Sony is always very loud when it comes to announcing a new feature, almost arrogant. For what seems like an eternity, ‘Home’ has been touted as the less than quiet trump card of the PlayStation3. The serenaded hero that would dazzle, amaze and create a virtual environment where new friends could be found, exciting locations could be explored and a chance for publishers to present their messages in a different manner than on any other console.
Unfortunately Sony made the decision to release the beta to everybody really before there was anything to see. If we ignore the teething problems such as connection issues, Home is really as bare as an empty cupboard after a midnight feast with just a few crumbs remaining, however instead of feeling full and satisfied, we are left wondering why bother.
They have challenged themselves by aiming for a complete virtual landscape where the social side is as important as the gaming. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, but where Microsoft have added features that enhance rather than remove you from your gaming scenarios, Sony’s require you to detach yourself from your comfort zone and move into their world with their rules.
The problem really lies in how slowly you achieve anything by using it. First of all you can find new friends, but we could do that anyway and in a more targeted way by chatting to people within games. I am playing Wipeout HD, you are playing Wipeout HD… Bingo… we have a shared interest, which is a very good start to any possible friendship surely?
Secondly is the ability to play mini games such as bowling, pool or other such social activities. If Sony are really committed to the virtual reality style, why is everything so false. Watching a couple of people playing pool is actually really akin to watching two people stand around a table doing absolutely nothing where the balls ghostly move around the table on their own. No cue action, no movement, no point. Bowling at least has an attempt to engage onlookers to the game, however even this is a bizarre spectacal when you are not involved yourself. It is all very odd.
Thirdly is the exploration. Loading times are quite lengthy and for even the most determined among us, its not really adding to the ‘I want to see everything’ feeling. If we take going to the theatre as an example, you are locked into a lonely room where you just sit with no control. Your only option is to admire what’s happening in the low quality streaming video.
The point is, well what is the point? We can play games, meet new people and view videos all by using the tools we have right this very instant and we don’t have to load a virtual world to achieve any of this.
The one thing that did appeal to me is the voice communication, which is seriously falling short of Xbox Live within the games. Thankfully Sony released thier own official headset, which actually is very affordable and performs well, but now you can only voicechat in private (hopefully only a temporary measure due to connection issues). The result is you either type using the virtual on screen keyboard or plug in a USB alternative. You do have character emotes to convey a sense of conversation and indeed fun, but these usually just get spammed, especially near any female avatar. Very dissapointing.
PS3 Home may be a beta and of course there is potentially a lot still to come, but if what we have seen already is a good indicator of the lacklustre experiences in the future, I will happily stick with the good old ways of getting information and meeting new people. Yes that is right, by actually playing the games and reading from the various websites. This has worked for gamers and publishers in the past to great effect and unless Sony move away from this false designer world, very few of us will be clicking their red shoes together and shouting ‘There’s no place like home’.