Video Game Rentals Delivered

PlayStation 3

David Yun (PSN Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (PSN Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-02-12 11:39:37

PlayStation 3 - Rank C, 2x YFKM Awards

[Updated April 15, 2009; The opening phrase of significant updates are denoted in blue font.]

Physically, the PlayStation 3 is a beautiful machine. My only complaint about that is, like the PSP, the sheer glossiness of it tends to collect immaculate fingerprints upon every touch. It's simple to hook up (even works with older PS2 cables), and immediately recognizes networks as soon as you pop in an Ethernet cable. It has built in Wi-Fi, but nothing beats an old fashioned physical connection. It also runs whisper quiet, especially compared to the jet intake noises of the Xbox 360. I still wouldn't recommend trapping it inside an entertainment cabinet, however. It doesn't have the horrible hardware failure history of the Xbox 360, but it does run fairly hot.

When I first hooked mine up, the PS3 used that internet connection to immediately prompt me for a firmware update which took forever to download, and even longer to install. In general, download rates seem significantly slower on the PS3 than on my computer, or Xbox 360 for that matter. As I write this, I just had to update it again. Apparently, firmware updates (each carrying the potential to brick your system) come fast and furious, so get used to frequent and random intervals when the machine just hums to itself without Sony explaining what the fuck it just did to make my life ever so infinitesimally better. Ever hear about patch notes, Sony? One year later, I can affirm that the annoying flood of system updates continue unabated. There are times when you'd like to simply turn the thing on to play a quick game, and the all too frequent twenty minute patching process can grate on your nerves.

Navigating the PS3 system menu is mildly frustrating. I wonder what exactly it is about the crossbar that Sony apologists enjoy. I thought it was an asinine way to explore music and photos on the PSP, and it remains so here. Instead of a logically systemic means of browsing data, the PS3 crossbar simply shits files into a big vertical pile. For example, all of your game demos and downloadable games are thrown together, with no practical way of alphabetizing or prioritizing them whatsoever. What annoys me most is when I'm trying to navigate sideways between files in the same crossbar category, and I end up in the entirely next category over. I spent at least half an hour meticulously arranging the setup options. The PS3 has a labyrinthine series of nested menus (that resemble those little Russian dolls that live inside each other) leading to preferences so absolutely esoteric that I actually had to read the manual. I generally agree with the sentiment that options are good, but after looking up what "Cinema Conversion" and "Cross Color Reduction Filter" were (no onscreen explanation), I came to the conclusion that Sony had gone Obsessive Compulsive Disorder bat-shit crazy, which is awful for a guy like me who actually has OCD and absolutely has to have every setting precisely calibrated. The PS3 is able to access music and photos from my computer, including WMA files, which I found pleasantly surprising. It did take me awhile to figure out that you can play back music and do other things at the same time. The PS3 really is quite impressive, but Sony's lack of software savvy shows in every corner. Many of its abilities aren't obvious, and exploring the PlayStation Network store is reminiscent of floundering around the internet with Mosaic. (For you kids, that was the first major web browser.) Navigating it is utterly clumsy, and too many downloadable products lack demos, forcing you to purchase them blindly.

Every time I use my PS3 after using my Xbox 360, I'm invariably frustrated. There's no question whatsoever that the PS3 is an immensely powerful machine, but actually getting it to do what you want can often be a torturous affair. I recently spent over five minutes trying to figure out how to delete a game from the hard drive. That's just ridiculous, especially since it's something I've done in the past. Some esoteric menu design element hid the option from me, as a by product of a sorting function. Sony hardware engineers are masterful, but their interfaces are horribly designed. I recently read The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman, widely considered the seminal work on clarity of design. With that added perspective, the wretched design choices of the PS3 interface crystallized for me, absolutely infuriating me every time I have to fight my PS3 to do any of the things it was specifically engineered to do for men in the first place.

The PS3's Blu-Ray player is truly impressive. The audio-videophile in me wants to weep at the splendor and clarity of properly mastered Blu-Ray titles. If you have a 1080p television set, you can watch films in the highest possible quality. Currently, my PS3 gets far more use as a movie player than as a game console. Less expensive Blu-Ray players are now available, but if you are also interested in the PS3 as a gaming console, it's a solid all-in-one media machine and still one of the best Blu-Ray players on the market.

However, Blu-Ray is also a slippery slope. In many instances, lackluster transfers result in only a nominal upgrade over standard DVDs, making them a questionable proposition, particularly if the intent is to replace films you have already purchased on DVD. It's important to research and purchase only those titles that properly take advantage of the format's potential, especially with older films that predate the digital age. Also, Blu-Ray may have defeated the HD-DVD format, but it still has much ground to make up. Blu-Ray sales will never match the massive success of the original DVD, and downloadable media is finally arriving. When my little boy grows up, he'll no doubt find the concept of going out and purchasing a physical disc positively quaint. For now, however, if you love films and demand the highest level of quality, this is your likeliest option. My one major annoyance with the PS3 as a media machine, is that it's controlled via Bluetooth technology, meaning that home theater buffs can't use their universal remotes with it. Good one, Sony. That warrants a Direman Press YFKM (You're Fucking Kidding Me) award.

I'm not fond of the PS3 controller. The Sixaxis tilt sensing (motion sensitive controls) is a clumsy gimmick. At least Sony restored rumble functionality with the release of the DualShock 3. It's fairly weak and has a limited range compared to the Xbox 360 vibration, but at least it's available now. Sony finally added triggers to their controller, but they feel terrible - they don't have enough give. They still haven't improved the super sensitive analog sticks. They're fine for games that call for jamming the sticks all the way, but the precision required for aiming in shooters is touchy at best. The problems with the sticks are that there isn't sufficient tension, they're too long, and they end in a nub instead of a comfortable thumbcup like the 360 controller.

At the moment, comparatively, there aren't many compelling games for the PS3. I can count the number of quality exclusives on one hand. Okay, a year later this is still true. I just need all five fingers now. The majority of cross-platform titles to date perform better on the Xbox 360. Developers are finding the PS3 difficult to develop for, and that results in higher production costs. In our current economic climate (coupled with the smaller install base due to the PS3's high price point), this is a serious impediment to creating games that fulfill the potential of this generation's consoles.

As for online functionality, the PlayStation Network isn't anywhere nearly as well developed as Xbox Live (awareness and connectivity to games and friends, media options, online commerce), but it does have the humungous advantage of being free. However, Microsoft made a great decision in packing microphones with every console, resulting in a (albeit oft times negatively) verbal community. The PS3 is flexible in that you can use any Bluetooth headset, but it seems that most people online (including me) don't bother to hook one up. Games like Warhawk, which is meant to be a team-driven communication-heavy experience, are largely a mute affair, with each player silently going about their individually selected objectives. Being called a "fag" over Xbox Live isn't much fun, but it's surprisingly preferable to the morgue-like silence permeating PSN.

I'll discuss backward compatibility more thoroughly when I break down the different PS3 models, but if you're fortunate enough to have a release model, older PlayStation 2 games run like a dream. The PS3 up-rezzes these games, and you can create virtual memory cards that exist on the PS3 hard drive. You need to purchase a separate adapter to transfer your old saves from the physical memory cards, but at least you have the option. I wish it had been that simple with the 360.

I've been waiting to raise my grade for the PS3, but the PS3 continues to be the proverbial sleeping giant that barely scratches its potential. The difficulty of development, the expensiveness of the console, and the current recession have combined to stifle the growth of the PS3 as a powerful platform. This is exacerbated by Sony's continual fumbling. Home was promised to be a virtual meta-environment, meant to integrate every feature of the PS3, from media to gaming, together in a massive virtual-reality social network that eclipses Xbox Live. After a ridiculously lengthy development cycle, Home launched in beta form, with negligible impact. That sort of thing needed to be available at system launch, with full functionality, like how the new Live service launched concurrently with the Xbox 360. Adding features piecemeal isn't ideal, as older titles lack the functionality to integrate into something as comprehensively ambitious as Home.

The online store is still fairly barren, lacking the massive library of downloadable PS1 and PS2 games that Sony intimated. Sony's promised offerings of media downloads are noticeably absent, especially after their past talk of taking on iTunes. There are all manner of promised connectivity with the PSP; Remote Play is meant to give your PSP access to media and games on your PS3, but it comes with all sorts of restrictions and network issues that need to be ironed out. Games keep promising slick features (like Gran Turismo using the PSP as a rearview mirror). All the really cool stuff about the PS3 is currently half-baked, and despite Sony's truly excellent track record with hardware, their promises of sugarplum fairy goodness fills me with skepticism regarding their ability to engineer the software to drive it. Purchasing a PS3 is an investment in its potential, the fruition of which appears to be further and further away from arriving.

As for which SKU to purchase, the original 20GB and 60GB models provided PlayStation 2 backward compatibility, but have long since been discontinued. That's a second YFKM award. Sony openly mocked the limited backward compatibility of the Xbox 360, only to excise it from their system entirely. Over time, Sony has slowly stripped out other features as well, such as removing some of the USB ports and flash card readers. They've been desperate to reduce the manufacturing costs of the PS3.

The currently available models come in 80GB and 160GB flavors. The 80GB currently retails for $400, and the 160GB at $500. These are exorbitant rates considering that the base Xbox 360 sells for $200. Only the Blu-Ray player (if you want one) remotely comes close to making the PS3 a reasonable purchase.

The 160GB model also includes Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, one of the few PlayStation 3 quality exclusives.

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