Friday, September 15, 2006

PS3: The good, the bad, the costly

It’s set to be released on Nov. 17 and for some that will be enough. After all, it is the new Sony PlayStation.

I could tell you that it was designed by Josef Mengele and powered by the souls of abandoned children, but some of you will still step over your grandmother and sell her medication just to afford one. After all, it’s PlayStation. It’s the new hotness, right? It’s powered by the mighty Cell processor, the result of years and years of combined work by some of the greatest minds at Sony, Toshiba and IBM. It’s got a monster graphics chip designed by NVIDIA, 512 MB of total system memory, a built-in hard drive, and, of course, Blu-ray.

Yes, Blu-ray, the disk format that Sony hopes will make you re-buy your movie collections all over again.

It’s built for high definition, the keyword for all electronics makers. And let’s not forget the games. PS3 will be home to Metal Gear Solid 4, Final Fantasy 13, Grand Theft Auto 4, and every other major game under the sun (well, at least the ones not produced by Microsoft or Nintendo). Shouldn’t all that be enough?

If you’re still reading I guess it’s not. Or, you have more questions, like the inevitable “How much will it cost?” Well, don’t shoot the messenger, but here it goes: either $499 or $599.

The PlayStation 3 will launch with 2 different models, a basic and a premium, just like the Xbox 360 did last fall. The Basic Model PS3 will feature a smaller hard drive (20 GB vs. 60GB), lack the SD/Compact Flash/Memory Stick reader (meaning no memory cards) and Wi-Fi receiver (the Premium PS3 has a built-in wireless card for online gaming). Finally, the Basic PS3 will be without a HDMI port - the next-generation media cable format that will be necessary to watch the highest definition media in the future. At launch, only 20 percent of the units available will be of the Basic Model, so the decision between the two might just be made for you.

And what games will you be able to play on day one? And how much will they cost? The PlayStation is going to continue the atrocious practice of the Xbox 360 in pricing most games at $59.99. (Nintendo’s Wii games are planned for $49.99.)

The lineup is still up in the air at this point, as it usually is near a new system’s launch, but you can expect the full complement of Electronic Arts games ("Madden," "NBA Live," "Tiger Woods," "Need for Speed," "Fight Night," etc.), and some big names from other third-party publishers ("Call of Duty 3," "Tony Hawk’s Project 8," "Ridge Racer 7," "Sonic the Hedgehog," and others).

As for Sony’s own efforts, the amazing-looking first-person shooter "Resistance: Fall of Man" - from Insomniac Games, the developers of the original "Spyro the Dragon" game and the "Ratchet & Clank" series - has been positioned as a lunch title for a long time, but the rumor mills are abuzz with notions of a delay. This would mark the arcade air combat game "Warhawk" and the feudal Japan stylized beat ’em up "Genji: Days of the Blade" as Sony’s sole contributions to the launch party.

This leaves Nov. 17 as a day full of seemingly interesting games, but lacking in a true “killer app,” the same problem that tends to plague most launches. So while PS3 will have no exceedingly compelling content for the rest of the year, Xbox 360 will have had a year to build up its arsenal, in addition to its heavy hitters already set to come out this holiday season.

Wii, on the other hand, will be launching with none other then a full-blown "Zelda" game in the form of "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," in addition to several other interesting pieces of software.

So let’s discuss this issue of competition. Released late last year, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has already established itself with compelling games and a fantastic online service in the form of Xbox Live. Retailing for either $299 or $399, it will cost significantly less than the PS3, and, truth be told, the games will graphically look pretty much the same. Microsoft is also positioning the Epic-developed (the guys behind the Unreal series) "Gears of War," a sci-fi themed third-person shooter, as the must-buy game of the holiday season.

Then there’s Nintendo and their Wii, a modestly priced and comparatively underpowered system that relies on its innovative motion sensing controls to provide a new experience to the user. It is expected to come out sometime in November for somewhere around $200.

So, the choice is yours. The PlayStation 3 will certainly offer next-generation graphics, sound and High Definition movie playback, but for a, frankly, rather insane price. If you have the desire and the means, I doubt you will be disappointed. However, the cheaper Xbox 360 might be a more attractive option for you, and Wii will certainly be a gaming experience not to miss, and at a mass-market friendly price to boot.

One final thing to keep in mind: last week Sony announced that, due to production problems related to the blue laser diode used in the Blu-ray disk drive, only 400,000 units will be available for the North American launch of the PS3 and only a total of 1 to 1.2 million units will reach American shores this calendar year. This may seem like a lot, but I promise you, it is most assuredly not. Better start lining up now…

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