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PlayStation console

Sony's PlayStation

A CD-ROM Game Platform for your TV

by Johnny Bray

Over a period of twenty years or so, we've been hit by numerous game systems, each one superior to the last. First, there was the Odyssey, with its plastic TV screen overlays, then the breakthrough Atari 2600 and Mattel's Intellivision. Atari ruled the roost for a few years, after which the TV video game market seemed to dry up for a while.

Then, along came Nintendo and the Sega Mastersystem, and the market was blown wide open again, spawning a parade of new systems that continues today. These include Sega's first 16-Bit system, the Genesis, and Nintendo's Super Nintendo. The Atari Jaguar, Philips CD-I, and Panasonic 3DO were next to come, none of which have done very well from a sales standpoint. Now Sega has leapt to "the next level" with its CD-ROM-based Saturn system, followed closely by a new player in the field: Sony.

Well, I've played most of them and have to say Sony's system, the PlayStation, is superior to all I've used.

Tour de Force to be Reckoned with…

The downtown Calgary Sony store lent TechnoFILE a PlayStation to put through its paces, which made it difficult to get any work done. In short, the PlayStation has great graphics and sound, which combine to create some of the best games playable on your TV.

Sony does have its problems with the system, though. Two words can easily describe the biggest problem: Techno Music. I played five different games for this system, and every one of them had Techno at some point (yes, even NHL Hockey '96). If they got a new soundtrack, this would be an even better system, although from a strictly gaming point of view it doesn't get much better than this. Sony definitely did their homework on this system.

PlayStation uses a 32 bit RISC processor and 16 megabits (not megabytes, unfortunately) to deliver 16.8 million colours and full, 30 frames per second video. What this means is the graphics are clear and clean and deliver neat 3D images that render themselves on the fly as you play. And the sound is spectacular, and translates very well through a Dolby Surround processor.

The game controller (you get one and can buy others at extra cost) has more buttons and push-pads than you can shake a stick at, and it takes a while to get used to them all. Control is quite tight, so a firm (but gentle) hand is required.

The Games are the Thing…

As mentioned above, we tried five PlayStation titles, and they represented a good cross section of what's available.

Ridge Racer.Quite simply, this is the best car racing video game I've seen on a home video game system, though my earlier complaint about the Techno Music really applies here. It's too bad: Ridge Racer has terrific racing action that ties you up in knots, but all the while that music yammers loudly in your ears, taking away a lot of the game's enjoyment. Add to that the terminally cheerful announcer (Oh, if only he and that music could be turned off - or at least down!) and it's almost enough to make you shut off the game. Almost…

Graphics are great, and the road course you're competing on has enough twists and chicanes to challenge Jacques Villeneuve. And, except for the music, the sound is spectacular, especially in surround mode; when you drive into the tunnels along the course, you can hear your engine noise echoing off the walls and ceiling.

Wipeout. This one's quite similar in concept to Ridge Racer, except it's set in a sci-fi-like environment where you're driving a hovering racer armed with a variety of weapons. The object is to win, naturally, and if you can slow down the competition with a couple of well-placed missiles, then so be it!

There are several cars and tracks to choose from, and a variety of difficulties. It takes forever to load, though, even more so than the rather leisurely loading performance of the other games I tried.

Battle Arena (Toshinden).The best fighting game ever made! Great graphics and sound are chopped and kicked along by terrific action. There are eight different characters to choose from, each of which has two choices of uniform and a variety of moves and weapons. This is the game I enjoyed the most.

Warhawk. This is one tough game! You're a hotshot pilot out to save the world from domination by some typically evil computer villain. The game makes extensive use of real actors and the production values are very good. It whips you up into a fury of anticipation, then sends you off on your various missions.

Unfortunately, the graphics in the actual game aren't nearly as good as the video footage, which is a disappointment. Not that the graphics are substandard: they're not. It's just that you get spoiled by the video sequences, and the more traditional computer-generated action is a bit of a let down.

Game action is fast and furious, though, and you have to be a good pilot and a crack shot if you're going to save civilization. We weren't.

To Buy or not to Buy?

PlayStation competes head to head with Sega's Saturn, 3DO, and CD-I and is priced in the same ballpark. I haven't run it against the Saturn, but think its action, graphics and sound, beats the other two systems. It's a new system, but there are plenty of titles available for it, from role playing to shoot 'em up. It's probably the closest thing you can get to an arcade game in your home theatre. I loved it.

 

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Updated May 14, 2006