Setting aside a year of endless PR blunders, embarrassingly awful quotes from Sony, and a truly relentless stream of negativity from each and every message board on the internet...the PS3 actually turned out fine. Who knew?
|It's here. At last. Albeit in America. And Japan. And not Europe. And the internets tell me it sucks. Are they right, mummy?|
You almost go into this thing expecting the worst. Ever since E3 of last year - and that most infamous of press conferences - Sony have continually haemorrhaged cash, face and popularity like nothing else. More and more die-hard PS2 fans who had previously sworn never to touch anything branded Microsoft - not to mention any of that "kiddy Nintendo crap" - continued to jump ship daily. The PS3 became - to be frank - a bit of a punch-line.
So when you actually fire this thing up for the first time and see that 1) it looks amazing, 2) plays well, and 3) Blu-ray movies are actually pretty darn sweet after all...it's a bit of a wake up call, really. I've got news for you, internet haters, Sony ain't going anywhere. Yeah, the PS3 does have its issues - the most glaring of which I'll chat about in just one second - but it also manages to outshine its rivals in some huge, key areas.
I know these system run-downs tend to drift into ludicrous length that all said, but seeing as Microsoft
each had their own specific moment in the sun - not to mention the fact a new Playstation comes around oh so rarely - it seemed appropriate to detail Sony's new machine in similar depth. As to avoid monotony though, I'm gonna split this mega blow-out into two articles; first we'll talk hardware-slash-online...then we'll chat games.
A good 12 months back, before the dawn of the "next-gen", you might remember me posting this
wee article. While Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo continued to size each others dick sizes up - comparing and contrasting girth while gamers around the world picked their respective sides - I threw in a few cents of my own. Allow me to quote year-old-Diggler;
"...while the 360 has the online side of things locked up, and Nintendo's Revolution looks set to show us something brand new and utterly original, the Playstation 3 will most likely provide the most traditional, yet technically superior gaming experience of all three."
A year on from that blurb - with all three systems now sitting before me - the smug twat within me has to tug his own dong and say I was sorta right. If nothing else, I've certainly used this site to shout from the rooftops this past year about how amazing Xbox Live is after all. Microsoft's stunning online integration has rejuvenated what was previously a very lonely, solitary hobby into one far more social, global and frankly, less sad. Live has proven to be the new Xbox' single greatest weapon in the console war, and its own unique selling point to boot.
Then you have the Wii. Ignoring that emphasis on online play - not to mention any sort of vaguely fancy graphics - Nintendo retreated all the way back to the drawing board for their latest machine, and returned with a brand new and truly innovative controller that has also since rejuvenated our favourite hobby, but in a completely different way. It's gaming, but not as we know it. The Wii's simple, elegant yet expertly realised re-imagining of what gaming is all about, has similarly given it its own unique selling point in that respect. That too, makes it a must-have system.
Then you have the PS3 though, and on first glance, one might accuse it of not offering a similar such unique selling point of its own. A killer, exclusive feature that sets it apart from the rest. Blu-ray movies are nice, sure, but the Xboxers will argue so are HD-DVDs. The new PS3 pad is motion sensitive, yeah, but again, so is the Wii's, which thus far has made far better use of it too. And true, Sony have finally
jumped onboard the online bandwagon full force, but as I'll chat about in just one sec, that too currently lags way behind what the 360 is also offering.
Where does this leave Sony exactly? What are they including that the rest don't? Where's the $600 feature? In some ways, I guess there isn't one per se...however what you are
left with is more of a solid all-rounder though...a system that dabbles in a ton
of these different areas, and although arguably never quite masters any to quite to level of its rivals, provides a humongous variety of functionality that makes it feel like an extremely polished jack-of-all-trades. It's the Swiss army knife of consoles, and well, having spent a solid week detailing its every last slither of a feature, I think it kinda rocks.
As always though, let's ignore that for now and address the really important stuff first. How's the sucker look?
|The PS3 comes in two distinct flavours, a 20gb basic model, and a spruced-up 60gb pack. The 20 gigger doesn't include that oh so ugly silver trim though, hence it's considerably cooler. At least that's what I tell myself (guess which version I have...)|
Fucking great, to be frank. Pictures do the PS3 no justice I have to say, in the flesh it's a stunner. The non-descript shape and sheer bulk of the thing can't be ignored, but Sony somehow wrangle these traits to its advantage, forging immense beauty in a luxurious, high-end and down-right expensive looking slab of hardware that - to quote old Gil - makes the 360 look like a Fisher Price toy. And he's right.
It's housed in that same iffy plastic as the PSP
- thus attracting finger prints and dirt like a whore's back - but this is really my one single complaint with the sucker from a visual stand-point. It's even ludicrously quiet if you keep her well ventilated, almost inaudible next to the 360 or your average PC. Considering the incredible wealth of cutting edge CPUs, graphics cards and hard drives contained within, that's one major fucking feat I must say. I also love how it doesn't
roast my bedroom into a sauna when I leave the sucker on for more than an hour.
It truly looks the business, wreaks of sheer style, and to be honest I'd be bloody tempted to rub my balls over the sexy whore if they wouldn't leave incriminating sweat prints across its boner-killing hood. Major thumbs up on this front though. It sure looks a lot better than the damned PS2.
Turn her on, and you're greeted with a charming introduction. Fading in to subtle yet glorious orchestral sounds, you feel in the company of pure expense from the get-go. A large part of that is due to the PS3's inclusion of an HDMI slot as standard, transmitting 100% digital signals to your HD-TV minus any interference. This results in a gorgeously vibrant display more akin to a PC monitor in detail and crispness, and gives everything you do on the PS3 a stunning visual glow.
Staring back at you almost instantly is the very much under-stated Cross Media Bar (or XMB), essentially this system's dashboard. It too looks rather special, modelled almost identically after the PSP's, but with numerous additional tweaks and rejiggles for all that new PS3 functionality. Through the XMB, you can - among other things - surf the web, view pictures, play music and even watch videos off inserted media.
These features all work fine, and although the 360 (and even the Wii) boast similar functionality between 'em, the PS3 does an admirable job of rising up to match, if not flat-out over-take 'em both. The picture viewer for instance, includes the most amazing slide-show ever seen, which takes each of your snaps, renders them into full 3D photographs on the fly, then "scatters" them across a workbench in real-time. The visualiser on the music player is similarly glorious, far more understated and subtle than the 360's garish, if still fab offering. Being able to watch videos straight outta the box is cool too, although sadly, DivX currently ain't supported.
Even that web browser's the nuts, boasting full keyboard and mouse support, and ace full-screen web surfing which I personally think blows away the Wii's recent addition in every possible way. You can actually read the text
, for one.
Arguably the coolest part about the XMB though is its ability to partition the machine's built-in hard drive and subsequently install Linux as a second operating system. Although that's a whole other article in itself, and thus far beyond the scope of what I can (be arsed to) type here, the ability to effectively turn the PS3 into a computer is an admirable one. In fact, I'm using it right now.
Yet while I just listed a wealth of ace features that all impressed me hugely...did you notice none of them apply to games? This is a console, no? What's the PS3 doing to break the mould and differentiate itself as a video game
system? I'm afraid that's where the praise falters slightly. When you move from this impressive multimedia functionality to actually playing some games, its wealth of awesome features takes a minor nose dive from the impressive and detailed...to the mildly limp.
There's no bigger example of that than the rather barebones online functionality. While it's certainly a step-up from what Sony have offered in the past, the most disappointing thing about the PS3's online capabilities is that they barely match up to what Microsoft were doing five years ago on the first
Xbox. We were told to expect the Live killer. A "feature for feature" match, as Sony themselves put it. Not quite so in practice....the online service practically struggles out the door like Stephen Hawking trying to walk.
Sure, it has a friends list. Yeah, it has messaging. And hey, it's also free! But the way each of these systems work (or don't work) together is conspicuously lacking, and it's missing vital background integration with the OS too. Ya know that "PS" button on the new pad? The one paying, er, homage to the 360's guide button? It does nothing I'm afraid. It's but an on/off switch. You can't therefore send text messages at any point in a game for instance, nor receive invites through one identical easy-to-use front-end. Instead you have to use whatever menu system the title in question happens to offer...if it does at all. Yep, just like that ancient five year old version of Live. You'll miss that Xbox Guide like nothing else.
My biggest gripe with the entire online setup though is the poor treatment of voice comms. There's no headset bundled with the machine you see, and although you can use pretty much any regular Bluetooth set instead, it's not only rather stingy on Sony's part...but has subsequently splintered the entire PS3 audience the same way PC gaming has been for years. Between those who can talk, and those who can't. As a result, you don't have that universal chat thang going on in all your games as you do on the 360...here people are eerily quiet. That's bloody annoying when you're trying to formulate strategies with your team for example, and have no idea who's listening and who's not.
Not that it matters much, as what you'll soon see when I chat about the launch games, is that not all of them support voice chat anyway. Unless you have your own army of ready-trained carrier pigeons at your side, you're ultimately left with no way to communicate at all. In this day and age, that's really sorta crazy. As far as I know, no games even support USB keyboards either. It all underlines a worryingly nagging feeling with the entire online setup of how...Sony just haven't quite got
The good news of course, is that they'll continue to add and enrich this experience over time. In fact, the PSP is a prime example of such behaviour, pretty much quadrupling its feature-set via each subsequent firmware update. But then again, that's the future, and this is the now, and I think unless Sony can produce a magic bunny from a hat pronto, we can quite easily declare the winner of the multiplayer battle as Microsoft.
Sony's service may be free - and that's nice and all - but I must say, now more than ever I have no real beef paying ?40 a year for a Live subscription because, to be frank, you're seeing ?40 worth of difference here.
|The layout's the same and rumble's gone, but the new Sixaxis controller has some fab new revamps to help make up for it. It's lighter than a merkin, for one|
Fairing slightly better is the new PS3 controller though. As a rampant hater of the old PS2 DualShock pad, the new "Sixaxis" has certainly improved on that side of things, although arguably not quite as much as it could have. The dead-zones on the analogue sticks have been fixed up slightly for one - meaning FPS games and racers are actually playable now (who'd have thought?) - and the bugger's also amazingly light to boot. The 360 and even Wii controllers actually feel like big lumbering bricks in comparison, more like a weapon nicked outta Condemned.
I also have to say the controversial lack of rumble isn't quite the humongous deal breaker many were expecting either. I've subsequently become of the opinion that if games are doing their job right, the last thing on your mind should be why your hand isn't vibrating, and it's ultimately one of those things you honestly won't notice nor care about in the slightest...'til some annoying twat reminds you it's not there.
In return we of course have new tilt functionality, and although this was fun as hell when I first tried it back in November, having now enjoyed the Wii for a good solid month in its wake, I have to say it somewhat pails in comparison. Still, rifle-butting dudes in the face in Resistance, and blazing around MotorStorm with a "steering wheel" provides some light hearted fun regardless, even if such bolt-ons won't be replacing your sticks any time soon. I think we'll need to play the upcoming Lair or Warhawk before final judgement can really be passed down upon the tilt support however.
|Barely two months old, the PS3's already busting out ace lookin' visuals to all but rival Microsoft. How will it look in a year?|
So the controller's better, but not perfect, and the online stuff fails to match up to the competition then, but - and this may well see me hung from the nearest tree - Sony make up for it in other areas. One specific area, actually. Let's just cut to the chase shall we? From what I've seen so far, the PS3 is easily the most graphically impressive console ever. I'm looking at these launch games, the various demos on the Playstation Network, and footage of upcoming titles merely a month or two away, and...well it just all looks a lot more flat-out impressive than what we were seeing this early on from the 360. Sorry Xbox fans...this mother fucker's a monster
While it took Microsoft a good year to pump out those mind-blowingly incredible visuals found in Gears, I can easily see the PS3 reaching a similar quality in just a few months as a result. Heck, some of the stuff coming this March looks like it might well do so already. Of course, sloppy ports and cross-platform standardisation mean these graphical differences aren't quite so black and white in practise, but when you get down to comparing the exclusive titles made for each machine independently, I'll say it again...the PS3's boasting prettier graphics than the 360 was so early on in its life. I think that speaks for itself.
More on this on Page 2.
And what of Blu-ray? That albatross of a feature pushing the PS3's price tag up into the stratosphere? One thing's for sure, there is
definite improvement over your bog-standard DVDs, but by how much will depend solely on your TV. If you're running in standard def, I doubt you'll see much at all to be frank, but on a decent HD set, I must admit it looks startlingly
clear. Even the bundled flick you get with the machine - Will Ferrell's latest comedic endeavour
- displays amazing clarity and detail next to a regular disc. Just little things like strands of hair or a patch of grass come through amazingly sharp and refined, and it's almost hard to concentrate on the actual movie throughout your first watch, as you're too busy studying Sacha Baron Cohen's stubble. It's like taking your glasses on and off.
That's but a simple run-of-the-mill comedy though, far more impressive is checking out something with a little more action. Not that
type of action, I'm talking guns. Black Hawk Down is fucking insane par exemple, with the grit and grain of the war in Somalia etching itself into your retinas as if strapped to that chair in A Clockwork Orange. My god, it's bloody impressive, so much so that the three grand DVD collection sitting on my shelves feels depressingly anaemic in comparison.
How this stacks up to HD-DVD mind you, I have no idea. To be honest, I'm not that interested either. Given the choice, I probably wouldn't have bought either, but its inclusion "for free" here (cough) is a major bonus for the PS3 as a piece of home theatre equipment, which if nothing else, sure gives it a whole other use outside simply playing video games. I most definitely won't be re-buying all my old DVDs on principal, but in terms of future releases? It'll be great to see 'em running so gloriously razor sharp in comparison.
I just wish the whole HD versus Blu-ray war would hurry up and end more than anything, so that as movie collectors and consumers, we know just where exactly we stand with the whole thing.
|The Playstation Store's already boasting ace downloadable content, including a surprisingly fun demo of F1|
One thing I will say in regards to the PS3's online capabilities, is that its Playstation Store is bleedin' impressive. Sony's answer to the Live Marketplace, it's here where you'll snag all your downloads, demos, trailers and micro-rapeme...er, payments.
What blows me away though, is not only how cheap everything is right now, but also the amazing freebies already on offer. I even have to praise the overall design, setup much more like a super sleek web site than the colourfully blinding, baby-like interface seen in Microsoft's take. It even kicks the arse of the Wii's Virtual Store in terms of how ludicrously pretty and polished it all feels.
Unfortunately there's no background downloads as of right now, hence the PS3 forces you to stay on one screen and watch while it does its business, but you may remember the 360 launched with similar issues itself until a later patch fixed things up on that front. It's worth noting that Sony don't use any kinda bullshit "points" system either, simply stating a price in dollars, then using a typical Amazon-style shopping cart for which to pay through. Funds can either be added to your "virtual wallet" via credit card in clumps of $5, or you can simply pay the exact amount on check-out as you would any other online purchase. Very cool, all this.
And as I say, despite still being in its relatively early days, there are indeed some great bits and bobs up there already...
The first thing I snagged was this $8 shooter titled Blast Factor. It's the PS3's answer to Geometry Wars, pretty much, with a similar top down, old skool arcadey feel, matched with contemporary visuals and tons of flashy colours.
|The PS3's answer (or rip-off) to Live's most successful of Arcade games, Blast Factor proves fun if a little familiar|
Using a similar twin analogue control method as Geo Wars (or more to the point, Robotron), it's your job to clear out infected cells by blasting swarms of evil beasties while not letting 'em get near you. It boasts additional depth over Geo Wars though, by way of numerous collectible power-ups and some bonus Sixaxis tilt functionality. Basically, by "flicking" the controller to either side, it nudges the entire level in the appropriate direction, with all your enemies pretty much shoved across the screen with it. It takes some getting used to, but provides a nice means for opening up some extra space in the more heated levels, and ultimately becomes this game's equivalent of the R-Trigger bombs you fell back on in Geo's moments of sheer panic.
Mutant Storm provides perhaps a more accurate comparison actually, as Blast Factor favours not the bustling crazed beauty of Geo, and instead the more cold, ominous vibe of Mutant. This includes the single screen level setup in which you clear out one cell at a time before moving on to the next, and it's a system that works really rather well here by offering multiple different paths and some subsequent replay value.
It's hardly as memorable as either of the aforementioned games - not to mention quite so addictive - but Blast Factor still proves harmless enough fun regardless, and is a great starting place for the Playstation Network's upcoming library of indie games. Definitely worth it at 4 quid a pop.
Gran Turismo HD Concept
Now this is a pleasant surprise. Gran Turismo is of course one of the greatest golden gaming franchises on any platform from the past 10 years, and Sony have been plugging their PS3-focused HD remix of GT4 for quite a while. While that game ultimately found itself shit-canned in favour of a fully-featured GT5 sequel, all the work put in seemingly hasn't gone to waste...the sucker's currently available for free
This ain't a fully featured game by any means. There's just one course. 10 cars. No multiplayer. No actual races, even, just a single time trial in which you blaze around a mountain by yourself. But while this results in a slightly lonely experience, the game does have PGR-style online leaderboards backing it all up, allowing you to compare your times with fellow PS3 players and thus flavour the experience with a little extra depth.
|I'm still a Gotham guy at heart, but GT HD stole a massive chunk of my love for that game by making it considerably easier for such a retarded drivin' sim noob|
Far more impressive than all that though are the graphics. The detail and image quality is absolutely amazing, with the cars in particular coming across as strikingly gorgeous. Thankfully the course stacks up too, with fully modelled spectators, crystal clear mountains, and an ever-smooth 60 FPS that constantly refuses to falter. It's definitely one of the flat-out best looking games on the machine so far, and certainly bodes well for what we'll be seeing in its fully realised sequel.
In general I'm far more of an arcadey racer guy as ya'll know, and subsequently tend to struggle with the realistic ones, this series in particular. It surprised me somewhat then to find GT-HD effortlessly easy to pick up and play. Perhaps it's all them hours I've uncharacteristically ploughed into PGR3 this past year, but I was blazing down straights and skidding around bends with comparative ease next to its PS2 predecessor. This, I liked.
I still don't find such games quite as fun as the Burnouts and MotorStorms of this world, and doubt I would have nabbed this had it not been free, but it turned out surprisingly awesome all in all, and if nothing else sure serves as a fantastic and shining example of the crazed abundance of graphical horsepower already bustling beneath the hood of the PS3. Not to mention the fantastic early steps Sony are already taking in regards to making the Playstation Network a major success too. 'Nuff kudos due.
Not So Hot
Not quite so worthy of all too precious kudos however, are some comparatively cack offerings also plaguing the Network. As an old PSP stunt racer, the HD reworking of Gripshift proves shallow and tiresome for example, also boasting the absolute worst load times to be found on the machine by far. A little odd really, considering how annoyingly tiny every single level is.
|Gorgeous 2D visuals and the inclusion of online leaderboards flavour Lemmings with a whole new twist. And it's only ?1.50!|
Low-budget shooter Ca$h Gun$ Chao$ fairs even worse. A brand new "zany" take on Smash TV essentially - one in which you partake in a game-show while mowing down silly monsters to win prizes - it's boring, derivative, handles poorly and gets old before you lose your first life. Next.
Thankfully Lemmings somewhat saves the day, with those floppy-haired, penis-faced cutie-pies many of us grew up with returning for a brand new PS3 outing, which includes over 50 levels in all, ace new music and an incredible (albeit 2D) visual upgrade. You'll be building, mining and suicide-bombing the little bastards to kingdom come to much hilarity, and all for the paltry sum of ?3. Particularly impressive is how such a mouse-centric game handles so alarmingly well with the pad though, making it just as fun as it ever was on the PC. It's a hell of a lot cooler than a lot of the retro bollocks that's shown up on the Live Arcade lately, and even Nintendo could learn a little here on the subject of updating old classics with brand new graphics...
There's a whole lot more on its way to the Playstation Network soon too, including an HD remix of Tekken 5, a full online port of Mortal Kombat II, and in a minor up-yours to Microsoft, even good old Gauntlet II. I dunno about you, but as a classic golden oldy that throttled its predecessor right across the board, that one in particular makes my perineum clench in anticipation.
As for the PS3 itself, it's a damn fine system in spite of some mildly mixed thoughts. The specs are monstrous, the graphics are already stunning, and the hardware looks (and indeed sounds) gloriously polished. Everything from the touch-sensitive buttons, to the sleek, slot-loading Blu-ray drive feel a step above everything Microsoft and Nintendo are doing in the hardware space, and that certainly can't be ignored.
In terms of raw gaming features and online integration though, it ain't quite up to snuff just yet. I'm a little gutted about the state of the online play, in particular the lack of in-depth profiles, stats and something resembling a gamerscore. I laughed my arse off at the news Sony were doing "Entitlements" on the PS3, but with that idea also apparently shit-canned (no such feature exists on final hardware), I actually find myself mildly disappointed to be honest. The lack of custom soundtracks is also a big downer for me, rounding off the slightly lame lack of gaming-related features bundled in as standard.
Thankfully, while hardware can't be improved and revamped with firmware updates, software of course can. As a result I remain pleasingly optimistic about the PS3's future, as if nothing else, the machine as it stands is a damn solid base for which Sony can hopefully built gaming nirvana on. I should also mention, I've had absolutely nada in the way of lock-ups, crashes, overheating, or any other such nonsense with my machine thus far. The system seems absolutely rock solid in fact.
Minus, err, the defective unit the fuckers sold me on launch day.
Unlike many, I don't criticise Sony for the price either. Hell, the latest ATI graphics card alone costs more than the entire PS3 for fuck's sake. Setting aside all the delays, negativity and endless shafting of Europe, I claim Sony have submitted a more than worthy application for King of the now fully-formed console war all in all then, and with the three contestants now finally released into the wild, it really feels like shit's starting to heat up on the all-encompassing next-gen battlefield. What kinda crazed shenanigans does 2007 hold in store? I have no idea...but my pants have seldom glistened with such excitement.
Enough about Dig's perverse leakings though...let's talk games