Seven years after its launch in the UK, I can finally give you my first impressions of the PS3.
Here on A Most Agreeable Pastime, we’ve never been ones to hurry. We can often be found dawdling around The Manor, idling flicking through The Times and absent-mindedly wondering how long it will be until Mrs Fetchgrub the cook bangs the dinner gong. We may occasionally glance at the teetering pile of unplayed games on The Mantelpiece: a flicker of guilt may flit across our collective brow at the thought of all those neglected games, but the thought is dismissed with a harrumph and a muttering of “All in good time, all in good time…” as the newspaper is flicked upwards again. We would never be so ungentlemanly as to rush.
So it comes as no surprise that I’m fashionably late to the PS3 party, but I’m glad I joined it in the end. For a start, The Last of Us is reason enough to buy the system on its own and is easily one of the best games I’ve played in years. Then there are other great games like Ni No Kuni, Journey and Heavy Rain that I can’t wait to play. But how does the system itself compare to the Xbox 360? Here’s my better-late-than-never comparison.
I bought the ‘super slim’ PS3 model, and oooooooh it’s a stylish beast. I love the oval outline and the curved top with its ridges – it certainly looks a damn sight better than my crumbly old Xbox 360. And speaking of my Xbox 360, the difference between them in terms of noise is remarkable. I fired up the Xbox again the other day and I was astonished at how loud it is compared to the PS3 – the 360 sounds like a vacuum cleaner, and it’s really noticeable when watching films. I’ve heard that the Xbox 360 slim is a bit less loud, but the PS3 is quiet as a mouse when it’s in use. It’s also pleasingly slimline, as suggested by the ‘super slim’ moniker, although it’s still about twice the size of the PS2 slim. The only thing I’m not a fan of, aesthetics-wise, is the cheap-feeling disc tray, which you have to manually slide back to load the disc. It’s clear that this was a change to bring the price down, but it just feels a bit naff.
I really like the fact that the PS3 controller has a built-in rechargeable battery, and I’m impressed that it holds its charge for a good length of time (I have an official rechargeable battery back for my Xbox 360 pad, but it loses charge at a ridiculous rate). The downside is that the charging cable is stupidly short, so if the controller runs dry during a game and I have to plug it in, I end up uncomfortably close to the telly. Also, the PS3 pad is frankly not a patch on the brilliant 360 pad – apart from the addition of analogue triggers, there are no real improvements over the PS2 controller (I’m not counting motion control), and the analogue sticks feel horrible. There’s a massive dead zone in the middle of them, the curved surface means your thumb keeps slipping, and I much prefer the asymmetrical stick set-up of the 360 pad (although maybe this is just because it’s what I’m used to).
I’m not a big fan of the current ‘Metro’ Xbox 360 operating system – the front end is cluttered with irritating adverts, it’s confusing to navigate and the things that I use all the time, like the iPlayer app, are buried behind loads of menus. It feels like a system built on an agenda rather than on the basis of what would benefit the user, designed to push content rather than gather useful functions in one place (or at least letting you customise it to do so). Bearing this in mind, I was ready to welcome the PS3 operating system with open arms, so I was shocked when it turned out to be even worse than the Microsoft one. The XrossMediaBar (XMB) interface, which is standard across all Sony products, is bland, sparse and, most importantly, incredibly confusing. The menus don’t seem to have any logic to them: I spent ages looking under ‘Settings’ to see how much space I had on my hard drive, only to eventually find that hard drive management was under ‘Game’. Even worse, half of the menu items seem to be in technospeak, and the system has a love of unnecessary abbreviations. I’m still not sure what ‘BD’ means – ‘Blu-Ray Drive’ maybe? Or ‘Bad Design’? For all the ridicule that the Wii U has suffered at the hands of internet grumblers, one thing is for sure – it has by far the most intuitive, customisable, colourful and easy-to-use operating system of the bunch. Microsoft and Sony, take note.
And so to the most impartant aspect of all – the games. I’ve played a couple of first-party titles – Killzone 3 and The Last of Us – and I have to say the graphics are noticeably better than the 360’s best. Killzone 3 also has the option of playing in 3D, something that the Microsoft console lacks. My dad has a huge 3D TV, so after I unboxed my PS3 at Christmas I set it up on his telly, donned my 3D specs and had a go. The 3D is very impressive, particularly when huge ships come flying overhead, and it definitely adds something to the game… but then again neither is it essential to it. The 3D is undoubtedly an excellent bonus if you have a suitably beefy TV, but it’s not the revolution something like the Oculus Rift could be.
I’m mightily impressed with the Blu-Ray drive on the PS3, which even manages to make DVDs look better than on my old DVD player, and I’m sure the fact that the PS3 plays Blu-Rays is why a lot of people bought one. Also, and most importantly, Netflix and Lovefilm are free to use on PS3, whereas on Xbox 360 you have to pay £40 a year for an Xbox Live Gold membership to use these apps. How on earth Microsoft can justify charging me to watch films on Lovefilm, DESPITE THE FACT THAT I’VE ALREADY PAID TO WATCH THEM VIA MY LOVEFILM SUBSCRIPTION, is absolutely beyond me. A win for Sony there, and a black mark against Microsoft’s name.
So overall I’ve been impressed with the PS3 – it looks great, it’s got a Blu-Ray player and it doesn’t charge you for things that should be free anyway. However, it’s let down by its ancient controller design and rubbish user interface, which means that in the end there’s not a huge amount to choose between the PS3 and 360. Although having said that I’m currently favouring the Sony machine, simply because I tried to watch a YouTube video on my 360 a few days ago only to be told I had to get an Xbox Live Gold subscription to watch it. Bloody Microsoft.
[As deliberated over by Lucius Merriweather.]