PlayStation Move. It's funny to think just 15 months have passed since Sony first unveiled its motion controller, and now we're mere weeks away from hitting the retail market. To be sure, it's not like the company didn't have waggle on the mind already -- patents dating as far back as 2005 reveal as much, and of course the incredible success of Nintendo's Wii proved there's a market for more physically exerting gameplay. And it's not just PlayStation; Microsoft's got its controller-free Kinect motion camera system coming this November. So, in the year where all major game consoles now ask you to get off the couch and earn arm muscle, how does Move fare? Read on for more!
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PlayStation Move review
- Generally more accurate than Wii
- Augmented reality potential
- Sports Champions a compelling bundled title
To borrow a bit from our previous coverage, PlayStation Move is a motion controller system with sensors to detect the player's movements and translate them into gameplay. The primary remote is just about the size of the Nintendo Wii remote / attached MotionPlus combination. Where Move departs from the Wii is that while the Wii detects movement with its built-in accelerometers, pointing (with the sensor bar) or even detecting exact orientation (with the addition of MotionPlus), Move can be tracked precisely within real 3D space instead of just inferring relative movement based on your previous position. For gameplay, this means you'll be performing fewer of those cute little flicks Wii pros have become so fond of -- most gameplay motions require a full and complete movement on Move -- but it also means interesting things for augmented reality. Of course, for AR you need a camera, and lucky for Sony it has the PlayStation Eye already on the market. In fact, the Move system is partly based on what the Eye can detect of those cute colored balls at the end of each Move controller, which helps the PlayStation know how far away from the camera the controller is, and map, say, a tennis racket exactly to a user's hand.
Each wireless Move controller has the four familiar symbol buttons surrounding a new "Move" button, which generally functions as the OK / Accept command input. Under that is the PS button that takes you to the XMB. There's a "T" trigger button on the underside, and on the butt we've got two ports: a mini-USB for charging / syncing and an additional "extension connector" (as it's called in the accompanying manual). When we asked SCEA reps what the mystery port was for, all we got in return was an ominous "TBD." Perhaps it has something to do with that 1950s style ray gun we espied back at E3.
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PS Move navigation controller and Eye, unboxing and hands-on
The controller itself is really comfortable to hold, the contours resting perfectly in our hands. Every button is easy to reach, although the 45-degree counter clockwise twist of the command buttons did confuse us a bit initially. The Move controller's not just for games, either -- it can be used to navigate the top menu by holding down the T button to initiate movement and then tilting in the appropriate direction. Sensitivity can be adjusted, but we found the default to be very manageable. We've discussed lag before, and while it does vary from game to game with any controller (motion and otherwise), overall we can say there wasn't anything notably jarring -- although that said, we weren't playing anything as twitchy as a first-person shooter.
Though not part of any of the bundles, Sony's also releasing a companion Navigation Controller (also wireless) that you'll be able to wield with your off hand for more traditional analog controls. It's got a joystick in the standard position, a directional pad just underneath, as well as additional 'X' and 'O' buttons (generally used as "accept" and "cancel" in most games). Below that is another XMB menu button, and on the underside are L1 and L2 triggers. Mind you, if you've already got a DualShock 3 lying around, there's no reason to drop $30 on one of these sticks -- it can be can be used interchangeably -- but comparatively-speaking the joystick here is a good bit more convenient.
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PlayStation Move vs Nintendo Wii remote... fight!
This is the Move's flagship title -- its "Wii Sports," if you will, and in more ways than one. Sports Champions is a collection of titles aimed at showcasing the controller's potential, culled largely from tech demos we've seen since its initial unveil. We're looking at six sports in all: Disc Golf, Gladiator Duel, Beach Volleyball, Archery, Table Tennis, and Bocce. Each sub-game requires a quick calibration before beginning, whereby you stand in the appropriate spot (denoted by brackets overlaying the Eye's visual monitor) and hold the controller at shoulder level, down at your side, and then in front of your belt buckle -- or the general area where one might be. Even if you're using two motion controllers at once (more on that later), only the dominant hand is used for calibration. The process takes seconds, so despite doing it before every single game, it never really bothered us to have to repeat.
Table tennis was frustrating on the Wii given some of the liberties Nintendo's controller takes in 1:1 motion mapping, but here, a number of us on staff (including Show Producer and Pong Aficionado™ Chad Mumm) found the system here much more accurate -- and less frustrating -- than our many experiences using the Wii remote. Not only does the paddle's angle look and feel pretty precise, but the Eye is used to detect which direction you're facing and adjusts your virtual character accordingly. Each game has three difficulty levels -- bronze, silver, and gold. Here, while it felt as if bronze would let you swing as obnoxiously as possible and still hit the ball in bounds, gold was far from forgiving. If you put a hard spin on the ball, it'd fly off the table. Unlike on Wii, however, we never felt as if it was an inaccurate and frustrating failure -- it was obvious to us that we had a bad swing.
Both Gladiator Duel and Archery give you the option to use two motion controllers, and if you bought a second one, we highly recommend using it. In the latter game, the off-handed controller is used to hold the bow, while the dominant hand grabs an arrow from the quiver, brings it up to the front of the bow, and then pulls back in preparation for firing, the combination of the two now used in conjunction for aiming. The entire motion is wholly fulfilling, and if you get tired, you can break with trying to feign reality by holding it at your side, something the in-game tips menu even suggests.
Gladiator Duel follows a similar suit -- shield in one hand, sword in the other. This isn't going to compare to the 1:1 lightsaber game of your dreams -- if you swing through and your in-game sword is blocked, the motion is deferred despite your arm flailing -- but your initial angle of attack is matched pretty well. Holding the trigger button on your shield will instigate your block, and it'll angle pretty appropriately with your own hand. Jumping will either get your character off the ground or, if already poised to attack, initiate an aerial attack. Enough damage and you'll be prompted to do a special attack that, if it connects, will enter your character into a cinematic quick-time event. What you don't get to control is your foot movement, quick dodges notwithstanding, as your character will always stay within blade's distance of the opponent. In our opinion, that could easily be made possible by allowing you to use the joystick-equipped Navigation Controller, but alas, the companion remote doesn't seem to be compatible with this or any other game in the bundle, bummer.
If we had to compare this to the similar motion-centric bundles being offered by the competition -- Wii Sports, Sports Resort, and the still-in-development Kinect Sports -- right now we'd rank this pretty high on the list. Every title felt like something worth multiple playthroughs, and we'll admit, the HD visuals did feel like a value-add. It's a pretty fun title for playing with you friends, and additionally, provides a pretty good showcase for Move's capabilities.
For this review, we had a chance to check out several other titles, to decidedly more mixed results.
- EyePet has come a long way from when we first saw it back in July 2009, but in its more final form, the frustration definitely outweighed the cuteness. The actual process of creating your pet takes forever, and setting up your floor to appropriately play never feels quite right, or maybe it's that we're not used to interacting with an intangible, three-dimensional furry gremlin. Your Move controller isn't always used, but when it is, it turns into an augmented tool -- a hand-held heater, a milk bottle, a baseball mitt, etc.
- If you ever played Boom Blox on the Wii -- or even to some extent Jenga in real life -- then you've already got a feel for how Tumble plays. Stack blocks in a 3D space, make those blocks fall / collapse: it's a simple game that teaches you how to use the motion controller in a three-dimensional space. Fun, but nothing too crazy.
- R.U.S.E. is Ubisoft's upcoming World War II-based real-time strategy game, and one of the few games we had that was designed to use the Navigation Controller -- in this case, for screen movement and unit selection. The Move controller can also pan / tilt the screen and issue commands based on where you're pointing. The system is very intuitive and even has some crafty options for cycling through highlighted units based on their type. However, it doesn't quite best a keyboard-and-mouse combination for controlling larger groups of units -- blame it on the joystick, mostly. Despite that, it's still one of the better strategy games we've played on a console.
- Heavy Rain actually came out this past February, but it's now getting software-patched to work with Move controls. And we're not just talking about a few tweaks. Movement has been mapped to the navigation controller, and all prompts are now specific swings and orientations that feel contextually appropriate with the characters' actions. It took us until halfway through the tutorial section to get accustomed, but once we did, it was fun to just sit back and enjoy. We can't say it enhanced the experience in any way when compared to the old control scheme, but it certainly didn't lessen our enjoyment.
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Heavy Rain (with PlayStation Move patch)
We also got hands-on time with a few other titles this past June at E3. To recap those:
- SOCOM 4 is probably the most eagerly anticipated of the Move games, and it's easy to see why. SOCOM is one of Sony's most popular franchises, and the Move does legitimately add some extra immersion to the experience. The game controls exactly like any of the various Wii shooters and honestly we didn't notice anything amazing about the fidelity compared to the Wiimote, but unlike most of those Wii shooters this one won't be a stripped-down port. And it'll have multiplayer. That's always good, too.
- Fight 3D was not as fluid as we were hoping. With a Move controller in each hand (no navigation peripherals here), we stretched our arms all the way out, and then back in to our chin, for calibration. The lag wasn't too bad, but the precision and fluidity were a bit off in this build. That said, points for good 3D implementation.
- Two golf games will give duffers a change to get their mulligan on minus the greens fees. Tiger Woods 2011 is obviously the premier title in this space, but we only got a chance to try out another competitor: John Daly's ProStroke Golf. It's a cross-platform game featuring the former most-controversial figure in golf, and though the game is very early (only allowing hitting drives at this point) changes in aligning the face of the club were reflected accurately and instantly, meaning fades and draws were executed just as we liked. The game will even change your swing type based on how close you stand to the virtual ball.
From day one -- again, that's September 17th -- Sony's offering several different price points for opting into Move, largely depending on what you already have. The most popular one's gonna be the Starter Bundle, which includes the motion controller, required PlayStation Eye camera, and Sports Champions for just under $100. Conversely, you can buy all those parts separately -- $40 for the game, $40 for the camera, $50 for the controller -- but as you can probably figure out yourself, that'll set you back an extra $30. A navigation controller is $30, but given the DualShock 3 can function in the same scenarios (and be used in traditional games), you might want to stick with what you've got or pay the $55 for a more versatile option. Then again, if you're a complete newcomer to the PlayStation 3 -- or really need to slim down your home theater system -- $399.99 will net you the starter bundle with a DualShock 3 pad and a new 320GB PS3.
At launch, there'll also be an option to pick up a charging station for $29.99, which will charge two controllers (motion or navigation) simultaneously. That's certainly not a bad option, but bear in mind a mini-USB cable will work just fine, at the cost of using something much more fashionable and decorative.
In our experience, to get the most out of Move, you're probably going to want to grab a second Move controller right off the bat, which puts your ideal cost of entry at $150. It's worth noting that lines up within cents of Microsoft's Kinect sensor, which hits retail a couple months later on November 4th. When we initially started hearing about the two, we were hesitant to believe there'd be a price parity between the two -- after all, Kinect's a camera and Move is a camera plus numerous hand waving devices. That's not the case, as it turns out, and Kinect devs are currently only showing two-player action, drawing similarities even further. We'll reserve final judgment on that one when we get a retail Kinect all our own, but coming out of the gate, Sony's definitely got the right stuff.
"Exactly as with EyeToy in the PS2 days, it's a product that needs to be sampled. You need to get your hands on it. You need to understand it. You need to try it." So says SCE's Senior VP Ray Maguire. And it's true; motion controls are nothing new in the games industry, but PlayStation has really learned from its competitors and delivered a compelling and entertaining experience complemented by the hardware's ability to push HD visuals. But like its rival, the success is going to be largely dependent upon the games that support it. What we've seen so far is very promising, but whether or not the $100+ cost of entry will dissuade one too many customers remains to be seen. The traditional console cycle seems to have been eschewed by all players in favor of new methods of interactions. It's shaping up to be one of the most interesting eras in the history o console gaming, and make no mistake, Sony's got all the right ingredients here.
Additional reporting by Paul Miller, Tim Stevens, and Sean Hollister