There’s no hiding from it, this year Sony has had a PR nightmare. Following the hacking of the entire Playstation network (for massive damage) resulting in the personal details of millions of users being compromised and a temporary shutdown of the entire service, Sony have attempted to get us back on side by offering us a number of downloadable treats (and an E3 apology.) You needn’t have worried Sony, we were just playing hard to get.
So after downloading my free thirty day access to Playstation Plus and thus reserving my place on the Uncharted 3 beta, I x-buttoned my way to the ‘Welcome back’ game downloads; all worthy members of the Playstation family. As I already own four of the six available PS3 titles my decision was an easy one. Queue the downloads of Wipeout HD Fury and Dead Nation (and the extra-long wait that followed.)
Despite being a member of Playstation since the days of collecting wumpa fruit in Crash Bandicoot, it is only now that I got round to playing a Wipeout game. Never before had I accomplished a lap time worthy of its place amongst the anti-grav-racing Gods or clinched final moment victory with a skillfully aimed rocket. I now realise, I had been missing out.
Wipeout HD Fury is essentially two futuristic racing games in one ‘ultimate’ package: featuring the original ‘HD’ campaign and that of the additional ‘Fury.’ The game also features a lengthy trophy list to decorate your profile with.
The campaigns are each comprised of eight events, each containing their various stages which include single race, quick lap, time trial, tournament and zone- with the Fury campaign adding in detonator and eliminator events. The goal is to amass medals in order to open up adjoining stages and ultimately the next events; finishing first place in an event wins you a much coveted gold medal.
Before each stage you must choose a team to race for. Unlike Formula 1 racing, there is no dominant team. I’m looking at you Red Bull. The most obvious differences are that of name and design; there are slight differences in the stats balance of their respective crafts: speed, thrust, handling and shield. That said, it does pay to choose a team and stick with them- in my case ‘Assegai.’ As you continue to race using a specific team’s crafts you accumulate loyalty points which progressively unlocks other ships.
In the race or elimination modes there are a number of powerful weapons and helpful items at your disposal including rockets, plasma bolt, quake, leech beam, mines, turbo and shield. This is useful given the formidable challenge posed by your opponents. During a race, even on the amateur difficulty setting, they are no pushovers. If you’re not careful (and equally weapons-free) they will cluster-blast you all over the place, leaving you to claim a place at the back.
The controls are totally smooth and fluid and the crafts are weighted just perfectly, while the dualshock feedback completes the greatest complement I can give the game: it feels right- like you’re controlling an anti-gravity craft. The six-axis option works less well, resulting in a slightly less precise experience. The addition of a ‘pilot assist’ option is most useful, a sort of automatic guidance system to help steer your craft away from the track edges.
This smoothness is extended to both the visuals and the music, with a eurphoric soundtrack matching the immence speed all the way as you thunder around the stunning future-scapes.
Once you are confident enough in your pilot skills you can go online and race or battle against up to eight players. The game doesn’t let up on it’s impressive performance, offering a polished and lag-free experience. Its often not for the faint of heart mind- I got obliterated on many occasions. Still, practice makes perfect.
So far I’ve lost many gaming hours to Wipeout HD Fury and yet somehow it never seems to get old. As apologies go, this is a pretty good one.
Most probably the least impressive game out of the five on offer is Dead Nation- a title exclusive to PSN. That’s not to say it isn’t any good, and besides- its on the house.
Dead Nation is the sort of top-down dual-stick shooter we’ve become accustomed to on PSN and XBLA. Something we’ve also become increasingly used to is zombies. You see, zombies are the new Nazis. Games that you’d think have no reason to include hordes of these brain-dead freaks, do so: the additional content for Call of Duty: Black Ops and Red Dead Redemption. Then there’s the vegetarian zombies of Plants vs Zombies- a great game, though adding to the ever increasing plethora of zombie titles we are faced with.
Nevertheless, Hell is full again and the dead walk the Earth. Your role is to - ‘tah-dah’, yep you’ve guessed it - survive. Its hardly the works of a literary genius, though in fairness would anyone expect anything more? A series of still animation cut-scenes break up the undead massacre quite nicely however, giving the game some sense of context- even if we have seen and heard it all before.
The gameplay is a fairly linear experience: get from point A to point B of the ten levels by shooting ridiculous amounts of zombies and collecting gold and items as you go.You can purchase new weapons, upgrades, and change your armor at the various weapons shops scattered around the place. You start the game with a rifle and a knife, but as you progress more and better weapons become available to grace your inventory such as the standard SMG, shotgun and flame-thrower.
The different zombies that populate the post-apocalyptic city include a ‘bomber’ (quite slow and harmless until it does a Mr Creosote and rips it’s guts everywhere) and some weirdos that lurk around waiting for you then swipe at you with their long arms, as well as the local undead town’s folk. Unfortunately, they seem to have been lifted straight from Valve’s Left 4 Dead series which is a great shame against originality.
Although the game treads familiar territory, its still a lot of fun. Particularly satisfying is shooting a car to activate the alarm, attracting the zombies, banging on the windows trying to get in, only for it to explode in to a festival of undead limbs. Lovely stuff. While the setting is the usual bland design, the game impresses by creating a sense of panic and a struggle to survive, mainly down to the sheer amount of undead that come at you at once.
This sense of survival is also woven into the game’s score ranking system. A score multiplier is the number of zombies you have killed in a row, without dying or restarting- meaning the longer you survive, the higher your score will be. Your running total is worked out at the end of each level, based on time, zombies killed, loot found and the multiplier.
Perfecting your score is of greater importance than simply topping the zombie -killing charts. One of the most interesting features of the game is the global country-by-country ranking system, taking each player’s score from each country to give an average. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom was 9th- not so re-assuring when the inevitable Zombie apocalypse arises: October 21 for your calendar, according to Harold Camping- I’d only pencil that in though.
The game is at it’s most fun when playing the co-operative mode which you can do with up to two players locally, or over PSN. How unfortunate it is then that online play is so broken. Not once did I manage to play a game online. Instead of dual-blasting zombies we were faced with the message ‘You have been disconnected.’
Dead Nation is an amalgamation of some of the zombie games we have already played. That said, its still a fun and satisfying experience. Its just disappointing that for now, its an offline only one.
Sony, it seems all is forgiven. Apology accepted. Now, hurry up and finish The Last Guardian!