"Easy to admire difficult to embrace"

The PlayStation 3 is Sony's third entry in its hugely successful line of PlayStation gaming consoles. Sporting the most impressive technical specs and multimedia features of this generation the PS3 has no doubt left an awe inspiring impression on many. At first I too was very taken aback by the system's sheer power and cutting edge technology. But as I've begun to look at bit deeper into the system's software offerings, accessories, and affordability, I've come away with a more pessimistic view of the PS3.

Console Design
The PS3 is a technical powerhouse boasting the most impressive specs of any seventh generation console. I won't bore you with a bunch of numbers (numerous sites offer in depth analysis of the PS3's stats) but I can assure you that the 360 and Wii have nothing on it. The PS3 also boasts an impressive list of accessories and features including a Blu-ray Disc Player, HDMI, Bluetooth, backwards compatibility with the PS and PS2, wireless controllers, online gaming services, etc.

I also like the exterior of system with its jet black chrome finish which makes it look very high tech and cutting edge. The large size and bulkiness of the unit is a bit of a turn off for someone who likes to shuffle their systems around a fair bit but not certainly not intolerable.

But I must address the PS3's most touted feature, the inclusion of a built in Blu-ray Disc Player, in detail as it is the key selling point and liability of the system. This move is of course reminiscent of Sony's clever decision to include a built in DVD Player with the PS2 back in 2000. While some are no doubt enthusiastic about having lots of non-gaming extras I've never personally liked the idea of including pricey multi-media devices in video game systems. I buy consoles for games, so the though of having to spend lots of extra dollars on a mandatory DVD Player for example ticks me off. But personal feelings aside there's no denying that this was a very profitable business move on Sony's part, being able to charge more for the PS2 and promote DVD's simultaneously is pretty sweet. It was a factor in my decision to sever my last ties with VHS and really get into the DVD format. The problem with Blu-ray however, is that unlike DVD it is a much riskier technology with considerably higher stakes if it fails to dominate.

Blu-ray's staying power is still far from certain not simply because of its steep cost but also due to strong competition from the rival HD format. Microsoft may have made a very smart move embracing the HD medium as an optional add-on for the X-Box 360. Not only does it put more pressure on Sony but it also carries relatively little risk to the long term viability of the 360 if things go wrong. Worst case scenario if HD doesn't survive Microsoft can simply abandon it and stick with the 360's core hardware, if Blu-ray flops Sony may find itself royally screwed.

But if the decision to gamble so much on a risky technology wasn't bad enough the Blu-ray Player also carries a huge price tag not simply for us poor consumers but for Sony as well. That $659 (Canadian) price tag may seem steep for a gaming system but it's a steal if you're keen on owning a Blue Ray Player which usually retail for about $600-1000. How is Sony able to do this? By selling the PS3 below production cost. That's right Sony loses money on every system they produce. Their strategy of course is to turn a long term profit through strong software sales. This kind of strategy may have worked 7 years ago when Nintendo and Sega were still reeling from their screws ups with the Saturn and N64, but for the first time Sony actually has some pretty solid competition at its heels in the form of Microsoft's X-Box 360 and Nintendo's Wii. Both systems are cheaper, have stronger libraries, larger user bases, and are selling better and faster than the PS3. Not to say that this couldn't change down the road, but right now PS3 is looking the least appealing of the seventh generation consoles and the Blu-ray Player is proving to be its main impediment.

Controllers
Ugh can anyone say “rehash”? Sony has again given us essentially a carbon copy of the original PS's Dual Shock controller. The only difference being the addition of the tilt feature. It's not a bad concept mind you, but poorly executed and greatly overshadowed by the interactivity of the Wii's Remote/Nunchuck combo. It's also supposedly the reason why vibration feedback has been scraped. I'm being generous because the Dual Shock is a really solid design, but I would've really liked to have seen something a bit more innovative and cutting edge, but at least we're not stuck with that boomerang thing. More annoying still is that PS3 doesn't support PS2 memory cards or controllers despite having essentially the same design minus the gimmicky tilt buttons. This means you'll have to go out and spend more money still to update your peripherals. A bit more backwards compatibility probably would've given the system's sales a boost.

Graphics
PS3 lives up to its grand expectations in spades. The visuals are truly stunning and are sure to get even better as developers begin pushing the hardware to its limits. I stand by my view that the PS3 is way too expensive for a gaming console but to Sony's credit you do get a very sweet deal on some mighty impressive technology.

My only real gripe here, and its not really with the graphics in of themselves, is the fact that you can only get 1080p quality if you own an expensive HD compatible television otherwise you're stuck with 720p, which although certainly not bad is not much better than what the 360 is capable of. The point is that you'll probably have to go out and spend even more money after already dropping a huge sum of cash for the hardware just to enjoy the PS3's main selling feature at full capacity.

Games
The PS3 is only about a year old so the current situation could be quite different by the end of the console's run; nonetheless things are looking less than stellar at the moment. I work at an electronics store and have been lucking enough to play many of the system's most highly acclaimed titles and I can honestly say that I am impressed with games such as Moto Storm, Resistance: Fall of Man, and Virtua Fighter 5. But are they enough to justify spending what would amount to a nearly $1000 entertainment experience by the time I was done? Absolutely not. Further more while there are a hand full of strong titles the library as a whole is largely unimpressive, consisting mainly of multi-platform titles and ports. If Sony can keep its best third party series exclusive and put out some excellent first and second party software it may be able to gain a stronger footing but for now what Nintendo and Microsoft are offering is much more impressive and accessible to the casual gamer.

Buy?
The PS3 has a ton of potential and it may yet win out but the bottom line right now is that the system is simply too expensive and lacking the killer apps that it needs to gain widespread support from mainstream gamers. Unless you're very wealthy, a huge fan of Sony, or eager to nab a competitively priced Blu-ray Player the PS3 is hard to recommend. If Sony can bring the price down at least $200 and deliver some killer software then would be a good time to consider picking one up. But until the PS3 starts looking more like its beloved predecessors and less like a modern day 3DO or CD-I the future seems very much uncertain.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 09/17/07, Updated 09/21/07

Game Release: PlayStation 3 (US, 11/17/06)


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