The most popular and iconic sandbox game of recent times has finally made it to the PlayStation 3. No matter what platform you prefer, Minecraft is probably available on it; Mac, PC, Xbox, a tonne of mobile devices, and soon PS4, Vita, and Xbox One - even the Raspberry Pi has a version to call its own.
The game may look basic, but it’s far from it. In a nutshell, it's a bit like virtual LEGO; players explore a massive world, mining simply-textured cubes for various resources which can then be used to construct all manner of objects (also out of simply textured cubes.) There are loads of ways to approach the game (much as there is with LEGO), and player creativity in the five years the game has been on the market still seems to be boundless, with new possibilities seemingly opening up all the time.
As of this week, Minecraft has sold over one million PS3 copies, and for good reason. At just under $26, you’re getting a tonne of bang for your buck. Although we’re unsure if cross-buy will be available for the PS4 or Vita versions when they're released later this year, you’re still getting more your money’s worth. Minecraft allows your imagination to run wild, but within the PS3 version (as it is with the Xbox 360 version, too), your limits will be bound by the map size.
Unlike the PC version, with its near-infinite boundaries, developers 4J Studios have had to downsize the map to fit console requirements. When I saw the Xbox One version at E3 last year, I was promised bigger maps and better multiplayer in this year’s next-gen releases, so if that's important to you, it might be worth waiting until those versions are available.
At the moment, the game allows up to four controllers to connect to one game in split-screen, and up to eight in an easy-to-use online mode. It creates an environment where you can either go head-to-head and build bigger and better things than others, or join forces and work in co-op. Inviting people into the game makes the map feel even smaller, since you have to share resources, but in saying that, also exponentially increases the amount of fun you get out of everything you do.
If your friends have had little experience with Minecraft, you’ll be glad to know that the this version makes it incredibly easy to pick up and play. Amongst the more difficult ideas to grasp in Minecraft are the skills and abilities needed to do tasks that aren’t just building houses and fending off enemies. There is now a tutorial option in the main menu that offers a world of in-depth examples in crafting, farming and mining - not to mention the spectacular palace and Minecraft logo floating in the sky.
Using the crafting boards in the game has also been optimised to let you know exactly what you need to create fundamental items, and get you going in the right direction as fast as possible. Each craftable item now comes with a small description and a list of the items needed to create it. The process is completely turned on it’s head when comparing it to the PC version, where you have an array of empty boxes and crafting is done by throwing items in and guessing the right combination.
The crafting interface on the PS3 also highlights the items you don’t yet have in your inventory, and - rather than keeping the countless combinations of recipes in your head, or scribbling them down on a piece of paper - you can concentrate on actually playing the game.
The simplest way to get ahead in Minecraft is to collect experience orbs. You’ll earn these by mining certain blocks and killing zombies, spiders, etc - basically anything that moves. You can trade these later on for enhancements that enable you to mine faster or get more out of a single block. They’re also invaluable when making potions that heal, and adding resistance to elements like fire. This system has helped keep Minecraft simple, doing away with any need for extra layers of complex skill trees.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the controller making it difficult to get used to the PS3 version, but I love it. I find it works well with the new crafting system and have no problem with maneuverability. I guess if you’re very much used to playing it on PC, you’re going to have a problem. There are alternate button layouts, but I found them harder to get used to. The tutorial comes in pretty handy for training your fingers so there’s nothing to worry about.
I think PlayStation is a great place for Minecraft. It looks great, although every now and then you might notice a tiny bit of lag when things get busy, like when going through the jungle. If it really bothers you, there is a way to fix it. Interestingly, you have some control over graphics for shadows and other things in the options menu, which I always find a little unusual for console games, especially because you would think there isn’t much to Minecraft. It did, at times, slow down for just a second, but it wasn’t worth the effort of going into the menu to change things.
4J also released an update this week for the PS3, which included fixes for rendering and glitch issues, that has actually made the game a little more stable. Something I also found bizarre was how fast and easy it was to gain all the trophies, and then obtain the platinum trophy for completing them all. There isn’t much to go on with trophies for a game like this, so I’m guessing the developers didn’t care too much and put the trophies there just to satisfy the requirements of it being a PS3 game. But who’s complaining about easy platinum trophies!
4J make it pretty obvious that they want you to invest time in crafting and exploring, rather than just building and hoarding resources. I think it’s an awesome change of pace from having to keep reminding yourself what’s required to make other stuff. As long as you know the basics, you’re set to build whatever you can think up, be it a castle with a moat, or a roller-coaster, although at the moment, you might have to shrink it down a size. This will do for now, though, until the expansive multiplayer-friendly maps are available with the next-gen versions. I can’t wait!