"Do you run a Christmas gift guide?" You'll be surprised how many times I've been asked this question, in recent months. Three – which is three more than I had last year, when I didn't do this gig full time. Which goes to prove, perhaps, that video games are more consumables than culture, more kitchen appliances than art. Argue that amongst yourselves, or don't, it's your time you're wasting.
Anyway, these questions got me thinking: what do I need a guide for? I've never needed one for shopping, for buying presents for friends and family – though I dare say that both wish that I had. (Always keep the receipts.) But I have used guides for role-playing video games. Definitely Final Fantasy VII, possibly others. (Okay, I've flicked through them in GAME, and that's enough.) And because I just replayed The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, which you can read about here, a little light bulb went off in this otherwise blacker-than-midnight brain of mine: a choose-your-own-adventure guide to buying the right games console this Christmas. Do it, the little voice in my head urged. Do it. And, naively, I did. Have "fun".
Do you actually want a new video games console?
Yes: go to 6
No: go to 3
Consoles? Ha! Baby toys. Buy a PC, you imbeciles: go to 15
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Excellent. You're in the market for a second, then? There's only one choice, really: Nintendo's Wii U. Yes, I know, it's not as fast as that other box of buzzing and whirring noises and flashing lights you've got sat under or on top of or just beside your HD tellybox, and it lacks the third-party support of the PS4 and Xbone, which means no Metal Gear Solid and no Witcher and no Fallout. But the Wii U's exclusive games represent the best exclusive games available right now.
I can guarantee you that 30 minutes of online play in Splatoon will fill you with more cheer than three hours in the company of Black Ops III's multiplayer deathmatches. Okay, I can't guarantee that – but if you legitimately prefer bloody headshots and wall-runs over squashing squiddy foes with giant paint rollers while attempting to splatter ink across as much of a shopping mall or art gallery as you can inside three minutes, you're a decaying husk of a human being. And Super Mario Maker is the single greatest does-what-it-says-on-the-tin game of this generation. Did you grow up dreaming of creating your own Mushroom Kingdom levels? Now, you can. And it's amazing. There are millions of levels online, right now, built by other players for complete strangers on the other side of the world to die in, repeatedly. I can't get enough of it.
Buy a Wii U. Just do it. You can play all the old Wii games on it, too, like the amazing Super Mario Galaxy and that Zelda game with all the waving about and Wii Sports, so all that Xbone backwards compatibility noise? Yeah, Nintendo trumped it at launch.
I'd really rather own anything but a Wii U, sorry: go to 12
I'm sold: go to 16
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There's a video game for every kind of person under this shared sun of ours that will one day wipe out life as we know it, but fine. I can't help you. Here are some articles about furries.
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Well, both the PS4 and Xbone run Fallout 4 just fine, in case you change your mind. We should probably find out what you do like.
Yeah, okay: go to 11
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You want to play Uncharted, is what you're saying. That's as close a game as I can think of that adheres to a summer blockbuster format, only longer* and with more quick-time events. The next Uncharted, the fourth "proper" one, A Thief's End, is out in March 2016 and exclusive to PS4. If you can't wait that long, Rise of the Tomb Raider is essentially the same thing, but with a greater emphasis on (optional) puzzles and better ponytails, and currently exclusive to Xbone – but it will be on PS4 by the end of 2016. Neither of the two games is likely to pose a substantial challenge for the most beginner-level gamer, as both are designed to be played to their storyline climaxes. (*Future Michael Bay movies may trouble this, mind.)
Licensed products wise, Batman: Arkham Knight is great if you can get to grips with some dodgy vehicle combat – it's equally impressive on either console, but for the love of all you hold dear don't bother sticking it into a PC – and Mad Max, which is nothing to do with Fury Road whatsoever (apart from that very small thing about that guy, but never mind), is a graphical stunner even as it plays within predictable parameters. Now, are we done here, or what?
Nope: go to 11
I can't bear any more of this, and have made my decision: go to 16
New on VICE Sports: The Cult: Gareth Southgate
Excellent, let's get this convoluted show on the virtual road. We're not actually going anywhere, you understand. You don't even need to leave your house these days, if you're in the market for a new games console – Other People will bring it to you once you've ordered what you want on the internet. I know, I know. It's the future, right now. Now, to help me help you, I need to know if you already own one of the two, let's say, "main" games consoles on the market as of right now. By which I mean the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, or the Xbone as we like to call it around these parts purely because it sounds a bit rude. Do you own either of those consoles?
Yes: go to 2
No: go to 12
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You and every other bastard on the internet right now, eh? I am so bored of reading about Fallout 4, but that's the nature of the games media, isn't it? Wait for a big game to come out and absolutely rinse the thing until there's nothing left for the player themselves to discover, that hasn't already been given the op-ed treatment by one of those websites where whinging piss-babies go off on one anytime a publisher decides that they've gone and done wrong and takes the appropriate course of action. Sorry, I got a little off track there. Fallout 4's fine. You'll probably like it. How about we find out what else you like?
Yeah, okay: go to 11
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Personally, I think the Xbox One has the PS4 beat in the racing genre. Its exclusive Forza Motorsport 6, which came out in the autumn of 2015, is several hairpins ahead of what Sony's offering at the moment ("at the moment" meaning "before the next Gran Turismo comes out"). You can also play the multi-platform Project CARS on the Xbone, which is a pretty dry sim when it wants to be, but strip back the realism and it becomes a rollicking arcade-y racer. Naturally, none of this compares to the shells-on-everything rush of Mario Kart 8, but we've already established you don't give a shit about Nintendo, so, what now?
I know what system to buy: go to 16
I'd like you to tell me about something else via this already-getting-tired format: go to 11
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My personal favourite game of the year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is essentially what a Game of Thrones video game should be. It's that sort of vaguely low-fantasy, grit-and-gore (melo)drama set against a basic gameplay system that cribs from Rockstar's horses-for-muscle-cars Red Dead Redemption, takes out the guns and lets you spit fire from your fingertips instead. It's brilliant. I have put more hours into it than any other game of 2015 and I challenge you to hate it. You can't. It's bloody wonderful.
Some will argue The Witcher's not as good as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain when it comes to this year's most enveloping open-world games, but, y'know, they're wrong. The new Metal Gear is really good too, though, and just like Wild Hunt, it's pretty much the same whether you play it on Xbone or PS4. Somebody on YouTube has inevitably published a frame-rate comparison video, sliding one screen up against the other with a little wobbly graph thing bouncing around atop the two, so if you're a total dullard you can click across to that and really get a steer on which machine will deliver the optimum performance. But, honestly, the odd bit of slow down is very unlikely to affect your enjoyment of any game, unless it's set in Gotham. So if it's immersive role-playing games you love, both consoles have you covered. Sold yet?
Yep: go to 16
I'm still browsing: go to 11
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Congratulations, you're the worst. Just kidding. I get that some people just want to play the stuff that everyone else in the entire world is playing, and that's cool – you can always get a match going online, which is more than can be said for Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. Both the PS4 and the Xbone play FIFA and CoD real good. And if that's all you need, I guess you're sold?
Absolutely: go to 16
Actually, maybe I want to try something a little different: go to 11
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Which is? (And if you've been here before, don't select an option you've already read or you'll be stuck in an everlasting loop of scrolling up and down and arriving at nowhere.)
Racing games: go to 8
Role-playing games that have more swords than Fallout 4: go to 9
Call of Duty and FIFA games, every year, without fail: go to 10
Action games which are basically movies but I press buttons: go to 5
I've heard about these "indie games": go to 13
What about console exclusives, like that one with the moustaches: go to 14
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Okay, you should probably buy either a PS4 or Xbox One, as while I love Nintendo's Wii U a little too much – I mean, look at how cute it is, and a whole bunch of its first-party games are just adorable – unless your blood flows red one way and green the other because Mario and Luigi are both your dad, you're going to be left wanting when the Big Shootybangs and Epic Adventures and Realistic Racers come along. The Wii U doesn't have those. It has Super Mario Maker and Splatoon and a bunch of other games you can play when there's a small child in the room, but no Fallout 4. And, be fair, you want a console that can run Fallout 4, right?
Nah: go to 4
Sure: go to 7
Article continues after the video below
I'm not about to get into the deeper details or debate around what is and what isn't an "indie" game – but both the Xbone and the PS4 (and the Wii U, for that matter) have their share of titles available that aren't made by massive teams with towering piles of money. Some of these indie games are platform-exclusive affairs, so it's worth checking out reviews and footage before deciding which is the right machine for you. (I mean, you should do that, anyway. Do your research. Don't buy a new console just because I tell you to. I'm not your dad. Probably.)
Microsoft's gigantic brick has Ori and the Blind Forest, a beautiful platformer that is as visually spectacular as it is pad-tossingly difficult at times, and coming up are a couple of potential crackers: Below is a top-down role-player that's promising Dark Souls levels of combat challenge and survival know-how, and Cuphead is a side-scrolling run-and-gun game that looks like it came right off a page at Disney in the 1940s.
On the PS4 you've already got the stealthy Volume, the action-RPG Transistor and the turn-based strategy of Invisible, Inc, all of which are worth investigating – and in 2016 comes the PS4-exclusive indie game that could change everything, No Man's Sky. Want to know about anything else?
Obviously: go to 11
Nah, I'm done and I've made my decision: go to 16
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Now this is a battleground so littered with bodies from previous console wars that it's hard to get a true read of the lay of the land. However, with both the PS4 and Xbone now two years into their rivalry, a few gems have emerged. There's dross, obviously. Knack, on the PS4, is just... Look, just don't, okay? And then there's LocoCycle on the One, which takes your absolute lowest expectations for a game about a sentient motorbike dragging a mechanic around and stamps that already-don't-care understanding into the dirt until it's wholly unrecognisable. Both consoles have a handful of mid-tier titles worth a go if you're completely desperate – The Order: 1886 (fantastic facial hair) and Ryse: Son of Rome (shiny shields and swords) certainly look good while playing entirely ordinarily, on PS4 and Xbone respectively. Which brings us to the essentials.
FromSoftware's gothic masterpiece Bloodborne is easily the standout PS4 exclusive of 2015, closely followed by the entirely under-hyped horror of Until Dawn, while the remastered version of the PS3's The Last of Us is a must-play-no-seriously-I-mean-it for when the properly new adventures are on pause. My favourite online multiplayer game of 2015, the jet-powered cars-playing-football hilarity of Rocket League, is PS4 only when it comes to consoles (for now). On the Xbone, the timed exclusivity of the Uncharted-alike Rise of the Tomb Raider makes it a platform-specific best in show, for now, and you've also got Halo 5: Guardians and next year's Gears of War 4 never going blue. Pays your money, takes your choice – assessed purely on exclusives, the two machines are fairly neck and neck, right now. Need to know anything more?
Please, if you don't mind: go to 11
My decision is made: go to 16
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I'm happy for you. Have all the joy with your new games console.
I appreciate that I could have gone into detail about the hardware, what pad feels better five hours into a session, and which machine streams that episode of Doctor Who you missed last Saturday with no hiccups, but mostly, who cares? You're in this for the games. Those are what matter, and if you're one of these weird partisan freaks who'll only ever buy consoles bearing a certain brand, with no regard given to what fun you can or can't have with it, then more fool you. Course, the correct thing to do is to own all three consoles, so maybe don't eat properly for a few months. It's almost Christmas: steal leftovers from every party, freeze those scraps, and spend what you save across the beginning of 2016 on video games. You'll thank me come March when you're not only a level 39 Witcher, but those Easter Eggs have never tasted so delicious.
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