Sony PlayStation 3 Review - PlayStation Network Review

Online services have never been a strong point for Sony. When Microsoft changed the face on online gaming with Xbox Live on the original Xbox, Sony’s Central Station online service was a flaky, confusing, cumbersome mess. It didn’t matter that Microsoft’s offering was subscription based and Sony’s was free, because Microsoft’s worked and Sony’s didn’t. I was therefore quite wary when Sony announced that the PlayStation Network would be free, but this time Sony appears to have got it right.

Once you’ve got your PS3 hooked up to the Internet you can register your Master Account and then setup Sub Accounts for other family members and friends who may use your machine. Once you’ve created your account you can visit the PlayStation Store – I found that I was able to register at either the Japanese or US stores, there’s no location dependency.

Although the Xbox Live Marketplace works well enough, the PlayStation Store is so much easier to navigate. Once you’re in the store you can download game demos, movie trailers and full games. The latter obviously costs money, just like on the X360 and Wii. The big problem with the PlayStation Store was that the PS3 didn’t initially support background downloading. This meant that if you wanted to download a massive game demo, you couldn’t do anything else – the console was effectively dead until the download finished. Thankfully Sonly released a firmware update yesterday (version 1.60) which solved this problem. You can now download in the background, while a Download Manager tab now sits in the Network section of the XMB.

But PlayStation Network isn’t just about the PlayStation Store, you can also setup a list of friends, just like Xbox Live. You can chat to your friends and invite them to play games, but the coolest part of the PlayStation Network is the forthcoming PlayStation Home. PlayStation Home will be a completely graphical online environment, allowing PS3 users to create their own homes, kit them out and literally visit their friends. It looks set to be a cross between the Sims and Second Life, and I have a sneaking suspicion that some PlayStation 3 owners may never end up doing anything other than wandering around PlayStation Home and cyber-socialising!

The final part of the online puzzle – and the most important in most peoples’ minds – is multiplayer online gaming. This is where Xbox Live has worked so well for the X360, and I fully expected to be faced with the same old connection problems I encountered on the PS2 this time around, but I wasn’t. The online play on Call of Duty 3 is fast, seamless and completely stable – it’s so good in fact that I spent far too long playing it earlier today when I should have been writing this review.

Sony insists that it will keep the PlayStation Network a free service, but developers do have the right to institute subscription models for their games. This seems perfectly fair, and completely inline with the way online PC gaming works. Does this mean that we’ll see a blossoming MMORPG culture on the PlayStation 3? It’s a definite possibility.

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