From lumbering start to graceful finish: a brief history of PS3

Friday, 6 December 2013 09:42 GMT By Dave Cook

Gran Turismo 6 is out today and it marks what could be the end of Sony’s big, exclusive releases on its last-gen format. VG247’s Dave Cook charts the console’s history and how it impacted the industry at large.

(Note: I’m aware the console’s not finished yet, but with today’s launch of Gran Turismo 6 marking Sony’s last big exclusive, it felt like the right time to post this. Happy reading!)

”At the time, PS3′s image really did scream, ‘BOYS! ACTION! POWER! TECH! PENISES! SPLOSIONS!’ It was the man-child gadget fancier’s dream, even if – obviously – lots of females were still clearly playing it. Some might even call it a bad image.”

I still remember March 23, 2007. I had taken a bus across town to the Gamestation store where I worked. Gamers were queuing out into the car park, standing patiently in the mild morning air. They were clearly eager to get inside and it was little wonder, seeing as PlayStation 3 had finally launched in Europe. I was covering the big day for a documentary project my university was running. Once the doors opened, they filed inside and laid down £425-plus to be among the first to sample Sony’s next-generation. It was an exciting thing to witness.

But then media reports started appearing online, suggesting that the long-awaited console wasn’t quite the revelation it was hyped up to be. Games like Resistance: Fall of Man and Motorstorm received a mixed reaction from the press, Ridge Racer 7 proved that the format was showing its age, and Genji: Days of the Blade was still reeling from the ‘giant enemy crab’ fiasco. The system’s technical capability was abundantly clear, but its exclusive launch slate left much to be desired.

Don’t forget that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune wasn’t due until that November, and before then poorly-received titles like Lair suggested that Sony’s SIXAXIS tech was perhaps little more than a gimmick. Development of Final Fantasy 13 – which was still a PS3 exclusive at this point – was proving so problematic on Sony’s complex architecture, that Square had to create a whole new tool set called ‘Crystal Tools.’ Suddenly, cracks started to appear in Sony’s proposition, and for many, the cheaper Xbox 360 with its revolutionary Xbox Live component seemed like the horse to back.

I was always a Sony fanboy back in the day, but I opted for an Xbox 360 in 2007 so I could play the timed exclusive BioShock at launch. I bought them both together in a bundle and was blown away by that first scene in the ocean. That was the moment I truly arrived in the next generation. After all, I was a student then, far too poor to afford a PS3 and still happily playing PS2 games like Killer7 and Final Fantasy 12. The fact that Square’s 13th title wasn’t coming to Microsoft’s format was a real blow, but still, it was a matter of buying a console to keep up, or paying the rent. I think I made the right choice given my circumstances.

Across the last generation I played Xbox 360 in the majority, seeing as the bulk of my friends had one. When I moved down south to start working towards a career in game critique I used voice chat and long, often boozy Call of Duty sessions to keep in touch with my mates back in Scotland. It was a strange, integral part of my life, but my PS3 was always there and always appreciated. Those week-long Demon’s Souls binges were particularly enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure. But I digress.

Despite some initial issues, Sony managed to shift over 600,000 PS3 consoles across Europe in just two days. That’s not a small number. We had just come off the back of PlayStation 2, arguably one of the most influential and successful consoles of all time. Think back to all of the franchises that console gave birth to, and all of the superb games it spawned. It really is a milestone of our industry, and together with the original Xbox and Gamecube, the industry was – at the time – a healthy, competitive place brimming with ideas.

But we suddenly found ourselves in the online generation, inspired by the first steps of the Dreamcast and – some may say, initially, the risible Apple Pippin – but the playing field had changed drastically nonetheless. Sony did well to keep PSN free, and this proved to be a real ace up the sleeve. As digital-only titles started to become recognised as viable prospects – thanks in large part to Braid’s success on Xbox Live – Sony really started to wise-up to where the online market was going. It too started to hoover up digital titles from indie teams on a regular basis, filling the PlayStation Store library with acclaimed titles like Super Stardust HD and more recently, games like Hotline Miami.

In fact, the appearance of Dennaton’s Drive-inspired ‘fuck-em-up’ on PSN is indicative of why Sony had such a firm foothold when PS4 launched here last week. Games like Hotline Miami – that can only be found on PS3, Vita and home computer formats – may not be exclusive, but they are certainly console exclusives. That looks good in the eyes of the consumer. Then Sony Online Entertainment got involved with DC Universe Online to see if the free model could work on consoles, followed by CCP Games’ shooter DUST 514. Whatever your view of those games, this showed a great deal of forward-thinking from Sony.

Fast forward to today and PS4 already has a run of post-launch releases, such as free titles Warframe and Blacklight: Retribution. They’re soon to be followed by Planetside 2, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Nuclear Throne, The Witness and tons more. If I had to pick out Sony’s greatest evolution across the PS3’s life-span then it’s surely this. It took time for the company to reach this point, but I’m guessing a lot of you are glad it did. Then there’s a little thing called PlayStation Plus. That’s been an interesting and successful format so far.

PS Plus was launched in June 29, 2010 and promised a premium service for gamers. By far the model’s greatest asset is arguably the Instant Game Collection, which offers free games on monthly rotation. It’s actually, positively ludicrous in its design, yet so brilliant as a tool to raise awareness of studios and franchises. I literally can’t see a single downside beyond perhaps some studios taking a profit hit by being included, but even then I’m sure they’re making some money out of the deal.

So yes, PlayStation as a service has evolved drastically over the years, but what about the games? Speaking personally, PS3’s software side didn’t start off well at all. For me it lacked something punchy and marketable like Gears of War. Say what you will, but Epic’s sombre ‘Mad World’ TV spots for that game were simply genius, and the game itself improved the cover-shooting format to a point where suddenly, every action game wanted to copy it. Sony needed something like that, a name to market, a title to scream from the rooftops. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was arguably that title.

It’s not the best game in the series but man was that a fun campaign. Nathan Drake was a lovable, wise-cracking Indiana Jones for the modern age. Naughty Dog’s proficiency behind PS3’s wheel helped the visuals sing to the point that the console was something you wanted to be a part of. Its colourful settings offered so much more than the drab decay of Resistance, and those stunts. Seriously, those stunts. The gunplay was also fun, SIXAXIS grenades aside, and the whole thing just spoke to gamers in a big way. Then came Uncharted 2: Among Thieves which – I think – was 2009’s best game and one of the last generation’s best titles.

But kids couldn’t play Uncharted. Your gran might have fancied Drake’s charm but she probably didn’t want to play his game. At the time, PS3’s image really did scream, ‘BOYS! ACTION! POWER! TECH! PENISES! SPLOSIONS!’ It was the man-child gadget fancier’s dream, even if – obviously – lots of females were still clearly playing it. Some might even call it a bad image, but LittleBigPlanet changed all of that. Media Molecule’s debut may not have been the biggest selling title of all time, but it gave that sleek black box a new message, and showed that anyone could be a PS3 gamer.

This was about the time when the console saw a much-needed price-drop, and I finally bought both the game and the unit at launch. It also came with a proper DualShock 3 with rumble and everything. I still never understood why Sony launched its PS3 pad without rumble motors. Live and learn I guess. So yes, LittleBigPlanet received insane review scores and got the people talking, spreading the word and convincing many people that it was time to return to Sony’s fold. Plus it was educational to a point, which only helped broaden its appeal.

From that point onward, PS3’s roster of games simply exploded, with an increasingly diverse assortment of games for gamers of all ages and skill levels. We saw Heavy Rain target players who perhaps weren’t up to twitch gaming standards. That’s not a put down either, because anything that gets new types of players involved is surely a positive thing. The inFamous series jumped on the sandbox trend triggered by GTA 3 just under a decade earlier, and did so with a neat moral, superhero twist. God of War 3 was just mental in a good way, and capped off a superb Sony series.

Killzone 2 and 3 showed the world that console gaming could still match the rapidly improving visuals of the PC arena, and in the eyes of many, suggested that the Xbox 360 was showing its age. Close your eyes and try to remember the first Killzone 2 trailer from E3. It gave me actual goosebumps at the time, to think that one day, all games might look that good. I finished Killzone: Shadow Fall just under a month ago, and Guerrilla Games is still showing me things I’ve never seen on consoles before.

Metal Gear Solid 4 enthralled and annoying people in equal measure with its inspired mechanics and lengthy cut-scenes respectively. Fellow Japanese releases Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Tales of Xillia proved that the wider western audience was capable of accepting JRPGs on their shores, while the Ratchet and Clank series continued to delight gamers young and old with its cartoon antics and fun gameplay.

PlayStation 3 is by no means perfect, but it stands as proof that Sony as a company is capable of learning from its mistakes. When you compare how the console started out and where it’s ended up with today’s Gran Turismo 6 launch, you can really appreciate just how far we’ve come. This is not to say Microsoft hasn’t achieved wonders with Xbox 360 – because it really, sincerely has – but I’m focusing on Sony here to tie in with Polyphony’s launch.

It’s been a long, exciting, and at times frustrating generation. Studios have closed, what it means to be a consumer has changed for good and ill, but through all the difficulties and disappointments, we’ve been lucky enough to witness astounding advancements in technology, the birth of cherished new IP that serve to entertain us daily, and the ability to go to places we never thought we’d see only just a few decades ago.

We’ve come so far, but we’re still only at the start.

Bring on the next generation. We’re ready for it.

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