When we talk about upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusives, what's the first games that comes to mind? It's probably something like the The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, or Death Stranding, right? Well, I'm here to tell you that they aren't the only console exclusives on the near horizon. In fact, Sony has seven secret weapons all coming to PS4 this year that you might not have even heard of.
These seven PS4 exclusives are all imports of China, which is fast becoming one of the most important scenes for game development in the world, with Ubisoft, EA, and Take-Two (among many others) all fighting to get in on the action and get invested in studios based in the East. One of the biggest players in this scene, however, has been Sony Interactive Entertainment Shanghai. The publisher set up the China Hero Project in 2017 to offer support and funding to Chinese studios, with the ultimate aim to bring their games to the West via PlayStation 4.
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There's no denying the ambition and variety that these new developers are trying to bring to the table – many of them new start ups eager to break out of the Chinese market and get their titles in front of eyes around the globe. In fact, the first batch already includes a heady mix of RPGs, action games, stealth adventures, and MMOs; it's a diverse offering that should excite any and all PS4 owners.
The most recent game reveals star seven titles that we’re keen to see more of, namely Evotinction, Convallaria Project, F.I.S.T., In Nightmare, Anno: Mutantionem, RAN: Lost Islands, and third-person action-RPG AI-Limit, from Sense Games, a studio within PalmPioneer which is bringing the impressive indie cyberpunk adventure Tales Of The Neon Sea to PS4 next month.
“It is truly tremendous,” says AI-Limit’s producer, Yang Bin, of Sony’s firm commitment to these studios. “The China Hero Project provides us various support, including promotion, endorsement, investment, and daily care.”
Despite being made by a team of 20, AI-Limit doesn’t lack ambition. The stylish action-RPG mixes melee combat and exploration, and if that sounds a little generic, the game’s world certainly isn’t.
“This is a completely empty world,” states Yang – but don’t let that fool you. Set in a future society governed by AI, the population has placed its trust in technology and retreated to a virtual world to live peacefully, until something goes catastrophically wrong… “A sudden disaster has broken the calm.”
Playing as Arrisa, you need to seek out the cause of this problem, and set the world right. It’s a game that doesn’t just test your skills with a blade, as your choices matter and can affect the story.
There’s a deeper message behind the VFX and swish combos which affords AI-Limit room to be more than another action game. Inspired by the repurposed AI unit AlphaGo, which defeated a champion chess program back in 2017, Yang says: “The future of AI and how it affects our life could be a very interesting topic... This is the title we’ve been dreaming for a long time.”
While AI-Limit’s ambition is focused on narrative, RAN: Lost Islands is emphasising scale. This MMO survival game picks from the bones of battle royale games, but does so with a focus on exploration and discovery.
Producer Li Dongcheng explains: “Our game is set on an archipelago in northern Japan. There are many ancient Japanese relics on the island, and the adventurers of Western Europe and the forces of Japan are looking to claim them. At the same time, the fleet of the Ming Empire also arrives, and sets out their own exploration teams to investigate.”
The setup alone makes this an interesting game, and one perhaps only possible from a Chinese studio familiar with its nation’s place in history. We’re used to the 17th century in Western and Japanese games, but not so much Chinese.
“Many players might be familiar with Western and Japanese civilisations from that era, but maybe not so familiar with the Ming Empire of 17th-century China,” says Li. “Therefore, as a studio from China, we also hope we can do our part to integrate this period into the world’s game culture!”
In-game this means Japanese samurai and French musketeers rub shoulders with Ming warriors. It’s a clash of cultures and, importantly, weapons and tactics as all sides hunt for ancient Japanese relics on the hidden archipelago.
Lots more heroes
The other China Hero Projects display a similar sense of ambition. Shooter Convallaria Project offers PvEvP set in an online universe that looks to jumble everything from Final Fantasy to Alice in Wonderland and Mass Effect into its Unreal Engine 4-powered blender, resulting in a colourful and exotic juice. There’s a hint of Ready Player One about this shooter, suggesting the action takes place in a game within a game.
The pixel art aesthetic of action RPG ANNO: Mutantionem grabs the headlines, but it’s the inclusion of the SCP Foundation, an open-source collaborative fiction community, to enrich its cyberpunk city, Metropolis, that could give this one dark depths.
Likewise, Spikewave Games’ stealth action sci-fi Evotinction has hidden layers. The name evokes the themes of evolution and extinction, and asks the question: “How far will mankind go in its love of new technology, AI, and gene editing?”
Behind the pretentiousness is a promising stealth adventure that relies on your hacking skills to make use of environment devices and gadgets. It all sounds a little Kojima-y to us, and we love it.
Fistful of fun
There’s a less highfalutin tone to TiGames Network Technology’s F.I.S.T., a metroidvania bunny boiler that casts you in the fur of “a rabbit who can manipulate the big mech-arm on his back, exploring a vivid dieselpunk world and fighting against the evil robot army” – this is a direct quote from the press release, and it makes us want the game even more.
“This support is very long-term,” reflects Li Dongcheng of Sony’s China Hero Project. “We believe that Sony is nurturing excellent development teams that can produce world-class games in China.”
There’s a lot to be excited about in Sony’s second wave of releases from its China Hero Project. Expect more info soon.
Looking for something new to play in the meantime? Why not check out our list of the new games 2019.