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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Hands on with the PlayStation 3
By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News website, Tokyo

PlayStation 3 Tokyo Game Show

The PlayStation 3 (PS3) has been a long time coming.

Five years ago Sony announced its intention for the next generation console when it declared publicly it would develop the Cell, the powerful chip at the heart of the next generation console.

Last year the electronics giant announced to eager gamers everywhere that the third PlayStation would finally hit shelves in Spring 2006.

Two delays later and Japanese and US gamers will finally be getting their fix of the sleek black machine this November, while European console addicts will have to wait until next spring.

The PlayStation 3 looks, sounds and plays as you would hope

Since the first machines were shown in Los Angeles in 2005, the closest most gamers and journalists have ever come to a machine is in a photograph or in a glass case.

But at the Tokyo Games Show (TGS) this year Sony finally delivered on its half a decade of promises.

Up close

TGS is the first show where anyone can get up close and personal with the console.

Sony PlayStation 3
The PlayStation 3 is five years in the making

Sony has 200 of the finished machines and is showing more than 20 titles here in Tokyo, including the first person shooter Resistance: Fall of Man and the Grand prix driving game F1 Challenge.

But the question on everybody's lips when they step up to the machine is: has it been worth the wait?

And luckily for Sony after stepping away from the machine, grinning, the consensus is yes.

The PlayStation 3 looks, sounds and plays as you would hope.

More realistic

The first thing you notice is the landscape created in the games look more realistic than ever before. Waters glimmer, glaciers shine and trees beckon to be touched.

PlayStation 3
The machine is released in November in Japan and the USA
Playing the action adventure Gengi: Days of the Blade there is a scene when you must fight in a river near a water fall. As you tackle the samurai-styled warrior, water flows past your feet carrying with it curled autumnal leaves. Carp dance around you feet as you slash at the bad guy.

The landscape is also the first thing you notice while playing the latest instalment of the driving series Gran Turismo.

The Swiss Alps look almost photorealistic, with sunlight glinting off the snow-capped peaks and hanging glaciers.

Detached from surroundings

But look past the landscapes and not all is well. The cars in Gran Turismo HD, as the latest version of the game is called, seem to hover above the ground. They don't seem to interact with the road surface. The basketball players in NBA 07 suffer a similar problem. The hoop-shooters seem to skip across the floor without actually setting foot on it. The characters too seem to be detached from the surroundings of the court.

With nothing in real life to compare it to you get sucked in

Some games also suffer similar problems to those seen on some HD movies. The clarity of the picture and the vibrancy of the colours sometimes make pictures seem too real and in turn they look unrealistic.

None of this really detracts from the gameplay and the developers of the titles were at pains to point out that they were still in development.

Many of the games on show do not have these problems. In particular those that take place in worlds where you are asked to suspend your disbelief and enter a fantasy.

Sucked in

With nothing in real life to compare it to, you get sucked in.

Lair is a good example. In the game you are a warrior in control of a dragon swooping through a dream landscape.

Xbox 360
Rival console Xbox 360 hit shelves last November

To control the mythical beast you use the PS3's new tilt sensitive controller.

The motion sensors in the wireless controller give you six degrees of motion allowing you to control the attacks of your dragon.

Comparisons with the Nintendo Wii's controller are necessary but difficult.

Like the Wii's controller Sony's gives a compelling and natural feel to games. When playing driving games for example most people seem to tilt the controller without thinking. The motion sensors exploit this.

Two-handed affair

But unlike the Wii's two controllers, one for each hand, the PS3 controller is a two-handed affair. For large or fast gestural movements using both hands can feel awkward and at times the controller is slow to respond.

But overall it makes gameplay more interesting and fun. What gamers have lost in the dualshock controllers of the PS2, that vibrated to provide game feedback, they have more than gained in the new motion sensitive controller.

The on-screen interface of the PS3 is also intuitive. It uses the same menu system as the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and gives you access to internet settings, photo libraries and downloads for example.

Photos can be displayed using the onboard software to create slide shows, while video conferencing and instant messaging allows you to chat to your gaming pals.

Slick software

The menu also gives you access to the inbuilt web browser, a slick piece of software that allows you to have multiple pages open at any one time on screen. The controller allows you to cycle through them or display them in tiles across the screen.

Although these extras are nice touches they feel rather like solitaire coming as part of your PC's operating system.

It is nice to have but not the reason to buy the system.

Sony is marketing the PS3 as an entertainment hub, and for some it will be. The inclusion of a high definition Blu-ray DVD player certainly drives this message home.

But in the first instance the PS3 will probably attract the gaming purist to open their wallets and part with a not insubstantial amount of cash for the sleek, lacquered black box of graphical joy.

At least they will have had five years to save up for it.

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