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Ramping Up The Console Wars

By Mike Musgrove
Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sony PlayStation P.R. guy Joshua Weinberg is in town visiting his in-laws this weekend -- and he just happened to smuggle a PlayStation 3 to Washington with him.

Airport security took a special interest in his carry-on luggage Thursday night, not because anyone thought of the game console as a terror threat, but because everybody wants a look at the new system, scheduled for release Nov. 17. That's the sort of excitement a slick new game console tends to generate.

You'll be hearing a lot about this gadget in the next couple of months. Sony hasn't sold a single unit, but quick-moving opportunists who reserved one at game stores are already offering the device for $2,000 and up on eBay. Like the Xbox 360 last year, the PS3 is expected to be in very short supply this year.

Behold: It's shiny, black and surprisingly heavy. And shaped, as some game fans have already joked, like a George Foreman grill. Analysts say this thing is the biggest, most expensive, craziest gamble that consumer electronics giant Sony has ever made.

Even without eBay inflation, the thing isn't cheap. The higher-end PS3, complete with a 60-gigabyte hard drive, will list for $600. The economy model, with a 20-gig hard drive, runs $500.

But yadda yadda, right? Let's play some games.

Post freelancer Daniel Greenberg and I spent some quality time yesterday playing with the new system on his 47-inch LCD television, and I can report that there are worse ways to spend a Friday morning.

So here we are in England, in a video game where the year is 1951. Greenberg and I are trading off the game controller while running around in a virtual bombed-out house. Aliens with big teeth have been shooting at us out on the streets, but we're enjoying a brief respite indoors.

"Give me one bullet in the glass," Weinberg instructs. The window cracks realistically, in a manner that is probably more realistic than the last cutting-edge game where I was able to shoot up some windows, but I can't be sure. "We had a physics guy spending six months doing that," he boasts.

Greenberg and I are inclined to look for more aliens, but Weinberg is eager to show off just how every item in the room reacts as if it were real. "Stay in the room," he advises. "What else can you destroy?" We stick around and shoot up some cans, lamps, refrigerator doors and bed frames before heading back to the aliens and their pointy teeth.

"Resistance: Fall of Man" feels a little like a mash-up, you could say. In the video game world, both sci-fi shooters and World War II shooters are hot right now -- so how 'bout just throwing the two together? Nothing wrong with that -- I'm just sayin'.

Weinberg shows us another, gorgeous, Japanese-flavored game, called Genji. The intro movies look like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and Weinberg shows us how we can wave the PS3 controller back in a flinchy gesture to make the character jump back in the game. Neat!

Wait a second, though. That flinchy gesture comes at the expense of a rumble that I've really grown to like. These days, it's a given that game console controllers will shake and vibrate at appropriate points during the game. Drive over a bumpy road in the game, for example, and the controller shakes.

Not so for the PS3 controller, and my hands are surprised by the absence. Sony says it isn't including rumble technology with the controllers because it's too expensive to build in both rumble and motion-detecting technology.

Maybe they'll put it in later, I hope.

Like Microsoft's Xbox 360, this device is designed to be a multimedia hub that will play music, let you look at digital pictures, surf the Web and all that stuff. Sony has been hinting that the PS3 will also have innovative ways to connect with its handheld game device, the PlayStation Portable.

On the front of the PS3 is a hinged door that flips open to reveal the console's multimedia ports: There are slots for a compact flash card and, of course, Sony's proprietary Memory Stick.

It's a pricey piece of hardware largely because it has a Blu-ray drive, for the movie format that Sony has gambled will be the high-definition replacement for the DVD.

The shiny black PS3 system seems a bit larger than the Xbox 360 -- though I can't swear to it -- but it doesn't have the gigantic toe-stubber of a powerbrick that juices Microsoft's system.

Bottom line: The games are flashy, and that multimedia interface seems powerful and easy to use.

If Weinberg didn't have to take the PS3 on his way to the in-laws yesterday, I would have loved the chance to play more of its games. But if I don't get a chance to break some more windows in "Resistance: Fall of Man," there's no lack of titles for the Xbox 360 or the PS3's still briskly selling predecessor that I'm looking forward to this year as much. I mean, you've heard that Guitar Hero II is on the way, right?

I like the PS3. But I can't say just yet that I like it more than having $600 in my bank account.

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