The Rise of PSN – Weekly Recommendations 21/03 – 27/03
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
Presenting at the recent GDC, Sony were keen to show-off the impressive growth of their PlayStation Network (PSN), the PS3 and PSP’s online, multiplayer gaming service and digital media store. According to Sony, PSN revenues jumped by 70% last year and there was a 60% boost in traffic to the Store. The overall user-base now stands at an impressive 70 million, though this does not take into consideration PS3 owners who have opened multiple accounts on one system.
Sony’s free service has seen a number of changes over its first couple of years. 2010 saw the inclusion of a premium paid service - PlayStation Plus - but full PSN access remains free. According to Sony, PSN now boasts 948 games, over 4000 pieces of add-on content and more movies and TV shows than you can shake a stick at. No mention was made of the still rubbish PS Home.
I was entirely disinterested in PSN when, back in 2008, I first bought a PS3. However, it quickly became an integral part of my gaming and I always look forward to seeing what’s new to the Store each Wednesday. Between new games, re-released classics and countless add-ons, the network has come to claim an increasingly large portion of my HDD.
Although 2010 was a slightly disappointing year for PSN games, there is still no shortage of excellent titles no more than a button press away. Here are the pick of the bunch; three downloadable-only games currently available on the network.
1. Shatter – PS3 (2009)
Shatter took the simple but addictive block-breaking gameplay of Arkanoid and gave it a stylish make over, resulting in an unique title which stands out from the crowd. It adds the risk-reward ability to repel and attract obstacles and power-ups to the standard formula of paddle, balls and blocks. Each level demands a slightly different approach, featuring horizontal and vertical offerings as well as the more challenging spherical stages. There is also the option to deploy multiple balls, increasing your fire-power along with the difficultly. End of level bosses add some character and the simple bonus levels are deviously addictive, requiring a great deal of speed and precision.
Shatter is well paced and easy on the eye, but it is the outstanding soundtrack which made it my favourite PSN title. Electronic musician Module provides a futuristic soundscape that fits perfectly with Shatter’s scenery - a lush and eclectic collection which matches the high production values of the rest of the game. It’s the kind of OST that won’t feel out of place on your Ipod, enjoyed away from the visuals for which it was designed. I’m struggling to do it justice here, so check out developer Sidhe’s website, where you can listen to the soundtrack in full.
Shatter is an innovative and stylish take on an age-old formula. A compact, yet full and memorable experience, it is what all PSN titles should aspire to be.
2. Flower – PS3 (2009)
Words don’t do Flower justice. Explaining it to the uninitiated makes it sound either monumentally dull or contrived. That being said, I will give it a quick go; you are tasked with guiding a petal through a range of striking landscapes, riding the wind and causing other flowers to bloom. It’s rather odd, but Flower is an exhilarating game that is able to excite on many levels, and despite demanding so little, it can hold your attention far longer than it takes to clear the six main stages.
Flower successfully uses the sixaxis controls, the rarely used tilt function built into the PS3 controller. All of your movements are determined by the tilting of the pad, and its is difficult to imagine the controls being mapped in any other way. Flower’s use of sixaxis has yet to be bettered as tilt controls continue to be an afterthought in other games, tacked-on as an unsatisfying mechanic for pulling levers, turning cranks or other similarly mundane tasks.
With its vibrant colours, subtle music and simple controls, Flower exudes charm and has long been the poster child for innovation on PSN. It is a peculiar game, being that there are no enemies to be bested, no narrative and no high scores to be chased. But once you have floated across the beautiful fields of Flower you quickly come to realize that such things don't always matter.
3. Battlefield 1943 – PS3, Xbox 360 (2009)
An online-only multiplayer FPS from the very capable people at DICE, Battlefield 1943 is more modestly sized than the genre leaders, but is no less fun. Taking the role of either a US Marine or Japanese Navy you and your team must take control of bases dotted across one of four maps. The well designed battlefields soon become potted with craters and strewn with rubble thanks to the environmental damage provided by the Frostbite engine.
Far from complex, Battlefield allows you to jump straight into the mayhem and bring your own brand of pyromania to the tranquil islands and hills of the Pacific Theatre. Variety is central to Battlefield 1943 as you can battle on foot, drive or man the turrets on a range of vehicles both on land and at sea, or even take to the skies in one of the deadly, but tricky, aircraft.
Like all tactical online games, it is ultimately only as good as the players around you. Frustration is inevitable when matched with players who insist on staying on your aircraft carrier (the starting point for each level) waiting for the next bomber to spawn, only to crash it into the ocean within about ten seconds of jumping in the cockpit. The other major cause of grief is players who approach 1943 strictly as a collection of death matches, oblivious to the teamwork required to fulfil the objectives. However, on the right team Battlefield 1943 really clicks. When you are taking and holding bases as a cohesive unit there are few games more satisfying, DLC or otherwise.
It seemed inevitable at the time that EA would release a map pack or two to expand the experience, but sadly DLC was not forthcoming. It’s a shame, as further content would have extended its appeal and bolstered its claim to being one of the finest team shooters on the market. That ship has long sailed, but I will certainly be ready for service the next time Battlefield appears on PSN.