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by Ryan Davis on
Now that the PlayStation Home beta has opened up to the general public, we take a look at what this curious addition to the PlayStation 3.
Home is basically presented as a very clean, very modern entertainment complex. The core locations are your apartment, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a mall, and a large, open courtyard that connects them all. There are also a few themed locations that exist separate from this virtual gated community, which currently include a bar themed around Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and a dilapidated train station for Far Cry 2. Though it can take a while for everyone's avatar to load whenever you first arrive at a new location, leaving you with a bunch of kinda-creepy translucent ghost avatars, Home has a sharp, clean look to it. People like to say that Home looks like Second Life, which is admittedly fun to say, but it doesn't really hold water. Home is a much smaller, detailed, and tightly structured virtual world. And in Second Life, there's actually stuff to do.
More than the mall that sells virtual cowboy hats for 49 cents or the conspicuous advertising, the biggest immediately apparent problem for Home is that there simply isn't a whole lot to do. In any one location, there's usually only a handful of objects you can interact with. The central plaza features a game where you guide a remote control flying saucer over a small pond, avoiding mines and collecting stars, as well as a communal jukebox stocked with a handful of licensed songs. Go into the single-screen theater, and you'll be treated to a trailer for the movie Twilight, followed by a Paramore music video that, coincidentally, is from the Twilight soundtrack. I guess Sony is anticipating plenty of self-mutilating teenage girls to use Home. Which could be a reason for some to keep using Home, I guess.
The bowling alley is the most action-packed location I've seen in Home so far, with its pool tables, arcade machines, and bowling lanes. One of the small choices in Home that I find stupefying is the fact that the arcade games allow only one player at a time, which means you have to wait your turn if you want to play a light version of Echochrome, or a really crummy Breakout knockoff. You can argue that Home might benefit from trying to emulate some specific details of real life, which is actually a little true for the player limits on the pool tables and the bowling lanes. The truth is that waiting in line to play a game at an arcade sucks. Waiting in line to play a game at an arcade that exists inside of your cutting-edge video game machine is top-shelf lunacy.
But, if growing up in the sticks taught me anything, it's that there's nothing that bored kids like more than causing trouble and generally being disruptive. Here are a few choice excerpts from an IM conversation I'm having with Jeff about his Home experience to prove my point.
Jeff (10:07): I've decided that Home is the greatest thing to happen to the PS3 ever.
Jeff (10:08): Me and five or six other dudes who knew who I am have taken over the arcade and are bullying people into dancing. And text chatting about Gears of War 2 as we do so.
Jeff (10:10): Also, bubble machines.
Jeff (10:28): We are up to eight dancers now! WE WILL NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER
Jeff (10:39): I am now down to a posse of five hardcore dancers.
Jeff (10:41): Giancarlo has joined this savage dance fiesta. We are UNSTOPPABLE.
This probably isn't Home's fault, and maybe this just speaks to the type of easily amused jerk I am, but the most fun I've had with Home so far has been running around and triggering the disapproving double thumbs-down animation at stuff I don't like, which brings me to the point of communication in Home. In a way, Home is just a big, fancy chat room. You can hang out in the public lobbies and just shout at whoever, you can invite some people back to your place for some more exclusive socializing, or you can create and join clubs with like-minded individuals. Like clothing for your avatar and higher-end living quarters, clubs are a premium part of Home. It'll cost you $4.99 to start your own club, and there will be upkeep fees down the road as well.
Home supports headsets and keyboards, and also features a pop-up menu full of canned phrases, so there's plenty of options for how you communicate. In my brief experience, though, it seemed like very few people had keyboards or headsets, and most of the chatting consisted of slangy text-message abbreviations.
I guess the fact that Home is simply a free add-on for the PS3 makes my criticisms against it a little irrelevant. It's not an essential feature, so if you don't like it, you don't have to use it. But stakes are high for Sony right now, and this seems like an odd way for Sony to add value to its console. I don't think it's entirely without potential, but what's being shown in the open beta looks more like framework than a finished Home.