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Wotta already did a nice First Impressions of FirstPlay yesterday. I’ve now watched two beta episodes and the first official release; here’s my quite different take.
FirstPlay is Future Publishing’s attempt to create an interactive gaming magazine for your PlayStation 3. Veteran gamers may already be familiar with Qore – also an interactive gaming magazine – available on the US PSN store.
If you’re not reading this in the UK, you can stop now – or you can make a UK PSN account. FirstPlay is temporarily only available in the UK – though see the end of the review for more information.
So, what’s it all about? Well, each week there are four sections: HD Reviews & Previews, Network Highlights, Screenshot Galleries and Featured Downloads. The names pretty much speak for themselves. Comedienne Lucy Porter is the narrator, and I’m pleased to say the scriptwriting has improved considerably since the beta – although there are still problems. Unlike Veronica Belmont and Audrey Cleo in Qore, Lucy doesn’t appear on camera which makes things feel a little disconnected.
The Reviews section includes game reviews as you would expect, and also the odd Bluray movie review. Screenshot Galleries shows concept art from various recently released or forthcoming games, with narration for each picture. Featured Downloads has items for download – naturally – and the Network Content section is broken up into round-ups of minis, PSN games, top LittleBigPlanet levels and, pleasantly, a summary of what’s currently on the video store.
Is it any good then? Well, my impression is that the content is generally out of date. Reviews of Just Cause 2 and God of War 3 (released 26th and 16th March respectively in my territory) do not exactly make for timely viewing on 8th April when we’ve all already read the reviews on TSA, and maybe guiltily snook over to a rival web site to check out the free video reviews. This leads to another problem: it is clear that Future are inexperienced in TV production. The visuals are excellent and sharp, however the script has obviously been designed for print, which leads to a situation where the humour doesn’t work so well when spoken, and the reviews are shallow because you’d normally see them in a 2 or 3-page spread in Official PlayStation Magazine. The reviews are short and certainly don’t go into the kind of depth you’d see on for example on a GameSpot video review.
Even the ads are out of date as I was informed that Final Fantasy XIII would be ‘coming in March’. The level of ad annoyance has been ramped up since the beta; you can now no longer skip the ads until you’ve seen them all, and they appear before every article and when the magazine first loads. There are handy links to the advertised items on PSN though, where applicable.
The Network Highlights section is probably the most interesting due to its varied content that you may have missed elsewhere. One of the beta episodes had a SingStar Top Ten videos of the week and that was certainly entertaining. The various round-ups here are helpful and well thought out, and I really enjoyed this part.
The featured downloads were grossly out of date in the betas; in episode 1 you get a FirstPlay theme and a Just Cause 2 mini-add-on. I am not quite sure what we should expect of them here, but for me it was rather uninspiring. It has potential, but I think if we can’t come up with a more interesting selection, it might just be better to drop this section altogether and consolidate the others.
One missing feature I would like to see is the ability to just simply watch it like a TV show. FirstPlay and Qore both suffer from this: you can’t just sit and watch it all the way through while you eat your dinner; you have to click often, and the articles are short.
The interface itself is smooth and well-designed, although I do wish the left and right arrow buttons were reversed because everything always seems to scroll the wrong way in the menus.
One very worrying thing I noticed is that during one of the game reviews, a little overlay video of one of the developers making some comments on the game appeared in the corner. Developers should not be involved in reviews in any way. If a review publisher goes to a developer and asks them to say something about the game because they’re writing a review, are they really going to give it a bad score?
Some of you may be wondering how FirstPlay stacks up against its more expensive but monthly ‘rival’ Qore. Not that well, unfortunately. Over the course of a month, 4 episodes of FirstPlay are going to pile up more content than one episode of Qore, but the content is comparatively weak. There are at this time no early release demos or betas on offer, but most importantly, there are no real features or interviews to speak of, just reviews. One of the things that makes Qore worth looking at occasionally is they have developer interviews, they visit the studios and show the production process in action, and so on. In other words, real features that cost real money to produce. So far, FirstPlay has none of this. Except for the 30-second aside I mentioned above, all of the articles are composed entirely of gameplay footage with Lucy’s voice superimposed on it – there is no camera work at all.
- Network-related feature articles are excellent
- Good if you’re a more casual gamer who doesn’t rush out for the latest releases or visit gaming sites regularly
- Very cheap
- Out of date if you do buy new releases and read gaming sites
- Featured Downloads are very weak
- Reviews are light on content and detail
FirstPlay won’t take you more than half an hour or so to watch, which makes the repeated clicking even more troublesome. With only 3 game (p)reviews, 1 movie review and the 4 network features to hold your interest each week, it will take some of us longer to download than to enjoy.
The huge benefit of FirstPlay for the non-hardcore, is that it is dirt cheap, and comes often. I resist the urge to write a joke where this sentence is. At 99p an episode or £8.99 for about 12 episodes over 3 months (Qore at $2.99/month or $24.99 for a year equates to £2 or just over £16 for 12 episodes per year), it is absolutely worth buying a single episode just to see if it is to your taste. This leaves us wondering exactly who the intended audience is, though. The only people likely to pay for what is essentially highly glorified trailers and advertising are the enthusiast gamers, and they have probably already seen most of the content for free on the web. When you consider that many developer diaries, producer interviews and other interesting material is now being pumped out regularly on PSN for free, Future will be under some serious pressure to up their game over the coming months.
On the subject of regional limitations: I would like to note that Future invited me to the second beta of FirstPlay after I lambasted them on TSA a few weeks ago, then told me I couldn’t have it because I lived in Norway; so I simply usurped a copy from one of my colleagues, as I did with the launch episode. Then they sent me several emails reminding me of the release date and encouraging me to make the purchase. Not good form – I would have paid if given the opportunity.
Future have, however, stated they are hoping to bring the service to other countries soon. We waited about 8 months for VidZone and we’re still waiting for the video store, so let’s hope they can overcome any logistical hurdles as quickly as possible.
In summary: buy one episode and see if you like it – it’s so cheap you can’t really go wrong for a one-time purchase. For me, I think the publishers have overstretched themselves by trying to create a weekly edition; the excellent interface and visuals are outweighed by thin content, short articles and advertising, which it made it a completely average experience.