Sunday, December 30, 2007


After realizing I repeated most of my Piston's analysis in the two blog posts I created here, I figured I'd move on to something that's been consuming a lot of my time lately--video games.

Playstation 3 General Review:

As I mentioned previously, I bought a Sony Playstation 3 about two months ago. I haven't been a very active console video game player, but we owned a Playstation 2 since 2000, and I had been spending more and more time trying PS2 games. The lure of so many new features drew me to the next generation consoles, and I decided on the PS3 for a variety of reasons. Now that I've had ample time to try it out, I figured I'd share my take on the PS3.

First, the system is very well integrated. It reminds me of the single console dream for all your multimedia needs. It plays CDs, DVDs, and now Blu Ray high definition DVDs. It plays MP3 music files, either from the decent hard drive, or from an external player connected by one of the four USB ports... or even memory cards. I'm not certain which memory card slots it provides, but we've used our compact flash cards from our digital camera to view digital photos.

The Blu Ray functionality has to be a pretty significant selling point to people that aren't certain how much gaming they'll be doing. At $400-$500, the cost of the console isn't much more (if any) than a stand-alone Blu Ray player. Ultimately, you have to decide if you're willing to invest in a new technology. Is 1080p worth it? Will Blu Ray beat out HD DVD? Or will another format eclipse both of them before they're firmly established? Well, with a Netflix account, I rent the vast majority of our videos (rather than buying them) and I'm not forced to invest in Blu Ray. I will continue to be inexpensive DVDs (below $10, preferrably $7.50 or lower) to replace video tapes. Since Blu Ray titles tend to be full price, I'm opting for standard DVDs. While the difference in video quality is instantly recognizable, my complaint with video cassettes is the fact they degrade, often becoming entirely unplayable. While I'd prefer a 1080p copy of a favorite movie, I'd rather have something permanent (a standard DVD) than something that is not much different than an expensive rental (a tape).

*If* Blu Ray DVDs don't continue to lead HD DVDs in sales, I'm not really out anything. I rent the high quality videos when they're a choice and I can enjoy 1080p video and amazing sound now... but I'm not really out much, since I'm also getting other functions out of the console, namely video games and internet browsing.

While people have commented on how the Xbox 360 and PS3 compare, I can't say enough about how wonderful the graphics (and sound) on the Playstation 3 are. I hear critics saying games like "Folklore" (which I'm playing now) doesn't push the system very hard, I'm still in awe over the exotic setings (the faery realm and the undersea realm, for example) and lush scenery. I don't face video lag or stuttering, like I did on any PC I've owned, and the entire system is infinitely more user friendly.

Sony has integrated the internet connection with their PS3 very well. I was able to set up the wireless connection (on the 80gb version; I think the 20gb version has a standard ethernet connection) without any problem. I was able to register and configure an account on the Playstation Store simply enough. Unlike other gaming systems, online access is free. If you're curious, "serialdirge" is my PS3 name. Users can message, even video chat (I'm told), or simply connect with other players for some online action via their favorite games.

Another nice feature is the ability to download game demos directly onto your PS3. I've tried about a dozen or more games. Some games are available for download using a payment system integrated into the online store. For example, Tekken 5 is a $19.99 download. I bought Go! Sudoko (Easy pack) for $1.99 or $2.99, I believe. Games range from $1.99 to $39.99, from what I've seen, and it tracks what you've downloaded. If you wanted to make space on your harddrive, and delete a game you've paid for, I'm fairly certainly the store remembers your purchase and allows you to download it again (sans payment).

In addition to the many playable game demos, videos and add-on's are also available. I've watched the new video preview for the Spiderwick Chronicles, as well as the next Batman movie. As I said, I've downloaded well over a dozen games... from The Simpsons and Bladestore (a hundred years war game), to Folklore, Conan, Genji, and Uncharted. Most demos are playable, giving you a great sample of what the game is like.

Themes for your "desktop", wallpaper backgrounds, and free add-ons (as well as commercial ones) are often released. I was able to download a free holiday paint job for one of the big rigs in Motorstorm, and new Christmas-inspired costumes for Ellen and Keats in Folklore. That's a great way to keep people checking in. I know they released some free seasonal songs for Guitar Hero 3, as well.

The controller on the PS3 is also pretty innovative. It isn't as dynamic as some of the features on the Nintendo Wii, but the "Six Axis" controller senses a lot of motions. In Folkore, for instance, you need to draw the Id (soul) from Folk (aggressive, fey creatures formed from negative emotions that pass on to the Netherworld when people die). You do so in a variety of ways, including pulling it out in a fishing rod type motion, and rocking it left and right, or even balancing it (again, a right and left motion). Other games also make use of the controllers abilities. "Toy Home" is a racing game set in a house. Your wind-up car has to be flipped over by jerking the controller upward. Tilting it to the right or left turns the car, as if you were riding a bike and leaning. My NBA 2k7 game employes a free throw like motion for shooting from the line. Sony has released quick little ski games, bowling and other games that make use of the controller features. I expect more and more games will make use of these features, though many initial releases for the PS3 didn't use the Six-Axis controller very well.

In my opinion, the PS3 has high end graphics (every bit as good as the Xbox 360, though people will continue to debate the issue), a dynamic controller and gameplay (similar to the Nintendo Wii, though with a focus on more "adult" games) and a great value (Blu Ray, free online access, web browser, multimedia functions, etc). I'd highly recommend it if you're considering a next generation gaming console.

PS3 Games I've Bought:

Currently, I've played four PS3 titles: Motorstorm, Dark Kingdom, NBA 2k7, and Folklore.

* Motorstorm is bundled with the PS3. It's an offroad racing game with stunning graphics and sound. I have a hard time "grading" Motorstorm because I'm not a big fan of racing games. It has seven categories of cars, with five paint jobs for each, and eight tracks to experiment on. I have noticed several add-on's released online, including new vehicles, races, and paint jobs. I updated my game and it added two new songs to the great soundtrack. It definitely shows off the graphic capablilities of the PS3, though I'm sure they'll continue to push the envelope with future releases.

* Dark Alliance is the second title I got. I payed $17.99 for a used copy from Gamespot. It had been dropped to $20 for the new version, but I figured $2 is better than no saving. Anyway, I read a lot of negative reviews and ignored them. Dark Alliance is a lot like the revised version of Gauntlet (Dark Legacy). The graphics are better than the PS2, but not really on par with PS3 standards. The story line is poor, at best, and the game play is fairly dull. Overall, it's a pretty lousy game, and you'd be better off ignoring the lower quality graphics of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy and playing that on your PS3. I plan on selling it back sometime soon. I didn't exect a lot of $18, and it's not the worst game I've tried, but it's short, fairly unexiting, and definitely not the best use of $20.

* NBA 2k7 was also a clearance product, $19.99 at Target specifically. I owned NBA 2k5 for the PS2, and I like the pro basketball series, and they've made great upgrades with this game. The graphics are solid, though I suspect they'll continue to get better. The players don't look a great deal like their real world NBA counterparts, though they do move similarly. I'm told the mroe recent NBA 2k8 has dealt with that, and has an entirely new graphics engine. That said, it's a *great* game for $20! It has quite a few modes of play, from steetballing (complete with storeyline) to association play (seasons at a time, drafts, scouting, injuries, trades, you name it) or just quick games or online matchups. You can play cooperatively, or go against another human player. I'll probably download the 2k8 demo just to see what they've done to the graphics. Even if you're not a huge sports fan, this can be a fun game. I guess I'm biased, being a NBA fan, but it's undeniably well put together and extremely customizable (for all levels of ability).

* Folklore was a Christmas present from Brenda. I can't say enough good things about this game. To be fair, it is the first full price game we bought ($60), and the standards *should* be higher, but I havne't been disappointed. People have complained about the blend of movies, a comic-style cut scene, or more typical in-game conversation to relate a very enganging mystery that quickly adds supernatural elements. It is set in Doolin, a nearly abandoned town in what seems to be the coast of Ireland (British, anyway). You can play either Ellen, a young woman that was orphaned and has a conneciton to the town, or Keats, a reporter for an occult magazine. More importantly, you can alternate between characters from chapter to chapter, and I believe you need *both* characters later in the story. Again, some complain about this, but I like the two perspectives, and the way the story lines connect. I've alternated from chapter to chapter.

You'll quickly journey to the Netherworld, populated by faeries, halflives, folk and folklore. You fight folk, absorb their Id (soul), and use them against other folk. Folklore are very powerful folk that rule different worlds. The graphics are amazing and the creatures are equal parts Brian Froud (Labyrinth/Dark Crystal character design) and Tim Burton (Corpse Bride and Nightmare Before Christmas). The game play can be challenging in spots, and I've gotten frustrated a couple times, but it's definitely quite an adventure. It really helps ilustrate how amazing the Playstation 3 is. I'm not sure about the replay value, but there are downloadble quest packs, and more may follow. I'd estimate a good 40 hours of game play, though, possibly more for the more adventure-minded and curious. I like to explore every nook and cranny, as well as develop my character's abilities (which can be repetetive, though I don't mind).

PS2 Greatest Hits!

One important facet with the Playstation 3 is the compatibility with the Playsation 2. The $399 20gb version has no compatibility. The older 60gb version (no longer available) is close to 100% compatible. The $499 80gb version has software emulation, and I'd guess it is around 80% compatible, maybe 90% if you ignore some very minor video glitches that don't affect game play. Out of my 25 games, 22 are compatible. That's pretty wonderful if you ask me.

To be fair, as great as some PS2 titles are, eventually that compatibility won't be a big selling point. More and more PS3 titles are being released every day. The new capabilities are just too impressive, and eventually the PS3 titles will make people forget even their favorite PS2 titles. Nonetheless, there are a lot of very good, very inexpensive games from the Playstation 2 that play fine on the PS3. The "Greatest Hits" collection is often $20 a title, new, and place like Gamestop and EB Games offer great deals on used games. I just bought Final Fantasy X-2 for myself, and received "Shadow of the Colossus" and "Final Fantasy XII" and both are stunning, despite the better graphics of newer games. Game play is always going to be an issue, and good design is good design. There are probably hundreds of fantastic PS2 titles that are worth trying while you're waiting (or saving for) PS3 titles... and that's if you get bored with the demo games pretty quickly. Some demos are pretty involved.

Quick News:

Gwen gets her braces soon! The 3rd, I believe.

The Pistons are tearing it up. They just beat the Pacers in back-to-back games (Friday and Saturday). Stuckey is playing well, and I'm sure their vastly improved bench is making other teams (and their fans) nervous. I suspect Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey, and Arron Afflalo will have great careers in the NBA. I have a lot of faith in Amir Johnson, too, though he's gotten sporadic game play.

My sympathies go out to my friend Sue (Kyra). Her mother passed away shortly before Christmas. While she attended the funeral, her cat was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She's had a very difficult holiday, and I just wanted to say... you are in my thoughts, for what that is worth.

I got to talk to quite a few friends over the holiday...
* Happy Birthday, mom!
* Mark, whom I've known since 7th grade, and has put up with crazy rantings for many years, even after rooming with me a year in college.
* Patty, a high school aquaintance that has become a great friend... I managed to catch her on her drive home from visiting her parents.
* Chris, a high school buddy, who actually had a few days off from his crazy work schedule and got to celebrate with "Little Man" (his son, who is about three and a half right now).
* And Kathy, my roleplaying "sister", who stopped by with her very cool boyfriend Paul, and went out to dinner with us despite her stomach problems (Crones disease).

Anyway, happy holidays to everyone, both those I caught on the phone and in person, or those via e-mail!

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