Opinion – I have been criticizing Sony for its PS3 strategy and game publishers for their PS3 game strategy pretty much since the console was released almost 10 months ago – despite the fact that I always felt that it is the console with the most potential out there. If you don't believe me, have a look at Dirt. It is the best sign yet that there is hope for the PS3.
No, I am not going into the discussion of what console is the best out there, you will have to decide that for yourself and if you are interested in my opinion than you can read my article "Sony, Microsoft stuck in the now, Nintendo already in the future," which I would write in the same way today again. Ever since I purchased the PS3 and told my wife that the console was worth its $800 (including games and cables) or so, I have had a hard time justifying that investment. So far, most of the games, with very few exceptions, have been disappointing and not nearly delivered on the promise to unfold high-definition game fun in front of our eyes.
I got concerned about Sony's content strategy that was presented at this year's E3 media summit, where the player's task was to kill as many people or creatures as possible in nine out of ten games shown on stage. Yes, I understand get the concept and I remember an EA executive telling me years ago that first person shooters are so successful, simply because it is the easiest way for game designers to create tension and capture the attention of gamers. But honestly, I am getting tired of first person shooters, which often have essentially the same goal wrapped up into a different storyline. There must be a different way to show the PS3's qualities, other than realistically displaying blood and bullets, right?
Of course, there are some titles out there that do just that. Take MLB 07 for example, which has stunning graphics (which however overwhelm the console's processing at times, just like Blazing Angels). Or take Ridge Racer 7 and Polyphony's GT5 demo that paint magical 1080p graphics onto the TV screen. A downside of these PS3 games is that they require a fair amount of practice. MLB 07 has dozens of different combinations of controls and a GT game typically requires newbies hours of driving to be able to control a car properly.
This last Sunday I came across "Dirt" a rally simulation that in my mind is without doubt the most stunning PS3 title - with the purpose of providing gaming fun for everyone - released so far. Dirt has had a tragic launch in the U.S., as Colin McRae, rally driver and the big name behind the game (it is called Colin McRae: Dirt in the UK) was confirmed dead after his helicopter had crashed on the day of the U.S. launch.
Dirt runs at a resolution of only 720p, but cars as well as the environment have been modeled with lots of detail. If you don't look closely, you can't see the pixels around cars. Lighting effects are excellent and the environment - tracks in the U.S., Europe and Japan - has a truly realistic feel; not quite as good as GT5, but close. The game experience, no matter if you are racing in the desert, driving up Pikes Peak, making rounds at a closed dirt course or if you are speeding along a coastal road somewhere in Europe, is dramatically influenced by the beautifully modeled landscape, which is one of the highlights in the game.
Another graphics feature are cars that show damage when you hit an object. There are a few dozen cars in total, mostly European and Japanese models, including many current and several memorable older cars and trucks. They collect dirt while you are driving, they lose doors, the windshield, fenders and other parts when you hit rocks or traffic signs, or sideswipe walls and trees. While driving, you can track the damage status of a dozen components of your car, including the body, tires and the engine.
A nice feature of the gameplay is that the player is in charge how challenging the game should be. Admitted that the actual driving experience of keeping a car on the road lacks a feel of realism (it feels much more like an arcade game), but starting and advancing through Dirt can be very easy if you choose to. Leave the car in its standard setup and choose to run through the Rookie course and you'll be able to win most of the races right away. Winning a race as a Rookie won't get you a ton of prize money and it will take you longer to be able to purchase certain vehicles, but this level allows you to have some gaming fun without having to invest too much time. You could even hand the controller to a visiting friend and be sure that there would be more fun than frustration when driving these cars.
It took me a little over six hours to play through the whole game and unlock most of the cars. However, increase the difficulty level (there are five levels) and it gets harder to win (but you'll eventually get more prize money). You will need to fine-tune the setup of the car and you will have to invest more often in repairs. And more difficult titles will make your car more sensitive to crashes: If you hit a tree, there's a good chance your car is wrecked and out of the race. The racing disciplines are separated into point-to-point races, a "crossover" head-to-head race against one other player, multiplayer Rallyecross, Rally Raid desert races, Corr buggy races and hill climbs.
Yes, the game has some downsides, for example the overly dynamic user interface or the fact that you cannot choose a car and then a track to race on (you have to choose the track first and then choose from typically two to five available cars for that track). But I am convinced that Dirt, overall, is one of the game-changing titles for the PS3. The game content for the console needs more diversity and this clearly shows that graphics in titles other than first person shooters can be stunning and that the PS3 can also be a casual gaming platform with amazing graphics when you have friends over at your house. I am wondering, if Sony can take this concept and carry it over into, for example, sports games?