musgrove: Very cool. I was just playing around with those features a little, but don't have a TV tuner in my computer. For all the multimedia features that both systems have, seems that I don't see them being used much like this.

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McLean, Va.: Hi Mike,

What is your take on handheld games? It seems that the DS is still king, but is the PSP worth it? I already have a PS3 and a Wii, so Nintendo/Sony are all the same to me.

Mike Musgrove: Well... having gotten hooked on some iPhone/iPod Touch games, I gotta say that's the handheld platform I'm spending the most time with. (I'm just getting over a slight addiction to a title called Geo-defense Swarm.) I don't think the price of, say, the new PSP is all that compelling and I've never gotten hooked on all that many PSP games. I've mainly used that device to download video content for use on plane trips.

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Washington, DC: I think you should make one clarification for COD:MW2. Yes, the campaign is very short -- I finished it in two evenings (about 6 hours). But in addition to campaign play and online multiplayer play (which I don't play), it also has a "special ops" section, which allows you to play numerous discreet scenarios. These scenarios usually last from a few minutes on easy to much longer on hard. If you are a completion or achievements junkie, these will probably keep you busy for much longer than the campaign. Still, I only rented the game and thought that was good enough. Didn't finish the special ops, so I'll rent it again to complete that.

Mike, have you heard anything about "I Am Alive" from Ubisoft? It looks interesting, but all I've seen is the trailer they've released. It seems like they are keeping this under tight wraps.

Mike Musgrove: Good point. The two-player co-op stuff is great, I agree. (Hmm, what time is it? I've suddenly got a hankering for a quick round of special ops.) While that still won't make it worth the purchase $ for everybody, it does add to the game's total value, surely.

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Arlington, Va.: You would have to have lutefisk for brains to think that Fallout 3 or Bioshock are "completely boring".

Mike Musgrove: Say what? Please tell me I didn't type something along those lines. If so, yeah, got a lutefisk situation I should see my doctor about.

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Consoles: We have both the Wii and the X-Box 360. The Wii doesn't get much use compared with the 360. The key advantage the 360 has: Streaming Netflix. We use the console for that purpose more than we do for gaming.

Mike Musgrove: Yes, the streaming Netflix really adds to the value of the Xbox 360 (and now the PS3).

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Got PS3 - media server: OH! the xbox 360 viewing WMV files made me think how excited I was when I remembered I could use the ps3 as a full media server too and watch videos and play music from my PC on my tv... I got it running and working great in about 30 minutes.. Love that part too.

Mike Musgrove: Ok, just to range off topic, as long as we're brnaching out on media & technology. I just got a Sonos S5 (google it...) and love that thing.

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Wii don't play: Hey Mike

Thought I'd chime in on this one re: the wii. I got it the first year it came out and although I love the virtual console aspect about it I haven't played it in about 6 months if not more. There aren't that many good games for it and I don't have space in my apt for wii fit. It is good if you like having the old school nintendo games on it but other than that, the novelty wears off pretty quickly. I have all 3 systems and by far I play the Xbox most. I use the PS3 mainly for bluray. The issue with the PS3 I have is how slowly it downloads and installs updates whereas the Xbox is not as often and takes a lot less time when it does update.

Mike Musgrove: Just passing this along as what sounds to me like maybe a typical scenario. I've actually got space in my home office here for a Wii Fit. But there it is, off in a lonely corner, probably with dead batteries.

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Arlington, VA: You didn't say that - my "lutefisk" comment was directed at the one from Sweden you posted.

Mike Musgrove: Ah, right. Of course. Thanks for clarifying that, I was typing along too fast and forgot about our Swedish correspondent.

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MW2: I only play online, maybe played an hour on the single player campaign. Is the campaign short? Definitely. But when you factor in how much online time you put in, it easily becomes a bargain. The first MW, I played over 200+ hrs with being a full-time grad school and part to full time work at the time. Games like Assassin's Creed, Batman Asylum, Uncharted only get you 10-15 hrs max, with limited online time if any.

Mike Musgrove: Some more thoughts on Modern Warfare 2...

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Got PS3: Little Big Planet is pretty fun, especially when playing with a friend and we end up yelling at each other in a fun way... like in New Super Mario Bros on Wii. It's pretty creative and I like how there are puzzles involved, especially for 2 players. Not to mention there is some good music too. It's quirky and fun. And for some reason, getting to hold onto the rocket car while it shoots across the terrain with the guy flying back is way too much fun.

Also I'm learning how to build my own levels which brings me back to the fun old days of making my own course in ExciteBike on NES.

Mike Musgrove: It's got a great style to it, no doubt. The music and "feel" are great.

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Falls Church, Va: G'friend and I just got a PS3 and are enjoying the BluRay... What four-player games do you recommend to play with her 8 and 11 year-old niece and nephew? What four-player games do you recommend to play with our adult friends? Thanks, Bro!

Mike Musgrove: For that kind of crowd, I‘d say the karaoke-style game Singstar comes to mind. I never thought I‘d like that sort of thing, but I have to say that it does seem to be a crowd-pleaser and even the folks who say they hate karaoke games typically end up picking up the mic for a turn or three. With the PS3, you can buy extra song tracks on Sony‘s online network to expand your collection of songs in the game. That‘s a pretty nifty feature and well-executed, though the store doesn‘t exactly have the deepest collection around.

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Mike Musgrove: Ok, gang. I have to go, and our chat software is acting crash-y on me. Having just confessed to liking a karaoke game, perhaps it's for the best.... talk to you folks another time.

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