PS3 3D has moments of awesome, moments of disappointment

Posted by Mark Raby

After getting to delve into Sony’s preliminary slate of stereoscopic 3D games on the PS3, I have to say there’s a reason for all this excitement but also a reason for the skepticism.

Love it or hate it, 3D is coming to the living room. It may be just a passing trend; it may seem gimmicky to some; and it may even cause “involuntary movements,” “confusion,” “loss of awareness,” or “convulsions” (per Samsung’s 3D TV disclaimer). However, the consumer electronics industry is convinced that 3D is the wave of the future.

There is no denying that 3D was one of the biggest trends at last month’s E3 trade show. Nintendo’s 3DS could revolutionize the way consumers think about 3D content, and Sony is changing the game by providing some of the most eye-poppingly amazing visual technology that has ever been brought into the home.

It may be a bit foolhardy for Sony to invest so many resources into such a niche market. After all, less than 5% of Americans are interested in buying a 3D TV set within the next year, according to a recent report from research firm iSuppli. However, the market is expected to more than double in the next 2 years, so it’s not unreasonable to be jumping in head first. A bit risky, perhaps, but not unreasonable.
Regardless of how this all pans out for Sony in the end, I wanted to get my hands dirty with some 3D gaming. Being fortunate enough to own a brand new 3D LED TV, from Samsung, I put all five of Sony’s downloadable 3D games to the test. While giant animals and objects didn’t actually climb out of my TV like some of the advertising material may have led me to believe, I found it to be a very compelling experience.

- Super Stardust HD -
Anyone who has played Super Stardust knows that the game is all about huge explosions and crazy visual effects. For the most part, these do transition nicely into a 3D presentation. Through the bulk of the game, the 3D effect just adds a noticeable level of depth. The rocks and glaciers do appear to be popping out just a bit on top of the planet. The minor explosions and bursts of fire appear to be “touchable” at times, but for the most part it is just an incremental upgrade.
However, in the instances of large explosions, like when my ship is destroyed for example, the effect is unbelievable. It even feels a bit unnerving at first because of all the bright sharp bursts of color that were literally coming right at me. Some of the enemy explosions, like the red aliens that burst into fireworks, also got a bit of a jump out of me.

For the most part, the very frenetic nature of the game actually takes away from the 3D content because there’s so much going on it is difficult to pay attention to all of the visual effects. It definitely adds a huge upgrade to the 2D version.

- PAIN -
PAIN is probably the least impressive of Sony’s 3D fare, largely because the mini-games it chose to upgrade to 3D were among the ones with the least amount of destruction. Clearly, it was too cumbersome and difficult to actually render the core game in 3D, which is why gamers can only choose from such options as “PAIN Darts” and “Alien Toss.”

None of the 3D mini-games really have in-your-face content so it’s difficult to really get much satisfaction out of the advanced rendering. Sure, there was an added sense of depth to the levels, but since the camera follows the character after he or she is catapulted from the slingshot, this is never really taken advantage of. And with very few explosions or objects popping at the camera in the scattered selection of 3D mini-games, it all felt a bit underwhelming.

If Sony is able to convert the entire game into 3D, I bet there would be a much different story. There’s potential in a game like this, but it’s just not tapped into with the unimpressive mini-games here.

- Wipeout HD -
Wipeout HD on a nice 1080p 240Hz TV already looks pretty darn good, and the 3D upgrade makes it that much smoother. I kind of felt like I was in the television room of Willy Wonka’s factory and I could just reach inside the TV to grab my racer. It’s that lifelike. Unfortunately, the player’s vehicle seemed to be the only thing that was focused on in the 3D conversion. The scenery never pops out, and even the other racers or the occasional spark/explosion didn’t do much.

There is no 3D effect at all with the heads-up display, and you may as well not even be wearing the glasses during the menu screens and racer selection. That being said, though, the realistic feeling that the car is actually right there, almost as though I could reach out and touch it, added a very cool feeling to a game that already looks amazing.

- Motorstorm: Pacific Rift Demo -
There’s only one racetrack to play through in the Motorstorm 3D demo but it is easily the most impressive of all the 3D downloads on PS3. In addition to that same “so real you can touch it” feel that Wipeout has, this game brings the rest of the race to life as well. Mud practically splashes right out of the screen, slow-motion crashes send parts of the car right at you, and various bushes and shrubbery pop out to distract from what is usually anything but a typical race.

It should be expected that this is one of the more impressive showings, because it is actually a full Blu-ray Disc game, even though the demo itself is just limited to one track. When Sony brings the complete 3D update to the Motorstorm: Pacific Rift game,  it will immediately become the killer app for 3D gaming.

 - MLB 10 The Show Demo -
With the Masters golf tournament and the World Cup as flagship 3D television broadcasts, sports programming is one of the keystones to the 3D home entertainment revolution. Or at least, I should say, that applies to live sports. MLB 10: The Show is heralded as one of the most realistic baseball simulations in the video game community, but adding a 3D touch doesn’t do much to change the experience.

The sense of depth is somewhat muddled in this demo’s presentation, except for the occasional wide shots of the background crowd. For the most part, though, this game just isn’t suited for the “wow” factor of a 3D upgrade. It is the most genuine presentation, in that there’s nothing hokey going on here to manipulate the 3D effects, but without a lot of special effects it just kind of falls flat.

All in all, 3D gaming on the PS3 is something to marvel. Those who have complained about having to wear glasses most likely have not tried it out yet. Playing console video games is all about tuning out your surroundings and becoming immersed in the virtual world on the TV in front of you, so wearing glasses quickly drops away as any sort of annoyance or nuisance. Content is still in its infancy stage, but given how impressive this small smattering of downloadable games looks in 3D, it’s not something to easily dismiss.