PlayStation Move £29.99
5th Sep 2010 | 16:50
Sony takes motion control to the next level
Sony PlayStation Move: Overview
It's surprising to think that the Wii has been on sale for nearly four years, and we're only now seeing true competition from Nintendo's rivals. Of course, considering the half-hearted motion controls of the Sixaxis, it's probably wise for Sony to have been cooking PlayStation Move slowly since its introduction 15 months ago.
The PlayStation's motion controller sticks much closer to the Wii's mould than Microsoft's Kinect, with E3's Move tagline being "This changes everything". Hyperbole aside, Sony is aiming to take the technological high road, as it does with all things PS3, and beat the Wii on precision and movement accuracy.
The technology used is actually pretty similar to Nintendo's, but on steroids. The Wii's sensor bar sits by the TV and gives out infrared lights that a camera in the remote picks up in order for the pointer to function.
Move flips this around, with a camera next to the TV picking up the glowing ball on the end of the controller. The PS3 can then measure distance from the controller using the size of the ball as a reference.
The Move controller also has all the movement sensing bells and whistles of the Wii remote and MotionPlus attachment, demonstrating that Sony's thinking was obviously that they weren't attempting to reinvent the wheel so much as make it a little rounder.
Move controllers are available alone for £35, or with the PlayStation Eye camera for £50. The Navigation controller (the equivalent to the Wii's nunchuck) is £25, though we haven't included it in our testing it here.
Sony PlayStation Move: Design
The most noticeable thing about Move's primary controller is the glowing ball on top, unsurprisingly. When the controller is off, the orb is white and softly translucent, and looks remarkably like a ping-pong ball (it's about the same size as one, too).
When the controller's in full use, the ball lights up in a range of colours, so it can be tracked by the PlayStation Eye camera. While the ball might seem to be a weak point should the controller ever make contact with your wall/lamp/friend's skull, it's actually squishy, and just pops back into shape after an impact.
The rest of the controller has a more organic look than the Wii remote. It's round, and becomes slightly thinner in the middle, presumably to be more ergonomic.
On the front, you have the four familiar PlayStation face buttons, though the fact that they're arranged in a square, rather than a diamond, makes it a little hard to remember which one is where for a while.
Between those is the Move button, a thumb-sized new addition, clearly meant as Move's version of the Wii remote's big A button.
Beneath those is the PS button, which serves the same function is it does on the DualShock 3 or SixAxis controller of bringing up the XMB. It sits in a concave, which avoids accidental presses neatly.
The underside of the controller is mostly clear, but features a trigger, known as the T button. This is analogue – like R2/L2 on the DualShock 3 or the left and right triggers on the Xbox 360 controller – in contrast to the crisp, clicking B button on the Wii.
The left-hand side features the Select button, which is quite hard to hit, but is rarely needed.
On the right side, you find the Start button, which can be pressed accidentally depending on you hold the controller, though it only happened once or twice.
At the base of the move is a micro-USB port for charging, a slot for the provided wrist straps, and two mystery connectors that could be used for accessories in the future.
At first, the Move controller feels a little more comfortable than the Wii remote. It's not that Nintendo's controller was uncomfortable, but the roundness of Move goes some way toward helping it sit neatly in the hand.
That said, we found that we started to feel the effects of prolonged use faster with Move, and we think it's to do with the shape. The tapered middle means you're often gripping harder than you would have to with the Wii's controller, especially when playing something with hard swings, like Table Tennis on Sports Champions. Discomfort in the wrist crept in earlier than it did during an equivalent session of Wii Sports Resort.
Let's be clear, though: We're not saying Move is painful, uncomfortable, bad for you, or anything like that (assuming you have no joint problems to begin with). After all, we were playing for quite long periods during our review time, though not unusually long for a committed gamer.
We're not even saying it's definitely less comfortable than the Wii remote – as we said, it's actually a bit nicer just to hold – but we do think that the shape isn't ideal for long periods of the more wrist-bending games.
There are a few other things about the Move's design that seem a little odd to us. Why add a new button with the Move logo (which is, let's remember, just a squiggly line, and so doesn't jump out at you on-screen), when Sony could have just used X or Circle?
Of course, the most contentious design decision will always be that orb. We don't deny that accuracy that it brings (more on that later), but it really does look silly. We're not going to make the laboured sex-toy joke, because all of your friends who see it will. Seriously, it's not just a meme – it's the first thing that people who've never even heard of Move say.
The light is also quite distracting. If you're trying to do something else in the room while someone's playing a game with two controllers, your eye is constantly drawn. The Wii remote was designed to be inconspicuous – the shape fits in with your TV remotes, and it almost disappears into your hand when you hold it – but this can be borderline gaudy.
That said, motion-controlled gaming always has and always will make you look a bit weird. It's not like the wild flailing was dignified before the glowing ball was added, so maybe we should just be happy with the extra accuracy and possibilities it offers.
Sony PlayStation Move: Performance
In the games Sony provided us to test with, we were able to get a feel for much of what's possible with Move, but we also became aware that these tests are somewhat limited by the way the games are programmed.
This has always been one of the Wii's biggest caveats, and the worry is always that games will use motion sensing in a way that really should have just been achieved with buttons.
With that in mind, we can safely say that we came away hugely impressed with what Move can do, but it still needs a careful, measured implementation.
The controller's ball certainly seems to offer an accuracy of pointer movement that goes beyond what the Wii remote is capable of. The idea that it could be as accurate as a mouse is probably a bit ambitious, but it's good enough that we could see it giving real-time strategy games, and a few other genres that do better on PCs, a new lease of life on consoles.
When you navigate the XMB with the Move controller, you point it at the screen, hold trigger, and then point it up, down, left or right to move in that direction in the menu.
Interestingly, the ball stays dark during this time, so it seems to be using only the motion sensing capabilities, but it's so fluid and accurate that you wouldn't know the difference.
When the ball is being used as a pointer, we found that it often only operated in a very narrow field compared to the Wii, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes navigating some menus a little more fiddly than we're used to. On the other hand, it works perfectly at much further distances than the Wii remote is capable of.
There are several games where the orb needs to be visible to the camera, even when you'd think the control would be all motion-sensing based.
With the Wii, you could walk into another room and bowl if you wanted, but that's rarely the case here. In fact, leaving the camera's field of view with the active controller seems to stop all functions from working – including the buttons.
While one of the criticisms of Kinect that's going around is the space needed to use it, this is actually also an occasional problem for Move. Sports Champions demands that you stand eight feet (2.5 meters) away from your TV, and then it still expects you to be able to step backwards, and swing your arms all around.
For some people, this won't be a problem, but in our case it meant shifting a sofa back a couple of feet every time we wanted to play (not to mention getting rid of the coffee table). Yes, we always needed to make some space when playing on the Wii, but nowhere near as much as this.
Of course, we're just talking about living rooms here. These space restrictions will just about rule out Sports Champions for bedrooms.
Why is this an issue for Move when it isn't for the Wii (some of the most energetic Wii games be played sitting on your sofa or standing up without too much of a penalty)? It's the restriction of the ball and camera system. You need to be able to swing your arm well out occasionally, and still be on camera.
This restriction follows through into some of the multiplayer games. We only tried with two people, which was fine once we'd made enough space, but if you were playing four-player Volleyball, where everyone has to be on camera at once, it would be absolute carnage.
Annoyingly, Sport Champions wasn't the only game that caused us a distance problem. Our sofa was too close to the TV for us to be able to play that game, but when we popped in Start the Party!, we were too far back!
Start the Party! uses the camera and Move controller for augmented reality (AR) WarioWare-esque party games, so each active player needs to be quite close to the camera to be the right size on-screen. This distance inconsistency is another sacrifice for the accuracy on offer, but it's simply a problem that the Wii doesn't have.
The AR in Start the Party! is very impressive though (and it actually makes an occasional appearance in Sports Champions too). Giant foam hands stick like glue to the end of your controller, wobbling convincingly with the momentum of your swings. Tennis rackets twist in your hand, meaning that you have to careful to hit with the strings, and not the rim.
Win one round in particular and the controller becomes a pencil, enabling you to deface your opponent's image – all with incredible accuracy, though the fact that you're seeing yourself from the other way makes it a little confusing when you're rotating things, or moving them to and from the camera.
Naturally, there's a horror story too. Kung Fu Rider – a kind of Tony Hawk's meets Pain, with a Crazy Taxi heart – is a classic early-Wii case of unnecessary waggle. Thrust the controller up to jump, but to accelerate you have to shake it up and down, resulting in numerous accidental jumps. And yet, when you actually want to jump, it's frequently unresponsive.
It's a perfect example that the Move technology can only be as good as the software harnessing it.
Sony PlayStation Move: Head-to-head
With Sports Champions sitting happily alongside Wii Sports Resort on our shelf, the obvious test for Move was to put it up against Nintendo's offering. There are several like-for-like games here, so how do they compare?
A tricky one. The Wii version offered a huge amount of control over the spin on your ball, but you still had control over your Mii's movement, and the accuracy of your swing didn't matter as long as the timing was right.
Move couldn't be more different. By stepping left, right, forwards and backwards, your character will do the same, enabling you to get in close for smashes, or to get back for a powerful top spin return.
You also need to think about the height of the ball, because it's quite possible to just swing at air underneath it.
Serving on Sports Champions is a nightmare, though. Not a single one of the people we got to play could get the hang of it.
Of course, adding elaborate physics to a sports game just means it can go wrong. Attempts to put slice on the ball can result in it pinging off at ridiculous angles for no discernible reason, probably in part due to the precision the game demands from you and Move. Precision that is there, but is hard to master.
Wii Sports Resort is the arcade version, wanting you to put crazy spin on the ball, but this Sports Champions is all simulation. If you want to put tonnes of side spin on, you'd better get some damn practice in.
Though there's no proper golf on Sports Champtions, which is a bit of a shame (though perhaps not unexpected, with Tiger Woods 11 already out), we do have a good ol' Frisbee to toss about.
There's barely anything between these two, in terms of the control system. Sports Champions seems to be a tad more forgiving in that it's slightly easier to throw the disc straight in front of you, but both games have totally convincing curves and wind effects in flight.
Okay, so this isn't exactly like for like in terms of the games, but the control scheme is the same for the pair, so it's a good comparison.
In Sports Champions, how much momentum you get on the Bocce balls from a throw can occasionally be a bit inconsistent. Throw the pallino hard and low on the S-shaped course and it occasionally only travels about 10 metres, while other times it rockets round the course, though you're sure you threw it pretty much the same.
It's also hard to really get the hang of left and right spin on the Move game, especially compared to Wii Sports Resort's bowling. We've always found that the Wii bowling game produces exactly the same slight left spin that we have in real life, and that adding a different spin is a just a matter of subtle wrist action.
Winner:Wii Sports Resort
To keep this fair, we compared the Wii remote-and-Nunchuck Archery game to using two motion controllers at once on Sports Champions.
The Wii version was always one of the most impressive MotionPlus demos, with every twitch and sag of the your arm translated to the screen. At first, Move really disappointed us. Control was laggy and accuracy was very tough.
However, it was then pointed out to us that, while we had made some effort to adopt a correct archery pose, we weren't doing it properly. So we turned fully 90 degrees from the TV, outstretched our arm all the way and tried again.
Suddenly, movement was perfect. Going from target to target is smooth (though you get more of an aiming aid from Sports Champions than from Resort), and using the second controller to bring arrows into the bow yourself gives you a great Robin Hood feeling.
The only thing we missed from the Wii version is a way to readjust where the centre of your aiming is (for example, you can aim slightly below the TV as your centre, so you're arm doesn't get in the way). This would be even more welcome on Move, due to the distraction of the glowing orb.
Yes, it's less realistic, but real archers don't have lights on their bows. However, this doesn't take away from the accuracy of the controls.
The addition of shields in Gladiator Duel makes Sports Champions offering a little more elaborate than Resort's, but it's still swords.
Alas, the Swordplay game on the Wii was always a bit of a disappointment, because the actual hits tended to be restricted to vertical vs horizontal swipes and blocks. Despite the appearance of attacks at different angles, it pretty much boils down to those gestures, wasting the accuracy of MotionPlus.
Gladiator Duel makes good on these promises, especially with two controllers (for the sword and shield respectively). Attacks do more damage if you hit harder, but there's still the classic situation where a casual swing suddenly deals a huge amount of damage and you're not sure why.
To be honest, the swing strength detection is kind of inconsequential because everyone always swings hard anyway. The trick here is in careful use of your shield and timing and angle of attacks. In this, it's hugely impressive, and Move's accuracy enables truly tactical bouts.
Sony PlayStation Move: Verdict
The biggest takeaway from our time with Move is its incredible accuracy. Augmented reality instruments move perfectly with the controller, Frisbees fly with the gentle curve you give them and you can select things with superb precision.
As we said, the controller is comfortable, but not for really long sessions of hard-swinging games. The glowing ball is undoubtedly ridiculous, but is the price you pay for accuracy. You'll get used to having it there, even if anyone who sees it for the first time will raise an eyebrow.
Move has advantages and disadvantages over the Wii remote. The orb enables a higher level of accuracy than the Wii can manage even with MotionPlus in some cases, but also seems to occasionally restrict Sony's controller.
Being able to operate only within strict confines of the camera is fine for one or two people, but when there are more of you, it's handy not to have to worry about such things. We suspect future game programmers can avoid an over-reliance on the camera (and the plethora of motion sensors should be able to compensate for this).
Similarly, while the accurate detection of depth that Move has is fantastic for some games, the inconsistency of sitting four feet away for Start the Party! and standing eight feet away for Sports Champions is irritating.
In fact, our single biggest concern is the space required to really go at the games. It won't be an issue for games like MAG and SOCOM, but it could be the difference between whether this or a Wii is more appropriate for your space.
Somewhere, in the gap between the Wii remote with MotionPlus and Move, is an ideal motion controller. But what we have is mightily impressive, even with its flaws. It's not a revolution of motion control, but a refocus from being unassuming and family-friendly to being all about precision and adding options.
However, it's not cheap. The starter pack containing one Move controller and the PlayStation Eye camera is £49.99. We think Sony would have been wise to include a game with that – Wii Play made buying a second controller far more palatable for millions of Wii owners.
At £35 each, the controllers alone aren't that expensive, but they're all /extra/ cost on top of what you've got already.
As a piece of technology, we heartily recommend Move to PlayStation 3 owners. The motion gaming bandwagon is growing and growing, and isn't going to disappear any time soon. Move won't be for everyone, if only because of its steep price as an optional extra, but those that do invest will find an excellent piece of gaming technology.