Monday, November 11, 2013

The PS3 Retrospective Part I : 2006 - 2007.


It's not too early to start looking back, is it?  There are still a lot of notable PS3 games in the pipeline - South Park: The Stick of Truth, Dark Souls II, Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, Watch_Dogs, Hellraid and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will drop next year, and I'm dying to get my hands on XCOM: Enemy Within this Tuesday - but this week, with the advent of the PS4, is when the PS3 begins its slow decline into memory.

But what memories.  Many like to point to the PS2 (or DS) as the most important console of all time - and I'll not have anyone besmirch my memories of Okami, Odin Sphere, San Andreas or Persona 4 - but I must admit I've gleaned far more pleasure from my PS3 than my PS2.

So let's kick back, throw on some fuzzy slippers, tip a glass of comfort and reminisce about the generation that was.  It's my hope to make this a (relatively short) series of articles, as a single article detailing every grinworthy PS3 game may run several thousand words past readable.

-Penny Arcade-

Let's begin, reasonably, at the beginning.  Things didn't always look so rosy for Sony - back in November of 2006 and throughout the following two years, the PS3 was positively embattled.  The 360 had already been out for a year, was far cheaper and had a more robust library of games.

Sony went in to the PS3 generation with a great deal of arrogance (somewhat similar to Microsoft's early tack going in to the next gen), as the PS2 had totally dominated the previous generation of consoles.  Their hubris led them to create a successor that was both a nightmare to program for (its Cell architecture was very powerful but obscenely complex when compared to the Xbox 360 or PC) and prohibitively expensive to the average gamer (starting at $599.00).

Sony had assumed that all gamers would happily pay a ridiculous sum for their next console simply because it was their next console (literally suggesting that if the price was too high, they expected gamers to get a second job to pay for it), and that developers would bend over backwards to learn its labyrinthian architecture simply because it bore the Sony name.

They were wrong.

Resistance: Fall of Man.

The story of the PS3 starts with Insomniac's attempt to break into the triple-A, mature-rated space with Resistance: Fall of Man (Nov 11, '06), which became the closest thing the PS3 had to a killer app when it launched.  It wasn't a killer app, of course - not by a long shot - but it was still the best thing on the console for many months, even after Ninja Theory dropped the gorgeous but less-than-brilliant Heavenly Sword (Sept 12, '07).  Resistance wasn't a bad game by any stretch - it offered the oddly wholesome satisfaction of shooting the crap out of a bunch of gross aliens with increasingly ridiculous weaponry - but neither was it something truly inspired.  Something that informed a need to own a PS3.


The hugely-hyped dragon-riding dogfighter Lair (Aug 31, '07) was awful, but folks found some decent multiplayer in the first-party Warhawk (Aug 28, '07), the definitive western RPG made its appearance as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion dropped (Mar 20, '07) and Japanese developers did their part in these awkward early days with Game Republic's (gorgeous) Folklore (Oct 9, '07) proving a standout JRPG.

Folklore.

Late 2007 was also when this gen started feeling next-gen, when beautiful titles like Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed and Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune finally dropped.

I myself didn't get into the game until three or four months into the following year, in early 2008.  On the receiving end of a rather large tax check, I scoured my city for a backwards-compatible 60GB PS3, paid $600 for it, and before I brought it home I made sure I'd secured myself copies of Assassin's Creed and Ratchet & Clank.  These games were, to me, the true dawn of the current gen.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. (Oct 23, '07)

Just as charming, inviting and eminently playable as its PS2 counterparts, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is a big, gleeful game of platforming around weird alien planets while nodding one's head to a catchy space-bop soundtrack and blowing crap up with an increasingly ridiculous array of upgradeable weaponry as a wisecracking anthropomorphic space wombat and his dry-wit robot sidekick.  The Ratchet & Clank games still own a large swath of my gamer's heart, and Tools of Destruction does the franchise justice.

Assassin's Creed (Nov 13, '07)

Assassin's Creed was, without question, the most-anticipated game of the year when it dropped in late 2007.  After years of stunning CGI trailers and beautifully-animated in-engine platforming, gamers were positively frothing to get their hands on Ubisoft's spiritual successor to the wildly popular Prince of Persia franchise.  Few games can live up to the insane heights of hype Assassin's Creed produced for itself, and it was no exception.  Worse than that, many felt that it was more a proof-of-concept than a smartly-constructed game, and I'm inclined to agree.

Its platforming is almost thoughtless - you just shove the analog stick forward, hold down R1 and Altair will blitz up gorgeous old architecture and across rooftops like a man possessed.  The simple, boring combat was in need of another ten rounds of polish (melee combat has never been Ubisoft Montreal's strong suit), and - criminally, for an open-world game - the assassinations you are expected to carry out are almost entirely linear, scripted affairs that leave no room for the player to actually plan things out and express themselves.

Even with all the complaints that have been fairly leveled against it, Assassin's Creed remains one of the first games to keep the promise of the current gen of consoles.  It's something that could never have been accomplished on the PS2 or original Xbox, defined as it is by near-total freedom of movement and a richly detailed world.

A gorgeously-realized ancient world notwithstanding, it would be two years before Assassin's Creed was really worth playing.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (Dec 6, '07)

The PS3's first real killer app was, without question, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.  In the same way Insomniac attempted to court the mature demographic with Resistance, Naughty Dog stepped away from their cartoony history (Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter) with a pulpy Indiana Jones-esque adventure. A gorgeous game, it boasted remarkably detailed, beautiful environments and liquid-smooth, expressive animation, making it the go-to title to showcase what the PS3 was capable of.  Uncharted's gameplay consists of mild, easy-going puzzle solving, very linear, simple platforming sequences and razor-sharp, hardest-of-the-core cover based shooting.  Its fun and (on harder difficulties) viciously challenging gameplay rested atop a new standard of narrative presentation.

The game's actors weren't simply recording their lines in studios sight-unseen of each other, which was the standard for both video games and animated feature films, at the time.  Instead, every scene in the game was blocked and directed with the actors in the same space, done up in ping-pong ball motion capture suits, with the actors actually looking each other in the eye and playing off each others' reactions - a crucial component in their work.  The standard Naughty Dog set with narrative presentation in Uncharted would remain unchallenged for nearly a half-decade - until they shared their tech and practices with fellow Sony studio Sucker Punch (for inFamous 2)

Reviews for the game were uniformly glowing, even as those who hadn't played it snickered at "Dude Raider" jokes. It would take until after the turn of the century for Lara Croft to come close to the standard Naughty Dog set for the action-adventure template she herself established in 1997.


That same month - December 11th, 2007, Electronic Arts released their console port of Valve's The Orange Box, which consisted of a terribly shoddy port of Team Fortress 2, (2004 Game of the Year) Half-Life 2 and (2006 Game of the Year) Portal.  In the history of shitty PS3 ports, it was without question the shittiest - ensuring Valve would never again permit a third-party company to port their products, removed as they were from Valve's own quality assurance.

It also marked a turn in the era of bad PS3 ports.  Prior to 2008, it was lamentably common for a multiplatform release to look and play significantly better on the Xbox 360, as the 360's architecture more closely resembled that of a plain ol' desktop PC and the PS3's architecture resembled nothing programmers had ever seen before.  By fall of 2008, things would begin to look very different.

By the end of 2007, the PS3 was armed with a killer app, some excellent third-party games and a handful of its own special exclusives.  Its feet now firmly planted, it had nowhere to go but up.

5 comments:

  1. Is it just me or has the last few "BIG" game titles to come out on the PS3 sucked? AC4, Batman Arkham Origins, and lets not forget my latest disappointment COD Ghosts. Ok, Batman wasn't that bad. It wasn't all that great either though. Honestly, The Last of Us was probably the last of the great games for PS3. Every other game seems to be riding the fame of it's former titles. Hopefully the PS4 will usher in some fresh titles.

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  2. I haven't tried AC4 yet (waitin' on the PS4 version), but there've been at least two great major releases since The Last of Us - Dragon's Crown and Grand Theft Auto V.

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    1. I haven't played Dragon's Crown but GTAV never really changes. Don't get me wrong, it is endless fun but like most people I play it the same way I did the original. Randomly running around and blowing things up. It's not really ground breaking.

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  3. Nice article, Chance. Looking forward to the follow-up.

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    1. Well now I have to finish the next one instead of writing about tonight's launch. ^.^

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