My PSX 2015 Day 1 Demo Reactions
By flakmunkey 0 Comments
Like any game conference, the majority of my day was spent waiting in lines with a proportionally tiny amount of time spent actually playing video games. That said, I chose today to hit the stuff I was most interested in seeing, leaving tomorrow for exploration. I did however run into some unexpected gems that I'm excited to talk about!
Dark Souls III:
The very first thing I did upon leaving the keynote was run to the demo floor and see if Dark Souls III would be there. As if Artotias himself had heard my prayers, the very first thing I saw upon entering the floor was a giant soldier making offering to a bonfire.
We were given 10 minutes to play and, if you beat the boss, the promise of a free tshirt. Sadly I did not beat the boss, in fact in my 10 minutes I never saw said boss however I did only die once, which is a lot more then I can say for a lot of my boothmates. Gameplay is, well, it's Dark Souls, which is great. In my brief time I didn't see any of the new advanced weapon mechanics I had heard about but what I did see felt like Dark Souls through and through. If you like Dark Souls this is more of it. Enemy types included a few familiars as well as a good amount of new, unique enemy designs and attack patterns. Enemy groups a-la Dark Souls II are back, however managing them seems a little more natural and tactical then it did in that offering.
Another way in which the demo was more Dark Souls was the performance. This is clearly still pre-realease and there is still plenty of time to polish things up however the framerate was a bit rough. Rougher than Bloodbourne and that was pretty far from a 1080/60 game. It wasn't Demon's Souls bad, mind you, but cause for concern nonetheless. Graphically I was left a little unimpressed as well, or at least where art design is concerned. The environment it was set in was a castle (surprise) that seemed made out of marble or some other light stone that made the whole thing a sort of light grayish color. It was almost as if someone took Bloodbourne and went crazy with the gamma, and on top of that the enemies were more of less the same color as well. On a whole it felt sort of lifeless and drab and not in that good atmospheric way. Here's hoping there are more places like the lush forests of Dark Souls or the beautiful Seaside cliffs of Dark Souls II to mix things up because I don't think I can take another Fromsoft game with a strict, lifeless color pallet like Bloodbourne.
One more note on the graphics, and this could totally be the cheap TV I was 12" away from and/or the fact that the game is in early development but man was it "jaggie" as all hell. I hope the figure out a solid anti-aliasing solution before release because that aspect of the visuals was hard on the eyes.
I'm going to say something unpopular here, I didn't care for Torchlight. It was fine, it just didn't have any pull for me so I didn't spend much time with it and never played Torchlight 2. For that reason when Runic announced Hob this morning, I din't pay it that much attention either until the controller was in my hand.
Hob is an adorable, dark, lightweight puzzle adventure game. With clear inspiration from games like Journey, The Legend of Zelda, and even Dark Souls, Hob has you take the roll of a small red protagonist with a sword and a gauntlet and places you in a fantastical world with hints of twisted darkness around every other corner. Within my first few minutes of playing Hob I could tell it was up my alley. While I wouldn't call it an "open" world, the sense of adventure and freedom is such that you can really just go where you want and tackle objectives in a way that feels very fluid and natural. The art style is beautiful and goes a long way to adding depth and history to the world, conveying the story in a clever and very visual way. The developer joked that telling a story visually allows them to "cut costs on localization" but I think that really sells what they have accomplished, at least in this small bit that I played, quite short.
I'm going to spoil the demo boss here because I really think it sums up what I like about this game's aesthetic so if you don't want to read it skip to the next paragraph. So your character is small, relatively, on the screen which helps to make the world feel big and full of wonder while keeping to an isometric, top-down perspective. In the demo you fight a boss who is easily four times your size, much like in a Souls or Zelda game. Also much like a Zelda game the boss has little puzzle-gimmick that you need to solve using your most recently acquired piece of gear. In this case, the puzzle was straight out of the textbook, use the grappling device thingy to remove the monster's armor then proceed to whack him brutally in the shin with your tiny sword. Where this game got a little clever however and made me smile was the fact that this beast's armor was nothing more then metal shin pads, since you are just a tiny pathetic human and cant hit him any higher then that anyway. I found this to be an adorable little touch of self awarness and comentary that simultaneously helped build upon the art and design and overall world they have built. I really enjoyed that.
All was not perfect in the demo however. I died a few times on the slightly trickier platform jumps due to controls that really could use some tightening up. in a 3d platformer with the locked, isometric sort of view they are going for the controls really need to be tight and responsive. The last thing a player ever wants is to die and feel like it was entirely the game's fault. The only other thing I noticed was that the framerate was pretty poor at times, but seeing the tiny little PCs the demos were secretly running on under the hood I wouldn't be surprised if that issue is all but gone on release.
I played this game entirely out of guilt. I passed by the Tumblestone booth with no real interest in what I was seeing on screen, I just wanted to scan my badge at the booth to earn myself a stupid Playstation trophy card. But when a developer looking kinda sad in an empty booth asks you to play his game, how do you possibly turn him down?
Well forget my initial reaction because this game was tons of fun. Tumblestone is a competitive puzzle game in which 4 players are racing each other to solve a puzzle. The structure of the puzzle is simple, it looks at first like Tetris-y game with blocks of different colors that are stacked in a column. However in Tumblestone your objective is to remove all the blocks via a creative twist on match-3. It's really simple to learn but when playing against people gets fast, fun, and frustrating (in that good way we love).
I didn't get a chance to see if there are any other game modes which, depending on what it gets priced at, may be necessary for it to really have any legs beyond a few fun nights with friends but what is there is small yet fun and definitely one of my biggest surprises of the show so far. I look forward to playing it more when it releases.
EVE Valkyrie and Playstation VR:
Due to a really horribly designed VR Demo reservation system, the only option I've had for VR so far was to wait in line for the EVE Valkyrie demo. As that was the only PS VR demo I had, I will cover both here, but I'll try to keep the opinions separated into the hardware and the game individually.
Let's start with EVE Valkyrie. It very well could be all the time I've poured into Elite Dangerous (some with the Oculus which is crrrraaazzzyyyy) but EVE Valkyrie's arcadey space shooting just didn't quite do it for me. It was fast paced and fairly entertaining but the very simplified control scheme, even for a console flight sim, left me missing the freedom of movement that games like Elite provide. I'm not asking for "realistic" simulation here, not at all, but allowing for some horizontal/vertical thrust would be appreciated. There's a whole thumbstick that isn't even used guys, give me some control here.
Visually, the game looks great in the way that just about all space games in 2015 looks great. If theres one thing we can nail these days it's making big, beautiful spaceships with awesome cockpits full of lens flare and this game has that in spades. Where the demo lacked however, and in a big way, was in resolution which seems entirely due to the Playstation VR headset limitations.
With that said, let's talk Playstaton VR. Before I get into all of the ways this thing is freaking awesome, lets get the big elephant in the room out of the way. For a while now we as fans chomping at the bit for VR to finally get here have been asking one important question, if VR requires crazy high framerates in order to not get sick, and the PC counterparts have spec requirements demanding of a $1000+ PC, how on Carmack's green earth is a Playstation 4 going to drive a VR headset? This has been a question on my mind for a long time now and with EVE Valkyrie being the closest thing to a big, beautiful, AAA-level game that's been announced so far for the platform, I felt it would be a great place to see what, if any, compromises had to be made.
The answer is not at all surprising, unless things change a lot between now and then or EVE is just really poorly optimized, it looks like resolution is going to suffer in a huge way. Now I'm not talking about the "screen door effect" people would talk about in the early days of Oculus dev kits, that was just low pixel density hardware which seems all but resolved now. What I mean is that this demo seemed to be running at a helllla low resolution. The fidelity was there, the textures and models had their detail and design, but it was rendered at such a low resolution that it actively hurt the immersion for me. The best example I could give would be if you have a solid PC and some of the more high fidelity titles like BLOPS 3 or The Witcher 3 and set it to Ultra but 1024x768, maybe even 800x600 resolution with no AA turned on, the "jaggies" were that bad.
That said, man is that headset well designed. It's very light, and super comfortable. I wore my glasses today on purpose and had zero issues with it where I have had trouble with various Oculus Dev kits in the past. Where other headsets (note I have not tried retail Oculus or Vive) work like goggles where the strap is attached directly to the eyepiece, this is more like a welding mask where a headband tightens the unit to your forehead and the eyepiece is attached to that and adjusted inward/outward to block out your periphery with a soft rubber but without ever putting pressure on your eyes/face. Its a brilliant design that I like a lot. It also happens to be the "Most Tron" of all the headsets thanks to blue neon tracking lights. I like Tron. A lot.
All said I still think Playstation VR is the one that excites me the most even if it will likely only be great for experiences with lower graphic fidelity. It's comfortable, the tracking is great, and it has the most potential to bring VR to people's homes due to the very nature that it plugs into your PS4 and doesn't require a "scary" PC. Hopefully I will be able to sneak my way into one of the other demos tomorrow and see what other devs are doing with this hardware.
Uncharted 4 Multiplayer:
I've never much paid any attention to the Multiplayer in the uncharted series. I played a match or two in the past but for some reason that style of competitive shooter never really got to me. Uncharted 4 was no different. I'll admit I had some fun in the match we played, which ended in a Tie and the developer next to me looked confused as if that wasn't supposed to be possible or something. It was a 4 on 4 deathmatch-type game in a fairly small map focused around a waterfall with some cliffs/canyon stuff going on.
The new additions that I saw were the rope line and the supernatural attacks. The rope line seems like something that is probably used in really cool ways in the campaign kind of shoe-horned into the multiplayer side as well. It's cumbersome to use in a lot of cases and there were a number of times where I found myself unable to attach it to places that seemed like it should work. With patience and mastery I could see it being kind of cool and giving a skilled player another competitive edge, however I foresee a majority of players finding themselves falling to their deaths as often as they do successfully pulling off any sick rope tricks.
The other new thing was these supernatural powerups and/or attacks that you can buy with money collected throughout the match. I never really engaged with these myself (it was a short session and the mechanic seemed poorly explained to me) however at one point someone on the other team launched a smoke bomb and a few seconds later these creepy, black apparitions came flying through the fog and right at all of us as if someone had just opened the Ark of the Covenant. I don't know what those things were, or how they were summoned, all I know is that I died.
In the end it was fun, looked great, ran super smooth, but just isn't my cup of tea. I left the match disappointed that I had waited in line for an hour under the false assumption that it was a single player demo, oh well.
Well that's all I got for now. I'm tired as all hell and headed to bed so I can get up early and do it all again with a whole new batch of games.