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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


PlayStation Move (PS3)

Sony’s heavily-advertised attempt to bring motion control gaming to the PS3 is here in the form of Playstation Move. The new wand controller and its accompanying camera work decently for what they are. The Move system offers increased accuracy over what you can find in most Wii titles and is relatively simple to set up and use. Unfortunately, the software, at least initially isn’t quite as innovative. Playing through the launch title Sports Champions brings on a strong sense of déjà vu. It offers multiple ‘events’ but it will be difficult for most players not to feel like they’ve seen this before. However, it’s a only the beginning for the Move, so join us as we look at the new controller and discover if it lives up to the hype.

It's been a long four years for Microsoft and Sony. The launch of Nintendo's Wii system and its revolutionary motion controls set the industry on its ear and it's taken quite some time for both companies to respond. Microsoft's hands-free Kinect is due later this year, but Sony has recently launched its own motion control system, called the Move. Consisting of a repurposed EyeToy camera and a new motion controller, the two part peripheral isn't that difficult to set up and use. Positioning the camera on top or bottom of your monitor and standing a few feet in front of it makes for a somewhat painless experience. Most games have you configure and calibrate the Move system by standing in front of the monitor then placing the wand controller at different points on your body. This only takes a few seconds when it works, but the Move is a little bit erratic when it comes to recognizing your position, which means you might have to try multiple times and move in different positions in order to sync the controller to the camera. Move's controller itself is nicely designed, and its rounded edges and slimmer size make it modestly more comfortable to use than the standard Wii controller. It also has more buttons including all the standard PS ones plus a large move button in the center. The most striking feature of the new controller is the large ball on top of it, which glows in different colors and allows the camera to track your position. This makes for a controller that's nearly as intuitive and 'user friendly' as the Wiimote, but it feels a little more complex at first glance. Its technically impressive and very accurate when in use. However, tracking isn't always quite as precise as one would like. We came across several instances where there would be some lag, and the camera's limited range means you'll probably leave its line of sight more often than you'd like. We have found that playing Move standing up offers much better performance, and you probably won't be able to 'cheat' by playing sitting down as much as you can with the Wii. While there were a few minor glitches encountered, the system works nicely and is a decent counterpoint for the Motion control system seen in the PS3's rival console.

Sony's launch software lineup seems to have played it very safe - almost too safe if you think about it for awhile. Sports Champions is the controller's bundled pack in game and it features six different sports that you can play. These include Archery, Bocce, Table Tennis, Gladiator Duel, Beach Volleyball and Disc Golf. Each game is presented nicely with decent HD level graphics and unlike the Wii, your avatars are presented as much more realistic, lifelike people. You can select which one you want to use before each game and they generally look fairly nice. The game allows you to choose from several options including level of difficulty, number of opponents and which side you want to use. Unfortunately, in a truly annoying feature, Sports Champions requires you to calibrate the controller before every single game, which gets old in a hurry and leads to a lot of unnecessary frustration since you usually change positions as you play the game and getting back into the 'box' to perform the calibration sequence is annoying. While this is annoying enough, the games in Sports Champions are uneven in terms of quality.

The most strategic and challenging of these events is archery, where you have to aim and shoot the arrows at a variety of targets in a somewhat medieval setting. The simplest introductory levels have you shooting at stationary targets but later stages introduce moving and flying targets and obstacles to make things more challenging. In order to get an arrow out of your quiver, you need to bend your arm behind your back to 'grab' one then move it back and point the controller back to the screen. It takes some practice to get the hang of it, but it makes for a somewhat more challenging game. Playing with a friend or against the AI makes things more challenging since you have to compete for a high score while the timer runs out. Another standout mini-game featured in Sports Champions is the table tennis game, which shows off the move's sophistication. Its ball physics are impressive, yet the intuitive interface allows you to score points easily against your opponent. You can serve easily by using the trigger button while performing underhanded volleys as well. The game tracks your movements in 3D space and you can put extra momentum on the ball by leaning or moving forward a little bit. The AI is quite challenging its presentation makes the matches easy to follow. There are multiple levels of difficulty and most players should be able to find a decent groove with their opponents easily. Unfortunately, these two games represent the highlights of the package and the other mini-games don't fare as well.

The other games are somewhat less polished. Most disappointing was the Beach Volleyball game which felt a little bit confusing at first, then became unresponsive. Basically, you wait until the volley reaches your player, then swing the motion controller to return their serve. The onscreen menus are a little obtrusive and makes the game feel a little bit too superficial. Automatic movement of the players makes you feel even less connected to the action and its overall feel was rather dull. Another problem we encountered was the unpredictable nature of the volleys, which made the game feel more random than we liked. It sounded like it would be the best title on Sports Champions, and despite its cool concept, we found the Gladiator Duel to be more frustrating than exciting, since you basically swing wildly at your opponent to win, with the blocking moves seeming to be tacked on to what is a very simple and not very deep experience. The shield system allows you to block some attacks, but you don't really need to use it since the game allows you to use a dodge button to get out of the way quickly, then swing and inflict damage on your opponents. This makes most matches almost too easy to win, reducing the challenge and replay value significantly. Sports Champions' oddest mini-game is easily bocce, where you throw balls around a small stake in the ground, and score points for getting closest to it. As presented in Move, it's not very challenging or interesting and its dull presentation makes it something you probably won't play very often. Finally, we come to disc golf, an unfortunate combination of two sports that didn't really work well. Here, the objective is to fling a disc towards a target area as in golf. The game aids you in terms of direction and velocity, so all you really need to do is figure out the right angle to throw the disc and you almost always reach the right area. It's not very challenging, and probably won't occupy you for very long, despite its multiple courses.

If the descriptions of these events seem familiar, it's no accident. The games on Sports Champions mirror those found on Wii Sports & Wii Sports Resort almost exactly in terms of presentation and play. This is a double-edged sword, since it lets you compare the Move technology and Wiimote technology head-to-head, it also ends up making Sports Champions feel a little bit derivative. The games offer decent play-value and are somewhat entertaining. The difference between the Wiimote and Move is a noticeable in terms of accuracy and precision, but its more evolutionary than revolutionary. This is definitely not a giant leap forward, more a series of small improvements on things you've already played. You can say that it represents a start on what could become something more impressive later on, but we're dealing with the disappointing reality, not delusions. The technology is impressive and works nicely, aside from its constant need for recalibration. After so long in development, you'd think Sony and its developers could come up with something more original for the software side of its Move equation.

   - Michael Palisano  

Grade: B-

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