In controlled environments, Sony's EyePet had looked set to revolutionise the way we interacted with our games. But my house is not a controlled environment.
Not that it's not a nice place. It is! But it's also a place where the lights were installed by me, not by Sony. Where my furniture and windows were placed for everyday use, not for showing off a fiddly camera-based game. And where I'd be spending a whole week with an EyePet — the PlayStation 3's virtual dog-monkey-thing pet largely controlled and cared for via the rarely used PlayStation Eye camera — and not just an hour or two.
So cast initial impressions aside: What's it like to spend some time in the real world with a fake pet?
Loved Aaaawwwww – The EyePets themselves are almost perfect. Perfectly cute. Part-dog, part-monkey, they'll tug at all but the driest and coldest of heartstrings. Provided, that is, they're able to do what they're told (see below).
DogMonkey See, DogMonkey Do – While there are plenty of things you can do with your EyePet, there are two that stand out; you can teach them to draw, and you can teach them to sing. Drawing involves sketching something on a piece of paper, holding it up to the PlayStation Eye, then seeing the creature replicate your drawing. As something to astonish your friends with, it's up there. Up there with teaching your EyePet to sing, which requires singing something, then sitting back as the cute little guy copies/mocks your attempt with a Gizmo-like warbling of his own.
Can We Keep Him? – When EyePet works, it's mesmerising. Seeing a digital animal interact with you on a screen by dodging your swipes, pouncing on your fingers and responding to your affections with a polite purr is something to behold. When it works, you can see the future of motion-controlled gaming just poking its head above the horizon. When it works…
Hated Failure To Launch – The technology underpinning this game simply isn't ready to go from "tech demo" to "retail game kids will play". You know something's wrong when the tutorial tells you to empty your living room of furniture, and definitely know something is wrong when half of the basic tutorials end in acute muscular pain as the EyePet randomly fails to respond to the most simple of commands. In short, in the real world (and I tested it in all kinds of lighting conditions), the EyePet ranges from mostly obedient to unresponsive to downright oblivious of your presence.
This Isn't Helping – The game's technological shortcomings are compounded by your "guide", a man in a lab coat with an annoying voice and an inability to provide clear instructions on how to complete a game challenge or properly interact with your EyePet. There were many times when I was left dumbfounded by something in the game and unable to progress, simply because basic commands or objectives hadn't been explained to me. And if he can't help me out, heaven help the small children this game is aimed at.
But Wait, There Isn't More – EyePet as a game is built around a series of challenges, tasks you must complete in order to unlock additional toys, tools or outfits for your EyePet. But these quickly become boring and repetitive, and that's before you factor in the constant repetition required to get over the game's technical shortcomings. Take away the challenges and you're left with… an expensive, unreliable Tamagotchi.
EyePet is just a… shame. There's so much potential in the title, so much that London Studio got right, that it's disappointing the game is undermined by such fundamental technical shortcomings. Almost as if the intent has overshot the technology. Then again, seeing as this is the team behind the EyeToy — and EyeToy Play — maybe we shouldn't be that surprised.
If you have small kids, are luckier with your home's lighting setup or simply have money in your pocket and a burning desire to show off your PS3 in a different light (example: the ladies may not find Uncharted 2 as exciting as you), EyePet might still be worth looking into. Just stock up on patience before you get started.
EyePet was developed by London Studio and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 3. Due for release in North America in 2010, released in PAL territories in October 2009. Retails both separately and in bundle with PlayStation Eye camera. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed all challenges, spent considerable time in "sandbox" mode. Game played at all times of day in several lighting conditions.
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