Painstation 3: A Tale of Multiplayer Woe

A wise man once compared life to a box of cocoa-based confectionery and that’s no bad thing, it’s quite accurate but what would he describe the PS3’s friend chat/gaming system as? Hopefully a great decroted, steaming pile of donkey diarrhoea. Whoa! Wait PS3 fanboys… wait… this isn’t all condemnation, merely the series of horrible events that ensured that last night’s gaming session was destroyed. We didn’t want it to be this way…  

It all started innocently enough with fellow Lolocaust founder Scarred Star getting a Playstation 3 for Christmas and having a real desire to try out the online modes of a few games. As such I set up a multiplayer night on The Games Cast forums which would take in a dance in PS Home, a few rounds on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and finished up in the fragfest that is Killzone 2 ahead of the third game’s release soon.

Knowing what we know as seasoned gamers on all consoles we ensured that everyone had performed the mandatory installs, updates and preparation so that transition between areas/games would be pain free for all involved. A group of four was prepared to join in and we met up in PS Home, and area I have quite a bit of affection towards.

During my first experiences of the Internet I got involved in a rather awesome chat site called DoBeDo Island. Essentially you designed an avatar and a home area and could then visit locations socialising with other people, often with the cry of ‘A/S/L?’ – a phrase I actually miss – PlayStation Home is little more than an extension of this, a Second Second Life. All round it has it’s moments but it lacks a lot (It’s worrying that PlayStation Home is one of the world’s most populated MMO experiences given the fact that 90% of it is marketing/shopping based) of what is needed to make something more than just average.

So, back on track, we agreed to meet up in the cinema area and as I arrived I spotted AHDVD and Loony facing one another. I stood in front, did a dance, tried to initiate a chat, failed, moved, lost them, ran back, danced and quit out.

I couldn’t hear them, they couldn’t hear me – perhaps for the best, maybe – and I assumed I would be better setting up a chat. The problem is you have to be all in the same location, and this didn’t work. So again, plan abandoned I moved onto Uncharted 2 and set up a multi-player room. Or at least I tried to, but was held up by loading of assets which took about fifteen minutes. While this was going on I attempted to chat with Scarred Star, who was also having asset loading annoyance, but we were unable to chat. We had to message each other, which could have been bearable, were it not for the ridiculous sequence of button presses required to open a message. Maybe I’m spoiled by the 360/iOS that has one touch message opening, but it seems archaic not to have it these days, especially in a AAA console with such a pedigree. It comes across as lazy. So I get into the room, as does Star, but we *still* can’t actually chat. Then he got kicked. I set up the round, hoping he’d get back in, only to be told that the set of options I had selected from the available menu were unavailable unless I got myself some DLC! It wasn’t greyed out, marked as DLC only or anything sensible, simply there, in amongst the regular options. It was infuriating, and frankly led me to quit out in rage.

Unwilling to just give up, despite the series of ridiculous set backs, I headed back into PS Home and invited AHDVD and Loony into my private living area, hoping that the private setting would be better for chat. So I load up my treehouse – yes that’s right PS3 fanboys I’ve been interested enough to have snagged the L.E. treehouse house – and sat down on the floor waiting for my buddies. Loony arrived first, and sat down opposite me. I sent him a text chat message remarking on how it felt like 1997 and we waited for AHDVD who suddenly appeared in my ear. I could hear him! Sort of. I heard his voice as well as a lot of crackle, pop and noise. In fact I get better sound from my Poundland Radio tuner. This was the last straw, I quit out, and loaded up the 360. Within five minutes I was chatting to Star, playing different games happy and contented. Across the room from me was the chair I set up – as my headphones were wired – the headset, the controller and the folder of games. Frankly I wanted to throw the whole lot out of the damn window – and would have were I not so mentally exhausted.

No online gaming experience should be that much hassle and stress.

The worst thing I have to suffer on the 360 is connection issues due to lag/NAT settings. That’s it. The chat works well, the games load quickly, the updates download in good time etc…

How can PS3 owners really justify their argument that their online service is better? The recent furore about Call of Duty: Black Ops on the PS3 surely highlights the problems being suffered day to day. Maybe more issues would be noted if more people ventured online with their games? Black Ops is obviously going to bring in a huge amount of gamers and problems are going to be noted in a more accentuated fashion. I constantly hear – at work – PS3 owners laughing at the payment system for Xbox Live, but if the money goes towards the service being better then I’m more than happy to pay. I think it’s more telling of the fact that PS3 owners don’t have to pay, not because Sony don’t want to, but because I think that they realise that their service isn’t good enough to put a price on.

Which brings me to PlayStation Plus…

I have been a PS+ Member since it’s inception last year and have never regretted the decision, but I am hoping that over time the money brought in by these subscriptions can go towards funding an update that fixes these problems, for the subscribers at least. But for the moment I have plenty of offline games to enjoy.

I may be swayed as I have both consoles and can compare/contrast at my own leisure but I genuinely cannot think of a worse experience while attempting to game. This includes the time I had a bin dumped over my head while at an arcade in Great Yarmouth, after beating a local at Mortal Kombat 2, and the time that I played a Nintendo Virtual Boy after drinking. I shouldn’t have to suffer through this sort of experience purely as a result of a badly chosen piece of physical media. No-one should. Gran Turismo 5 was incredibly disappointing to me, and I can’t help but think that again the limitations of the consoles are more apparant in bigger games like this than in other more general titles. The PS3 can, on occasion, turf out beautiful visuals and cracking gameplay, but there is a growing feeling that the console is really nothing more than an HD PS2, with the PS2 bit taken out.

I shall try it again.

One day.

But for now I’m happy with my 360 for online gaming and social activities.

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