On Tuesday, in GameSpot and videogames.com's hometown of San Francisco, Sony unveiled the Metreon with a huge party. Videogames.com's A/V editor Ryan Macdonald and Electronic Gaming Monthly's West Coast editor Wataru Maruyama were on hand. Here are both their impressions of Sony's greatest (and largest) masterpiece yet:
Sony rolled out the red carpet in honor of the grand opening of its 350, 000 square-foot entertainment complex featuring 15 stadium-style movie theaters, an IMAX, theater, arcade, restaurants, and shops - including an official PlayStation store.
The PlayStation store has loads of products, like backpacks and shirts, branded with the PlayStation logo. Of course a good portion of the PlayStation's game-software library can be found and played there as well. Patrons are invited to try before they buy - pick out a game and sit down at the software bar to check it out for awhile. If you like, you buy.
A few exclusive arcade games could be found in the complex's arcade, one of which was Quaternia. Quaternia is a networked third-person shooter where 31 machines are linked together at its center, allowing players to play head-to-head. The game is quite simple: In a polygonal world you shoot characters on the opposing team before they shoot you. To control the game, you use a double-handled control stick similar to the airplane controller. If you push the mechanism forward, your character moves forward, pull it back, and he'll retreat. You can also look up and down by simply pivoting the grips in your hand in the desired direction you'd like to look. Each grip has a button one side that gives you a sniper mode, and a trigger, which lets you shoot. The simple polygonal graphics looked a little weak, especially when compared with those of other popular networked first- and third-person shooters like Quake and War.
By far the coolest game at the Metreon is a bowling game called Hyperbowl. The idea is simple: You have a big virtual bowling ball on the screen that you control with a real bowling ball embedded into a waist-high pedestal (a giant trackball if you will). You roll the ball down virtual streets (some in San Francisco), avoiding trolleys and other obstacles. The game feels a little like Marble Madness - it's simple to play and a whole lot of fun.
A few other games on hand seemed like pretty standard fare, including Savage Quest (a beat 'em up with dinosaurs), Chip Away (a puzzle Tetris-type game), and Excess G (a 3D Descent-type shooter).
If nothing else, the effort that went into pulling off an entertainment complex like the Metreon is extremely impressive. You have state-of-the-art stadium-style movie theaters, including the first IMAX screen in San Francisco, and theme attraction areas that tap the works of visionary writers like Moebius, Maurice Sendak, and David Macauly. Top it off with restaurants and a handful of retail stores, and a brand new breed of malls has been born.
The area that will interest gamers the most is the Airtight Garage (the Moebius attraction) and the default arcade of the complex. There are three new games specially designed for the Garage, and all focus on multiplayer gaming. As good as this sounds, only one game, Hyperbowl, stood out. Others, like the third-person Quake-like shooter, Quaternia, had a great concept but failed to deliver great gameplay. Quaternia lets you team up with 31 players to blast other squads composed of either human or computer-controlled players. The graphics are slick, but it suffers from a bad frame rate. If the developers could spruce it up somehow, this could be a lot of fun.
Another attraction is the Badlands racing/shooting game. You climb into a moving pod that reacts to your onscreen vehicle movements. The game lets you compete against 30 other players to obtain gold balls. Once again, though, frame rate is a big problem with blinding 15FPS play. The makers of the Badlands placed an emergency button to stop the ride if you feel dizzy - with the slow frame rate, you'll wonder why that function is even there. On the bright side, Hyperbowl is fantastic and is something that must be experienced. You can play alone or with a group complete with bowling alley-style seating.
For more information on the Metreon, check out Sony's Metreon site by clicking on the link to the right. Or, if you're in San Francisco, make sure to stop by the Metreon, located at the intersection of 4th Street and Mission.