You'd have thought that since Nintendo's obscenely successful Wii console brought motion-control gaming to the baying masses, rival manufacturers would be tripping over themselves to push a similar product to launch. And yet we've had to wait four years for Move -- Sony's motion-controlled hardware that works with its PlayStation 3 console. Getting started will set you back a minimum of £45, so is Move motion-gaming worth the wait? Or too little too late...
In terms of design, it's hard to deny that Move takes its concept from the 'remote' style controller that Nintendo pioneered, but Sony has put its own twist on things. The Move controller is formed of matte-black plastic and sports a rounded, sleek design very much in keeping with the stylings you'll find on the newest PS3 consoles. Additionally there's a pleasing weight to each controller, so they don't feel creaky and cheap when you're swinging them around like a madman.
But first your eye is going to be drawn to that massive great glowing bauble that squats atop each controller. That's not decorative -- that's how the Move system keeps track of the motion-controller's location. The baubles themselves are spongy, so you don't have to worry about them shattering into a thousand pieces when the controller inevitably slips out of your grasp and flies across the room.
If you're craving a little more control, Sony is also marketing a separate peripheral that connects wirelessly to the controller, called the Navigation controller. Our review sample didn't include this extra peripheral unfortunately, and it's not bundled as part of the PlayStation Eye/Controller bundle. It functions in a very similar way to the Wii's Nunchuck -- providing an analogue controller, a D-pad, two analogue trigger buttons, a PS button and X and O buttons. If you don't fancy investing, a standard DualShock 3 wireless controller can be used in place of the Navigation controller.
It's worth noting that if you're using Navigation controllers with the Move controllers, you'll only be able to get two controller sets going at the same time, as the Navigation controller takes up a controller slot for itself. This means that while the Wii allows for four players using both Wii Remotes and Nunchucks, Move will only fit two players in at the same time if they're both using Navigation controllers. (Or a DualShock 3 controller in place of the Navigation controller).
I against Eye
Tracking is handled by the PlayStation Eye, available separately for around £25. That plugs into your PS3 via USB, and tracks the glowing colours on the Move controllers, essentially serving as a rather crafty webcam. The colours on each controller change dynamically, so you don't have to worry about one controller always being 'player 1' or someone always being stuck with the pink one.
The Eye itself is a little chunkier than we'd have liked -- while the controllers have a rather neat design, the Eye, which sits under or atop your telly, isn't quite so svelte. It measures in at 83 by 65 by 57mm, and it's a little plasticky to hold and to look at, so it's not going to do much for the overall look of your doubtless otherwise stonking AV setup.
Getting the Move system ready to go is pleasingly simple. The controllers communicate with your PlayStation 3 via a Bluetooth connection, and getting them all prepped for gaming requires no more effort than simply pressing a button on the controller itself. Most games will start you off with a calibration process -- the titles we used to review this hardware certainly did -- and that's necessary to keep the accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer that are stuffed inside each controller nice and streamlined.
We found it annoying having to calibrate every time we started gaming, but we're not going to mark the hardware down for this, because the implementation of calibration will likely differ from game to game.
Proof is in the gaming
So how does playing with the Move actually feel? Anyone who's used the Wii extensively will know that the motion tracking system is far from perfect, and frequent controller lag, error, or the console losing track of the Remote's location often caused the whole shebang to fall gloriously apart.
So does Sony's Move system suffer from the same problems? In short, yes, but not so much. Several times during our testing we found the hardware losing track of whereabouts we were, or what we were doing with the controllers, but overall we were impressed by the accuracy that little glowing ball afforded us.
Movement was smooth, and for the most part the PS3 did a great job of figuring out exactly what we were doing, whether it was firing an arrow into a far-off target, or swinging a virtual sword. What's also really important to note is that while sometimes imprecise and inaccurate, these little glitches never stopped us having fun. Just as the Wii has succeeded despite a control system that regularly drops out of service, so Move entertained us despite an occasionally inaccurate control system.
One significant plus is of course that Move works on an HD console, so (developers permitting) your motion-control games will be kicking off in glorious HD. The PS3 plays host to some of the most eye-melting games we've ever played, so the idea of a great motion-controlled game running on the console's hopped-up hardware certainly excites us. There's the potential here for some really heart-thumping, immersive gaming.
We don't think Move is about to bring motion-controlled gaming to the hardcore crowd -- if you're really into your kill/death ratios and lightning-quick twitch responses, You'll want the microsecond response-rates and total reliability of a full control pad, or more likely a mouse and keyboard.
Space to think
One game we tested, Sports Champions, asked that we stand 2.5 metres away from the TV. Now, a rough measurement of your living room might well reveal that that's a long way. Remember that you'll also be asked to swing your arms around to their full extension and possibly beyond, and we're concerned that Move might take up a little too much space for the average British living room.
If teenagers' bedrooms are still as rammed with junk and filth as they were when we were kids, we suspect you'll really struggle to get a good game going without first stacking all the furniture up against the wall.
Push things forward
Whatever you think of the Wii, it certainly did something different, and Nintendo deserves credit for trying something new. It's tough to say that PlayStation has been equally creative with its own motion-controlled hardware. We found Move to be fun, reasonably reliable gaming entertainment, but in terms of pushing things forward for the industry, it doesn't exactly bowl us over.
We don't expect every single product to be a game-changer, but the problem is compounded by the fact that Move doesn't just compete with the Wii anymore -- Microsoft's Xbox Kinect hardware will be out on 10 November, and this system offers motion-gaming without any controller at all, using your body to control the action. We don't know whether this system will take off either, but we applaud the imagination in its conception.
We found that Move offered solid gaming thrills, and an easy setup, even if it isn't the most innovative product we've ever encountered. At the time of writing Move hasn't done enough to convince us it's a better investment than Nintendo's Wii console, but we reckon that in terms of hardware, it's on a par. Move is more accurate, and offers HD gaming, but the Wii is less demanding in terms of space, and unless you own a PS3 already, a good deal cheaper.
If you're undecided as to which motion-system is best this Christmas, we'd recommend holding fire until you read our upcoming review of Microsoft's Kinect hardware.
Edited by Nick Hide