The PSP Go, with its 16 GB hard drive and slick pop-up screen, is an impressive piece of hardware. It’s also fun to hold, even though the more compact form factor immediately led to mild hand-cramping, and even though the models we played were a return to the heavier, more metallic design of the first-generation PSPs.
In the end, though, it’s the same old hardware, still with no second analog stick and now without a clear solution for playing your UMD games if you decide to upgrade from the current model.
What initially looked to be a lame piece of shovelware actually turned out to be fun once we’d started playing it. Microsoft’s upcoming avatar-centric racer is a casual, friendly and stunt-heavy, and it seems to take place in the same version of Monument Valley in which all the Road Runner cartoons were set.
Designed at least in part by one of the minds behind the SSX series, it throws out silly concepts like “realism” in favor of races and sandbox stunt challenges where your avatar driver can jump up and perform dirtbike-style grab tricks while your car lands a flying 180 off a half-pipe ramp. Adding to the fun is the fact that it’s free.
SAW ups the survival horror ante by adding some torture, graphic body mutilation and frankly unsavory mission objectives to what is a stagnating genre. How about fishing around in a dirty toilet bowl filled with infected hypodermic needles to find a microchip? Or beating a man to death with an iron pipe in order to retrieve a key? What about walking over endless piles of broken glass when someone has nicked your shoes?
For anyone familiar with the torture porn of the SAW series, this will be familiar. You're stuck in an abandoned, booby-trapped lunatic asylum with a bunch of other unfortunates, toyed with by the masked Jigsaw. And, surprisingly, it translates well to an interactive experience. You traipse around witnessing atrocity after atrocity, solving puzzles as you go, occasionally engaging in some savagely brutal combat. It's that sort of game.
Playing this for 10 minutes was unexpectedly entertaining - like Silent Hill, but more disturbing than plain weird, with Jigsaw's calculated, theatrical murder keeping you guessing round every corner. The trick will be maintaining suspense and shock value through the whole game, without the lock-picking and code solving getting repetitive.
Now this is a concept we like. Publisher Codemasters has respectfully echoed the late Colin McRae's penchant for showmanship by basing the new Dirt game in contemporary motorsports events like Dakar and the Race of Champions, rather than another asphalt track-based outing. As individual events they might have been too limiting - but as a set, it just keeps the driving interesting. Imagine Burnout if it lost its obsession with Americana and soft metal, loosened up a little and went off road.
Without wanting to be flippant, it would be difficult to break the Colin McRae series - and our run-through of a jungle based rally course reminds us why the Codmasters team are still in the top three driving game studios (with Criterion and Polyphony). It's wincingly quick and twitchy, most of your effort going into keeping your growling, straining car on the road. You’re never in doubt that if you actually drove as fast as this on a winding, narrow, obstacle strewn mud track, your car wouldn't behave exactly like it does here.
It's classy too - other driving games have the odd destructible item of scenery, but the way a wall topples over when you hit it or a piece of the barrier tape gets tangled up in your wheels here is subtly effective.
Amongst all the chainguns, galactic space-armor and shaven-headed murderizers, finding a little oasis of calm originality is rare. And while DS-exclusive Scribblenauts is certainly heavy on the cutesy, the simplistic and the (yawn) edutainment, it deserves a look-in by those of more advanced years. The play mechanic is genuinely new.
Players solve puzzles in the guise of their character Maxwell by typing in the name of objects that could prove useful. A character needs to reach up high but they can’t climb or jump. What do you do? You type in ladder and a ladder appears. But it’s not long enough. So you type ladder again and another one appears on the top of the first and the puzzle is solved. Sounds super-simple. But there are 220 challenges and 1000s of objects and as you advance you earn points by using fewer objects per level.
The game also won’t let you get away with the double ladder trick more than once, either. So lateral thinking combined with imagination and a healthy vocabulary will be vital. All in all it’s a pretty interesting concept that we can see being nicked and stuffed in other, more high profile games by this time next year.
Jun 4, 2009
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