Summary: Today JCal goes hands-on with the PlayStation network, and what you can expect from it.
First off you will have to establish an identity on the Playstation Network, which means going through menus that will make you fill out your name, birthday, address, email, password and your Playstation Network identity (mine is JCalFS). If you have a USB PC keyboard, and if you are reading this that’s a good assumption, I suggest you plug it into the PS3 to type this info into the interface; otherwise you will find that it’s very time consuming if you use the SIXAXIS controller and the PS3 text interface. You also have the option to put in credit card info if you want to download new paid games, content expansion and other content that will be made available in the PlayStation Store, but it isn’t mandatory. You also get an option to get info on “special promotions” from Sony and other third party companies; thankfully you can say no to this. You get a last chance to look over what you have typed in before confirming the info and establishing your Playstation Network account. You then encounter an optional survey that tries to find out why you are purchasing a PS3 and what will you be using it for; again you can bypass this if you want.
You also have a chance to pick out an avatar for your PS3 online identity. Sony provides over 100 symbols to choose from; some are recognizable Playstation game character profiles (I picked Kratos from God of War) but a lot are just weird art symbols. Of course, your tastes may vary. Finally you see your new avatar symbol on the main PS3 media bar. You also see avatars for sending messages to other Playstation Network members along with putting them on your buddy list.
Of course, most people who establish their Playstation Network identity will likely check out the online Playstation Store, which has all of the new content available for download. The interface works something like a web browser with the PS3 controller moving a cursor around the store interface and hiting the “X” button to highlight which section you want to select. You can also hook up a standard PC mouse into one of the PS3’s USB ports and use it to move the cursor around. The store is divided into Movie Trailers, Game Trailers, Game Demos and Downloadable Games (as of this writing there is no sign yet of the promised downloadable versions of older PS1 games). Some of that content is free, such as the Motorstorm demo that we downloaded first, which will give us a taste of the upcoming off-road racing game from Sony.
There are also a number of HD trailers for current Blu-Ray movies for download in MPEG4 format. Ultraviolet, Stealth, Underworld: Evolution, Click, Talladega Nights, Silent Hill, Black Hawk Down, and House of Flying Daggers are currently available (why Casino Royale, a Sony made movie that’s coming out on the same day as the PS3, doesn’t get any PS3 downloadable love is a mystery). However, with Microsoft now set to support full movie and TV episode downloads for the Xbox 360 later this week, the fact that Sony’s Playstation Store has only a few movie trailers available says a lot about Sony’s current commitment to having that kind of content for PS3 owners. A number of PS3 game trailers are also available for download including upcoming games like Lair and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom.
Like the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade you can also download simple and small games for the PS3. Unlike Xbox Live Arcade, there doesn’t appear to be size limits to how large a PS3 downloadable game can be (Xbox Live Arcade games have to fit inside a Xbox 360 64 MB memory card). Blast Factor comes in at 79 MB and Cash Guns Chaos is well over 300 MB. We briefly played the free demos of both games. Blast Factor is basically a far prettier version of Bizzare Creations’ Geometry Wars and the few free levels available in the demo version suggest it will be a solid and fun game to play (currently the game has a price of $7.99 to get the full game, but apparently that price will go up to $9.99 at some point). Cash Guns Chaos is a Total Carnage clone set in a circus that was developed by Sony Online (yep, the folks that make Everquest). The game is rated “M” and its easy to see why while playing the demo version; even though the game has a cartoony art style the blood flows freely as your character shoots the various monsters that come after him. The full version of Cash Guns Chaos costs $9.99. Unlike the Xbox 360 or the Wii which make you pay for points that are then used to pay for online content for those consoles, the PS3 uses an online wallet that you put in money from a pre-set selection of amounts; from $5 all the way up to $150. Sony apparently is also planning to let people pay for Playstation Store content via a Playstation Card; presumably similar to the Xbox Live Microsoft Points card that are sold in retail stores.
Of course, the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live service had a few growing pains before getting up to where it is now but we have to say we were much more impressed with the Xbox 360’s online content selection at its launch than we currently are with Sony’s Playstation Store (only two downloadable games?) We also are not a fan of the store’s online interface; we prefer the larger typeface and selections of Xbox Live. However, the nice thing about having a console that has a built in hard drive is that perfect for updates and we suspect that Sony will be listening to feedback and putting in improvements.
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