Frankly, the game line-up for PS4 right now is uninspiring. Sony scored big time against Microsoft in this year's marketing run-up, but really it was an open goal: The Xbox One used games policy was such a snafu that it was easy for Sony to capitalise. If it hadn't panned out that way, one has to wonder how excited people would be for the next PlayStation. Driveclub, Killzone, Infamous and Knack, the four games leading the charge on launch day, are not mega exciting prospects. If you've played a PS3, PS2 or even an original PlayStation, chances are you've played something like all of these. New experiences they ain't. Let's start with Driveclub.
To be fair on Driveclub, there's more to it than first impressions might suggest. It's still a racing game - it's still pretty pedestrian - but the social networking features add more than just froth - they're a core part of the game. You don't race against each other per se. Set across recreated sections of road from the whole of Europe (which is also majorly impressive) Driveclub connects you with other players and sets you dynamic challenges based on their performances. Say you come to hairpin bend in Kinloch, Scotland. Driveclub will scan through other connected players and find the record for the longest drift around the corner, and if you can beat it, your record will then get uploaded for other players to beat.
There are more organised competitive games where two teams of players race around the same track racking up points by setting and beating records. If a player on the yellow team sets a lap-time of 90 seconds, they score team points, but if a red team driver can beat that time, they get points also.
Honestly, on paper, it sounds convoluted but when you're playing Driveclub this all drops in and drops out seamlessly and it's easy to keep track of who's winning and what you can do to beat them. As a racing game, it's still very familiar and of the PS4 titles we've seen so far, Driveclub has the least impressive graphics, but there's an attempt here to shake up the formula, and it's working.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Not a lot new going on here, but it's very well presented. Killzone: Shadow Fall is a first-person shooter, and if you've played a first-person shooter in the last seven years, it'll feel strikingly familiar: You point your gun at someone, pull the trigger and they fall over. It looks excellent, though. The PS4 hardware really shines through in Shadow Fall, more-son than with any of the other first-party games. Light breaks through trees and shimmers on water; guards run and move with believable weight and the nature, oh the nature. As a counterpoint to the urban, industrial environments shown in Shadow Fall footage so far, the current demo is set in a forest, and looks great. Trees, grass, rocks, waterfalls - realism isn't necessarily the right thing for videogames to aspire to, but looking at Shadow Fall sometimes, you could be forgiven for thinking you were seeing a photograph.
But though it shows off the PS4's graphics capabilities, Killzone raises questions about the controller, specifically the touchpad. It's used to flip through inventory items like a zipline, medikit and shield, something which, really, would be better handled by either the d-pad or a pause menu. It's just fiddly. You find yourself having to look down to find the touchpad itself and then maybe swiping two or three times to pick the right item. Like the Sixaxis was forced into Killzone 2, and used to turn levers and valves, the touchpad in Shadow Fall feels like an unnecessary flourish.
Knack is probably the hardest PS4 game to get excited about. It's fine, it works, but plays like a platformer, virtually indistinguishable from Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot or any of the others. You play Knack, a mischievous little creature who can make himself bigger by fashioning together items or foliage from surrounding areas. So, when you're in the streets, Knack is made of bits of concrete, wood and so on. Later, in a level set in a snowy environment, he's made of icicles and the platforming is more difficult because he slips on the icy floor.
It's hard to know what to say about Knack at this point. It's a platformer with a vaguely charming and childish aesthetic. You've played this before and conceits such as Knack's changing size are going to feel secondary considering the core gameplay is precisely the same as any platformer ever made. From what we've seen it's not bad by any stretch, just plain.
Infamous: Second Son
Unfortunately, Sony was only showing Infamous, not giving people hands-on time, so it's impossible to say how it plays or how it feels. What is clear is that, like Killzone, this is pushing the hardware some, at least more than Knack or Driveclub. Remember Battlefield 3, and how, whenever a building was destroyed, it was generally covered by a big plume of smoke so you couldn't actually see the destruction in real-time? Not with Infamous. When something gets destroyed, it happens in front of your eyes, with no frame-rate problems or stutter. It's the little details as well, how bullet holes don't vanish, how rubble doesn't disappear.
The PS4's hardware isn't immediately impressive, but pay close attention to Infamous: Second Son and you can tell some big things are happening here.
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