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E3 2009 officially opened the floodgates in terms of motion control on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Though Nintendo had found major success already with the company's Wii console, Microsoft and Sony were clearly hungry to get in on the action.
During each of their respective press conferences, we learned that neither Microsoft nor Sony wanted to directly emulate the technology Nintendo was using, but between the two, Sony's demonstration clearly piggybacked on the Wii remote wand shape and MotionPlus.
As time went on, we learned that this motion control initiative would be called PlayStation Move, and unlike the Wii, the technology would use a camera along with a light-up wand controller. The ball on top of the Move controller is what the PlayStation Eye sees, which it then computes into input commands.
Our review will take a look at the PlayStation Move Starter Bundle, which will retail for $100 when it's released September 17. It includes a Move controller, a PlayStation Eye camera, and a copy of Sports Champions. We'll also look at other PlayStation Move titles we've been able to test out, along with whether we think the Move is worth a purchase if you already own a Nintendo Wii.
The standard PlayStation Move controller
The standard PlayStation Move controller has a rubberized ball on top that's capable of switching colors via LED lights that are embedded at the bottom of the ball. We've been told that this functionality was included in the remote so that the device could change color if clothing or background interfered with what the PlayStation Eye could distinguish.
Most of the DualShock 3's buttons are represented on the Move controller, except L and R buttons. Instead, the Move controller replaces them with a standard "T" trigger button and an "OK" central button that has the PlayStation Move logo emblazoned on it.
The standard X, O, square, and triangle buttons flank the OK button. They have a simple, "click" feel to them, not the pressure-sensitive kind seen on the DualShock 3. The Select and Start buttons are hidden on either side of the Move controller, and we actually found them a bit tough to hit midgame. About halfway down the controller is the PlayStation Home button, the same one found on the DualShock 3.
The standard PlayStation Move controller is quite comfortable, and we really like how well the ergonomic shape of the device glides the trigger button directly into place in your hand. Though it's modeled to better facilitate a proper grip, it's a bit clumsier than what it's like swinging around a Wii remote.
There's no player number indicator on the PlayStation Move controller. Instead, when playing locally with more than one person (and more than one Move controller), the rubber ball will light a different color to signify whose remote it is.
PlayStation Move allows for two standard controllers to be used by the same player at once. For example, in Sports Champions' Beach Volleyball mode, the player has the option to use two remotes instead of one to help perform moves like bumping and serving. There's an option to use just one remote in this game mode as well, and switching in between both one- and two-remote setups didn't really change our opinion on overall accuracy. Extra Move controllers will go for $50 each.
We really liked how easy it was to navigate the PS3's XMB (cross-media-bar) menu system with this controller. By holding the T button on the remote, we were able to successfully move through menus left, right, up, and down. We were also impressed with how effortlessly we were able to select items and how well the camera was able to interpret the slightest of moves--ideal for selecting a single menu item among dozens.
The Navigation controller
Though the Navigation controller is not included in the bundle reviewed here, it is available separately for $30. The Navigation controller can be used in tandem with the Move controller to play certain games, like SOCOM 4. That said, during our testing with the software samples that Sony supplied us, we almost never had to use the device.
In terms of layout, the Navigation controller is about two-thirds the size of the standard Move controller and only features X and O buttons. A D-pad and analog thumb stick allows for nonmotion movement, and around back there are L1 and L2 trigger buttons. We're anticipating that this controller will primarily be used for games like SOCOM 4, where the player must be able to move a character as well as point or aim onscreen.
The Move controller and Navigation controller each have USB ports (just like the one found on a DualShock 3) so it'll first need to be paired to the console via a wired connection. Additionally, that port is used to charge both devices.
There isn't much involved in the preliminary setup of the PlayStation Move. The Eye accessory will take up a USB port, so there may be some issues with freeing up extra ports on newer PlayStation 3 consoles that only have two slots. Luckily, we tested the Move with our older PS3 models that gave us four ports to work with.
We placed the Eye below our TV in the center of the stand, though it can also be placed above a TV as well. You'll need to make sure the PS3 is close enough to the TV to accommodate the Eye's USB cord, so some slight rearranging may be required. We didn't have much of an issue getting everything situated correctly, but we're anticipating that this may be an issue for those with wall-mounted TVs or with custom-built home theater furniture that's measured to fit perfectly.
We should note that a few games recommended a minimum distance of 6 feet between the player and the PlayStation Eye for the best results. Though that might not seem like much, it may be tough to play with the PlayStation Move in a dormitory or, more specifically, a Manhattan apartment.
The game included with the Move Starter Bundle is Sports Champions, Sony's take on Wii Sports. Though Sports Champions only includes Disc Golf, Archery, Table Tennis, Gladiator Duel, Beach Volleyball, and Bocce Ball, these games feel much more fleshed out and give the player a healthy number of options and unlockables.
There's an impressive amount of production value packed into each of the sports. Most modes offer various courses to try out and a solid selection of avatars to choose from. Graphically speaking, the games look great, much more impressive than what we're used to in other sports variety games.
There's a noticeable difference in control when coming from something like Wii Sports Resort, as the player is somewhat tethered to the Eye camera. Before each game you'll have to go through a three-part calibration process that becomes tedious over time. The game encourages the player to remain in one location for the entirety of the session, so those who like to move their feet around may not get the best results.
We really had a lot of fun with Disc Golf and Bocce Ball; each mode supplied us with a surprising amount of control. There seems to be a lot of technical information being delivered onscreen at any given time; wind speeds, measurements, spin indicators, and helpful guides seem to increase the feeling of more accurate control.
Sony sent us a few other near-final games to try out with the PlayStation Move hardware. We've had some hands-on time with most of the titles we received, but a few stood out as impressive. First there was Start the Party, which is exactly what it sounds like: a party game. This collection of games uses the Eye camera to superimpose a video of the player onscreen and masks the Move controller, allowing it to become literally anything the game has programmed.
Tumble felt a lot like Boom Blox on the Wii, with its Jenga-inspired gameplay and block-building. There's a lot of satisfying physics simulation to play around with here, and overall we felt the response from the items in the game were on point.
Finally, we'd be hard-pressed not to mention the absolutely bizarre yet addictive title known as Kung-Fu Rider. Though the premise is simple, it's also ridiculous. The object of the game is to ride an office chair downhill, using the Move controller to jump, steer, and attack enemies. Some sort of indecipherable story line explains the reasons for these events, but we're pretty sure gamers will only be concerned with the title's absurdity.
Overall, the lineup of the Move's launch games isn't exactly compelling, but as with any new platform, it takes time for developers to truly unlock the potential of the technology. We're excited to try out light-gun games like Time Crisis: Razing Storm to see if it gives Wii games like House of the Dead: Overkill a run for their money.
Sony also has promised Move support (meaning the game will work optionally with Move) with major upcoming titles like LittleBigPlanet 2, SOCOM 4, and R.U.S.E. It will also work (via a downloadable patch) with existing games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 and Heavy Rain.
Comparisons with the Wii
Of course this review couldn't be complete without the necessary comparisons with the Wii. Though each controller has similar technology, the way they interact with the console is different. Because Move has an actual camera at its disposal, we think it's able to provide a bit more accuracy and control.
Wii MotionPlus is neck-and-neck with Move and the motion sensing it provides, but MotionPlus is only supported by a handful of Wii games. It also requires a separate attachment that makes it a bit clunky. We really like how the Move controller is a complete package.
When it comes to graphics, it's tough to fairly compare the Wii with the PS3. We think that the motion control aspects are similar, to a degree, but the PS3 clearly outshines the Wii when it comes to visuals. There's certainly something to be said about motion control gaming in HD on the PS3 and the less visually appealing experience that's on the Wii.
If you already own a Nintendo Wii, the slight bump in accuracy and control may not be enough to justify a purchase. However, the combination of HD graphics, and games that look to offer more production value and bang for your buck does seem like the better deal when compared just in terms of value. Don't forget: Wii controllers also consume batteries (or third-party accessories to charge them) whereas Move has these built-in.
Comparisons with Microsoft Kinect
PlayStation Move operates almost completely differently than what we've seen so far with Microsoft Kinect. The only similarity here is the use of a camera to sense motion. Move uses the light-up ball to track movement, but Kinect is designed to see the human body.
Judging from what we've played with Kinect so far, we can tell that it, too, will be a completely different experience, something that needs to be played to be fully understood. The lack of any sort of controller is initially jarring, and we're not sure its accuracy and overall precision is on par with what the Move is capable of.
At any rate, the two motion technologies are quite different. Because they offer totally unique experiences, it's tough to compare them and recommend one over the other. When Kinect is released in November 2010, we will update this review where applicable.
Right now, we can only advise those looking for controller-based motion control to consider the Wii or Move, and for those interested in body control to check out Kinect.
To be clear, the PlayStation Move has shown that it's capable of some of the best motion controls we've seen in a game. That said, we're just not sure the launch library of titles provides a compelling reason to spend $100 on the new technology. Sure, we think adding on Move support with pre-existing and yet-to-be released games is a nice touch, but we don't think that justifies purchasing new hardware for only the option to play it with the Move.
As more titles release for the Move, we'll certainly reconsider our current rating. But for its launch date of September 17, we think gamers will need to think twice before they pull the trigger.
If there's one thing we're learning about motion controlled gaming, it's that we're not sure this is what the hard-core gaming audience wants. As we mentioned above, the Move can provide an entertaining and occasionally impressive experience, but it's never able to emulate the ultraprecise and never laggy gameplay that a standard button controller provides.
We can't fault these console manufacturers for wanting to reap the fruits that Nintendo pioneered; we just don't know if there is a place for the technology on each of the three major systems.