In the days, weeks and months since the announcement of Sony’s Xbox Live killer, Home, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve gone from hotly anticipating this feature to almost completely uninterested after numerous delays. I began to think that this was one of many things that looks and sounds great on paper but ultimately fails in execution. And who could blame me for feeling this way? What was supposed to launch to all Playstation Network users as early as September 2007 is still only in the beta stages well over a year later.
Oh how quickly things change when you press the right buttons…
Yesterday afternoon, I opened my email account to see that I’d received a long awaited invitation to the pubic beta for Playstation Home. Naturally, I quickly rushed over to my Playstation 3 to turn it on, input my beta access code and start playing around with it. So, how do I feel about it? Well, in a word…conflicted.
First and foremost, I jumped into the beta as everyone before me has, by creating my avatar. The character creation system is rather robust and there are a bunch of adjustments to be made, on par with the best character creators I’ve used. The wardrobe, on the other hand, was lacking. The selection of clothing, jewelry and accessories is on the slim side but that’s to be expected given that this is a beta.
Conveniently enough, the last four words of the previous paragraph can be applied to pretty much everything I’m going to say from here on out so remember to take everything I say with mountains of salt.
After creating your avatar, you are swept into your studio apartment. This is your personal space, which you’re free to decorate in any way you choose. Unlike games like The Sims and Animal Crossing which use a rigid grid system to determine where furniture can be placed, everything in your apartment is physics based and furniture can be placed anywhere there’s an open space. So, this can inspire gamers everywhere to tap into their inner interior decorator and create some nice furniture arrangements or do what I did and stack a few couches and tables on top of one another. As was expected, the furniture selection is incredibly limited but that’s excusable.
In my experience, there just wasn’t much to do in the apartment outside of walking out to the balcony and taking in the virtual sights so you’ll want to head out to the Central Plaza as soon as possible. The Central Plaza is the hub for everyone participating in the Home beta. Think of it as a message board but, you know, all interactive and stuff. In this large, open area, you’ll see your fellow gamers beta testers walking around, chatting, dancing and the like. This is also where you’ll access pretty much everything Home has to offer. There’s a bowling alley/arcade, a mall, the theater and s music pavilion for players to hang out in.
The bowling alley is easily the most fleshed out area in the entirety of the Home beta. Everything here is fully realized and accessible to everyone. There are three arcade machines, each featuring very simplistic minigames, including a stripped down version of Echochrome. Also available are pool tables and (obviously) bowling lanes. While I’ve had the chance to try out the pool tables and arcade machines, I’ve yet to have a turn on the bowling lanes to see if I can replicate my terrible bowling skills in the virtual world.
This brings me to one annoying limitation within Home and it’s not one that has to do with it being in the beta stages. All of the games in Home functions much like they would in real life due to the fact that you’ll have to wait your turn if someone is already using them. In theory, this isn’t so bad. If you’d arrived at a bowling alley and all of the lanes were filled in real life, it wouldn’t be so hard to wait until a lane is free but it doesn’t translate so well to the videogame world, which is built on the principle of instant gratification. It’s not really a bad thing when put into perspective, but given the general impatience of gamers, it doesn’t exactly bode well either. To put it simply, I don’t want to have to sit down and wait for…however long it takes for each person ahead of me to finish bowling.
Eh, maybe I’m just too impatient.
Moving on, I visited the Home mall, which promises to offer users many things to purchase within Home ranging for new clothes for their avatar to new personal spaces to live in. Unfortunately, none of the stores in the mall have anything for sale but that will undoubtedly change by the time the full release is ready. For now, many users seem to use the mall as a meeting place and upstairs, there are a few chess tables set out for everyone to use which follow the same rules as the games in the bowling alley, meaning everyone has to wait their turn in order to play.
Finally, the Home Theater is open to everyone, showing brief sort of video documentary of SOCOM: Confrontation. This is the only thing showing there and, again, this will be expanded on in the final release. I have to admit, I like the concept of being able to go to the theater in the future to check out the trailer for the newest games and the like. Once you’ve seen the SOCOM video, though, there isn’t much else to do in the theater besides chat with your fellow PS3 owners.
And…that’s pretty much it. After just a couple hours of play, I’ve seen just about everything Home has to offer. I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by that. Home delivers on the promise of being the ultimate social networking tool on the PS3 but I can’t say you can accomplish very much more than if you’d pointed the PS3’s internet browser at Myspace or Facebook. As far as things to do with your friends and others in Home beyond chatting, the options are very limited and unless the final release expands on this, will likely grow old fairly quickly. Nevertheless, Home does add a number of features I genuinely like. Home is very easy to use and it’s very easy to make new friends using the social networking aspects of the service. The ability to gather your friends and jump straight from Home into a multiplayer game of your choice is a great addition as well.
So, whether you’ll love or hate the Home beta will ultimately be determined by your expectations. If you expected it to be the one-two punch Sony needed to knock Xbox Live off its pedestal, you’ll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you expected an easy to use social networking service that expands on the Playstation Network’s online features in a meaningful way with a few frills thrown in for good measure, you’ll be getting pretty much exactly what you asked for. Based on my few short hours with the service, I can see its very high potential and I’m eager to see what Sony plans to add to the finished product. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time in the Home beta. It might not be everything I was hoping for but what I have seen so far has been promising.
Stay tuned folks, as a video tour of the Playstation Home Beta is on the way!