PlayStation Plus: Worth the fuss?

PlayStation PlusOn June 29th, 2010, Sony unveiled its premium service, PlayStation Plus, to its community of users. While many customers complain that it offers features that should be offered for every PS3 user, such as the ability to back up game saves to the cloud, the meat and potatoes of PlayStation Plus is the free and discounted content. Priced at $50 for 15 months, or $18 for 3 months, many gamers (excluding myself) have opted to pay the extra money for the benefits.

Is the service worth the price tag, or is it a waste of gamers’ hard-earned cash?

While PlayStation Plus has been out for a full year now, I didn’t get my first taste of the service until a few weeks ago, when Sony provided every active PSN account with a free month as an apology for their abysmal security architecture. None of the special offers through the service ever enticed me enough to fork over any money, but since it came my way for free, I gave it a shot.

Warning: The following article details my enjoyment, or lack thereof, with PlayStation Plus. Your enjoyment may differ greatly.

Premium Themes and Avatars

In the few weeks I’ve been able to download a slew of dynamic themes and premium avatars, which is undoubtedly cool. But would I spend my paycheck on them? Absolutely not. I figured I’d snag everything that I could while it was free, because the best tasting lunch is always free lunch.

  • Avatars: $0 value
  • Dynamic Themes: $0 value

Free Downloadable Games

I’ve also been able to download two stand-alone games for free. The first of which is Streets of Rage 2, which I enjoyed for about an hour and earned a handful of trophies. Yawn. The classic Sega Genesis game would have cost me $5 without PlayStation Plus, but I’ll probably never touch the game again. The other game was Magic: The Gathering, which I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it even a little bit. Free or not, I can’t help but feel I wasted a part of my life I can never get back.

PlayStation Plus also offers a feature called Full Game Trial, which allows the user to download a full retail game and play it for an hour. My problem with this feature is that I’ll spend four hours downloading a 7 GB game, and the trial only lasts for one hour. Spending 80% of my time downloading and 20% playing isn’t exactly my idea of fun. Whatever happened to demos?

  • Streets of Rage 2: $5 value
  • Magic: The Gathering: -$5 value
  • Full Game Trial: $0 value

Discounted Content

For the past few weeks, discounted downloadable content has been available for several games, all of which I do not own. Since I own none of the games, I haven’t been able to take advantage of the discounts. Aside from DLC, several downloadable games have been offered at a discounted price. However, since I had no desire to buy any of them in the first place, why would I buy them at a discount? I still don’t want them. While it’s not Sony’s fault that I don’t happen to like the provided selection, it still provides me with no value.

  • Discounted Content: $0 value

Qore

The other free content included with PlayStation plus is Qore. I was able to download and watch the May and June episodes. While it’s kind of cool to get an “inside scoop” into upcoming games and movie releases, there’s no real value here. I could just as easily hop on my laptop or my new HTC Trophy and find the information, along with a plethora of additional tidbits.

  • Qore: $0 value

Early Access Content

Everybody knows that the American consumer loves to feel special. As a society, we just eat it up. Naturally, Sony leverages this by offering early access to content such as demos, new releases, and even highly-anticipated Beta programs such as Uncharted 3 . Maybe I simply don’t have enough time on my hands to dive into all of this content, or maybe I’m just a chump, but again, I have failed to take advantage of this portion of what PlayStation Plus has to offer.

While none of the early access content has a real monetary value, there definitely is some value to be had here. But between work, being married, owning a house, and feeding my evil cat, I don’t have time to jump into the free stuff. I’m still finishing Dragon Age: Origins, after all.

  • Early Access Content: $0 value

Additional Features

Aside from downloadable content, there are a couple of “premium features” that PS3 users receive. One such feature is the aforementioned ability to back up game saves to the cloud. This is supposed to be nice if you want to game on multiple PS3s, or frequently play over at your friend’s house. However, I’ve never had a need to use the feature. I understand that it’s probably an invaluable feature for many users, but not for me.

Another feature is the ability to auto-update your 10 last-played games, even when you are not using your system. The idea behind this is that you won’t have to wait to download and install a patch before you can jump back online and trash talk some guy living in his mother’s basement.

  • Additional Features: $0 value

Overall

In the end, I’d have to say that unless Sony ups the ante with its PlayStation Plus offerings, I won’t become a paid subscriber any time soon. It seems to follow a very popular business model of getting consumers to spend more money than they otherwise would.

  • Grand Total: $5 – $5 = $0

There’s no doubt about it: PlayStation Plus is a great $0 value. I can’t complain about the few weeks I’ve been a member because it was free, but is it worth the price tag for me? Absolutely not. Is it worth the price tag for you? Maybe.

If you’ve yet to try PlayStation Plus, I hope you find my overview of the features and benefits to be useful, and you can make your own judgment. If, like me, you tried PlayStation Plus for the first time because of the Welcome Back offer, how was your experience? Will you become a paid subscriber?

Review: Fat Princess

Have your cake and eat it too.

Developer: Titan Studios
Genre: Action
Release Date: July 30th, 2009
Number of Players: 1-32
ESRB Rating: T
Platform: PS3

Author’s Note: This review was written after the release of the first patch, using version 1.02 of the game. Since the connection issues from the original release have been almost completely resolved (for me at least), they won’t factor into my score.

Fat Princess is the first title from developer Titan Studios. I’ve heard it described as Team Fortress 2 in a medieval setting, and while that isn’t completely accurate, it does give a pretty good idea of how Fat Princess plays out. Two teams of sixteen players each (a mix of human players and bots) compete in a variety of different game modes, slinging spells and decapitating opponents along the way.

Players are able to choose from five different classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Newly spawned characters start as a neutral class with low health and weak attacks. Even this base class has its uses, however, as it’s faster than all of the other classes. Class changes are made by putting on the class’ respective hat. Hats can be found either from hat machines in the player’s base or from fallen combatants strewn about the battlefield. The hat machines can each be upgraded once, providing an alternate version to the respective machine’s class.

review_fatprincess_1The Warrior is your stereotypical tank, having the most health and packing quite a punch. The Ranger has a moderate amount of health and the longest attack range of any class. Healing duties are handled by The Priest, whose presence can turn the tide in a battle. The Mage can unleash a devastating area of effect attack, and can also launch fireballs directly at enemies in a one-on-one situation. The final class rounding out the cast is The Worker. The Worker harvests the game’s two resources, wood and stone. Workers can then use these resources to upgrade hat machines, build structures such as ladders to aid in attack, and construct doors to keep out the enemy.

Players will find themselves competing in five different game types. ‘Rescue the Princess’ is the most popular mode, and probably the one you’ll be playing most often. Each team has the enemy’s princess held hostage, and the goal is to rescue your own princess while retaining possession of the enemy’s. Hold both for thirty seconds and you’ll win the match. While this may sound like a fairly standard Capture the Flag match, a couple of variations keep the formula fresh. Pieces of cake are littered across the map. Carry a piece back to the captive princess and she’ll eat it, growing fatter and harder to move. She’ll get skinnier over time, so you’ll have to feed her a constant stream of confectioneries to keep the enemy from making a clean getaway.

‘Snatch n’ Grab’, another game type, gives you slight variation on Rescue the Princess. In this mode your aim is to rescue your captive princess a total of three times.  Your team doesn’t need to be in possession of both princesses to score.

‘Team Deathmatch’ is fairly self explanatory. The princesses are done away with; instead each team starts with a point pool. Every time a player respawns, a point is subtracted from their team’s pool. Force the enemy team to zero points to score a victory.

review_fatprincess_2Placed around the maps in strategic areas are capture points. Hang around them for a while and you’ll take control of the capture point for your team. Workers can deposit resources here, and your team can also use these points to quickly recover health. In the ‘Invasion’ game type, your goal is to control as many of these points as possible. Each team again starts with a point pool, and if your team controls more than half of the capture points your opponent’s point pool will slowly deplete. Completely drain the enemy’s point pool to win.

The final game type, ‘Soccer’, plays completely different from the previous types. Players spawn on a soccer field, and instead of retrieving hats from machines the hats are randomly spawned around the field. Soccer balls randomly appear on the field, and your aim is to kick it into the enemy’s goal. Like a game of soccer in the real world, you win by having the most points when time expires.

While most of the action takes place online, there are a couple of single player modes. ‘Legend of the Fat Princess’ will take you through basics and let you familiarize yourself with the controls and game mechanics. It can be completed in about an hour, and there’s essentially no reason to play through it again after doing so. The ‘Gladiate’ mode lets you pick one of the character classes and attempt to defeat increasingly difficult waves of enemies without dying. The third and final mode is titled ‘Mess About’, and lets you set up a custom single player game. You’re able to select the game mode, the map to be played on, and the number of bots among other options. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the game’s maps and try out different tactics under controlled conditions.

review_fatprincess_3Getting online is a breeze. You can host your own game if the mood strikes you, or you can let the matchmaker find a game for you. Either way, you’ll be slaughtering Mages and stuffing the princess full of cake in about twenty seconds.

Online matches themselves are hit or miss. If you manage to get into a game with a decent number of human players who can work together you’ll have a blast. The classes are relatively well balanced and each and every one is enjoyable to play. If you find yourself growing bored of healing your teammates, switch over to the Mage and start setting people on fire.

A few technical details can mar the experience. The most glaring offense is the atrocious bot AI. You’ll frequently find yourself running right past a bot without them even attempting to engage you. They’ll stand there stupidly while you attack them from a distance. The bots have no concept of strategy, and will happily take over a meaningless capture point while the rest of your team is attempting to return the princess. This can become a serious problem, since bots fill the empty spots on a team if no human player is available. Since players can change teams after matches, what inevitably happens is everyone switches to the winning team, leaving a few human players and mostly bots on the other team. An auto-balancing feature would be a very important addition to online matches.

Games will frequently end in a stalemate. If the number of bots in a match far outweigh the number of human players, or if neither team is able to work together to capture the princess, games will devolve into pointless killing matches that eventually end in a tie.

review_fatprincess_4Graphically speaking, Fat Princess delivers. Titan Studios went for a cartoony style reminiscent of last year’s Castle Crashers. Character models and backgrounds are simple but elegant. Character animations are anything but flashy, but do serve their purpose. Deaths are particularly exciting, with plenty of cartoon blood and dismemberment.

A helpful announcer keeps you informed on current events. He’ll keep you up to date on what’s happening (“We have the princess!”), frequently with a comedic twist (“They’re in our base! Killing our dudes!”). Characters speak in high pitched munchkin voices, and the princesses irritably scream for more cake. The musical score is pretty much what you’d expect, with various medieval sounding tracks playing throughout the game.

Fat Princess Shows a great deal of potential. If you check out Titan Studio’s blog for the game you’ll find that they’re committed to making Fat Princess as great a game as possible. They’ve already released one patch that fixes several issues, and they’re hard at work putting together another one. They quite obviously didn’t just release Fat Princess and turn all of their attention to the next project.

Fat Princess can be found on the PSN Store for $15. It doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but still provides solid class based multiplayer gameplay.

Pros:
Great sense of humor
Can be a tremendous amount of fun
Has graphical style
Developer continues to support

Cons:
Laughable bot AI
No auto balancing of teams (yet)
Stalemate endings

Bottom Line:
Fat Princess delivers a good amount of team based fun, occasionally spoiled by technical issues. It’s worth looking into for all PS3 owners, especially with Titan Studios working to improve it even more.

Final Score (out of 10):

7.9