It's been an excruciatingly long wait, but after weeks of demands, Sony finally released the latest long-awaited installment in its iconic Firmware series, Firmware 3.61.
Destructoid was unable to get an advance review copy, but we dove into the thick of it as soon as we could obtain the retail version, and we're here to give you the full summary.
Firmware Update 3.61 (PlayStation 3)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: May 14, 2011
Price: Your spare time
From the very outset, Firmware 3.61 brings with it a tremendous sense of immersion, informing you that Update 3.61 has been found and clearing up the cliffhanger from the last game, where we were left wondering what would happen after Update 3.60. Rest assured that this installment ties up all the loose ends from the last one, though I won't explain what happens due to spoilers. Rest assured, it's a revelation.
Roleplaying elements are back in full force, with players getting the ability to initiate the update and start their adventure. Although 3.61 is as linear as its prequels, these little divergent paths, where you can choose to update or not, really give the illusion of a more open, player-fueled experience. Although sometimes you feel like you're going on a set path, for the most part it works, with players feeling like they're really there, downloading a Firmware update in real life!
The game features a robust moral choice system, where your actions really do affect the world. Do you accept the User Agreement, or don't you? This was an agonizing decision, since you never know what could happen later. I remember that unbelievable moment in Firmware 2.0, where I accepted the User Agreement and the Kaz Hirai was harvested for delicious ADAM. Is that right? It's been so long since I did anything but download Firmware on the PS3 that my memory is a little hazy.
Of course, once you've made your decision (I always default to accepting, as it usually leads to getting the "Good" ending), you're hit with the real meat of the story. Once again, The Green Bar makes his return, having come back to fill yet another empty tube for your pleasure. From here, you're given yet another gameplay choice. You can watch the green bar slowly fill up, or you can watch the percentage underneath slowly reach 100%. Choices! Often, I get so giddy and overwhelmed by the amount of activity on-screen that I pass out from sensory overload.
I was shocked to find that getting to 100% did not complete the game, as the update then had to install itself. This is called emergent gameplay, and I'm impressed Sony threw that in there.
I'm not going to tell you if the Green Bar ever does reach 100%, nor will I tell you the exact details of the amazing New Game Plus, where you get to look around your system to find that the consumer's wasted time led to no viable benefit. That's for you to explore yourself, but I'm pleased that this kind of post-end gameplay was available in the package, and not offered later as DLC like Bethesda did with Fallout 3.
With its crisp graphics and astounding sense of realism, Firmware 3.61 is a game unlike any other in a series that stands out as Sony's greatest exclusive. Some may argue that the franchise has been milked to death, with so many sequels and portable spin-offs, but I think Firmware is going strong and will be back for many, many, many installments.
Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)