Since becoming a PlayStation 3-only owner, after my Xbox 360 tanked on me last month, it’s become apparent how much that at least some PS3 versions of multiplatform games are sub-standard. Frame rates falter, some visual effects don’t look quite right, and a smattering of other issues put these games a notch below their Xbox 360 counterparts. There are notorious examples of PS3 sub-standard offerings, such as the ill-fated version of Skyrim. There’s growing chatter that Black Ops II has notable issues with crashing and with online connectivity.
All of these things leave me to question whether buying into whatever follow-up console that Sony decides to offer when the next generation arrives. As a consumer, Sony has managed to damage my trust and confidence several times over the course of this console generation. The Trophy system never compared to what Microsoft initiated with its Achievement system, and felt more forced than useful. Forced installs of on-disc software continue to force me to decide what to delete in order to make room for new things. Monthly (or more) firmware updates and surprise patches mean that there’s often a waiting minigame to be played before getting to enjoy the real game you want to play. The PSN hack of 2011 and its associated outage still cast a specter over the online experience. On top of all that, many multiplatform offerings are clearly “second class” versions of games that run better on the Xbox 360.
I had chosen to dump the PS3 back in February of 2009, when I got my Xbox 360. I didn’t feel that there were enough reasons to own both consoles. Aside from Metal Gear Solid 4, the exclusive offerings weren’t strong enough for me and I was more interested in what the 360 had to offer. There were more arcade games, for example, on the 360. I liked the idea of Gamerscore and being able to track Achievements for all games, rather than the select few that supported Trophies for the PS3 at the time. Games like Bioshock and Dead Space ran better on the 360, too.
But in 2010, I got a new PS3 as a birthday gift from family. There was newfound momentum with exclusives like God of War III and improving versions of MLB: The Show. After a year away from the PS3, I was happy to give it another chance and see how Sony would fare given that sales had bounced back somewhat after a mid-year price cut in 2009. It was nice that I got my previously-bought digital games back, too. I used the PS3 primarily as a console for exclusives, leaving multiplatform games to the Xbox 360. That worked for awhile, until my 360 began failing early this year. I began getting more multiplatform games for the PS3, and I tried to get used to the difference in quality.
I haven’t been able to do it.
There are exceptions to the lower quality rule, thankfully. Zen Pinball 2 is on par with (or even slightly better than) Pinball FX2 on the Xbox 360. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage and Dynasty Warriors 7 both run better on the PS3 than the Xbox 360. Many downloadable titles run pretty much the same on both platforms. Unfortunately, retail releases– notably the AAA ones– suffer in performance and quality, and the excuses aren’t acceptable to me.
Obviously it’s too late to expect changes now, but if you ask me which of the next-generation consoles that I would buy, it would have to be whatever Microsoft offers. That’s kind of a shame, considering how much of a supporter and fan that I was of PlayStation platforms for 10 years. Both the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 are great platforms. I’ve amassed hundreds of games for both as part of my current collection. The PlayStation 3, on the other hand, has been more disappointment than it has been great. I’ve been underwhelmed by it, and that leads to my consumer vote of no confidence when Sony finally announces that its new platform is ready.
I’m sure that others will disagree with this sentiment, considering it too harsh or making judgments before we really know what Sony will offer. Some will offer the same excuses that I’ve heard for years, about how the PlayStation 3 is harder to program for or that developers aren’t putting enough of an effort in to make the multiplatform versions comparable. I’m not speaking for an entire community. I’m speaking for myself, as one person. Sony has lost me, as a valued customer, unless it can prove unequivocally that the next generation will be different… because they have underperformed in all phases during this generation to the point that the PlayStation 3 is a “second class” platform that could never realistically compete with either the Wii or the Xbox 360.
Looking at the calendar, we’re less than two weeks away from what will be one of the most important E3 events in recent memory when it comes to what I call the Hardware Trinity– that is Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Each of the three companies have issues to address. Nintendo is facing lackluster 3DS hardware sales and the lame-duck status of the Wii until its new platform is launched. Sony has to deal with the aftereffects of one of the largest online security breaches in history and major losses in the last year. Microsoft may seem bulletproof, but the stagnant nature of the Kinect sensor and a slow trickle of software for it call into question the viability of the technology.
Here are some expectations as to what each company will deliver in their press events in order for each to bring its “A” game (in order of occurrence):
At first glance, Microsoft should be able to break out of the gate at 9am on the morning of June 6th with guns blazing. I’m fairly certain that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be one of the first things shown. Microsoft is going to work with Activision to push Modern Warfare 3 very hard for the next 5 months, and Activision should be more than happy to take the stage for the company that’s currently got all of the sales momentum going for it. Obviously, Gears of War 3 will play a major role in the press event as well. There will be other “core” games shown; I believe that Microsoft learned its lesson after last year’s event skewed almost exclusively away from the “core” crowd and felt eerily similar to Nintendo’s 2008 E3 presser that felt almost one-sided (Vitality Sensor, anyone?). No Halo presence at E3, despite the importance of the IP to Microsoft, doesn’t seem likely. The question is… in what form will we hear about it? New game? HD remake of the original? We will see.
The one thing that Microsoft must do is to re-ignite interest in the Kinect sensor. More games are needed– and more quality games are needed, to be more specific. Games that come off as Wii ports are not going to hold anyone’s interest, especially when you consider that the Wii is almost at the end of its lifespan. More original software, including games that are going to interest more than just the passing game player, has to not only be announced… but shown and available for demonstration. It’s true that Microsoft wisely marketed the Kinect and it sold a ton of units; however, what was the last genuine killer app for it? Dance Central is now 6 months old, as is Kinect Sports. As time marches on and new games continue to appear at a snail’s pace, the relevance of Kinect will gradually ebb. Consumer confidence and excitement in the Kinect peripheral must be restored, and quickly.
One last thing to be on the lookout for is some kind of new hardware announcement. Rumors have been flying lately, ranging from a full-on successor to the Xbox 360 to another Xbox 360 hardware revision that adds 3D support. While the exact nature of the rumors has been scattered, the theme has been the same. The other thing that has me leaning in the direction of some sort of new hardware announcement is the extremely limited attendance list for the press event. This makes me think that something big is going to go down that Monday morning, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if it was hardware-related. Stay tuned.
To say that Sony has had a rough past six weeks or so is an understatement. Granted, PlayStation 3 hardware sales for April were promising– thanks to Mortal Kombat, Portal 2, and SOCOM 4– but having no online network for nearly a month and still being without the PlayStation Store (and its associated revenue) is damaging on many levels. Sony has become an easy target for the press and has spawned doubt from its userbase. Sony is hoping that its showing at E3 will wipe the slate clean and set focus on games. There will almost certainly be a segment of the press event that serves as an apology for what happened, but will quickly move forward from that… and it’s the right move.
I’m still expecting a $50 price drop for at least the 160GB PlayStation 3 SKU. Some believe that Sony can’t afford it after recent events, but I think it’s a necessity. The PS3 platform– despite its quality software exclusives and free-to-play online service– needs a kickstart to renew consumer confidence and enthusiasm. I’m not sure that other SKUs will follow suit, but I’ve been calling for this drop over the last few months and E3 is the perfect backdrop for price cut announcements.
The press event should revolve around three main topics: PSN, PS3 software (especially exclusives), and NGP. I’m not sure of the order, but all three of these are major facets of Sony’s business plan for the rest of 2011 and beyond. Sony will rally behind the re-opening of the PlayStation Store with news of some kind of exclusives there. PlayStation 3 retail software exclusives, like Twisted Metal, Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, and others, will be talked up and demonstrated or shown. As for NGP, there are lots of variables at play. Release date, pricing, and launch software are all likely to be covered. Price is the variable that concerns me the most; if the 3DS is struggling at $250, it stands to reason that a $300 NGP will do the same in a challenging economy… even if the software lineup is good. Despite my concerns, I think that $300 to as much as $350 is where the NGP will launch. Timing is less certain to me. Will Sony have enough software in the chute to realistically launch this year? I’m not sure. My gut is leaning towards an NGP launch in 2012, but I will not be shocked if a late November/early December launch window is announced.
After the incredible runs of success that the Wii and legacy DS platforms had, saying that Nintendo is “in trouble” is a silly statement; however, Nintendo is now facing a period of uncertainty that hasn’t been seen in some time. The Wii lovefest is over, even in the face of price cuts for hardware and software. The 3DS has stumbled after a quick start. As we await the unveiling of Nintendo’s next platform, what the company announces for the next 6 months will be very important. Will more titles be added to Nintendo’s budget line of Wii software? Will Nintendo announce price drops for the DSi platforms? Where are the 3DS games that will convince consumers to part with $250, which amounts to being the most expensive Nintendo portable in the company’s history?
What Nintendo announces for specifics when it comes to its new console will be incredibly important. At this point, I am predicting that the price will be at least $300. In fact, my prediction is $349.99 for the hardware. This would be a gamble in several respects. For starters, it would be the most expensive hardware that Nintendo has ever released. It would also, despite being the newest console on the block, be the most expensive one on the market. Perhaps the power of the hardware will justify the price, but anything over $300 is unprecedented for Nintendo. As for the launch date, 2011 doesn’t seem likely at this point. March 2012 seems to be the earliest launch date for the hardware, but that’s atypical of Nintendo’s console launch strategy. Many of Nintendo’s consoles have launched either late Q3 or sometime in Q4. If Nintendo sticks to that schedule, 2012 could be far too late given that the Wii continues to sink in hardware sales with each passing month. Even a title like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t a definite system-seller for a console that’s clearly on its way out… but more on that shortly. As with the NGP, I won’t be shocked if Nintendo’s new console hits this November… but I don’t see it happening. Launch software is anyone’s guess.
While it’s certainly way too early to dismiss the 3DS platform, it’s painfully obvious that Nintendo is going to need to take a fair amount of time during its press event to show the audience that new software is coming– and soon. Yes, Ocarina of Time is coming in a few short weeks. More remakes are following, too. And then? Aside from the Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid IPs, what else do we have? A new Mario game is certainly important, and Kid Icarus will likely wow the crowd (again), but the real problem is consistency. The conveyor belt of new releases needs to be running more consistently to fire interest. I think that this will happen, but Nintendo must hammer this point home and show a stronger commitment to the platform than it has so far.
That leaves the future of the Wii, and honestly, there shouldn’t be much of an expectation. Whether it’s due to market saturation or the expiration of a fad, the Wii seems to have run its course at retail… at least in terms of hardware sales. The result of price cuts to $150 remains to be seen, but there were cuts in April and yet the Wii finished behind the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This indicates to me that sales will continue to be flat. Wii Play Motion may sell well, but won’t move hardware. The release of Skyward Sword is still very much up in the air; in fact, I still believe that there’s a better than even chance that the game won’t make it to the Wii at all. Nintendo has promised some Wii news, and absolutely must deliver that news by way of compelling software and not trumpeting more movie-licensed games since that’s about all that can be seen on Coming Soon lists for the platform. If Nintendo isn’t launching its new console this year, the company is in danger of losing consumers to Sony or Microsoft without good reasons to buy or keep the Wii.
The E3 press events set the stage for the actual show. They’re where most of the news and announcements come from. They set the expectation level and get people and press buzzing. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will each have a chance to bring their “A” games. The time for preparation is almost over. Starting on June 6th, we’ll all be keeping score.
As the PlayStation Network enters its third consecutive week of downtime, there are some signs damaged relations between Sony and PlayStation 3 software publishers and developers… as well as with consumers. It’s a battle that is being fought on multiple fronts, and the casualties mount with each passing day.
Damage to the relationship between Sony and PlayStation 3 owners is the most obvious. There are more questions than answers as to when the PlayStation Network is going to come back online, and consumers are losing their patience despite promises of free games and free trials of premium services. Anecdotal reports of PlayStation 3 systems getting traded in towards Xbox 360 units are gradually increasing in number. Message boards and news articles are becoming populated with more and more vitriol towards Sony’s handling of the whole situation. Consumers are unhappy with being unable to redeem preorder bonus codes, and this may turn into a nightmare when L.A. Noire hits stores next week with its preorder DLC. The scales are tipping more towards angry reaction with each passing day, and it’s certainly possible that Sony won’t be able to win consumers back even after service is restored.
Sony may also have to deal with damaged relationships with developers and publishers. Representatives from Capcom and THQ went on record this week mentioning that PlayStation Network downtime has cost their respective companies at least some revenue. Q-Games‘ Dylan Cuthbert (of PixelJunk fame) went on record with IndustryGamers to suggest that Sony may risk losing developer support if they don’t do something to help offset the loss of revenue caused by the extended downtime period. Several notable software releases have been adversely affected by the downtime; Mortal Kombat, Portal 2, and Brink all boast significant online multiplayer components that have been rendered effectively useless with the PlayStation Network. So far in the public eye, developers and publishers are generally taking the high road; however, it’s not a stretch to think that there’s more than a little tension going on behind the scenes as alternate revenue streams have dried up thanks to the suspension on PlayStation Store operations. Until that service is restored, consumers cannot purchase downloadable games or DLC add-ons… and that’s potential revenue that might never be recovered.
There’s also the retail angle to consider. Edge reported that trade-ins of PlayStation 3 units are on the rise and that Xbox 360 software sales are up. Call of Duty: Black Ops is the prime example being used in the article, and the numbers are eye-opening. Look at these sales splits for Black Ops in the UK before the PSN downtime and then afterwards:
- Week ending March 16th: Xbox 360 49%, PlayStation 3 37%
- Week ending March 23rd: PlayStation 3 52%, Xbox 360 40%
- Week ending April 30th: Xbox 360 59%, PlayStation 3 30% (1st week of downtime)
- Week ending May 6th: Xbox 360 66%, PlayStation 3 24% (2nd week of downtime)
You know, Sony, we’ve been close consumer friends for a long time now.
It’s been almost 16 years since I first got hooked on this PlayStation console that you started selling back on September 9th, 1995. Ridge Racer was something else, and when I heard that the best version of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition was coming on launch day, I was sold. Sure, we had a minor quibble right away when your hardware and my Zenith TV decided to disagree and cause my screen to bounce up and down… and, for the record, when I called you on launch day to see what you could do, you were clueless. That turned out to be OK since I bought my first gaming TV not long after and we were best buddies again. I must have really used my PlayStation a lot because the full-motion video would skip sometimes with repeated play. Turns out the PlayStation had this overheating problem and that turning the device on its side was a remedy. That was pretty slick. I wound up just replacing my launch unit with a new model, which was new for me since none of my previous consoles ever had a problem. I forgave you for that, too, since the software for the PlayStation was pretty damned impressive. In fact, some of the games still are… even to this day. I mean, come on! Final Fantasy VII, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid, Ace Combat 2, NHL ’98, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and dozens of other titles spent countless hours spinning in my PlayStation’s CD drive. I still have a PSone, in fact.
I did cheat on you a little bit, Sony, when Sega launched the Dreamcast in 1999. I felt bad about it, but the Dreamcast was the real deal with visuals that blew me away and with games that made me smile. The Dreamcast was enough for me to pass on the PlayStation 2 at launch. You got your revenge, though, when SEGA threw in the towel on the Dreamcast in early 2001. You accepted me with open arms when I bought my PlayStation 2 in February of 2001 and gave me goodies like Ridge Racer V, NHL 2001, and Swing Away Golf. Sure, new games took their sweet time in arriving for a few months, but when they did… WOW. Metal Gear Solid 2 was fantastic. The Burnout games were incredible. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance opened up a whole new genre for me. Unfortunately, we did quarrel again when your hardware crapped out on me again before long and my blue-backed CD-based games wouldn’t work. I eventually wound up spending money on three different PlayStation 2 units. Looking back on it now, I see that you were just preparing me for this current console generation when we’re lucky if units last for 12 months. I guess some lessons have to be learned the hard way, right? Despite our quarrels, the PlayStation 2 and I have had a great relationship. In fact, I will likely buy one more new unit before the consoles are retired. You’ll be happy to know that my PlayStation 2 game collection is near 100, Sony, and I’m proud to share that information even if the console barely has any relevance anymore.
When you announced the PlayStation 3, Sony, I was mad. It wasn’t because I didn’t like what you were offering. The technology was really cool, and this new Blu-ray technology seemed like it could take off. The problem was the price, which had extended into 3DO territory. It was ridiculous since your other consoles were half the price. I tried my best to hold out, but, as usual, you won me over and I had a PlayStation 3 in my living room by the end of 2007 along with something called Rock Band. Our friendship was quickly renewed, although it didn’t take long to sour a bit once again. Microsoft was kicking your butts pretty good with their Xbox 360, and Nintendo was killing both companies with its waggle-fest called Wii. I felt like many of the games were sub-standard ports of Xbox 360 games, and your answer to Microsoft’s Gamerscore and Achievement systems was inconsistent and lacked the sense of accomplishment that I was looking for. PlayStation Home made no sense to me at all, other than being a drain on my hard drive, and I just got bored with and disinterested in the PlayStation 3. Break-ups happen, as you well know, and I broke up with my PlayStation 3 in 2009. It wasn’t you, Sony… it was me. I became consumer friends with Microsoft, and we clicked.
You must have sensed that I’d been unhappy, because then things started to happen with the PlayStation 3 that again attracted my interest. God of War III looked amazing. Your baseball games were (and still are) second to none. Uncharted 2 was everything I wanted from a sequel. I could almost hear Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza 3 telling me that I needed to get another PlayStation 3. You opened the original PlayStation software vault and made some excellent games available for cheap downloads. You knew just how to win me back, and you did last year. As with almost every other console that I’ve owned with your name on it, Sony, my new PlayStation 3 was flawed… but your repair team came through and fixed the unit and our relationship. You didn’t care that Microsoft and I were consumer friends, as long as you could be part of the group, too. For that, I even decided to kick you an extra $50 to be part of your special club, called PlayStation Plus, and being a member was really great.
We were good, Sony. We were good.
Then came April of 2011, and it all unraveled. Your online PlayStation Network became known as the PlayStation Notwork as “maintenance”– or DDoS attacks, as most of us call them– took the service offline. I don’t play online much, but I like leaderboards and, as you know, I like giving you money for your games and add-ons. I don’t like digital distribution, but I couldn’t deny you. You had been training me to accept it, and I begrudgingly had come to be accepting. When PSN is down, though, I can’t buy things and I can’t update leaderboards. It felt to me like you were lying, and I don’t like to be lied to. It’s a trust thing, you understand. If you promise me something, even if you don’t say so in as many words, you need to deliver it as consistently as possible. Microsoft does this, and we’re cool… so it bothered me that you couldn’t for whatever reason.
To make matters worse, some of my friends and colleagues on Twitter alerted me to an announcement that you were taking PSN offline– again, “for maintenance”– at a time when some big releases had just hit stores. You said that it would only be a day or two, but two turned into four, and four has become eight. Then you come out this week and drop the bomb: PSN got hacked, and my personal information could be compromised as a result. Somebody out there could see where I live, use my name and date of birth for identity purposes, or even possibly have my debit card information.
I know that you’re sorry, but sorry doesn’t fix this. I understand that it’s not entirely your fault, but you failed to protect the personal information that I gave you in strict confidence. I don’t see how I can trust you now with my personal information, Sony… at least for the near future. You can promise me the world, profess that the problem won’t happen again and that you’re going to do better this time, and even offer me words of sympathy and regret… but how can I honestly believe you? You were deceitful when you were DDoS attacked, you were deceitful when this security breach occurred, and then you were painfully silent for days before finally telling me what happened.
Friends don’t lie, Sony. Friends don’t leak my information to anyone unless we agree that it’s all right to do so. Friends at least offer me the chance to understand when they screw up instead of hiding in fear. I know that you’re not really my friend, Sony, but we had something good.
I hate to do this to you, but we’re taking a consumer relationship break, you and I. I’m not going to dump you again– not yet, at least– but if you’re really sorry for what happened, you’re going to have to prove it to me and then give me time to see if I can forgive you. Make me feel valued and important again. Make me feel secure that my information is going to be safeguarded better. Make me believe that you’re changing for the better. If you can do that, we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll turn my PlayStation 3 on again and see how my online friends have done in Marvel Pinball. Maybe I’ll poke around the PlayStation Store again, although I’ll have to find one of your PSN cards if I buy anything. No offense, but you’re no longer getting my debit card information, not even out of personal convenience. That ship has sailed.
Who knows? Maybe we can work this out and become consumer friends again. I think that, deep down inside, I really want to be… but this is the way that things have to be right now. I know that this isn’t entirely your fault, and I hope that you catch the jerk who wrecked this for everyone. For now, Microsoft and I are going to hang out more. I’ll still read your e-mails and am sure that you have some exciting things still in store for E3 despite this crisis that I’m looking forward to seeing. I’m rooting for you.
In the meantime, it’s your Move, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Win me back one more time.
I don’t get it, 2K Games and Gearbox Software.
I spent $60 on your Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands for the PlayStation 3. I was happy to double-dip on Borderlands, given how much I enjoyed it on the Xbox 360. In fact, according to my Raptr data, I spent 55 hours playing it. I was looking forward to playing it again on my PlayStation 3, with all of the DLC this time. I was a little concerned when I opened the case and saw a DLC voucher inside; after all, a Blu-ray disc has a ton of room… so including the extra 4.41GB of DLC on the disc should not have been a problem. Still, I was fine with letting the download go while I slept overnight.
After going to the PlayStation Store and entering the voucher code, I was surprised to find that it didn’t work. I grumbled, and tried again. Same result. After a brief Twitter exchange, I decided to let things go until morning, figuring that very few people bought the game at midnight and that things would be fine later.
Now it’s past noontime here, and the code still does not work… and I am justifiably angry.Even though the problem now looks like an issue on the PlayStation Store side of the house, since I see that others are having the same issue, I hold 2K and Gearbox responsible. What good reason is there to not have the DLC on the same disc? There isn’t one. It’s meant to dissuade trade-ins or buying used. Instead of having all of the content available on physical media, give a one time use code (that may or may not work) and let the consumer take the 4.41GB hit on his or her bandwidth cap. Buying the game used simply means that you are buying the same game that’s been out there used for nearly a year but with different artwork.
I understand that, if this situation resolves itself, there’s still a $10 savings buying the GOTY version of Borderlands for $60 versus buying the standalone game for $30 and the four DLC add-ons for $10 apiece. I don’t get, however, why some GOTY versions of games (like Oblivion for example) have the DLC content included within physical media for immediate installation while others resort to Voucher Roulette. I bought this game new, and yet have to jump through hoops to access the content that I paid for. What’s worse is that half of the paid content is digitally distributed, which will require at least an hour of time to download and install. All of the Borderlands GOTY content, between the PS3 mandatory installation and the DLC, consumes a whopping 7.11GB of hard drive space. I’m not sure that I see the value of the this package when all is said and done. I’m now soured on the experience, have to wait for a resolution, still have to devote the time to download and install the DLC, and saved a grand total of $10 versus buying a la carte. If I could return the game, I would… but because it’s a problem with the DLC and not the game, I’m stuck with it.
Publishers and developers need to stop catching consumers in the crossfire when it comes to their War on Used Games and the battle with resellers. Had they not been fighting this war, I’m willing to bet that the content would have been on a disc instead of via a 12-character code that’s still worthless 12 hours after buying the game and removing the seal. I did nothing wrong. I spent money on your game and bought it new… and yet I am treated to this experience?
Tell me why I shouldn’t have just bought Borderlands used, and then bought the DLC that I wanted for it.
There isn’t a good reason why, other than wanting to make even more money on assets that have been around for some time already– which you would have gotten from me when I bought the DLC. Instead, I played by the industry’s rules and got burned in the process. I don’t want to hear arguments about who is at fault. I don’t want to hear how “stuff happens” and that the situation will be fixed. If I buy a game at the full $60 price tag that the industry seems to think it deserves for providing us with such fantastic entertainment, then I expect to have access to what I have paid for.
I shudder to think what Sony has done with its Uncharted 2 Game of the Year package. How much of that will be voucher-only? Will they work?
I’m pretty much done with GOTY packages after this mess, personally… and my distaste for this console generation and the industry’s blatent lack of regard and respect for its consumers continues to grow. It’s appalling.
It’s funny timing that Top Gun was released today, given the fact that the H.A.W.X. 2 demo also went live at the same time on the PlayStation Store. It’s funny because H.A.W.X. 2 seems to “borrow” elements from Top Gun for the NES, as I mentioned earlier today… and now we get a brand new Top Gun game to play and discuss. Unfortunately, problems rear their ugly heads with this effort from the development at from DoubleSix, and $15 will feel like too much not long after you take your first F-14 hop.
If you did play either the original H.A.W.X. or today’s demo of H.A.W.X. 2, you’re going to know almost exactly how to play Top Gun. The left stick rolls and banks your craft while the L1 and R1 buttons control yaw for more intricate and precise turns. Missiles are fired with the square button and your guns are fired with the X button. There’s also an option to pilot the plane from a distance, much like the Assistance Off mode in H.A.W.X., by pressing the circle button. Unlike H.A.W.X., your planes don’t stall and the controls are a bit more forgiving… but they’re also incredibly sensitive. Since you cannot stall, your minimum speed is still quite fast, leading to many instances of speeding past ground targets before you can lock onto and fire upon them. Everything about the controls feel fast, and when it comes to ground assaults, this becomes problematic quickly.
Single-player modes consist of a Campaign and a Horde mode. The single-player Campaign basically puts players in the uniform of Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, also known by his familiar call sign, Maverick. Maverick’s tale starts out on a hairy note over the Indian Ocean, where he and his fellow pilots fall under attack by Soviet forces led by their notorious ace called Ivan. Maverick and his RIO, Goose, are then shipped off to the Top Gun academy to sharpen their skills. If this sounds familiar to you, it should… as the first half of the campaign essentially follows the movie. The general plot is glossed over, though. While you do share the skies with Jester and Viper, other important instances such as Maverick’s in-air accident and Goose’s subsequent demise are merely glossed over and explained away by dialogue that’s supplied by voice actors who seem to be bored. The second half of the Campaign follows Maverick and Iceman into the combat again a Soviet fleet or warships and planes, culminating in the final battle with Ivan. There are a few movie references in the second half, too, but the voice acting again kills a lot of the movie’s influence.
As with most flight combat games, players deal with enemies both on the ground and in the air. Air combat is the better of the two, although it’s a tad easy to be overwhelmed by missiles and targeting enemies feels like it’s inconsistent and takes too long. The game tries to change things up by adding jamming devices, which disable missile locks and necessitate the use of guns to take out targets. This obviously alters your target priorities, but taking out these jammers on the ground is far more difficult than it should be due to the aforementioned oversensitive controls. Later missions introduce bombers with on-board jammers (which remind me of E-767 places from the Ace Combat games), and these require the player to take out each of four engines with guns only. Aside from these differences, Top Gun‘s combat is standard stuff for flight combat games; SU-27 and MiG-31 planes attempt to splash your plane in the air while SAMs and AA guns try to do the same from the ground. It’s familiar stuff, but this isn’t necessarily bad.
Multiplayer play is tough to judge. Each time I tried to play with others, the connection was lost. From what I was able to experience from the Deathmatch rounds I got into, online dogfighting was fun. There’s an odd “warmup” period before each match, so kills don’t count… but scores are active, it’s fun. Playing against other human players means that predicting flight paths is much more difficult and that missile locks don’t guarantee kills.
Visually, Top Gun is average. Generic landscapes and ocean settings house each mission, and the action moves along at 30 frames per second. The planes aren’t all that detailed, and there are instances of texture glitches and tearing from time to time. Cutscenes for the game are basically shots of your aircraft from different angles while unmoving faces in small boxes recite lines of dialog. In terms of sound, expect lots of phoned-in voice acting and poor-to-average covers of familiar themes from the Top Gun film mixed in with some generic guitar riffs. It’s unfortunate that the voice acting couldn’t be pulled from the film, considering that all of the other licenses are intact. The same complaint applies to the music; how can Danger Zone and the Top Gun Anthem be included, but not by the original artists? If the game is based strongly on the film, and Paramount itself is listed as the game’s publisher, why are the film’s assets being substituted for? These are very odd aesthetic decisions.
It’s unfortunate that Top Gun has seen multiple games spawned from the original film, and yet we still don’t have a game that pays the ultimate compliment to the movie. In no way is Top Gun a terrible game, but it’s not all that remarkable, either. It plays like a dumbed-down version of H.A.W.X., and that game is available as a full retail release for slightly more than this 240MB download gives for $15. $10 likely would be a sweeter price point for this title, and it just begs for in-movie assets… cutscenes, sound clips, and real music. If you’re jonesing for a flight combat game, try H.A.W.X. for now… and keep an eye to the virtual skies for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon when it appears on radar next year.
Final Grade: C-
Look at all these rumors, surrounding me every day; I just need some time… some time to get away…
Although the Timex Social Club song from 1986 wasn’t talking about rumors in video games, the fact is that the internet gives birth to vast amounts of industry rumors every day, and it’s impossible to ignore them all. Recent rumors regarding the E3 unveiling of Sony’s premium PlayStation Network service and regarding Microsoft’s price point for its Natal wonder-cam are getting lots of buzz, so now is as good a time as any to break these down a bit.
PSN+ is, to me, a much better-sounding term for Sony’s new subscription service than PSN Premium was. Having said that, however, the latest speculation– courtesy of Joystiq– has drawn lots of online criticism. Here are the PSN+ subscription highlights, according to the speculative article:
- Access to rotating list of PSone games / PlayStation Mini games
- Exclusive in-game DLC
- PlayStation Store discounts
- “First hour” demo access to full retail titles
- Cross-game voice chat
- PlayStation Protection Plan enrollment
The article speculates that the monthly cost for PSN+ will be about $10 per month and did not mention a yearly fee.
There are big questions here. Are the games that PSN+ users get access to theirs to keep, or does access drop after a certain point? Could the exclusive DLC be tied into Trophies? Could Sony really charge $120 per year for this service and be successful? Could the long-awaited addition of cross-game voice chat be limited to PSN+ users only?
If the rumor turns out to be true as it’s written, someone at Sony is absolutely nuts. Granted, there are features here that are better than what Xbox LIVE offers… but are those advantages worth paying at least $70 more a year for? PS3 owners have been begging and pleading for cross-game chat for years, and now Sony is finally ready to roll it out… but only after you pay for it? I can understand that Sony has seen Microsoft’s success with Xbox LIVE and that they want some of that potential revenue, but the pricing absolutely has to be more competitive. The company painted itself into a corner by not charging for online play and services to begin with, so if they decide to hold cross-game chat and some DLC hostage, it could be a public relations nightmare for Sony. The last thing that Sony wants to do is to further damage momentum after its supply shortage problems with the PS3… but by splintering its online userbase now been the “haves” and “have nots”, it’s bound to create confusion and anger among PS3 owners and prospective PS3 buyers alike.
It’s likely that there will be some sort of discount for yearly subscriptions. The real question is: How much is appropriate to charge? Despite the advantages of free games and Protection Plan enrollment, it’s foolhardy to charge much more than Microsoft’s benchmark of $50 per year– or about $4 a month. I would guess that the cap would be $60 for a year at most, and that’s because of the extra perks over what Xbox LIVE offers. Anything higher than that would lead to all sorts of trouble for PSN+, even in a generation where the consumer base doesn’t seem to mind too much for paying blindly for things.
Speaking of high prices…
The other prevalent rumor surrounds Natal and its alleged price tag of $150.
It’s obvious that Microsoft (and Sony, to be fair) is targeting the Wii audience with Natal, but charging a mere $50 less than a Wii for a glorified webcam seems awfully steep. Why would you not just buy the Wii (which comes with two versions of Wii Sports right now) for $50 more if you want the Wii experience? It makes no sense; it’s almost as if Microsoft just assumes that people are going to run right now and buy Natal based on marketing or their Cirque du Soleil nonsense at E3 or for whatever other ridiculous reasoning other than the notion that it might be a decent peripheral. The fact is that we’ve still seen very little on Natal since it was unveiled almost a year ago. We’ve seen one notable game (Fable III) that intends to utilize Natal.
Sure, that will likely change at E3, but a $150 change?
$150 for an add-on device, no matter how high-tech you claim it to be, is simply too high for the mass market… especially when you compare this to the price of Sony’s competing Move peripheral (rumored to be at least $50 less) and the cost of a new Wii (only $50 more and comes with the console and games). Even Sony’s possible $100 price point for the PlayStation Eye and Move combo seems a bit high, but it’s still less expensive than the Natal might be. This isn’t a new console launch, where people are saving up cash to buy the next new piece of killer hardware; this is a peripheral that we’ve known about for months and is finally going to get exposure just a few months prior to release. Sony has already shown off Move to the press corps with games in actual gameplay settings; Microsoft has yet to do the same with Natal. That puts the pressure on Microsoft to have a stellar showing at E3 and quiet the growing number of naysayers out there.
As with any rumor, these are likely to be debunked (at least in some form) in less than three weeks in Los Angeles. The good news for Sony and Microsoft about these rumors is that they stimulate conversation and reaction towards the companies and their products. Even bad publicity is still publicity, and this sets the stage for what could be the most important E3 in years.
I can’t wait… and I have a hunch that you can’t, either.
VG247‘s rumor piece on PSN Premium info coming out at E3 next month should not surprise anyone. We’ve been hearing rumblings about this for months, dating back to last November. Now is not the time to be indignant or surprised about Sony deciding to jump on the “Let’s get paid!” bandwagon.
If we are to take the rumor piece at face value, here’s what we know about PSN Premium:
- Less than $50/year
- Streaming music app (like Spotify)
- One “free” PSN game per month (limited choices)
Obviously, there are plenty of blanks that need to be filled in here. As it stands, these perks don’t necessarily warrant paying a certain amount of cash per year. Even if the streaming music application can be played while in the middle of a game, not everyone wants to have music playing over what’s going on in-game. Also, the “free” PSN game perk is vague; is it a rental-type service where it’s free to play for a month and then automatically deactivates? What about the choices, especially if they’re not all that fetching in a given month? There surely has to be something else here. Perhaps something with the Video section of the PlayStation Store? Maybe a complimentary subscription to Qore? Special PlayStation Home goodies? Advance demos?
There’s certainly going to be a lot of speculation going forward until we hear from Sony next month.
The price is going to be the big question mark. Of course it will be less than $50… that’s what Microsoft is charging (at regular price) for its yearly Xbox LIVE subscriptions. I’m thinking somewhere between $30-$40 per year. If the price is closer to $40, Sony is going to have to do some serious selling and deliver a laundry list of features that will grab lots of attention… plus Microsoft could easily match that price point and the comparison would be a lot tougher. $30 seems like the sweet spot for an annual subscription as long as Sony is able to sweeten the deal with more than the two perks seen above.As far as monthly subscription pricing goes– if that’s even going to be an option– those guesses could be all over the map. I don’t, however, see any price higher than $10 working here… and that’s on the high side. The idea of monthly subs is to get people interested enough that they want to upgrade to the annual plan. $5 a month would probably work fine, given that monthly users could likely wind up paying as much as double what the yearly rate is if they stick with that plan.
Now that Sony is jumping on board the online revenue bandwagon and with Shigeru Miyamoto saying that Nintendo may be looking into the same thing, it’s only a matter of time before online play will see some sort of charge or subscription universally. Sony can claim all they want that online play will remain free, but Sony’s continuing losses indicate to me that online fees are inevitable. PSN Premium is the first step towords this inevitability. The truth is that the gaming community has come to accept the higher costs of gaming and the industry has no reason to change course. If PSN became pay-to-play, do you honestly see millions of people just selling off their consoles? Nope. They’ll whine and complain and compose worthless online petitions, but they’ll begrudgingly accept subscription costs. They’ve accepted higher game prices. They’ve accepted DLC and digital distribution.
This won’t be any different.
I talked last week about something called an HD Tax, which is what I define as the extra $10 that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners are paying for software versus what consumers paid for games a generation ago. This extra cost tends to accumulate over time, so if you average buying one new game per month, you wind up spending an additional $120 over this time five years ago. While some games have arguably “earned” the right to charge this premium, many others (take the recent disaster Iron Man 2, for example) don’t. While this tax/premium seemed like a more reasonable idea at the start of this console generation, times have also changed since then. Unemployment is hovering near 10% nationwide, the cost of living has increased, and disposable income is decreasing. This partially explains why some consumers look to buy used, as it’s money saved and still allows for the ability to play newer or recent games at a lower price point. I know that I’ve gone over this argument a few times here, but it’s a prelude to a related topic that’s at the center of today’s opinion.
Inexplicably, we’re seeing the average price of downloadable titles marching higher. Both of last week’s Xbox LIVE Arcade releases– Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition and RayStorm HD– were priced at 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15. These examples are the most recent evidence that the $15 mark is the new standard for these games, after $10 (or 800 Microsoft Points) was the standard for a majority of the Xbox 360′s life span. In fact, in the platform’s infancy, there was a decent split between $5 retro/arcade titles and $10 original releases… but titles like Braid and Shadow Complex broke the previous $10 barrier and sold for $15. We’re not only seeing the new $15 price point become more prevalent, but we’re seeing that the quality of these apparent premium releases is arguable at best.
While I’ve not yet played Braid, reviews and impressions that I’ve read seem to indicate that the game is worthy of the premium price point. Shadow Complex was a fantastic game with decent length and options that certainly earned the $15 that I spent on it. Conversely, releases like 0 Day Attack on Earth, NBA Unrivaled, Invincible Tiger, and Fret Nice don’t come anywhere close to deserving a $15 premium. Other games in the $15 range, like RayStorm HD and Scrap Metal, are questionable at best. Of the 21 XBLA titles released so far in 2010, 9 of them are $15 titles– that’s 43%. Compare that with 24% of XBLA games released in 2009 (21 out of 91) that were more than $10, and you see a significant increase. Almost double, in fact.
The price point for RayStorm HD was quite unsettling to me, as the cosmetic changes are not all that drastic and that the new modes of play really don’t break any new ground. Considering that you can buy Taito Legends 2 for the PlayStation 2 for less than $10 new and that RayStorm is but one of 39 total games included on the disc… $15 is rather steep. Yes, it’s got Achievements and Leaderboards, but are the additions made to the original arcade version of RayStorm that significant? I don’t think so. 0 Day Attack on Earth is another example of fleecing; it’s short, repetitive, and relies on expensive paid DLC to extend the experience… and you’re still expected to pay $15 for the base game. Where’s the precedent here? Is it because the game uses satellite imagery of actual cities for background visuals? I certainly hope not. There’s just no rhyme or reason to what qualifies as a $15 game anymore. It used to be the exception, based on a variety of factors. Now it seems to be more of the norm, a 33% increase over what XBLA consumers have generally been accustomed to paying for quite some time now.
Speaking of paid DLC for XBLA games, it’s getting ridiculous. Square-Enix is getting a reputatiion for gutting content from their XBLA releases in order to resell that content as DLC shortly after launch. Many of these games are Taito offerings, like Bubble Bobble, Arkanoid, and Qix. This is not to say that paid DLC has not existed previously for XBLA games, but these examples are the most egregious ones. The base games may sell for $10, but the DLC is $5 or more in order to make the game complete. Capcom’s DLC releases for Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 are clear revenue builders and arguably should have been part of the original releases as space was never an issue. For publishers, these are great ideas… but unsuspecting consumers are getting fleeced, and there’s no end in sight to this trend.
I’ve always been a proponent of downloadable games for services like Xbox LIVE Arcade or the PlayStation Store. These can be impulse purchases and some of these games can really be impressive, like Battlefield 1943 or Shadow Complex. As prices begin to creep up to the $15 range, however, the danger exists that there will be less impulse and more caution on the part of consumers. Downloadable games are not refundable and you can’t trade them in or sell them, so you’re basically stuck with what you buy. Dropping $5 or even $10 impulsively on a game and walking away less than impressed stings a bit less than dropping $15 on a stinker like 0 Day Attack on Earth or NBA Unrivaled that you inevitably either wind up deleting or just forgetting about… and consumers won’t forget after they’ve been burned. If $15 is going to become the new standard, then the level of quality needs to be higher. Something has to give.
As prices go up, it becomes harder for me to be an impulse buyer. The same situation applies to the HD taxed disc-based games and to downloadable titles… in fact, it applies more strongly for downloadable games in my case. Unlike the price of gasoline breaking through psychological barriers like $3 and $4, $15 downloadable games aren’t necessities. I’ll simply learn to play what I have and wait for the right title to come and earn my $15. Killing off the impulse in consumers has the potential to hurt the market in the long run, but the industry will continue to be to self-centered to notice until it’s too late.
Flight combat games have been somewhat lacking during this console generation. Yes, we got Ace Combat 6 for the Xbox 360 and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. for both the PlayStation 3 and the 360… but those have been the most notable in an otherwise unremarkable few titles that represent the genre.
Until now, that is.
Afterburner Climax is a conversion of a SEGA arcade game that loses almost nothing in its trip from the arcade to the home. There are no in-depth stories and no characters to identify with here; it’s you, your plane, and swarms of enemies out to shoot you down and sign those checks that your body can’t cash. The game itself is rather short and may seem limited, but unlockable medals and options and an ever-changing leaderboard add enough replay value to justify the $10 asking price. While fans of the classic SEGA arcade game (and SEGA Genesis sequel) likely won’t need any additional motivation to buy Climax, gamers that are new to the series will also have plenty to be impressed with here.
Unlike Ace Combat 6 or H.A.W.X., Afterburner Climax is purposely fast and extremely busy. Dogfighting isn’t the idea behind this game; it’s more of a rail shooter. That means that there are plenty of targets to take down including jets, choppers, SAMs, flak guns, and more. Most of the action comes at you, so you must be quick on the trigger in order to shoot the enemies down before they do the same to you. As you lock on to enemies, you can fire salvos of missiles to blast them from the skies or to incinerate ground targets. In addition, large groups of enemies can be locked onto at once by activating Climax Mode, which dramatically increases the missile lock reticle and can help to eliminate mass threats with extreme prejudice. This mode can only be used sparingly and must be recharged over time once it’s deployed. Defensively, having missiles fired directly at you means that deft maneuvering is required to avoid getting killed out there in the unfriendly skies. Virtual pilots have to ability to roll their craft (by moving either left or right and then steering hard in the opposite direction) and can speed up or slow down in brief bursts as needed. Some stages also demand precision steering to avoid collisions with the environment.
Afterburner Climax has multiple modes of play. Arcade Mode is exactly what it sounds like, as players attempt to clear all of the stages of the game just like in the arcade. This mode has limited continues, but the difficulty level can be tweaked to suit the player’s level of experience. As progress is made in the Arcade Mode, special customization options open up. These EX Options become unlocked as various milestones are established; for example, getting the Game Over screen enough times allows you to set the number of continues– or available credits– higher. Other EX Options include the ability to have your machine guns fire automatically and for your craft to travel at its fastest rate of speed at all times. Unlocking and then adjusting these options can make the Arcade Mode an entirely different experience than when you first play it, and the game’s branching pathways make for a unique experience for the first few playthroughs.
These EX Options, however, have no bearing on the other mode of play in Afterburner Climax: the Score Attack Mode. Score Attack has a preset difficulty and unlimited lives, so unless you give up, you will beat the game every time. Beating the game isn’t the goal of Score Attack, though. It’s all about getting the highest score possible and earning bragging rights via the worldwide leaderboard. Although there are infinite lives here, Score Attack is far from easy. Extra objectives, known as Emergency Orders, must be completed to earn the highest scores, and these are not easy at all to achieve. One such mission has you trying to shoot down a speedy enemy prototype plane before it escapes, while another requires you to shoot down a fleeing stealth bomber using nothing but your guns. Figuring out which of the branching pathways can lead to higher scores is also a key element in charting well, meaning that a few runs in Score Attack are necessary to achieve the best results. Depending on how you fare, different medals can be won and added to your collection. This criteria includes how well you are graded afer each stage, how many enemies are shot down, how much you use Climax Mode, and so on.
Visually, Afterburner Climax is quite impressive– especially for a downloadable title. The game’s framerate is a solid 60 frames per second, and that’s in spite of multiple planes, missiles, and various particle effects that are all on-screen at the same time. Driving rainstorms, volcanic areas, enemy bases, and nighttime skies over a bustling city are just a few of the theaters of operation that you’ll be flying in.The explosions are violently beautiful to behold, and details such as missile trails and damaged planes are easy to miss while playing but will catch the eye of even the most casual observer. In the sound department, pilot chatter and the concussive sounds of explosions and ammunition are accompanied by one of two soundtracks which includes a remix of the Afterburner II OST.
There’s a lot to like about Afterburner Climax. It is the arcade game, minus the interactive cabinet with moving parts. Playing through the game is a thrill ride, and setting new high scores in Score Attack is a notable accomplishment. The game also has a fair number of Achievements / Trophies to unlock, and range from easy (such as pulling off your first roll) to hard (ranking AAA in Arcade Mode). Don’t be deceived by the relatively short length of the game during a playthrough; it’s repeated play and improving skills that unlock some of the game’s cooler features and customizations, and that leads to even more replay value. Following hot on the heels of Capcom’s Final Fight: Double Impact offering, Afterburner Climax successfully brings the arcade home once again, with no quarters or tokens required other than the $10 cover charge.