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After a long wait and facing increasing criticism the PlayStation3 is finally here...
After months of waiting, the PlayStation3 has finally made it over to Europe. Battered and bruised through delays, a model change, high costs, lost exclusives, and having to cut through a wall of negative PR and venomous fanboy hatred, Sony faces the almost impossible challenge of achieving an unparalleled third successive generation in pole position.
Coming under an unusual amount of flak for its vision of the next-generation, it seems that Sony have got a long way to go before overcoming the naysayer' "first to last" claims. Slightly more concerning for Howard, Kuturagi, and the future of Sony, it seems that it's not only the Xbox fanboys making the claims these days, but also leading financial analysts and third-party publishers voicing discontent.
On many counts, many of the criticisms seem justified. As a games machine there's little doubt that £425 is a lot to spend (although we'll remind everybody of the £399 price that SEGA's disastrous Saturn launched at) and there's seems little for Microsoft to concern themselves when it comes to competition against forthcoming releases such as Mass Effect, Forza 2 and Halo 3. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to dismiss Sony entirely at this early stage, particularly when the Japanese giant is willing to throw everything behind its latest "games machine".
In a similar manner to when the PSP first appeared on the scene, the PlayStation3 with its customary monolithic design is a stunning piece of hardware to stand before and marvel. Sleek in design with just the right balance between curves and straight lines, the PS3 fits comfortably into any conscious home entertainment rig without the need to rely on gimmicky novelties such as removable faceplates.
Surprisingly larger and heavier then you might think, the apparent high cost becomes a little more reasonable when you realise exactly what it brings: Wi-Fi, 60GB HDD, Blu-Ray player and SD/Memory Stick/CF slots all come as standard on the European model. It appears that the low-spec models for both the PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 haven't enjoyed the diverse appeal that both Sony and Microsoft probably intended, so the decision not to release a low-spec PS3 (at this stage) seems a wise one.
Of course, the look and design of a console is entirely superficial; the PSP may have looked magnificent at the time, but it's far less impressive sitting on a desk gathering dust!
Booting up with the comforting, yet entirely pompous, tone of a string quartet tuning up, the XMB interface follows a similar design to that of the PSP in terms of style and functionality. Offering music and movie playback, along with a sophisticated web browser and PlayStation Network/Store options, there's little denying that the PS3 offers everything you'll need from the next-generation of entertainment devices, unifying everything neatly into one tidy package.
Following the same lines as the PSP, Sony has been industrious with a supply of firmware updates introducing new features and solving early issues faced by the PS3. Hopefully it's a suggestion that the numerous quirks still evident in the PS3 can be fixed; despite the addition of background downloading the implementation still falls short of the Xbox 360, whilst annoyances such as the SixAxis requiring the PS3 to be fully powered in order to recharge seem a little dated in comparison to Microsoft's efforts.
One of the most contentious issues inevitably surrounds the backwards compatibility features. Having virtually coined the concept with the PlayStation2 and taken much delight in Microsoft's struggles to ensure 100% compatibility with the Xbox 360, it seems Sony's attempt has become yet another embarrassment for . The situation is far less bleak then what some would suggest, even the hardware starved European model features support for upwards of 1700 PS2 titles.
The well-documented issues surrounding the SixAxis hardly need mentioning at this stage, though it does seem from the launch line-up at least, that the slapped together introduction of motion-sensitive technology is a poor replacement for the good vibrations of the DualShock.
Unlike Wii, motion-sensitivity never comes across as a primary strategy behind the SixAxis and as such, it's hard to imagine the feature really taking off in its current guise. Used in a handful of the launch titles, its suitability has already been roundly condemned by senior game developers and its functionality so far seems gimmicky at best. Unlike the universal design of the Wii Remote, the legacies of the DualShock designs make it largely impractical for anything beyond driving and flying. It's hard to imagine the SixAxis in Tiger Woods like you would with the Wii version, as a result it's resigned to little more then gimmicky features such as controlling the spin off the ball and even that doesn't seem to work particularly that well!
On the positive side, at least they ditched the concept boomerang design!
Shaky Launch Line-up & Lost Exclusives
Much like the Wii, but for very different reasons, it's easy to be critical of the PS3 launch line-up. Removing last year's titles from the likes of EA, Activision, and Ubisoft, the initially impressive 23 launch titles can be quickly reduced to less then a handful that really deserve your attention. It seems a shame that the behemoths in the industry haven't had the time (even after the European delay) to have titles ready that truly demonstrate the advantages that the PS3 offers over and above its competitors - Fight Night Round 3 may be a good boxing game, but it's over a year old!
Further concerns also arise from the number of "lost exclusives" that have become a common occurrence with the PlayStation3. From the moment that Rockstar confirmed GTA4 for both PS3 and Xbox 360, it seems as though Sony have had a hard time convincing publishers to exclusively share its vision, leading to a wave of migrations that has most recently included Capcom's Devil May Cry 4. Conversely, it's something that Microsoft appears to be excelling at for the time being with the likes of Splinter Cell 5 and Bioshock joining established Microsoft heavyweights such as Halo, Project Gotham Racing and Fable. Already there's some suggestions that Square-Enix will join the party, bringing a Final Fantasy spin-off series to the Xbox 360, which would leave the question "what's left" - Metal Gear Solid 4: Subjugation?
On the flipside, there's always the assurance of what we don't know at this stage. There's no doubt that Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 5 will be the next-generation killer-app that the PS3 so desperately needs, and we're thankful that Kazunori-san decided against continuing with GT-HD to ensure the fifth instalment appears sooner rather then later. Sony fans can also look to the next title from the team that gave us the seminal PS2 titles ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, whilst it seems a certainty that Sony Computer Entertainment Europe will continue the tradition of breaking down boundaries and appealing to the mainstream with evolutions of EyeToy, Buzz, and SingStar.
With a lack of killer-apps, it's hard to make a call as to whether the PS3 is going to emerge superior to the Xbox 360 as a next-generation videogames consoles. Certainly, nothing available at launch would be impossible to achieve on the Xbox 360, and we'd go slightly further to say that titles such as PGR3, Kameo, and Perfect Dark Zero provided slightly more "wow" then the line-up of MotorStorm, Genji, and Resistance: Fall of Man - although at least PS3 owners don't have to put up with last-generation ports that plagued the 360 launch.
PlayStation Network, Home Sweet Home
Microsoft's success in delivering a high quality, closed network, with Xbox Live, continues to throw some questions at Sony's decision to stick with an open structure that leaves the choice and implementation squarely with the game developers and publishers. Of course, there's always the advantage of PlayStation Network being a free service to PlayStation3 owners, whilst the service does at least show some signs of evolution with the unified Friend list and Chat channels at least going someway to rivalling what Xbox Live has to offer.
With the promise of downloadable PSOne and PS2 titles along with emulation of PSOne titles on the PSP, the PlayStation Network should at the very least evolve further and become as crucial to Sony as Xbox Live is to Microsoft. Although, at this stage at least, it seems that Sony are playing catch-up, Microsoft pioneered this service with Xbox Live and there's little to suggest PlayStation Network will offer anything above and beyond for a little while yet.
A Bright Future?
Although at present the PlayStation3 fails to impress from a game perspective, there are suggestions that Sony has a number of forward-thinking concepts that could change the current situation.
Concepts such as PSP Remote Play to stream content stored on the PlayStation3 begin to hint towards the evolutions you'd expect from Sony, whilst the announcement of HOME went along way to building up some of the confidence that Sony needs at this stage. More importantly, Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet demonstrates the fun, creativity, and individuality that Sony should be offering with the PS3.
As videogame consoles finally reach the holy grail of home entertainment, Sony should also be in the best place to usher in a vision of iTunes for the media consuming 21st century. Unfortunately, none of this is evident at the time being, and although Microsoft is refusing to play ball in Europe, it seems they've made the first move, in North America at least, with the successful roll-out of downloadable Movies and TV shows across Xbox Live. There's little doubt, however, that the PS3 is best equipped to the vision of downloadable media content and that with the assistance of Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, they should be is an enviable position that Microsoft can only hope for.
The importance that Sony are placing behind the PS3 is easy to see; a box that provides an entry into the home to unify its output, whether that's Gran Turismo 5, Spider-Man 3 or the latest Foo Fighters album. Nevertheless, at launch, the PS3 seems solely targeted to PlayStation fanatics and those that must have everything from Day 1.
As a games machine there's little out there beyond MotorStorm that really showcases the machine, and there's little to touch the epic mastery of Gears of War or the simplistic fun of Wii Sports. If you're desperate to invest in a next-generation DVD player, then the PlayStation3 seems to make a little more sense, particularly as Blu-ray appears to be winning the first rounds of the war against HD-DVD.
Considering that Sony have made changes in the design to allow for price reductions and have struck a deal with Immersion to presumably introduce rumble in the SixAxis at a later date, it does seem that the sensible option would be to wait a little longer.
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