What’s the next big thing in videogames hardware? Motion control? Hardly. That’s so 2006. If you want to truly be on the cutting edge of gaming tech then 3D is where it’s at. Nintendo is betting the farm on the technology with 3DS and Sony is investing an awful lot in it too.
3D was a big part of the PlayStation 3’s showing at E3 this year (that’s a lot threes!) and there are certainly a lot of high-profile games to look forward to in the coming months. But what about right now? If you’ve shelled out for an expensive 3DTV, and a set of special stereoscopic glasses to go with it, then Sony is ready for you with the 3D Collection, currently available through PlayStation Network.
3D Collection is available for £23.99, or free to those gamers who buy a Sony Bravia 3DTV, and bundles together full 3D versions of Wipeout HD, Super Stardust HD, PAIN and an exclusive demo of Motorstorm Pacific Rift. Each of the full games is available to buy separately, of course. Wipeout HD currently costs £13.99, while Super Stardust and PAIN will set you back £6.29 each. That’s £26.57 in total, equalling a saving of £2.58 for those who buy the Collection. If you happen to own any of these games already then a mandatory patch will upgrade it to full 3D compatibility, free of charge, the next time you load it up.
So what of the games themselves? We’re not going to review them all over again, but it is worth assessing just how well each of them makes use of the gift of the third dimension. Let’s start with Wipeout HD. It’s arguably the finest game in the pack and already sports stunning visuals. So how does it look through a pair of grey tinted glasses? Not too bad actually. Wipeout’s ‘into-the-screen’ action makes it perfect for 3D, the medium offering a greater sense of depth as you zoom along the futuristic highways, huge buildings popping out and whizzing past the eye in stunning style.
Best of all, the 3D effect on the anti-gravity craft itself , positions the craft on a layer visibly above the track, effectively enhancing the illusion that you’re piloting a futuristic vehicle, hovering just above the surface of the track. Which is one of the key of 3D, after all: its ability to immerse you in a virtual world much more believably than is possible on a traditional 2D screen.
Sadly, this simple fact is not recognised through the whole of Wipeout HD, most notably in the rather clumsy use of the 3D HUD. Though still presented on a 2D layer, the HUD is positioned right at the front of the action, appearing as a panel that sits somewhere between the player’s eyes and the in-game action.
It’s an extremely distracting feature, literally getting in the way of the action. And it’s a fairly impractical one too since, if you actually need to use it, to check your current position for example, then you have to refocus your eyes to the near distance rather than simply glance to the right of the screen. Try as we might, we couldn’t find a single option that would allow us to turn off the HUD or adjust its position, which left us feeling rather disappointed with a game that makes otherwise decent use of 3D.
Next up is Super Stardust HD, another darling of the PlayStation Network and a welcome addition to Sony’s new 3D family. Ostensibly a 2D game in the way it plays, you might imagine that Stardust wastes the potential offered by Stereoscopic 3D. And you’d be wrong actually. With meteors flying from off-screen and crumbling into multiple pieces as you blast them to bits, it uses the 3D effect to make the action that little bit more spectacular than usual.
Even dying can be an enjoyable sight in three dimensions as your ship explodes into a globe of tiny particles, and expands out toward your very eyes. And that’s about it, really. It would have been nice if Housemarque had re-programmed the game, allowing you to guide the ship in-between foreground and background but that would be a major redesign of the gameplay and is something we can only hope will feature in hypothetical sequel, made with 3D in mind. Until then we’ll content ourselves with the fact that one of the best PSN games now looks that little bit nicer.
It’s a shame that the same can’t be said about PAIN, actually. As 3D updates go, this is about as bad as it can possibly get. Only a fraction of the total game has actually been upgraded, so you’ll find that all of the menus are still 2D and that only a very small handful of levels have been re-tooled to take advantage of that expensive new TV. Once you get into those levels there’s not very much new to see. Pulling back your ragdoll character on the giant slingshot uses a nice depth-of-field effect as he/she moves closer to the front of the screen, but once you’ve fired them off the effect is lost, the all-important impact barely distinguishable from a regular 2D game. What a disappointment!
Finally there’s the Motorstorm Pacific Rift demo. Which is rather confusing, actually, since it’s a little unclear whether the game is actually supposed to be re-released in 3D or if this is simply designed to offer an idea of what we can expect from the upcoming threequel, Motorstorm Apocalypse. Nevertheless, Evolution Studios’ 2008 racer looks the business in the third dimension.
It’s not quite as impressive as Wipeout HD but there’s a good sense of immersion and some nice little details, like the way the dust kicked up by rival racers appears to jump out a layer or so in front of everything else. Best of all, the Pacific Rift demo doesn’t fell into the same trap as Wipeout HD and keeps the HUD subtly nestled within the screen rather than jumping out too far and distracting from the crucial business of racing.
Overall Sony’s 3D Collection is a bit of a mixed bag. PAIN’s update is, without pulling any punches, a waste of time. But Super Stardust HD is sensibly and subtly done while Wipeout HD comes ever so close to greatness.