PS Vita Game Review: Table Top Racing

Table Top Racing [PS Vita]

Table Top Racing 
System: PS Vita [reviewed], previously on iOS and Android
Genre: Arcade racing
Developer: Playrise Digital
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $7.99
Release Date: August 5, 2014

The idea of bringing a free-to-play mobile game to the Playstation Vita is a risky one. Mobile ports have been done in the past with disastrous results — Dungeon Hunter Alliance and Asphalt Injection, to name a couple, were marked up considerably higher than their smartphone counterparts despite not bringing anything new to the table. Thankfully, that is not the case with Table Top Racing, the latest release from Ripstone.

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Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: OlliOlli [PS Vita]

OlliOlli [PS Vita]

OlliOlli
System: PS Vita
Genre: Skateboarding
Developer: Roll7
Publisher: Roll7
Price: $12.99 ($10.39 for Playstation Plus members)
Release Date: January 21, 2013

OlliOlli, a rare PS Vita exclusive, is a 2D skateboarding game that could potentially revitalize a genre that has laid dormant for years. Skating games reached the point of oversaturation years ago; who would have guessed that a small indie title like this could manage to be such a breath of fresh air?

It’s amazing how much OlliOlli does with so little. The control scheme is reduced to what is essentially two buttons: the left analog stick and the X button (with the left and right bumpers being used to rotate the skater, if desired). This seemingly simplistic method is actually deceptively complex. The left stick is used to perform tricks and grinds (of which there are over 120 total), while the X button is used to stick the landings. This takes some getting used to — after years of playing Tony Hawk, it feels weird not to use X to ollie — but it really doesn’t take long to start to feel natural.

The decision to require an extra button press in order to perfectly land a trick or grind is a stroke of genius. By hitting X at the last possible second, you will get a “perfect” rating that delivers the most points possible. This adds a whole new element to the gameplay, as you can pull off the world’s best combo but get little in the way of points if you don’t nail the landing. The game also keeps you on your toes by requiring the analog stick to be pushed down in order to achieve a “perfect” grind. Again, there is a little bit of a learning curve here, but once everything clicks, it’s as smooth as can be.

OlliOlli [PS Vita]

There are 50 levels in total, and each one has a set of five challenges to complete. These are similar to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in that some challenges are for hitting a certain point total (both overall and for combos specifically), picking up spray cans scattered through a level, hitting certain gaps or pulling off a specific trick. At first, they start off innocently enough, but it doesn’t take long for the requests to get more and more difficult.

If you’re able to complete all five challenges on an “amateur” level, you will have access to its corresponding “pro” level. If you’re able to five star every single level in the game, you unlock the extremely challenging RAD mode. Good luck with that.

There are also “Spots” that can be unlocked by completing each level. These are basically condensed stages that are set up to maximize combo potential. The idea is to string together as many tricks and grinds as possible before you either hit the ground or reach the end of the stage. The game will take note of your best score and tell you your current position on the world leaderboards. I managed to make it in the top 20 once or twice, but surely that will go down as more and more people start playing. It’s fun to see just how far off you are from the world leader, but it would be even better if there were a way to compare your scores with those on your friends list. Perhaps this is something that could be added in with a patch?

There’s also a neat little mode called Daily Grind that’s reminiscent of Spelunky‘s daily challenges. A new level is crafted every day where you get one chance to pull off as big of a combo as possible. You can practice as much as you like, but only your “official” run counts. It’s a fun way to keep the competition going.

OlliOlli [PS Vita]

While there is plenty of content to offer, what makes the overall package so great is that it is so easy to pick up and play. Each level lasts for about a minute, and there is a big yellow button in the left hand corner of the screen that can be used to restart at a whim’s notice. Trust me, you’ll get well acquainted with this button. Everything also starts immediately — there are no delays whatsoever. By keeping everything streamlined so well, this just adds to the addictive nature of the game. It’s one of those “oh, I’ll just play one more level” type games where it’s easy to get sucked in and play for hours without knowing it (a la Super Meat Boy).

In terms of its presentation, OlliOlli offers little in the way of eye candy. The graphics aren’t anything special, and it’s often difficult to differentiate between certain tricks. However, Roll7 really nailed the soundtrack. Its mix of upbeat and chill electronica has a certain hypnotic feeling to it. Quite the contrast from the raucous punk rock songs in Tony Hawk, but it works surprisingly well.

With its twitch gameplay, precise controls and seemingly unlimited replay value, OlliOlli pretty much hits all the right notes. It could benefit from friend leaderboards and more customization options, but these omissions hardly detract from what is an overall addictive and enjoyable experience. If this game is any indication, 2014 is shaping up to be a hell of a year for PS Vita owners.

8.5/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

Mutant Mudds Deluxe
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Wii U and 3DS)
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Renegade Kid
Publisher: Renegade Kid
Price: $9.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 17, 2013

Everything about Mutant Mudds Deluxe, the latest game from Renegade Kid, screams “retro”. The delightfully pixelated graphics, the pitch-perfect chiptune soundtrack and the old school platforming gameplay all look, sound and feel familiar. Yet Mutant Mudds Deluxe is so well-refined that it can hold its own against some of the classics that it is so clearly inspired by.

Originally a Nintendo eShop release, this “12-bit” title stands out thanks to its unique three-plane approach. While the core of the game still revolves around the traditional 2D side-scrolling format, the main protagonist, a courageous young fellow named Max, can leap from one layer to the next. Through jump points scattered within each level, Max can maneuever between the foreground and background of the screen. Each layer has its own items and enemies, making this type of inter-dimensional traveling critical to maxing out each area.

Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

Since this is the deluxe edition, there are a whopping 80 levels included. Each level has exactly 100 objects to collect, as well as a four-minute time limit. The objects in turn are used as a form of currency in order to get new upgrades for Max. Originally armed with just a meager water gun and a short-burst jetpack, he can eventually acquire additions that allow for increased capacities for both. The best upgrade, however, is the ability to perform super jumps, which makes it a bit easier to maneuver past tricky enemies and/or spike deathtraps.

Each level requires strong dexterity and a bit of patience. Max doesn’t handle as fast as most platforming characters, so his jumping and floating need to be especially well-timed. There are a plethora of evil enemies out there, including some who cannot be wiped out by Max’s water gun. As the levels progress, so do their difficulties; many of the later ones pack quite the challenge. Thankfully, each level does contain a checkpoint, making the frequent deaths somewhat less painful. For all of the masochists out there, rest easy: there is an option to get rid of the checkpoints as well.

Mutant Mudds Deluxe [PS Vita/PS3]

The levels are all brilliantly designed, and each one has an alternate path that can only be found by using specific upgrades. There’s also a particularly challenging batch of ghost levels with unhittable enemies that can be unlocked over time. There is no shortage of content here — you’ll certainly get your money’s worth for $9.99.

Every now and then I get the itch to play an old school platformer, and Mutant Mudds Deluxe absolutely satisfied this desire. This version has the advantage of being a cross-buy and cross-save title, but I found it to work best in short bursts on the PS Vita. No matter which platform you prefer, this is a top-notch throwback to the challenging days of yore.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man!
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Adventure/Platformer
Developer: Zoink Games
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 3, 2013

It seems like every Tuesday there is a fun, new indie title that hits the Playstation Vita. Last week was especially fruitful, as it brought about the strategy RPG, Rainbow Moon, and Stick It to The Man!, a bizarre and oftentimes hilarious adventure from Ripstone.

In the aptly titled Stick It to The Man!, you play as Ray Doewood, a hard hat tester who gets knocked into a coma thanks to a freak accident. His world is turned upside down when he awakens to find a large, 16-foot pink spaghetti arm sticking out of his head. To make matters even stranger, his newfound appendage allows Ray to read people’s minds. This new talent becomes especially useful when Ray finds himself on the run from a mysterious chain-smoking figure known only as The Man. It’s your job to “stick it” to The Man while also saving your girlfriend from his evil clutches.

With dialogue penned by Adventure Time writer, Ryan North, the game’s wacky storyline never ceases to amuse. During my playthrough, I ran across all sorts of people — a pregnant man, a zombie jazz band, a woman with a white teeth fetish, and even Santa Claus himself. Best of all, every single one of these characters can have their minds read. In the creative world of Stick It to The Man!, anything seems possible.

Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita]

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and point-and-click adventure. The platforming parts aren’t all that difficult, although there are a few tricky bits where Ray has to swing past enemies (usually The Man’s henchmen) in order to get to the next area. The adventure elements come into play when Ray needs to use his pink spaghetti arm. The Vita version takes advantage of the system’s touch controls by allowing you to physically touch the areas where you want to use this arm. This is much easier than using the right analog stick, especially since you will be using Ray’s spaghetti arm quite a bit.

Each of the game’s ten chapters are loaded with puzzles, most of which require some sly mind reading to solve. Occasionally, after hearing someone’s thoughts, a sticker will pop up in their thought bubble. Ray can then grab this sticker with his giant arm and apply it somewhere else that might make sense. Certain buildings and other parts of the screen can also be pulled back (again by using the touch screen), revealing more characters and objects that can be used to solve puzzles.

The solutions aren’t immediately obvious, especially since so much of the game’s demeanor is offbeat with seemingly random situations, but they do make sense in the end. There is also a helpful map that points out possible areas of interest, thereby lowering the chances of getting stuck. There were still a few areas where I was seriously scratching my head as to what to do, but a little bit of trial-and-error was usually enough to get me by.

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

One area where Stick It to The Man! really excels is its overall presentation. The world is set in a beautiful 2D paper environment that has an almost Burton-esque aesthetic. On the audio side, a great deal of attention was put into the voice acting — every single one of the 100+ characters has their own dialogue, all of which is well done. The game’s snazzy jazz soundtrack is also a good fit for the overall style, as is the title screen’s inclusion of the 60s psychedelic jam, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)“.

Now, for all of its positives, there are a couple of minor issues worth noting. For one, on the Vita’s smaller screen it can be occasionally difficult to see the small white outline where a sticker can be placed. There were times where I would waltz right on past an object that I could have used to solve a puzzle, unbeknownst to me. I also noticed some sporadic drops in audio, where the dialogue would cut out for a split second, thereby creating a slight delay. Hardly anything game-breaking, but issues nonetheless.

Since Stick It to The Man! is a cross-buy title, one purchase nets both the Vita and PS3 versions. For fans of adventure titles or just quirky humor in general, this is well worth a look. The 5-6 hour campaign is the perfect length for a title of this nature, and it’s quite easy to pick up and play. There really isn’t anything like it on the Playstation Network.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man!
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Adventure/Platformer
Developer: Zoink Games
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 3, 2013

It seems like every Tuesday there is a fun, new indie title that hits the Playstation Vita. Last week was especially fruitful, as it brought about the strategy RPG, Rainbow Moon, and Stick It to The Man!, a bizarre and oftentimes hilarious adventure from Ripstone.

In the aptly titled Stick It to The Man!, you play as Ray Doewood, a hard hat tester who gets knocked into a coma thanks to a freak accident. His world is turned upside down when he awakens to find a large, 16-foot pink spaghetti arm sticking out of his head. To make matters even stranger, his newfound appendage allows Ray to read people’s minds. This new talent becomes especially useful when Ray finds himself on the run from a mysterious chain-smoking figure known only as The Man. It’s your job to “stick it” to The Man while also saving your girlfriend from his evil clutches.

With dialogue penned by Adventure Time writer, Ryan North, the game’s wacky storyline never ceases to amuse. During my playthrough, I ran across all sorts of people — a pregnant man, a zombie jazz band, a woman with a white teeth fetish, and even Santa Claus himself. Best of all, every single one of these characters can have their minds read. In the creative world of Stick It to The Man!, anything seems possible.

Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita]

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and point-and-click adventure. The platforming parts aren’t all that difficult, although there are a few tricky bits where Ray has to swing past enemies (usually The Man’s henchmen) in order to get to the next area. The adventure elements come into play when Ray needs to use his pink spaghetti arm. The Vita version takes advantage of the system’s touch controls by allowing you to physically touch the areas where you want to use this arm. This is much easier than using the right analog stick, especially since you will be using Ray’s spaghetti arm quite a bit.

Each of the game’s ten chapters are loaded with puzzles, most of which require some sly mind reading to solve. Occasionally, after hearing someone’s thoughts, a sticker will pop up in their thought bubble. Ray can then grab this sticker with his giant arm and apply it somewhere else that might make sense. Certain buildings and other parts of the screen can also be pulled back (again by using the touch screen), revealing more characters and objects that can be used to solve puzzles.

The solutions aren’t immediately obvious, especially since so much of the game’s demeanor is offbeat with seemingly random situations, but they do make sense in the end. There is also a helpful map that points out possible areas of interest, thereby lowering the chances of getting stuck. There were still a few areas where I was seriously scratching my head as to what to do, but a little bit of trial-and-error was usually enough to get me by.

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

One area where Stick It to The Man! really excels is its overall presentation. The world is set in a beautiful 2D paper environment that has an almost Burton-esque aesthetic. On the audio side, a great deal of attention was put into the voice acting — every single one of the 100+ characters has their own dialogue, all of which is well done. The game’s snazzy jazz soundtrack is also a good fit for the overall style, as is the title screen’s inclusion of the 60s psychedelic jam, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)“.

Now, for all of its positives, there are a couple of minor issues worth noting. For one, on the Vita’s smaller screen it can be occasionally difficult to see the small white outline where a sticker can be placed. There were times where I would waltz right on past an object that I could have used to solve a puzzle, unbeknownst to me. I also noticed some sporadic drops in audio, where the dialogue would cut out for a split second, thereby creating a slight delay. Hardly anything game-breaking, but issues nonetheless.

Since Stick It to The Man! is a cross-buy title, one purchase nets both the Vita and PS3 versions. For fans of adventure titles or just quirky humor in general, this is well worth a look. The 5-6 hour campaign is the perfect length for a title of this nature, and it’s quite easy to pick up and play. There really isn’t anything like it on the Playstation Network.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Proteus
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Mac OS)
Genre: Open World
Developer: Ed Key, David Kanaga, Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Studios
Price: $13.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Labeling Proteus as a video game is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it is playable on gaming systems (the PSN release is cross-buy for both PS3 and Vita) and there are a handful of trophies to obtain, but that’s about where the familiarity ends. This is more of an experience, one completely unique in the world of gaming.

Proteus is all about exploration from a first-person perspective. Every new “campaign” places you near a randomly-generated island, and your only task is to explore it as you see fit. There is no proper end goal or set destination — what you get out of your experience is entirely up to you.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Every island is filled with hills, trees and mountains. Leaves float through the air, flowers sway in the wind, the sun rises, the sun sets. It rains, it snows. Small animals — which resemble frogs and rabbits — hop through the forest, hitting musical notes every time they hit the ground. You can’t really interact with them, but you can chase them until something else catches your eye.

Walking throughout the vast, colorful island produces new sounds with nearly every step. Ambient music plays in the background, creating a beautifully tranquil atmosphere, and different areas change the tune in ways that only enhance the mood. It’s as if you are traveling through your very own musical forest in which even random objects alter the soundscape.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

The pixel art style used for the graphics provides a surprisingly lush environment. The visuals, while decidely retro in appearance, actually work quite well in creating alluring scenery. The vibrant colorscape certainly helps in this regard, as do the changes in weather and seasons. Watching the snow fall during winter is especially serene.

A single trip through the island and its seasons can be completed in an hour or less. However, each visit provides an entirely new experience, so this isn’t exactly a one-and-done endeavor. For the Playstation Network release, the inclusion of cryptic trophies strengthens each playthrough, as the descriptions are vague enough that it can take some serious thinking to figure out what to do.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

All of this culminates in a truly special, fantasy-like adventure. The $13.99 price point is a bit steep, but if you have a good imagination and are willing to step outside the boundaries of conventional gaming, Proteus may be just what you’re looking for.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

Killzone: Mercenary
System: Playstation Vita
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: September 10, 2013

For the past year or so, Playstation Vita owners have been clamoring for a new, big-budget exclusive AAA title. The recent focus on indie games has resulted in an impressive downloadable library, but there’s something to be said about having a portable blockbuster title. Enter Killzone: Mercenary, the first FPS worth playing on the Vita.

Money is the name of the game in KZ:M, as you play a mercenary by the name of Aaron Danner, a man who has no allegiances to either the ISA or the Helghast. Basically, he goes wherever the money is, and this lack of devotion offers a fresh look at the ongoing battle between the two sides.

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

In the game’s single player campaign, money is acquired by killing enemies and scavenging supplies, with headshots and silent takedowns being worth the most. This cash can in turn be used to purchase ammo, new weapons and special VAN-Guard equipment at conveniently located Blackjack stations scattered throughout every level. By unlocking more and more equipment, you can customize your loadouts as you see fit. Prefer to go the stealth route? Buy some light armor and a silenced handgun, and you’ll be able to sneak past most enemy-infested areas. If you would rather go in on full-on badass mode, you can load up with some heavy-duty weapons and go nuts. The choice is yours, and you can use these loadouts anywhere and anytime you want.

The campaign, while lacking in memorable set-pieces, is still good fun, but it is also rather short. I finished my first playthrough in a mere four hours, though beating the game does unlock multiple new ways to play each level. Every single player mission can be replayed in the form of three new contracts — covert, demolition and precision. Each of these contracts require you to play the level in a different manner while providing several goals that must be accomplished in order to earn the full amount of money. Although it can feel redundant to play through each level multiple times, there is plenty of replay value here for those willing to do so.

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita, 2013]

However, it’s clear that the meat-and-potatoes of KZ:M is its multiplayer mode. Thankfully, it does not disappoint. There are three ways to play online: free-for-all, deathmatch and warzone. The first two are self-explanatory, but warzone is easily the highlight of the group. In this mode, you join a 4v4 battle that lasts for five rounds, each one with a different goal than the last. For example, the first round requires teams to collect the Valor cards from fallen enemies. Another round forces teams to hack VAN-Guard capsules that have fallen from the sky. While every round is a variant of the same goal (kill the enemy and get more points), they are different enough to keep every game fresh.

Rather than go the conventional XP route that many FPS games use online, KZ:M uses a unique Valor card system. By playing well (and often) online, you can earn a higher-ranked card. If you play poorly, your card goes down in rank, also making you a less valuable target to scope out. Killing enemies online also makes them drop their cards, which in turn are worth a little extra cash. This is an invigorating spin on the FPS online formula, and the card-collecting has a “gotta catch ’em all” feel.

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

As for the transition of Killzone‘s console gameplay to a portable device, well, it’s damn near flawless. The controls are intuitive and easy to get the hang of, with the only major difference being that sprinting is performed by double-tapping a button rather than pushing down the analog stick (not possible on the Vita, of course). There are a handful of touch screen commands as well, though all of them mesh with the button controls organically.

This is also a visually stunning game, not far off from an early PS3 title. It’s easily one of the best-looking games for the Vita, and if you’re looking for a title to show off the system’s power, this is about as good as it gets.

With its replayable single player campaign and addictive online multiplayer content, Killzone: Mercenary has a lot of bang for its buck. This is an impressive portable effort, one that will still likely be looked at years from now as one of the system’s crown jewels. If you’ve been craving a high quality FPS on the Vita, this is exactly the game you have been looking for.

9/10

Video Game Review: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Mac OS X and Linux)
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Superflat Games, Curve Studios
Publisher: Superflat Games
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: September 24, 2013

In a world where most modern horror games rely heavily on action and frantic combat, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a breath of fresh air. This is a game that manages to crank up the suspense while providing an intense, creepy atmosphere, all while being presented in a pixelated 2D environment.

The game tells the story of You, an unnamed protagonist (in his words, his name “doesn’t really matter anymore”) who is seemingly the lone survivor after a disease wiped out the rest of the population. Tired of being stranded in his apartment, he decides to head out in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who might still be alive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Of course, our hero isn’t really alone. Just outside of his apartment, he finds a truly repulsive, faceless monster whose presence is punctuated by piercing static and muted screams. Initially armed with nothing but a flashlight, the only way to get past this ghastly creature is to hide in the shadows and attempt to sneak past it. This is a common occurrence, as the monsters become more and more frequent in their appearances. Eventually, you’re able to get a gun, providing an alternate method to deal with enemies, but ammo is so scarce that it is often best to be as stealthy as possible.

Much of Lone Survivor takes place in the dark, and strategic use of the flashlight is necessary in order to find your way around. Again, supplies are scarce, so it’s best to conserve the battery. This can make it tricky when scoping out an unfamiliar location, as even the slightest glimpse of light will cast the creatures into a frenzy, chasing you until you reach a new room.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Perhaps even more frightening than the relentless enemies is the rapidly deteriorating mental health of the protagonist. In order to stay in good (or at least acceptable) shape, you must eat often while also getting a proper amount of sleep. There are food items scattered throughout the in-game world, some good (fruit salad), some bad (squid on a stick), but all are beneficial for keeping your stomach full. There are no health bars or other HUD reminders — the only way to know if you need to sleep or eat is through random text prompts. Wait too long to do either and you will begin to hallucinate, which is never a good thing. You can also talk to plants and stuffed animals to keep your sanity, and if you play your cards right, you might even be able to befriend a *real* cat.

The frequent reminders to eat and get some rest only add to the already riveting tension, and with a possibly insane protagonist, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s merely in his head. As such, the game has an intriguing cerebral element, becoming something of a psychological thriller in its own right.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Now, while the game absolutely succeeds in providing a haunting atmosphere, it does have some noticeable issues with its core gameplay. For one, there is a lot of backtracking. In order to save progress, you have to frequently go back to your apartment and rest, although this is helped somewhat by teleporting mirrors scattered throughout the building. Many of the doors are also locked at first, requiring you to explore and find their keys in order to get through them. This can be a tedious affair at times, especially when you find yourself going back and forth between the same two locations. There are also concerns with the game’s combat, as using the gun feels clunky and occasionally unresponsive. The gun can be aimed in three directions, but it’s difficult to actually fire off a good shot in the way you want to. This does make enemy encounters even more disturbing, though it feels like kind of a cheap tactic to do so.

Still, flaws aside, this is a very unique horror experience that is an especially excellent fit for the PS Vita. As the Director’s Cut, this is the definitive edition of Lone Survivor, and it includes new locations, dialogue, music, endings and even a New Game+ mode. The campaign can be finished in just 3-5 hours, but multiple playthroughs are warranted in order to discover new endings and learn more about the game’s narrative. As such, there is a solid amount of value here for horror buffs. Just make sure to play this in the dark and with headphones on… if you dare.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)