A lot of people are skeptical about the future of 3D gaming on consoles, but until recently, I was not one of them. Actually, one of the highlights of E3 I was most looking forward to was finally getting my hands on some of the 3D games Sony announced for the PS3, like Killzone 3 and Wipeout HD.
Maybe I shouldn’t have had such high hopes though, because if there’s one thing life has taught me, it’s that few things ever live up to the hype. Now that I’ve played multiple PS3 games in 3D, I’m here to explain why the console isn’t quite ready to jump into the third dimension just yet.
Let me reiterate how extremely excited I was to finally get a chance to play games in 3D at E3. I am one of the few proponents of the technology who believes that, if done properly, it can help immerse players more into the games they love. I’ve seen it used in remarkable ways in movies like Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, and if it can help make those movies more enjoyable, it can help games as well.
With my high expectations in tow, I quickly made my way over to the Killzone 3 booth when the show first started and waited in a 45 minute line to finally get a chance to play the game in 3D. Awaiting me there was an unexpected reality check. Not only did the 3D fail to enhance my experience in any way, it actually distracted me and took away from the gameplay.
When I first put on the 3D glasses and gazed out onto the snowy plains of Helghast, I was amazed with how it all looked. I could immediately feel a spatial difference between the foreground and background, and it indeed made me feel like things in the distance were physically far away. As I delved deeper into the level, I started to realize that it might all be a trick.
After playing for a while I started to wonder if the background was actually rendered in 3D or not. It was as if only the foreground was rendered in the third dimension for a feeling of depth, but the background was still a plain old 2D matte surface. I’m not sure if this was the case, but that’s the feeling that started to soak in after playing the game for a while.
What’s worse is that the sensation of depth eventually became a huge distraction and I found myself playing worse than expected. My eyes kept constantly switching from wanting to focus on the foreground to the background, and it was hard to pay attention to the action going on in the distance. When you are playing a game where all the action occurs in the background, you don’t want your eyes to get confused about where to look.
After killing tons of Helghast, I next moved onto Wipeout HD to find out if the third dimension could help enhance my futuristic racing experience in any way. Once again, my very first impression of the 3D visuals was a good one. Thanks to the feeling of depth, I could actually tell how far my anti-gravity craft was hovering over the track. It was an incredible sensation that made the tracks feel more real and life-like, immersing me even more into the world of the game.
Once the action on screen started moving though, and my craft began zooming down the track, I immediately could tell something was off. The entire HUD was placed way in the foreground to give a feeling of separation between it and everything in the background. While this helps to make the HUD stand out, it unfortunately helps a little too much.
You see, whenever your craft bounces on the track or collides with something, the HUD shakes violently. This typically isn’t a problem in the 2D version of the game, but because the HUD is placed spatially in the foreground in the 3D version, it becomes a major distraction. The effect is extremely similar to what I was experiencing with Killzone 3, where my eyes couldn’t decide whether to focus on the foreground or background, resulting in me getting confused and distracted.
Another problem with the 3D version of Wipeout HD is that for some reason once you put the 3D glasses on, the screen becomes extremely dark. Now Wipeout is usually a bright and vibrant game, so to see the entire screen bathed in a dark cloud is a little disturbing and can cause major problems when trying to race. I was not the only one who noticed this, as I talked to many people who played the game and they all complained that it was too dark.
Wipeout HD wasn’t the only game that had darkness problems when using the 3D glasses. MotorStorm Apocalypse was another new title that was on display showing off its 3D gameplay. It was also running into the same dark cloud problems that plagued some of the other games.
Both myself, and the guy I was playing with, were constantly running into walls due to the track being way too dark. Obviously, you do not want to be running into walls when playing a racing game. Doing this has a tendency to end very badly. Did I mention that the track takes place during the day, out in the bright sunlight? Does anyone else see a major problem here?
What was even more disappointing about MotorStorm Apocalypse was that the 3D didn’t enhance the game in any way. It was simply used as a cheap gimmick to make it feel like debris, dust, and people were flying up in your face when racing. I bet they even added the pedestrians you can hit just to have them fly at you in 3D. Otherwise they just feel out of place in a MotorStorm game.
The last game I tried in 3D was the new Sly Cooper Collection. Out of all the titles I played, this was easily the only one that contained any bright glimmer of hope for the future of 3D gaming. Maybe it was due to the cell shaded graphics, or perhaps it was the light hearted mood and simple use of the 3D to make everything on the screen feel like it had depth. Whatever it was, Sly Cooper was the only title that looked good in 3D.
I tried out a flying level, and a boss level that took place in a bamboo forest, and both looked incredible. I wasn’t blown away by any stretch of the imagination, but the 3D did enhance my gameplay experience, and made me feel like I was really “in the game”.
Now, before I wrote this article, I decided to ask other people who had high hopes for 3D gaming on the PS3 to see whether they were impressed or not. The resounding response I got was that everyone was really let down; not only by the games I’ve mentioned here, but by others as well. Gran Turismo 5 was a huge title that got a lot of negative comments about its 3D enhancements.
It probably didn’t help that while Sony was trying to show off their 3D games, requiring the use of glasses; Nintendo was about 50 feet away demoing the new glasses-free 3DS. Not only was it nice not having to wear glasses, all the games were bright and vibrant, and they all seemed to utilize the 3D effect in a way that enhances the gameplay experience. When there’s competition like that, it’s hard to make a good first impression.
I hope someone from Sony actually reads this article, because I need them to know that from what I’ve seen so far, the future of 3D gaming on the PS3 is not a bright one. I do still have high hopes that they can turn it around. They just need to solve many of the problems I’ve mentioned here, like the screen being too dark, the foreground distracting too much from the background, and the 3D effects feeling too cheap and gimmicky. Perhaps Sony should take a good look at the 3DS to understand what Nintendo is doing right, because as it stands now, the PS3 isn’t doing much that is positive for 3D gaming.