Saturday, July 6, 2013

New to the PS3? Here's where to start.

Judging from word of mouth and the gamer communities I frequent, a lot of folks have been picking up PlayStation 3s lately, but aren't sure where to begin getting the most out of their purchase.  If that's you, you've come to the right place.

First up?  You've made a good choice.  While the PS3 suffered from sub-par third-party support in its early days thanks to the powerful but very hard-to-program-for cell processor, things have smoothed out considerably since 2008, and it has the best first-party lineup of exclusive titles of any console.

It's also a mad media hub, and free software exists if you'd like to stream content to it from your computer.  The PlayStation 3 is the single most popular platform for streaming Netflix, and the PlayStation Network Store offers every major movie release to rent or buy, on average, two weeks before the blurays appear in stores.

While Xbox Live keeps all of its good stuff behind the Xbox Live Gold subscription paywall (online gaming, streaming services like Netflix, even free apps), the PS3 wants you to enjoy everything you can at a minimum of cost.  Sony does have a subscription service, but lack of participation won't deny you any of the goodies you'd otherwise want to enjoy on the platform.

That being said...

...if you want the biggest bang for your buck - and by that I mean over three hundred dollars worth of games, right off the bat - you should go out, buy a fifty dollar PlayStation Network card, and sign yourself up for a year of PlayStation Plus.

What's PlayStation Plus?

It's a subscription service which regularly offers significant discounts on games purchased through the PlayStation Network, provides a ton of free, high-quality games to its members, and essentially turns your PS3 into a self-aware gaming butler as it automatically downloads updates for your games and uploads all your saves to cloud storage for safe keeping.

The current (July 2nd, 2013) PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection lineup.
For the future, you can see the updated lineup right here.

A cursory knowledge of gaming should permit you an understanding of how cool this is.  Battlefield 3, Saints Row The Third, XCOM: Enemy Unknown,  Uncharted 3?  Those are major titles.  Heck, XCOM was generally acknowledged as the best triple-A release of 2012.

These are the sixty-four games players got in Plus's first year - titles are rotated out to make room for new offerings every month :

That works out to just over seventy-eight cents per game.  And when you're talking about games like inFamous 2, The Walking Dead, Borderlands 2, Little Big Planet 2, Resident Evil 5, BioShock 2, Darksiders, Vanquish, Spec Ops: The Line, Demon's Souls and Sleeping Dogs... that's a good deal.

The specifics of the deal are this:

  • You must grab the free games while available to associate them with your account. You can associate the games to your account without downloading, to save them for later, if you prefer.
  • Games received free through PS+ are yours to keep as long as you are a Plus subscriber. 
  • If your Plus subscription ends, you will no longer be able to play the games you received free. 
  • If you sign back up for PlayStation Plus after your subscription lapsed, you will be able to play the games you "purchased" again. 
  • Any games purchased through a PlayStation Plus discount (I bought Alice: Madness Returns for four bucks this week) are yours to keep, forever, regardless of your membership status. 
  • If you have a PS3, PlayStation Vita and PS4, you don't need three separate PlayStation Plus subscriptions.  Once subscription covers all three platform, and nets you the freebies across all three. 

And thus, I'm sure you'll agree PS+ is a very sound investment in your gaming pleasure.  Moving on, if you're coming to the PlayStation 3 after a generation of gaming on an Xbox, here's the part that'll interest you:

Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios include some of the most accomplished game developers on earth, with Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, Sucker Punch and Polyphony Digital delivering world-class experiences you won't get anywhere else.  Beyond the ultra-high-profile, tentpole games, Sony regularly invests in weird, original, "art house" fare that pushes the boundaries of what we expect from the medium.

When applicable, spiritually-similar but less-excellent games are noted beneath the title.

These are the best of the best, in reverse chronological order - newest first.

Dragon's Crown [review]
From Vanillaware, masters of the 2D form, comes an absolutely spectacular 2D brawler RPG in the spirit of Golden Axe and Dungeons & Dragons : Tower of Doom.  Dragon's Crown is a stunningly beautiful co-op brawler (that's still tons of fun solo) that you can breeze through on a single character in 20 hours, or spend hundreds of hours enjoying.  I lean towards the latter.

The Last of Us [review]
From the wizards at Naughty Dog (Uncharted, Jak & Daxter), The Last of Us is a stealth-survival-action game with the most harrowing, moving narrative I have experienced on the current gen.  It is, from every angle - design, graphics, art direction, music, gameplay, performances and presentation - a masterpiece, and the PS3's current crown jewel.

Also see I Am Alive for another interesting modern riff on survival horror.  For a grand pure stealth game, check out Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

Guacamelee! [review] (PSN)
A remarkably accomplished indie metroidvania brawler, Guacamelee boasts striking presentation that could easily be mistaken for concept art and a fun, whimsical narrative.  Great music, very fun combat, a huge world to explore and it's got cross-buy with PlayStation Vita.  I've probably beaten this game a dozen times, and I have little doubt I'll be returning to it again.

Ōkami [review] (PSN)
The only high-def up-port I would strongly encourage you to buy, Ōkami (originally released on PS2 in 2007, ported to the Wii in 2009) is a Zelda-like adventure.  You take on the role of (goddess of the Sun) Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf as she travels the massive world of feudal Japan, interacting with classic characters of Japanese folklore, beating up demons and bringing life back to the world.  A grand, sweeping, epic quest, gorgeous presentation that mirrors old wood-block prints, one of the best original soundtracks in gaming - and one of the most uniquely positive video games you'll ever play.

Journey [review] (PSN)
Journey is an indie from ThatGameCompany (Flower, flOw) and SCE Santa Monica (God of War).  It's essentially a very simple exploratory platformer, but - beyond its lovely art direction - its unique artistic merit is found within an oddly moving multiplayer mechanic that sees players braving the beauty and terror of its world with strangers whose names they'll never know.

Also see Flower.

inFamous 2 [review]
Sucker Punch (Sly Cooper) was a long-time Sony third-party studio until they stepped up their game with inFamous 2, an open-world platformer that mixes an updated riff on the liquid, wholesome joy of Sly's gameplay with accomplished, acrobatic third-person shooting.  It was a quantum leap in presentation for the studio, taking advantage of performance capture techniques pioneered by Naughty Dog, and remains one of the flat-out funnest games on the platform.

Also see inFamous - its presentation isn't nearly up to this standard, but its gameplay remains a pleasure.

Killzone 3 [review]
Guerilla Games' Killzone titles have long been the antithesis of Halo or Call of Duty, where first-person shooting feels more "arcadey" than anything else.  In Killzone, movement, aiming and the death of your foes is a weighty, visceral affair.  Elevated by jaw-dropping graphics that push the PS3 to its limit and the most engaging story the series has seen, Killzone 3 is a must-play for shooter fans.

Also see: Killzone 2

God of War III [review]
SCE Santa Monica have lately dedicated a lot of their time to incubating unique indie titles and assisting third-party devs for PS3-exclusive indies (Journey, The Unfinished Swan), but prior to that they put everything they had into God of War III.  A gorgeous, brutally violent brawler that really earns the word "epic," this is required reading for anyone with a PS3.

Also see God of War: Ascension, it has slightly-better gameplay but suffers on pacing and narrative.

Heavy Rain [review]
While certainly not the finest narrative in gaming, Heavy Rain remains a perfect example of Sony's willingness to bet big on weird, risky endeavors no other publisher would.  A heavily story-driven adventure game with remarkable graphics tech, Heavy Rain pits the player against the mystery of the Origami Killer via four separate protagonists.  With a branching plot and a king's ransom in ambition, Heavy Rain isn't perfect, but its profoundly different gameplay and direction make it a breath of fresh air.

Ratchet & Clank Future : A Crack In Time [review]
The closest video games have yet come to a playable Pixar movie, Ratchet & Clank Future: ACiT was essentially the franchise's swan song from developer Insomniac.  Guide anthropomorphic space wombat Ratchet as he explores the cosmos in search of his robotic partner, enjoying lighthearted platforming and bombastic, arcadey shooting with an arsenal of increasingly ridiculous weapons.

Also see: Ratchet & Clank Future : Tools of Destruction

Demon's Souls [review]
Demon's Souls is a supremely challenging action-RPG by the good folks at From Software, a third-party studio in Japan that took the spirit of this breakout hit multiplatform with the Dark Souls titles.  It is a very, very unique action game, where you can feel the heft of every blade and the terror of every weighty footstep, as you dare to press further into this game's swirling miasma of dark fantasy.

Uncharted 2 : Among Thieves [mini review]
In 2009, Naughty Dog took the capable cover-based shooting and gen-defining presentation of Uncharted and cranked everything to eleven.  Uncharted 2 features remarkable graphics (I still believe Naughty Dog have made some sort of unholy pact to achieve their mastery of the PS3's tech), an involving, entertaining globe-trotting story and silky smooth shooting mechanics, resting atop a gentle bed of puzzle solving and light platforming.

Also see Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (excellent design, graphics have aged) and Uncharted 3 : Drake's Deception (best shooting in the series, narrative pacing falters.)

Valkyria Chronicles
A turn-based third-person strategy RPG from Sega, Valkyria Chronicles was a sleeper hit back in '08.  Its gameplay is sharp and satisfying, its presentation will still elicit squeals of delight - it looks less like an anime than a manga that's been animated, if that makes sense - and while its mechanics saw a lot of refinement in the subsequent PSP sequels, its narrative mix of anime weirdness and thoughtful reflections of war and genocide elevated this game to an instant classic.

Also see Ni No Kuni, a fifty-hour classically-styled JRPG with an active battle system, lush presentation and art direction straight from Studio Ghibli (of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies).

Siren : Blood Curse [review]
The only meaningful survival horror game of its generation, this is a cruel, classic example of its genre - straight from Japan with blood-curdling music, a great lighting system (though from very early in the gen) and a brain-twisting story.  Siren: Blood Curse is a brilliant game and easily the best survival-horror of its gen, though let's be honest - it didn't have much competition.

This list would be pretty short if we only talked about exclusive titles, though - so on the off chance you've just picked up a PS3 as your first current-gen gaming console, there's a lot you should know.  If you snap up any one of these games in stores, do so with confidence, for I personally guarantee you a great time.

Once again, these are the best of the best (and in some cases, the weirdest of the weird).  When applicable, spiritually-similar but less-excellent games are noted beneath the title.  Once again, in reverse chronological order - newest first:

Grand Theft Auto V [single-player review] [online review]
One of the single best bang-for-your-buck games on the system, Grand Theft Auto V is a magnum opus of technical mastery, broad but satisfying gameplay and a seductive online component one could conceivably play forever.
Dead Island : Riptide [review]
An open-world first-person zombie brawler in which the brawling works really, really well, Dead Island Riptide is a direct sequel to 2011's equally-accomplished Dead Island. First-person melee combat is something that no other studio has really done well, and the Dead Island franchise proves that not only can it work, it can be absolutely fantastic.  The graphics are meh but the 'play is spectacular.

Also see Dead Island.

Tomb Raider [review]
Crystal Dynamics' successful reboot of their ancient franchise could not have come as more of a shock.  With an emphasis on thrilling platforming and nice, weighty combat, Tomb Raider neatly sidesteps the disappointing design of its predecessors and delivers a great adventure, with canny craft and presentation on par with the best third-party developers in the world.

Telltale's The Walking Dead : Season 1 [review]
A classic adventure game set in the post-pandemic world of Robert Kirkman's media-dominating zombie tale, Telltale's riff is a surprisingly nuanced, mature example of narrative in games.  You will cry.

Also see L.A. Noire - it's a decent adventure game with great presentation, but its gameplay suuucks.

XCOM : Enemy Unknown [review]
A hardcore strategy exercise of profound challenge, depth and craftsmanship, XCOM places you as the commander of the XCOM project - mankind's last hope against an encroaching alien threat.  It's an incredibly detailed system of genuine grit, which reveals turn-based strategic gameplay can be just as stressful and thrilling as any action title.

Far Cry 3 [review]
Far Cry 3 is an open-world first-person shooter adventure with light platforming and RPG elements.  The franchise has long attempted to break into the mainstream with its massive, beautiful environments and randomized, emergent gameplay - but only in Far Cry 3 did the series hit its sweet spot.  This is a fantastically accomplished experience, with excellent mechanics and presentation.  Probably my favorite FPS on the platform.

Also see Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Far Cry 2 and Bulletstorm - this gen's answer to Duke Nukem.

Dishonored [review]
A spiritual successor to classic stealth franchise Thief, Dishonored is a first-person stealth-action platformer that sees the player exploring gigantic, open levels while pilfering everything in sight as a supernatural assassin.  The game trips on a morality mechanic that's in direct odds with the pleasure of its play, but it remains the only first-person-platforming-stealth game in town on PS3, and its inspired art direction and tactile, comfortable mechanics make it an instant classic.

Also see Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall DLC

Max Payne 3 [review]
The big daddy of stylish bullet-time third-person shooters returns, and this is far and away his greatest adventure.  Gorgeous presentation from the masters at Rockstar, tight gameplay mechanics and a fantastic original soundtrack make Max Payne 3 the cinematic shooter of choice.

Also see Wet, a fun grindhouse shooter with cheeky presentation and a lack of polish, or Vanquish, a mechanically-razor-sharp title from Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4), master of the form.

Mass Effect 3 [review]
From the masters of the snaking plot, BioWare, Mass Effect 3 is the successful realization of the franchise's ambition, so long coming - the marriage of an involving narrative thick with tough, morally-ambiguous choices to a fun, capable third-person action game.  The series has never looked better, the voice work (from a huge cast) is very accomplished, and the game ends up feeling like the natural evolution of all triple-A gaming, which is fast moving towards a future where genre lines blur into meaninglessness.  An instant sci-fi classic.

Also see Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II.

Rayman Origins [review]
A gorgeous 2D platformer with razor-sharp mechanics and some of the best design in the business.  If you have any affection for running and jumping on a 2D plane, Rayman Origins is required reading.

Shank 2 [review] (PSN)
The third game from the remarkable developers at Klei Entertainment (Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja), Shank 2 is an aesthetically striking 2D brawler - but more than that, it's probably the deepest, most accomplished 2D brawler I've ever played, and a definitive entry in its genre.

Also see Shank.

The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim [review]
Bethesda's efforts continue to improve with each iteration of the Elder Scrolls formula, and Skyrim by far represents their most confident rendition of the form.  An open-world free-roaming first-person RPG game with a staggering degree of narrative freedom and character customization, it is the most perfectly-realized fantasy world simulator to ever grace gaming.

Also see The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion, though it's not nearly as good, and Kingdoms of Alamur: Reckoning, though it's an action game designed as an MMO which was shoehorned into single-player when funding fell through, and it shows.

Dark Souls [review]
Spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, Dark Souls is From Software's endeavor to develop a multiplatform hit - and it's a stunning success.  It offers a huge, grand dark-fantasy world to explore, atmosphere so thick you couldn't cut it with a blade - for the black would stick, immovable - and entirely retains Demon's Souls uniquely weighty, involving combat.  It's a masterpiece.

Batman : Arkham City [review]
An open-world Batman simulator set in a walled-off prison city at the center of Gotham, Arkham City retains the strong narrative presentation and gleefully fun, original combat of its predecessor, and throws in a ton more exploration, puzzle solving and collecting into the mix.  You get to soar over Gotham on your awesome Batman glider-wings, and plummet from the skies to beat up punks.

Need more?  I didn't think so.

Also see Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Portal 2 [review]
From the ivory towers of Valve comes the rarest of genres - a full-release puzzle game.  With a rich world, excellent script, fun voice work and some of the finest design you'll find in gaming, Portal 2 is a first-person platforming puzzler that actually ended up on a lot of Game of the Year lists.

Also see Catherine, a sexy, story-driven box-pushing puzzle platformer from the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona team at Atlus.

Alice : Madness Returns [review]
Some of the most creative, beautiful art direction on the current gen can be found here, languishing as the backdrop to a simple but fun action-platformer as the mentally-shattered Alice Liddel pirouettes and brawls her way through a twisted take on Lewis Caroll's classic fantasy.  It's a dark, disturbing game - but profoundly unique.

Also see Lollipop Chainsaw, which has sharper combat and a funner story, but isn't nearly as emotionally affecting.

Dead Space 2 [review]
The story of Dead Space is a horror tale all its own.  Developer EA Redwood Shores, finally freed to make the game they wanted to after years of churning out licensed crap, delivered Dead Space, a chilling sci-fi horror exercise with amazing world-building and a delightful twist on standard third-person shooting.  Dead Space 2 is that same concept, elevated by the lessons of the first and polished up with a few million extra dollars in funding.  Then they bowed to executive direction with Dead Space 3, dropped the horror and it turned into a rootin' tootin' co-op shootin' game - but Dead Space 2 remains a spectacular action-horror experience.

Also see Dead Space, Dead Space 3.

Assassin's Creed : Brotherhood [review]
Brotherhood is the pinnacle of the AC series, where the gorgeous, ancient open world, smooth sorta'-stealth gameplay and capable design all come together to deliver.  Assassin's Creed II is a close second, but both games are far better than Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed: Revelations or Assassin's Creed III, which is arguably the worst AC since the first one.

Also see the other four Assassin's Creed games.  But this is the best one.  Or The Saboteur - a kinda-stealthy open-world action title set in Paris during the Nazi occupation of WWII.

Fallout : New Vegas [review]
A huge, sweeping open-world first-person RPG in the spirit of The Elder Scrolls, but jazzed up with a flavorful southwest post-nuclear wasteland setting, tons of gore and a seriously intelligent, branching narrative with lots of delicious moral ambiguity. From Obsidian Entertainment (Alpha Protocol, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II), Fallout: New Vegas is an improvement in every way over its Bethesda-developed predecessor, with much more character and meat on its bones.

Also see Fallout 3.

Bionic Commando [review]
Released to almost universally tepid reviews, Bionic Commando remains one of my all-time favorite platformers on the current gen, and is a faithful spiritual successor to the NES / arcade classic.  It's a linear, skill-based platformer built around a very unique mechanic, combined with your standard third-person shooting and a batshit crazy story.

Red Dead Redemption [review]
A brilliantly realized vision of the old west as seen through the lens of popular culture, Red Dead Redemption marries the capable cover-based shooting Rockstar finally nailed in Grand Theft Auto IV to a new setting, rich with life, fresh mechanics and emergent gameplay.  Stellar production values abound, from the voice work to the graphics, and things only got better when its wonderful DLC was released.

Also see Red Dead Redeption: Undead Nightmare.

Resonance of Fate [review]
Still my favorite JRPG on the PS3, Resonance of Fate delivers a truly fantastical clockwork world, an incredibly rewarding and totally original turn-based gunplay combat system and a nice, nuanced story buoyed by some of the best voice work in the business.

This was an instant classic, totally overshadowed by the release of Final Fantasy XIII one week prior.

Also see Folklore, Eternal Sonata, Atelier Torori.

BioShock 2 [review]
BioShock is a rightful classic - a gorgeous marriage of thick atmosphere, deep narrative and wonderfully open first-person shooting gameplay and exploration - but I've always felt BioShock 2 was the superior title.

Either way, you would do well to pick it up - along with BioShock and BioShock: Infinite.

Bayonetta [review]
A totally zany, M-for-mature brawler from Hideki Kamiya, father of Devil May Cry and master of the form.  Bayonetta boasts striking art direction and an insane world (and hero), but it's an instant classic by virtue of offering the deepest, sharpest technical brawling of this generation.  Or any generation, for that matter.

Also see DmC: Devil May Cry, a slick reboot of the stagnant Devil May Cry series with far more accessible, very fun combat and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a brawler that's, well, different. Good, but different.

Darksiders [review]
While its sequel boasts a much larger world to explore and more finely-tuned platforming and combat, Darksiders still feels like a purer extraction of a uniquely cribbed identity.  This is The Legend of Zelda by way of comics artist Joe Madureira, with a seriously shaved-down and accessible combat system lifted from Devil May Cry, boss fights straight out of Shadow of the Colossus and the gory brutality of God of War, set against the backdrop of the apocalypse-as-seen-in-Revelations, as you strive to set things right as War, horseman of the apocalypse.

Your inner child will thank you.

Also see Darksiders II, which has slicker gameplay mechanics and more content, but lags behind on pacing and narrative.

Brütal Legend [review]
A totally original experience, Brütal Legend is a marriage of open-world exploration, third-person action and real-time strategy gaming from Tim Schafer and the wonderfully creative minds at Double Fine.  It's easily the funniest game on this list with clever writing, a great lead performance from Jack Black and some of the best VAs in the biz, along with a hard-rockin metal soundtrack and an insane world to discover that looks less like a video game than the covers of all those metal albums that gave you nightmares as a kid.

It's brilliant.

Mirror's Edge
One of the most unique titles on this list, Mirror's Edge became an instant classic when it appeared in 2008 - the rare early title that actually kept the promise of the new generation of consoles - and gamers have been clamoring for a sequel ever since.  A tight, smooth-playing first person platformer that actually works, Mirror's Edge is the first genuinely major leap in the platforming genre since Super Mario 64.

Grand Theft Auto IV
Some critics took GTA IV to task for being Grand Theft Auto, again, but I'm in the other camp - the camp that feels it easily represents the generational leap we hoped for at the dawn of the current gen.  Rockstar finally nailed the open-world third-person shooting that gave them such trouble on the PS2 by marrying it to a good cover system, the procedural animation system works beautifully, the physics-based driving is a thrill and with GTA IV as in Red Dead Redemption, the Scottish ultradeveloper once again proved they are the undisputed masters of the open-world game.

Also see Grand Theft Auto: The Lost & Damned and Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony - excellent expansion packs - and Sleeping Dogs, a fantastic GTA-style riff on the Hong Kong crime epic.

And that should get you started.  If you have a question that's not answered here, please feel free to fire away in the comments - I check once a day.


  1. seriously,that's part of the reason I stuck around.

  2. When a random person shows up, compliments your blog and posts a link to something, that there's what we call a spammer. Get thee back, evil shill!

  3. (There was a comment above Alex's - but not any more...)