PlayStation 3: Unfairly Maligned?

My birthday is coming up on Saturday, and with birthdays come presents. I usually don’t ask for much, but there are always things I like to receive. I’m lucky to have a family that isn’t afraid to ask, and usually gift me the games I’m interested in. This time around, I’m kinda buried by games, but also have an opportunity that just popped up where it made sense to round out my platform list. Bottom line, I now own a PlayStation 3.

It’s the 40GB model. That’s the one that isn’t backwards compatible with PlayStation 2. It will apparently play some PlayStation One games, but I’m not even sure if you can figure out which ones without just trying them out. I may spend a day with that, but for now it’s all about the PS3 titles and evaluating the entire package.

I’ve had a Wii and a 360 since they launched, but with PS2 and now PS3 I lagged behind the release date. It took me about a year and a half to get a PlayStation 2. Gran Turismo 3, Dreamcast’s impending doom and a price cut were the deciding factors that time around. With PS3, I knew it wouldn’t be a launch system for me due to the price, and due to the release of the Wii at the same time. I figured I’d get one eventually, but definitely not as soon as I have. Turns out, it’s probably worth the $399.99 asking price for someone like me.

I like the XMB interface more than I do Microsoft’s blades. It’s snappy, and easy to navigate. There are maybe a few too many options on a couple of the tabs, but the PS3 is more like a computer than probably any console before it (and maybe after it, considering how poorly it’s selling), and offers a lot of tweaking in the interface. The PlayStation Store is pretty much like any other web site I’ve ever visited and I’m pretty sure it’s using the built-in web browser for display. Downloading game demos is easy, and finding them is simple. What’s odd, is these demos have to be installed before you can play them. This is a sort of lengthy process and it’s hard to know why it’s necessary, but at least once it’s done the game starts up quickly and doesn’t need extra loading time.

Loading time is one thing the PS3 doesn’t have a lot of in most things I’ve tried so far. You might get a bit of a wait when a game first starts up, but when you hit start and begin the game you aren’t waiting around for levels to load. That’s especially true in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Despite the sort of unfortunate name, it’s one of the better games I’ve played from 2007. I’d go so far as to say it’s something that should sell systems. I’m not a fan of games that try to be movies, but this is one that works, mainly because it keeps the emphasis on interaction much of the time. Even when you’re pulled out of the action, you get high quality cinematic sequences, usually with passable to very good dialogue. Most notable is the way characters are animated during these movie scenes. Their motion is natural and physically realistic. It’s a far cry from how most games handle cutscenes. It’s a cut way above the norm.

That helps draw you into the game’s story. I find that the best game stories are mysteries of some kind. Whether the player is the mystery (usually amnesia…) or the plot revolves around finding something mysterious, it’s always a good way to keep the player going. Having that carrot out in front of you is compelling, and when the game plays well you want to hammer away until you reach that goal. Uncharted has the requisite mystery, but it also has a whole lot of gunplay. There’s probably too much of it. I could do with about half of what’s in the game so far. On the other hand, it’s great. You quickly learn how to use cover but also that you can fire on the run very accurately. Overall, it’s really enjoyable, and I’m glad I made this my first PS3 game, because it really shows what the system can do, but not in a tech demo kind of way like Motorstorm or Gran Turismo do.

So yeah, PS3 is pretty cool. It’s more like a PC than the console system PC gamers seem to gravitate towards, the 360. It’s got problems out of the box. The USB cable that you get to recharge the controller is laughably short and the aforementioned installation of demos is goofy. There is a lot of setup to be done when you first start it up, and that’s kind of a pain. Of course the game lineup is poor, especially if you already own a PC, 360 and/or Wii. Once you’re playing one of its original titles though, this all fades away. It somehow feels more solid than the other high definition console. That probably has something to do with the failure rate of the 360, but that’s my impression nonetheless. If I had to pick between this and 360, I’d have a harder choice now. It’s got a lot of upside. At $399, it’s probably not worth it for anyone but the hardcore, but at least they should be able to find some fun stuff to do with the machine. Everyone else should wait awhile longer before considering it.

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