Thursday, October 26, 2006

PlayStation 3 Shines In Prelaunch Test.

Cnet - I'm standing in a room full of gamers in what must certainly feel to some like heaven: Sony's PS3 prelaunch press event.

From the street, it's not clear why such an event would matter, but inside, on two floors filled almost literally to the rafters with high-definition TVs and PS3s, it's obvious that this is the centre of the video game universe today. And that's borne out by the fact that nearly every important American video game journalist is on hand.

Earlier in the afternoon, the 200 to 300 reporters, analysts and video game industry professionals in attendance sat for an hour-plus press conference in which Sony unveiled the PS3 launch titles lineup, as well as information about the next-generation console's peripherals, online and networked functions and more.

But now, everyone has moved to two levels above for hours of video game play, cocktails and light snacks. And for anyone who has wanted to try out the PS3, this is the best chance they'll get before the November 11 Japanese or November 17 North American launch of the much-anticipated console. Australians, unfortunately, will have to wait until March 2007 before the console gets a local release.

This event, by the way, is being held at Dogpatch Studios, an increasingly popular events venue. I know that, in part, because Microsoft held an invite-only reporter's showcase for the X360 here last year in advance of that console's launch. And in talking with Sony PR folks, I'm not sure they were aware of that. It doesn't seem like they would want to convey the message that they're following Microsoft.

Some details on the machinery: There are two versions of the PS3, both of which come with Bluetooth wireless functions and a Blu-Ray drive for high-definition video. The low-end version, which has a 20GB hard drive, is priced at AU$829.95, while the high-end console swaps in a 60GB hard drive and adds Wi-Fi capabilities for a price of AU$999.95.

PS3 players who don't want to do their gaming in isolation will be able to use the PlayStation Network to indulge in multiplayer games and chat with other players. They'll also be able to download games, surf the Web, view photos and video, and listen to music.

Last week's event, meanwhile, is a chance to compare the PS3 to Nintendo's Wii, which I tried out last week and Microsoft's Xbox 360. It's a bit of a challenge, since I'm not a hard-core gamer and many of the games that Sony and its publisher partners have brought together here are aimed at those who are nearly certain to be in line to buy a PS3 at 12:01 a.m. on launch day and who will no doubt be buying as many of the well-reviewed games as they can afford.

Still, I'm attracted by a healthy number of the games in the room, even if I can't actually get close enough to play them all. That's because there are so many people in the room -- which is small, and therefore overly crowded -- that there seem to be at least three people for every available console.

Finally, though, I get to a console loaded with Sony's own basketball game, NBA 07.

I'm excited to try this because I do like sports games, and because I'm eager to give the PS3's motion-sensitive controller a road test. After all, that was the feature I liked best about the Wii: A controller that removes some of the guess work by tying on-screen movement to the way you actually move your controller. On the Wii, it's a snap to learn, and as someone who has had trouble with the complex controllers of other consoles, motion-sensation is a real gift.

I'm certain I'm not the only one, of course, since the whole reason Nintendo and Sony have included this feature in their controllers is to give gamers an easier time. Plus, it's pretty cool to be able to control things simply by moving your hands, something that is a heck of a lot easier and intuitive than thumbing a joystick.

I start to play NBA 07 and promptly get my head kicked in by the computer's Golden State Warriors team. But it's not as bad as it seems. For the first few minutes, my Seattle Supersonics team is playing the computer close. I hit about five straight baskets and I feel like I'm getting the hang of the controller and the game itself.


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