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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sony's diet consoles

The Empire strips back.
Sony are trimming the fat with their two new Playstation offerings: the new Slim & Lite PSP which has been on the market for a few weeks now, and the new model 40GB PS3, which will be officially announced very soon.

At a glance, the Slim & Lite PSP looks remarkably similar to the original PSP, but has a number of significant changes. As the Lite name implies, the new model weighs much less. It's 33% lighter than it's predecessor, and that difference is immediately evident when holding the unit. The new PSP feels almost empty by comparison. It's also true to the Slim name, being almost 20% thinner. The back of the unit is now truly flat, unlike the old PSP which had protruding bumps on either side. While the screen is the same size, it's now brighter and features a faster response time (though some ghosting is still apparent). Placement of the speakers and wi-fi switch have been adjusted for the better. The responsiveness of the d-pad has also been improved.

The differences extend beyond the physical unit however. Two key additions to the PSP's functionality have been added in the Slim & Lite. First of all, the amount of RAM in the PSP has been doubled to 64MB, with the Slim and Lite utilizing the extra 32Mb as cache to reduce loadtimes and improve web browser performance. The benefit of the UMD caching feature varies greatly from game to game, but in some cases loadtimes are halved or better. I expect developers will program future PSP games to exploit the Slim's caching feature, resulting in significantly shorter loading delays.

The second big addition is TV Out. You can plug a Slim and Lite PSP into a TV and display it on the big screen. This is a feature that has been requested since the PSP launched. The output looks fantastic. It's hard to believe it's coming from a handheld. Cables are sold separately (of course) and there's one major caveat: PSP games can only be displayed in 480p via the component cable. The composite and S-video cables can display everything but games (photos, videos, etc.). I should also mention that games are displayed at the original resolution of the PSP screen, 480x272, which means they appear in a smaller window inside the 480p TV screen output. Given that all the other PSP features are shown full-screen at full 480p resolution via TV out, Sony's decision not to output PSP games full-screen has been a controversial one. Having used the TV out feature extensively, I think it was the right decision. Games look good via TV out at their original resolution. The PSP wouldn't have enough CPU cycles leftover to upscale game output to full-screen gracefully, so the choice between great looking smaller output and ugly chunky upscaled output seems a no brainer to me. If your TV has a "zoom" mode, you could always use that to do the upscaling for you.

Incidentally, it's apparent that Sony intended on supporting TV out from PSP all along. Evidence of this can be seen when playing UMD movies via TV out. They look virtually indistinguishable from DVDs. Despite the PSP's screen being only 480x272 pixels, all UMD movies are encoded at full 720x480 (NTSC) DVD resolution. My Japanese Biohazard 2 UMD from 2004 was deliberately encoded in 480p despite the fact that there wouldn't be a device capable of playing it at that resolution until three years later. Sony were clearly planning ahead.

Regardless of whether you're using the new Slim and Lite PSP or the old Phat (as it has become known), games are now able to use the PSP's full 333MHz clockspeed. Sony finally lifted the clockspeed cap that I wrote an expose on way back in April 2005 (See Unlocking PSP's Future). We should start seeing some really impressive titles on PSP in 2008. The next Remote Play barrier has also been broken: you can now actually play PS3 games on your PSP remotely. Only Sony's beautiful, but flawed Lair is playable via Remote Play so far, though other games will surely follow. The ability to remotely switch your PS3 on and off from your PSP is coming in a future firmware update too, which should make Remote Play a much more practical proposition.

So, onto the other big news; a 40GB PS3 will be launched across Australia on October 11. In the wake of Microsoft's Halo3 launch and in the lead-up to the all-important holiday season, Sony have addressed the single biggest problem the PS3 has: the price. Nearly a thousand Aussie dollars is just too much to compete effectively with XBox360. While it hasn't even been announced yet, Sony's response is the introduction of a new SKU: the 40GB model. It's cheaper. That's the main thing. The 40GB PS3 will retail for just AU$699.

Of course, reduced cost comes at a cost. The difference between the standard AU$999 60GB model and the AU$699 40GB isn't just 20GB. The 40GB PS3 has been stripped back to make the price cut possible. The card readers are gone, the four USB ports have been reduced to just two, and here's the real kicker: PS2 backward compatibility is out. I don't just mean there's no hardware backward compatibility; there's no PS2 compatibility at all.

Current model PAL PS3s feature software-based backward compatibility anyway, so why wouldn't the 40GB model? It's not like the emulation software costs anything extra to include, right? Well, it's not quite that simple. When Sony introduced software backward compatibility into PAL PS3s, they removed the Emotion Engine (the PS2 CPU) which saved them about $25 a unit. The backward compatibility on these PS3s was never pure software emulation at all - these machines still contained the PS2's GPU (the Graphics Synthesizer). Now in a further effort to reduce manufacturing costs, Sony have stripped out the GS chip, making PS2 games impossible to play on the 40GB unit.

Expect the 40GB PS3 to be officially announced this weekend (and prepare for the internet shitstorm that will undoubtedly ensue). Microsoft will counter attack with the announcement of a new cheaper XBox360 SKU, details of which will emerge shortly.

I'll leave you with more pics of my new PSP. I picked up one of the 77,777 limited edition Japanese bundles made to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the ground-breaking PSone RPG, Final Fantasy VII. The bundle came with the new FFVII prequel, Crisis Core (which is absolutely brilliant by the way).

Monday, May 28, 2007

PS3 makes firm progress

Six and a half months ago, I was standing on a cold Shinjuku street with my brand new Playstation 3 while Ken Kutaragi posed for photographs behind me. Much has changed since then. Two weeks later, Ken Kutaragi was no longer President of Sony Computer Entertainment, and as of last month, was effectively retired (becoming an Honorary Chairman).

The "father of Playstation" may have left the game, but his final product, the PS3, has continued growing and evolving. There have been eleven firmware updates since the Japanese launch, with the latest, version 1.8, going live late last week.

Firmware 1.8
This has proven to be a very impressive update. Several gripes I've had with the system since day one have finally been resolved by this firmware, and many nifty new features have been added. Some of the changes are quite obvious, others not so much. Let's take a look some of the improvements that the latest firmware update has delivered.


The new scaling options are the most talked about feature of this firmware update. Until now, the PS3 could not output Blu-ray movies at 720p resolution. Given that most HD sets in homes today have a native vertical resolution of 768 pixels, the PS3's remarkable inability to downscale Blu-ray movies to 720p (due to it's limited hardware scaling capabilities) was a real problem for it's credibility as a Blu-ray player. Not anymore. As well as supporting 720p, the PS3 now also supports 24 fps playback (to match the framerate of the original film), making it one of the more fully featured Blu-ray players available.

DVDs can be upscaled now. The PS3 can upscale DVDs to 720p or 1080i/p, and the resulting visuals are fantastic. The catch here is that DVD upscaling is only supported via HDMI cable. When using component cable, DVD upscaling is disabled. Well, it's almost always disabled. It will be disabled when watching any copy-protected (ie. commercial) DVDs via component. As a copy prevention measure, the MPAA insists that DVD players must not upscale to HD resolutions without implementing the HDCP protocol (that HDMI supports, but component doesn't).

Scaling has also been added to the PS3's backward compatibility. PSone and PS2 games, which were originally displayed only in standard definition, can now be displayed at resolutions up to 1080p. Additional options are available to apply a smoothing filter to the upscaled content and automatically "pillarbox" 4:3 games on widescreen displays. These are nice features, but you shouldn't expect a huge visual improvement. The games are not being rendered at a higher resolution, they're just being resized. Having said that, the smoothing option does make PSone games much easier on the eyes, without dramatically changing their look.

I've created some comparisons below of Metal Gear Solid in it's original 480 state and upscaled to 1080p with smoothing (click for larger versions).

The new scaling options apply not only to games on physical discs, but also to PSone games bought and downloaded from the Playstation Store. Until recently, these downloaded PSone games were only playable on PSP systems, but can now be directly played on the PS3 too. (Unfortunately, Sony have not yet made any PSone games available through the Australian or European Playstation Stores.)

Interestingly, it seems downloading PSone games is a viable way to bypass the region restrictions still enforced on PSone software. My Japanese PS3 won't play US PSone discs, but will happily play downloaded US PSone games.

Memory Cards

Speaking of backward compatibility, support for the memory card adaptor has also improved immensely. Prior to firmware 1.8, this adaptor was essentially a one-way device for one-time usage. It's only capability was copying the content of PSone & PS2 memory cards to the PS3's hard drive. You couldn't even check what was on the cards first. The implementation of the legacy memory card system was extremely limited and frustrating.

Under firmware 1.8, you can finally write files back to your memory cards as required. You can directly browse the contents of any connected memory cards and "copy-protected" save files which were previously not transferable, now are. If you're playing PSone games downloaded from the Store, you can now move their save files seamlessly back and forth between your original memory cards, the PS3's HDD and your PSP's memory stick. The entire legacy memory card system is now as flexible as it always should have been.

Remote Play

The PS3's Remote Play system, which allows a PS3 system to be remotely accessed and controlled by a PSP, has been greatly expanded upon in firmware 1.8. In addition to the Music, Video and Photo sections which were available before, the Friends list, Game menu and even the Playstation Store are now accessible. You can see which of your friends are online, check what game they're playing, and even engage them in chat sessions via your PSP. As you can see below, the Playstation Store interface is optimized for viewing on the PSP screen.
While you can now browse the Game menu (above), you still can't actually play any PS3 games via Remote Play. The only parts of the PS3 interface that remain inaccessible via Remote Play are now Settings, Users, the Folding@Home client, and actual gameplay.

There's one more change to Remote Play that needs to be mentioned. A change that really makes the Remote Play feature deliver on it's potential. Before firmware 1.8, Remote Play was little more than a clever gimmick. It's usefulness was limited by the fact that both the PSP and the PS3 had to be within direct wireless range of each other (essentially using an "Ad Hoc" connection like two PSPs connecting for local multiplayer). Firmware 1.8 adds support for Remote Play across the internet. This means you can use your PSP to access your PS3 when you're away from home. No matter where you are, if you've got your PSP and wireless internet access, you can connect to your PS3 and utilize whatever resources you have on it.

How well this works will be reliant on network conditions of course, and you'll need to sign in on your PSP using the same email address and password you use to sign into your PSN account. Remote Play across the internet won't actually be possible until PSP firmware 3.5 is released (later this week?). This feature has enormous potential and I can't wait to try it out.

UPDATE - (1/6/07)
PSP firmware 3.5 was released yesterday, and I tested the Remote Play via Internet feature last night. I'm pleased to report that all the features of local Remote Play are still available across the internet. Using the default settings, the picture quality was visibly more compressed than using local Remote Play and there was some skipping and input lag, but all in all, it worked a lot better than I'd expected.

If the "tunnel" between the PSP and PS3 has sufficient bandwidth, you can change the settings on the PSP to improve the picture quality and response time, making the experience much the same as local Remote Play. Colour me impressed.

Media Streaming

This was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatibility was added in firmware 1.8. It's a set of standards allowing media (like videos, music and photos) to be shared between networked devices. Unfortunately, hardware with native DLNA support isn't very common right now. Some VAIO laptops support it and some high-end digital media recorders do too. That's great if you've got one, but what if you don't? Well, chances are you can easily get your PC to play along.

Windows Vista supports DLNA, but you needn't upgrade just yet. XP users can get set up in seconds flat. Just switch on Sharing in Windows Media Player 11 , and after allowing sharing to the PS3 (which will appear in WMP as an "Unknown Device") , your PS3 can access music, pictures and video stored on your PC. You can stream and play it directly across the network, or copy it to your PS3's hard drive.

Of course, your PS3 can't handle all media formats. PS3 only handles MPEG videos, for example. If you want to be able to stream all your videos (regardless of format), you'll need to do a bit more work on the PC side. There are numerous DLNA media-streaming apps available; some free, some commercial. Right now, the latest release of Nero Media Home looks like the most versatile option, as it does on-the-fly transcoding of other video formats into PS3-friendly MPEG-2.

When watching videos streamed across the network, you have the same options as you do when watching videos off the PS3's internal hard drive. You can stop watching a video mid-way through and resume it from the exact same point later. The 1.5x fast forward option is still available too, allowing you to watch videos at 150% normal speed with audio at the normal pitch. The network media streaming features all work via Remote Play too, so you can wirelessly access media stored on your PC (or any other DLNA device) via your PSP, as illustrated in the photos below.

Full Range HDMI

For folks with HDMI displays (or HDCP-compliant DVI displays), the new Full Range HDMI display option is well worth checking out. Until now, the contrast range of PS3's HDMI output has been consistent with TV standards. TV signals are contrast-compressed so that in the full 0-255 range (where zero is true black and 255 is absolute white), all picture brightness is rendered within the 16-235 range.

Many TVs can't adequately display tones darker than 16 or brighter than 235. Even if a TV can support it, it's chipset may have been configured to drop tones below 16 to black and push all those above 235 to full white. For TV, that's ideal. For PS3, these sets are best left at the default "Limited" range setting, as enabling "Full Range" will actually lead to loss of detail at the top and bottom ends.

As the name suggests, the "Full Range" option will open up the contrast spectrum to the full 0-255 range, producing deeper blacks, whiter whites and overall better contrast on displays that will support it. Monitors are built for this range, and some TVs will handle it well too. On the Samsung monitor I'm using, Full Range HDMI produces a much better picture.

Other Stuff

There are a few other noteworthy changes:

Printing support has been added, but at this stage, only a select range of Epson printers connected via USB will work.

A new Slideshow mode called "Photo Album 2" has been added to the Photo viewer. This displays virtual prints, like the original Photo Album mode, but arranges them neatly in a grid instead of randomly scattering them. Zooming and cropping functionality have also been added (finally!).

CD information is now editable. After the PS3 automatically retrieves information about audio CDs from the internet, you can now manually edit the information.

Background downloads are now supported from within a greater range of games and applications (including Folding@Home), and can be manually paused from within the XMB.

On Australian/European PS3s (that don't contain the PS2 chipset) software emulation of PS2 games has improved. A greater number of games are now compatible.

The only downside of firmware 1.8 seems to be that the PS3 arcade sticks that worked on PSone/PS2 games under firmware 1.7 no longer work under 1.8. With so many improvements, I guess they had to break something.

Considering that all this was bundled into firmware 1.8, it should be interesting to see what Sony have planned for firmware 2.0. This may co-incide with the public release of Sony's innovative Home online interface. Home is currently in a closed beta phase, and while I've been fortunate enough to have a thorough play around with it, unfortunately I'm not allowed to disclose any details about it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What's in Store

I heard that Sony switched on the Australian Playstation Store today, so I've just activated my Australian PSN account and had a look. The Aussie Store is much the same as all the others, but I thought I'd reveal what's in there for those of you picking up an Australian PS3 soon. No doubt the content is essentially the same as the UK Store, though the pricing is obviously different.

Here's the complete list:

GTHD Concept (free)
Tekken 5: Dark Ressurrection ($16.95)
Blast Factor ($8.45)
Lemmings ($8.45)
Gripshift ($13.37)

Demos (all free)
Resistance: Fall of Man
Blast Factor
Formula One C.E.
Lemmings Starter Pack
Genji: DotB
Ridge Racer 7

PS3 Advert: trailer 2 "underbelly" (61MB 1080p)
Resistance: FoM TV advert (58MB 720p)
Formula One: C.E. trailer (73MB 720p)
Motorstorm trailer (224MB 720p)
PS3 Advert: trailer 3 "grenade" (93MB 1080p)
Resistance: FoM trailer (223MB 720p or 122MB SD)
GT HD Concept trailer (185MB 720p)
Motorstorm TV advert (6355KB 720p)
Casino Royale trailer (282MB 1080p or 38MB SD)
Gripshift trailer (91MB 720p or 23MB SD)
Genji:DoB trailer (155MB 720p)
PS3 Advert: Keiji (18MB 1080p)
Ridge Racer 7 trailer (128MB 1080p)
PS3 Stories: Control (146MB 1080p, 110MB 720p or 32MB SD)
PS3 Stories: Power (147MB 1080p)
PS3 Stories: Real Time (203MB 1080p, 143MB 720p or 146MB SD)
PS3 Stories: Cinematic (178MB 1080p or 35MB SD)
PS3 Stories: High Def (156MB 1080p, 120MB 720p or 33MB SD)
PS3 Stories: Storage (187MB 1080p, 138MB 720p or 37MB SD)
NHL 2K7 trailer (31MB 1080p)
NBA 2K7 trailer (23MB 1080p)
X-Men 3: The Last Stand trailer (112MB 720p or 29MB SD)
Behind Enemy Lines trailer (108MB 720p or 31MB SD)
The Omen trailer (66MB 720p or 17MB SD)
Kingdom of Heaven trailer (119MB 720p or 30MB SD)
Ice Age: The Meltdown trailer (98MB 720p or 27MB SD)
Speed trailer (121MB 720p or 31MB SD)

Game Content
Ridge Racer 7 Game Decal Sets 1-5
Genji Enemy Costume Pack

That's it...well almost. Strangely enough there's another trailer available that's not listed in the Video section. It's a rather brutal The Darkness: Revenge trailer that's only accessible by scrolling through the Latest section. It's the same trailer that was shown at TGS 06. Notably absent are previously announced titles like flOw, Go! Sudoku and Super Rub-a-Dub.

Remember folks, the first 20,000 Australians to activate their PS3s online are eligible to recieve a free copy of Casino Royale on Blu-ray. Good luck.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Consoul Magazine

Well, this piece was going to be a long and thoughtful post-mortem of GDC '07 and the announcement of Sony's new MMO online interface, Home. The rest of the gaming press and blogosphere have already talked that to death, so instead here's a picture of a blond girl in a pink bikini, sitting on the toilet with her pants down.
This is the cover of Sony's new PS3 lifestyle magazine called CONSOUL. How nice of them to shamelessly steal my name. This free monthly magazine debuted earlier this month in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Here's my own (admittedly very rough) translation of the media release:
Sony Computer Entertainment Deutschland (SCED) brings its own lifestyle magazine to the launch of the PLAYSTATION3 on the market. In co-operation with the Köln agency, the first edition of CONSOUL will appear on 06/03/2007 with a run of 500,000 copies. The new monthly trend magazine appears in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and is distributed through stores catering to the gaming & internet scene and other selected outlets free of charge.

CONSOUL covers the PLAYSTATION 3 from the perspective of lifestyle and entertainment enthusiasts. High production value photo shoots, reports on sports, fashion and design, and music and movie reviews will fill CONSOUL's pages, as well as features on the technical highlights of the PLAYSTATION 3, and outstanding games and gadgets. The articles, which are all written by an independent specialized editorship, don't lose themselves in technical details, but inspire curiosity to find out more and targets a readership which sits around the fringe of video game topics.

PLAYSTATION 3, which will be available with the European-wide sales launch on 23 March 2007, is more than just a next generation game console, but a multimedia high-end entertainment centre. CONSOUL welcomes this new dimension of digital convergence, which is made possible with the start of the PS3. "The PlayStation brand will be shaped with PS3 as high definition home entertainment. With CONSOUL we look directly at the lifestyle of our customers. We address all, the fun of new emerging gadgets, the digital life of the internet, and naturally our outstanding games and films", said Uwe Bassendowski, Managing Director of Sony Computer Entertainment Deutschland GmbH.
Wow. I'm still not sure exactly where the girl on the toilet fits in, but she will no doubt attract some attention. I'm somewhat dubious about the "independent" editorship, but this seems to be the direction in which Sony's 'decentralized' PR is headed (see also thinly-veiled Sony mouthpiece blog ThreeSpeech). I'm curious to see what this magazine actually contains. If anyone could send me one, or provide some scans, I'd be much obliged.

UPDATE: First they take my name, then they take my story.

So I had a subtle dig at Threespeech in this post. Well, they've responded by ripping off part of the post (complete with my re-sized, re-named cover picture and my own bodgy translation) and posting it on their site, without credit. Do not underestimate the petulance of Playstation.

Thanks to good folk like Chris Kohler @ WIRED, N'Gai Croal @ Newsweek and Brian Ashcroft @ Kotaku who gave credit where it was due.

Monday, January 29, 2007

PS3: Shown to scale

First of all, the Australian release details have been finalised:
March 23 2007. AU$999.95.
Only the 60GB model will be initially available.
Now on with the show.

Scaling has been a high-profile issue for the PS3. While the PS3 can natively render at resolutions as high as 1080p, it has been drawing heavy criticism for it's apparent inability to perform hardware scaling. The PS3 currently will not upscale games rendered at 720p to 1080i/p. For the small number of people who have older HDTVs that support 1080i, but not 720p, this is a disaster. Similarly, the PS3 cannot downscale Blu-ray movies from 1080p to 720p. Even backward compatibility was suffering horribly from scaling issues, with PSone and PS2 games being badly stretched to higher than their original horizontal resolutions.

Fortunately, it seems Sony are taking steps to address the situation. First of all, Sony have released PS3 firmware version 1.5, which among other things, fixes the backward compatibility issue. PSone and PS2 games now display correctly, without any horizontal distortion. This welcome upgrade finally brings PS3's backward compatibility up to scratch. Of course, it could be further improved with options for higher resolutions or texture filtering (like the PS2 had), but we probably shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

As previously hinted at by Resistance developers Insomniac, it turns out the PS3 does in fact have some kind of hardware scaler built-in. Developers just weren't able to access it until now. The latest software development kit (SDK) from Sony has at least partially unlocked it for developer use. Why it was locked previously is unclear. Unfortunately, full-frame hardware scaling from 720p (1280x720 pixels) to 1080p (1920x1080) still isn't possible. Oddly enough, the newly unlocked hardware scaling functionality supports only horizontal scaling. Any vertical scaling still has to be performed in software, at the cost of processor time. So while this isn't the ideal hardware scaling solution, it's half way there.

Sony have wisely included a new 960x1080 rendering resolution as an option in their latest SDK. The beauty of this resolution is that the actual number of pixels to be rendered is only marginally higher than standard 720p (less than 10% extra), and because the full 1080 lines are already rendered, the PS3 is able to upscale it to full 1920x1080p at no extra cost.

So it seems the PS3's hardware scaling abilities aren't quite as lacking as originally thought. There's still a way to go toward resolving all of PS3's scaling issues (720p Blu-ray movie playback is still a sore point), but Sony are certainly taking the issue seriously. Whether they can still find a way to achieve full-frame hardware scaling is anyone's guess.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Red Steel

The weight of expectation can be a heavy burden.

Ubisoft's high-profile title Red Steel carried a lot of baggage to the Wii launch. It was the first Wii game announced and was hotly anticipated from the moment the first screens were shown. Even Nintendo themselves constantly hyped Red Steel as a great showcase for the Wii in the lead-up to launch. Beautiful, crisp anti-aliased screenshots found their way around the web. Despite being devkit "bullshots" that were obviously higher resolution than the Wii could support, they raised people's hopes of how good the game might look.

Despite playtests of beta versions being met with less than stellar impressions, hopes for Red Steel remained high. The gaming community wanted to believe. The final review copies went out, and the discrepancy between expectations and reality became abundantly evident. The press were merciless: "Horrible", "buggy", "broken". Reviews were mostly five or six out of ten, even falling as low as four.

The community quickly turned away from what had apparently been a terrible train wreck. Red Steel dropped off the shopping lists of many of Wii's early adopters. I had originally planned on buying it on day one, but it's critical reception had been so scathing that I didn't even consider it when I picked up my Wii at launch. A day or two later, I felt strangely compelled to try it anyway. I knew it was meant to be awful, but the curiosity was killing me. For such a high-profile game with a budget of ten million Euros (that's bigger than Gears Of War!) to have failed so spectacularly, the result was something I just had to experience for myself.

While so many other mediocre Wii games had sold out in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, I had no trouble finding stores with Red Steel in stock, and even got a good discount on it. My initial impression was pretty much consistent with the general consensus.

Red Steel: Not ready. There's no escaping the fact that Ubisoft rushed the game out for launch. Right from the boot up, the game feels like a beta: unfinished, and desperately in need of more polish, or any polish for that matter. The loading screens, menus, and cutscenes all feel like internal placeholder work that should have been redone properly before the game ever saw the light of day. Then the game itself begins and the stuttering frame rate and last-gen graphics join forces to dig the hole a little deeper. So how do I control this thing? Whoa. Oh boy. It doesn't handle like any FPS you've ever played and it's not like a lightgun shooter either. It's a new control scheme that you're not accustomed to, and for the first few minutes, you'll probably feel like it doesn't work very well.

I have to wonder how many reviewers crystalized their opinions at that point. It would be easy to throw up your hands right there and decide the game was crap. The thing about Red Steel is that it takes time to open up, and it needs the player to give it that opportunity. Half an hour in, the game still seemed bad, but the control scheme wasn't grating quite as much. I had adjusted to the idea that I needed to point the remote at the screen all the time, and that it controlled both the aiming reticule and the direction I was facing.

An hour in, the sluggish frame rate was still bugging me though I'd gotten over the initial shock of the chunky looking graphics and occasionally dodgy textures. I still wasn't really comfortable with the controls, but I played on. The disconcerting way the game just froze up for a few seconds every time I reached a checkpoint was certainly contributing to the amateurish vibe of the game. The storyline and characterization hadn't improved matters either. They were terrible in fact. Poorly written, poorly acted, and absolutely riddled with clichés and stereotypes. Any cheesier and the game disc would have had a stuffed crust.

And yet, as I continued into the third, fourth and fifth hours of the game, I noticed something odd happening: I was having fun. The control scheme had pretty much clicked (although moving toward the TV to zoom in still felt a little clunky) and I was really enjoying the immersiveness of it. Graphically the game had become much more impressive too, though inconsistently so. It still had it's ugly moments, but there were plenty of nice subtle effects on show coupled with some beautiful set pieces and good art direction. Even the cheese had turned golden. I found I was appreciating the dodgy dialogue and lame plot on a B-movie level. I was hooked. I just wanted to keep on playing.

Red Steel's gameplay carves it's own path somewhere between lightgun shooter and first-person shooter, and strikes the balance quite well. The sword fighting isn't what we were all hoping for, but in the grand scheme of things, it's little more than a mini-game. Shooting and hurling grenades is what Red Steel is about. I'm more than happy with Red Steel's duration. As a fan of lightgun games that usually last no more than an hour or two, I think the ten to fifteen hours on offer in Red Steel is a satisfyingly large serving. The campaign is about all there is though. The offline multiplayer is okay, but the lack of online multiplayer is a real disappointment.

So I'm left with mixed feelings about this game. It's so bad on so many levels that I feel like I should just consider it as a straight-out bad game. ...and yet, in spite of it all it's faults, I enjoyed it. I really had fun with it, which is more than I can say for many technically accomplished and highly-polished games that are just boring to play. It certainly won't be remembered as one of the Wii catalog's highlights, and no doubt much of my enjoyment of the game was based on the novelty of using the Wii remote and nunchuck to play it, but so what? Putting aside all other considerations (like the shoddy execution of the entire game), if the sole purpose of a game is to be fun, then I can't deny that Red Steel delivered.

If you're willing to persist and forgive it's flaws, Red Steel actually does offer one of the more interesting and fun experiences available in the Wii's launch line-up.