It may be the question of the year in the tech industry–will 3D gaming be the next big thing? That’s certainly what Sony is hoping for. Besides the interest in 3D gaming, the PlayStation 3 manufacturer also has Bravia 3D TV sales to worry about, so it’s no surprise really. It does, however, mean that there’s a considerable focus on the PS3 when it comes to delivering 3D-enabled games. The latest screen technology has yet to be widely adopted, but many of the recent and upcoming releases for the gaming console feature built-in support, a fact that prompted Sony to organize a New York City preview event at its midtown Sony Style store.
A range of games were set up on 3D TVs — Bravias, ‘natch — with plenty of glasses to go around. Some were playable, others were just straight up gameplay videos. Not that it mattered much. The idea was to get a taste of each game’s 3D effects. And as you might expect with a group of titles built by different developers, the effects differed pretty dramatically from game to game.
Uncharted 3 leads the pack by a wide margin, boasting the most impressive 3D effects of any of the titles that were previewed. The gameplay video being shown was the same chunk of story that we’ve been seeing since the game was first announced. Nathan and Sully navigate their way through a rundown, crumbling mansion, taking on an array of Dudes With Guns as a conflagration rises around them all.
The 3D is nothing short of stunning, an equal mix of image-enhancing depth and in-your-face effects. As Nathan spider-climbs his way across one of the walls, Sully speaks to him from a room on the other side, occasionally moving past the odd hole in the wall. The improved depth of field that 3D offers is immediately in evidence here, creating a sense of space and separation between Nathan in the foreground on one side of the wall and Sully in the background on the other. The entire mansion in general benefits from that depth, with its cavernous rooms and occasionally crumbling floors; when Nathan tips over the side of a steep drop at the end of the video, you feel your stomach drop as the camera pans out to look down on the raging fire below.
Speaking of that fire, the 3D “gimmick” of throwing things in your face is most in evidence once the fire flares up. There’s nothing as pronounced as a flaming plank of wood swinging out of the screen at you, but dancing embers are constantly swirling through the air all around our heroes, some seemingly coming within inches of your eyes. You get a similar effect before the blaze begins as well, as rays of sunlight beaming through cracks in the ceiling highlight dust motes in the air. If you can walk away from Uncharted 3 without wanting to make an upgrade to 3D, then the format probably just isn’t your thing,
Like Uncharted, SOCOM 4 is an action game played from a third-person perspective. The focus is more on gunplay and military tactics than big set pieces, and the 3D presentation feels similarly toned down. The first thing to mention — and this might have just been something relating to the TV settings or the glasses — is that this game is quite a bit darker in 3D than any of the others that were available.
We got to play through a portion of one of the game’s missions, set in a seemingly remote jungle village location. The added depth of field isn’t as pronounced as it is in Uncharted and the enemy soldiers were occasionally difficult to see against the largely green-and-brown backgrounds. Combat is total chaos, especially as dust and dirt starts to kick up around you from nearby explosions and bullet impacts. The effects are impressive, no doubt. The game will also offer its multiplayer in 3D, which could lead to another layer of exposure for the technology.
Overall however, the feeling we walked away with was that 3D might add a bit too much information overload to a game as busy as SOCOM is. This is especially true if you are playing the game with a Move motion controller and Sharp Shooter gun mount, which is the setup Sony had for the demo. Between juggling that, directing your two combat squads and maintaining a basic situational awareness, the 3D adds almost too much to the mix. It is used to good effect, but it doesn’t enhance your view of the surrounding environment as much as it could. One wonders if those hard-to-see enemies we blindly ran past — until they opened fire, that is — might have been easier to spot on a 2D screen.
You don’t generally expect much from a video game that ties into a movie, especially a family-oriented movie, which makes Cars 2: The Video Game‘s top-notch 3D all the more impressive. The game, which we previewed yesterday is pretty much just your basic kart racer in the vein of Mario Kart. The 3D support is exclusive to the PS3 and it even continues to run when the game goes into splitscreen mode (for up to four players).
We only got to see single-player and splitscreen with two players, but the 3D effect is consistent across both. The cartoonish nature of the violence and high speed races both play well with the added depth. There are a variety of single-use weapon pickups to be found, and one in particular, the first place racer-seeking satellite beam, literally blazes a trail past your eyes and off into the distance as it seeks out its target. The environments are huge, and more importantly they feel that way, and the colorful automobiles really pop as they weave their way around each track.
Mortal Kombat turned out to be the least impressive 3D offering of the day. The effect is very toned down. You get some sense of depth in certain arenas — particularly one in which your fighters trade blows on a stone bridge while another pair of fighters do the same on a similar bridge in the distant background — but the 2.5D presentation minimizes the impact of the effect.
The exceptions are those moments when the game’s camera does something a little different. By and large, the fights in the back-to-basics game stick to a 2D plane. There are certain cinematic moments, however, in which the background goes dark and the camera zooms in on the fighter being pummeled, switching to a sort of x-ray vision that highlights crumbling bones and ripped out internal organs. The same goes for the game’s gruesome fatalities. That said, the effects in these moments still don’t compare with what you see from the 3D in other PS3 games. It’s not that it’s bad in Mortal Kombat; it simply feels unnecessary.
There are two modes of play for Virtua Tennis 4 on the PS3, and while both support 3D, the effect is quite different depending on which one you opt for. Playing with a Move controller puts you into a first-person perspective. It’s tennis; you swing the controller when the ball comes your way and then move a step or two in the direction it is coming back from to line up your next shot. As you might expect, there’s a feeling that a tennis ball is flying right at you in 3D. Your racket — which floats in the air with no hand or arm attached to it — seems to hang just outside and in front of your TV screen, bobbing around as you move to intercept the incoming ball. You get a sense of depth too as you gaze across the court at your opponent, but the 3D is most pronounced, and even helpful, here in charting the ball’s constant movement.
The game’s other play mode uses the more traditional SIXAXIS controller, shifting to a bird’s eye view perspective of the court. Here is where you really feel the depth of field. The camera is position relatively high above the action, giving you a sense not just of the play area but of the space around it. The matches unfold in your typically cavernous arenas, ringed with rising rows of seats, and the overall effect is that you’re looking down on an actual tennis match from a well-positioned skybox. The level of detail is also quite impressive, right down to the scuff marks your player’s shoes leave as he or she shuffles to the left and right on the tennis court. Virtua Tennis 4 is definitely a 3D-friendly game.