Saturday, December 30, 2006

Resistance > Gears

I have to admit that Gears of War has the most outstanding graphics of any game this year, but I think when you take all the other factors that make a good game into account, that Resistance: Fall of Man for the PS3 is a superior title.

Both have great graphics, with GoW having a slight stylistic advantage. HOWEVER, I think Resistance has a much better storyline, better writing, better sound, and better gameplay. Gears of War's storyline is sketchy at best, and the dialogue between the characters is juvenile macho chest-thumping at its worst, and entirely lacking in imagination. I mean, c'mon, this is supposed to be another planet at some point far in the future, yet everyone comes across as current-day steroid-addicted jocks? This is about as completely berift of imagination as a storyline can get.

On the other hand, Resistance is consistent in it's use of alternate early 1950s earth, with the scenery, clothing, and dialogue fitting perfectly into the setting. The storyline is much more robust and well thought-out. It does start out seeming to be a Half-Life rip-off, with an alien race infecting and converting humans to more soldiers to fight for them, but it has some interesting twists and turns later on in the game that save it from seeing like a total copy.

Resistance also avoids the repetitive gameplay of Gears of War. 95% of GoW is the same style: jump from one point of cover to another while popping out occasionally to shoot at the enemy. The GoW enemy AI is good, and there are a couple welcome breaks to duck-and-cover, such as a couple vehicle-based sequences, and the Berserker section also servers as a great change-of-pace.

However, unlike GoW, Resistance is constantly changing its tone and pace. It starts out similar to GoW, with an emphasis on use of cover, but has a more Doom 3 / F.E.A.R. feel later in the game, when it goes more indoors. It gets enjoyable creepy, and managed to make me jump a couple times. Later on it shifts to some chaotic outdoor battles with dozens of enemy and friendly soldiers, with mortar shells flying, and more resembles WWII-based shooters. It's constantly shifting, and along with the well-done narration (although, can we PLEASE come up with something other than the all-male soldier game with single-female-as-narrator approach!??!) is compelling and fun consistently throughout the entire game.

Finally, unlike GoW, Resistance has an excellent selection of weapons, each having a unique feel and set of capabilities. Every single weapon has a reason to be used, unlike the rather generic and uninspired weapon selection in GoW.

After seeing all the gaming sites come in with GoW as Game of the Year I have to admit I'm in the minority here, but I think this just points out that when everyone says "It's the gameplay not the graphics", many of them are being more than a little disingenuous, because I think graphics is the ONLY area GoW is superior to Resistance, and that in almost any other measure of gameplay, Resistance is clearly the better game. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's now my all time favorite first-person-shooter, surpassing even Half-Life 2 (just by a hair) as my all-time favorite. This is a must-have game for all PS3 owners.

PS3 First Impressions

Unlike the small, modest Wii, the PS3 is a heavy, hulking, imposing piece of electronics. There's something slightly retro about its design, but overall I like it, despite the size. It attracts dust like a champ (you can wipe it off and literally see the dust snap back on the PS3 due to static electricity), but does look snazzy once you do convince the dust to stay off for at least a few minutes.

I ran into one snag which I blame on my Westinghouse TV: when I hooked it up to the PS3 via HDMI there was some flickering white spots on the screen when I tried to view 1080p resolution (the other resolutions were fine). Online postings (especially on the AVSFORUM site) leads me to believe that it is the TVs fault. A firmware upgrade would fix this, but you have to mail it back to Westinghouse (!!!) to get the upgrade. Luckily for me, after one of their updates, the PS3 can pump 1080p signals out its component outputs too, so I got their component adapter and am all set. (The signal is just a tad less crisp than the HDMI output, but given Sony's propensity to have aliasing issues, a touch of softness may not be a bad thing.)

Once I was past my video snag, I checked out their online store, and downloaded a couple games. The PS3's menus are elegant and easy to use. The menu's background/foreground colors change based on time of year and time of day. So, for example in the daytime the mainscreen background is a bland light gray, and turns black at night.

In general, the PS3s colors are vibrant, and at 1080p the resolution is as crisp as it gets. What pleasantly surprised me was how wonderful the sound was too. Like my 360 I'm using the optical output for sound, and I found the PS3 sound to be significantly warmer and richer than my 360. A visiting friend who also has a 360 agreed the sound was noticeably superior.

The launch games are ok for the most part, with Resistance: Fall of Man being the clear winner for currently available games. However, I have to say that in one sense the Gran Turismo HD (free) downloadable demo is the true standout, because it begins to hint at what the PS3 will really be capable of doing. It's truly amazing, even to someone used to high-def PC and 360 games. The scenery (especially the mountains in the background) is jaw-dropping, the number, variety, and detail of the spectators is great, and the look/sound/feel of the cars is marvelous. This is the cutting edge of gaming graphics and sound, and shows that the PS3 has more than enough muscle to be running great looking and sounding games for the next several years.

The SIXAXIS controllers are surprisingly lightweight, responsive and using them will come naturally to anyone used to PS2 controllers. The lack of vibration doesn't bother me too much. The motion-sensitive features aren't really used by any of the games I'm playing, except the arcade game Blast Factor, which uses them minimally. Clearly added as a response to the Wii, perhaps later games will take better advantage of the motion sensitivity in the future.

If you have a 1080i or especially a 1080p capable TV, and send your sound through a Dolby 5.1 or ACS-capable sound system, then the PS3 is definitely a worthwhile purchase. People without a newer TV or sound system don't need to rush to get one. I suspect that I'll be playing the PS3 a LOT, starting with Resistance. It may "lose the battle" with the Wii in the near future, but I suspect that in later years, when more people buy newer TVs and sound systems, and there are more beautiful hi-def games available, that it will gain back that lost ground and come into its own.

Wii Impressions

I've had the Wii for about 3 weeks now, and here are my first impressions:

If you want to try to interest a non-gamer in videogames, then then Wii is your best bet. I brought it to Russ' family Xmas day get-together, and more than once people who had not really been into gaming before said "Where can I get one?!?!" by the end of the day. They all had a blast with Wii Sports (especially tennis and bowling), and got a kick out of Rayman Raving Rabbids too.

The Wii's menus and controls are consistently easy to use, and have a clean, bright, albeit slightly boring, design. The newly enabled weather Globe is a surprise favorite of mine. It's fun, elegant, and a relaxing way to spend a few minutes every couple of days to see what the weather is like around the world.

The Wii's graphics on my 1080p LCD TV looked quite pixellated, even using the component cable. After getting used to seeing my PCs graphics on my TV (a Westinghouse LVM-42W2 that lets me run my PC through it at 1920 x 1080 resolution...EQ2 looks GREAT!) as well as my 360's, the Wii's graphics are, to put it kindly, underwhelming. However, moving it to our older TV (a Toshiba 1080i DLP) improved the look. I know it's common to say "It's not about the graphics, it's about the gameplay", but I guess I've been spoiled beyond recovery by newer hardware, because I'm finding I need a certain level of graphics to truly enjoy a game. Gameplay is still critical, but when you can have both, why settle for just the gameplay?

I'm sure I'll still have lots of fun playing the Wii, but I suspect I'll mostly play it when I'm with other people in person, especially if they're not avid gamers. When I want to sit down for an extended session of solo or online gaming, it will be on my PC, PS3, or 360. With all these latest-generation options, I don't imagine I'll use the Wii as much as the others.