Last week, we stopped by Sydney's EB Games Expo to check out some of the games that will be arriving for the PlayStation 4, including Killzone: Shadow Fall, inFAMOUS Second Son and Drive Club. Having recently tested a handful of flagship Xbox One launch titles, we were eager to see how Sony's lineup would compare. Here are our first impressions.
On 29 November, Sony will launch the PlayStation 4 in Australia; around one week after the release of the Xbox One. Unless you count Valve's Steam Machines, it will be the final piece of hardware to enter this generation's console war.
Once again, cash-strapped gamers will be forced to choose a side -- do you jump on the hype wagon and embrace the PS4 or ignore the naysayers and put faith in Xbox One? This is where exclusive launch titles can make all the difference.
Last night, we got some hands-on time with five PlayStation 4 games that will be available around the time of launch. (inFAMOUS Second Son is more of a Feb 2014 game). It was a surprisingly eclectic bunch, ranging from obligatory "AAA" sequels to bizarro indie concoctions. Here is what we thought of each game in its current guise, along with our current 'excitement' levels.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
While never managing to reach the dizzying heights of Halo, Guerrilla Games' Killzone titles are among the finest first-person shooters on the market. Boasting realistically gritty story lines, a terrifyingly relentless enemy in the Helghan and lashings of gratuitous gun-porn, they arguably make Bungie's rival franchise look juvenile and silly. There's no accounting for taste, we guess.
During the EB Expo PS4 showcase, we were given a taste of Killzone: Shadow Fall's multiplayer component and it was probably the most fun we had at the event. While the other guests snapped up sniper rifles and all-in-one assault weapons, I threw subtlety to the wind and plumped for the biggest gun in the game -- it looked exactly like Jesse Ventura's gatling gun from Predator, only bigger. Maximum carnage ensued.
As with many next-gen titles, I was left with a distinct feeling that I'd seen it all before. Sure, the scope is larger, the effects are prettier and everything looks a bit more realistic -- but the majority of improvements are wholly superficial. Squint a little and you could almost be playing Killzone 3.
That said, there's only so much you can do with a multiplayer FPS, so it would be churlish to expect Guerrilla Games to reinvent the wheel. If you just want to play a bigger, better version of Killzone with minimal surprises under its sleeve, we suspect you wont be disappointed. We're also anxious to see what kind of set pieces the game can pull off using PS4 technology.
Excitement factor: 8/10
The rubbishly titled DriveClub is an all-new racing IP developed by Evolution Studios that will basically act as a substitute for Gran Turismo 7 at launch (think of it as a serviceable rental car). Much like Killer Instinct on the Xbox One, the game will be offered as a free download to PlayStation Plus members. A Blu-ray version will also be made available which will include additional cars and tracks.
As its name implies, DriveClub has been designed with online multiplayer in mind with an emphasis on forming professional racing teams with other gamers. You can then pitch your skills against rival clubs by sending and receiving various driving challenges. As is par for the course these days, an array of car licences cars and real-world locations are included in the game, with all graphics built from scratch on PS4 hardware.
I took Drive Club for a brief test drive during the EB Expo event and was left feeling pretty neutral. The game comes with all the car views you could want and the vehicles handle realistically and reliably -- but I never really got that "wow" feeling that's supposed to come from a next-gen title, especially in the graphics department. Indeed, my colleague Mark Serrels reckoned it looked inferior to Gran Turismo 6 on the PlayStation 3 (in the prior E3 build he had access to). That said, the game is sure to get racing fan's motors running and the fact it's free to PSP members is certainly a huge bonus. With any luck, Evolution Studios will add a fresh lick of paint prior to launch.
Excitement factor: 7/10
In the same way that DriveClub will fill the void for Gran Turismo players, Knack is the launch lineup's answer to Ratchet & Clank. Described as a "fun-filled and action-packed adventure of colossal proportions", the game is a 3D platformer starring a plucky robot who can incorporate metals, minerals and other substances into his body. It looks to be the PlayStation 4's flagship launch title for kids and will doubtlessly find its way into a console bundle at some point.
To be honest, Knack left us feeling decidedly underwhelmed. We weren't especially wowed by the graphics and the body absorption gimmick is hardly new. We were also flabbergasted to discover that the game's camera cannot be controlled with the analogue stick; instead you're stuck with whatever angle the AI deems is best which can be troublesome in the heat of action. This is a problem that should have been fixed in the PS2 era.
The environment also keeps you roped in like those Crash Bandicoot games of old. Presumably, the full game will include larger areas to explore but the demo almost felt like it was on rails. Still, we're sure it will serve as a suitable babysitter for the kids until the next Ratchet & Clank comes around.
Excitement factor: 6/10
inFAMOUS Second Son
inFAMOUS Second Son was one of the biggest hits with audiences at this year's E3; in large part thanks to a pyrotechnic demo reel set to the volatile wail of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box. (Justification: The game takes place in a digital reconstruction of the band's hometown, Seattle.)
Note: This game also won't arrive until February 2014.
inFAMOUS Second Son was the only game that we didn't get to play at the event. Instead, we were given a guided tour by a couple of developers from Sucker Punch Productions. The demo consisted of a few brief skirmishes with superpowered enemies. It was all over far too quickly, but did give a good indication of what sandbox games will look like on the PlayStation 4. Simply put, there's more of everything and it all looks far better than anything you've seen on current-gen consoles.
It's the little improvements that make the biggest difference -- stuff like rippling water reflections and photo-realistic lighting effects. While the game still has a cartoony flavour, there's a level of realism to this game world that really needs to be experienced. Out of the five games we saw, inFAMOUS Second Son felt the most "next-gen" by a considerable margin. But the proof will be in how it plays.
Excitement factor: 8/10
"What manner of nonsensical fever dream is this?" That was the thought that went through my mind when first confronted with this highly experimental 2D indie title. Hohokum has no narrative, no tutorial, no tangible objectives and seemingly no point, other than exploring and feeling groovy. It presents you with a squiggly serpentine avatar and sets you loose in a psychedelic landscape reminiscent of Pepperland from The Yellow Submarine mixed with Adventure Time's Land of Ooo.
The game left me feeling perplexed and mystified -- it was as if a clown had popped out of nowhere, handed me an animal balloon and then disappeared in a puff of smoke. Weird doesn't really begin to cover it.
I'm not 100 percent sold on HohoKum yet, although a lot of that probably had to do with the fact that the TV was muted (aural immersion apparently plays a big role in the game.)
Nevertheless, we think Sony should be commended for its consistent support of small, independent works. In today's climate of samey sequels and multi-format releases, it's unique stuff like this that will make the PS4 stand out from the crowd.
Excitement factor: 8/10
All in all, we think the PlayStation 4 has a more compelling and varied launch lineup than the Xbox One -- especially if you don't care about Kinect. But things could quickly change in the months that follow. There's the behemoth known as Halo, of course, as well as a new Fable to look forward to. But based purely on the launch window, we think Sony may have Microsoft beat.
We'll be reporting back with a more thorough comparison of the two consoles closer to launch, including how the hardware, controllers and UIs compare.
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