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Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 2)

Dualshock 4 (PlayStation 4)

For nearly 20 years I have disliked the Dual Shock controller, as the low-set, central thumbsticks made me wince every time I had to use it. As a man brought up with the gentle ergonomic placement of the N64 analogue I disliked having to cock my thumbs at an unnatural angle to move my characters around. Controllers should shape to you, not the other way around.

And so thank you, Sony, for finally doing something about it. The mass acceptance of the Xbox pad as an industry standard (just look at the Wii U Pro Controller as proof) has made them reassess and with the grips slightly elongated and the sticks raised subtly more into the main body they have produced a glorious refinement.

It’s comfortable to hold, sitting snuggly in your hands. There’s a slight texturing to the back for grip which feels far nicer that the flat plastic of the previous generation. Triggers are soft and responsive, though still slightly too shallow for my liking. The surprise was quite how large the touch screen is and what a satisfying click it has when depressed. I still haven’t seen a use for it yet but the little I played with its mechanism and just how tactile it was due to a slight raised pattern I’m looking forward to finding one.

The triumph however were the sticks. Not just in placement, which felt natural, but in all aspects. Compared to the floating mushrooms of old they offer far more resistance; there’s a new rubber top for improved grip; and even a raised edge to reduce finger slippage when jamming hard in any direction. At a brief glance it looks very similar to the Dual Shock 3 but with a myriad of changes this is a Dual Shock for a new generation.

Rating: Awesome

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Knack (PlayStation 4)

Although I raised an eyebrow high when it was the first PS4 game to be trooped out in public, Knack is slowly winning me over. It may not be the graphically stunning poster child you expect to lead the next-generation charge but Knack himself is pretty impressive. As an elemental troll he is made up of hundreds of pieces of rock or wood. And every time you find a source of the right element, each piece flies individually into him bloating his size. It’s an impressive sight, but one not lingered on so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of play.

The bigger he is, the harder he hits. Starting out the size of a toddler the basic brawling will need a few smacks to take down the goblins that play the game’s bad guys. Later, you resemble the hulk and are smacking them around like toys and even lifting tanks over your head such is your power.

There doesn’t seem to be too much to do aside from the combat. Though there were snapshots of four or five levels on the show floor there were no puzzles or tricky platforming sections. There were hints at combo and special attacks however so hopefully that shows more depth in the final release.

Targeted at the younger Day One adopters it’s surprisingly tough in stages. The platforming is simple enough but our lead seems surprisingly fragile given what he can do. As such there is an appeal for older gamers too but it’s unlike to sway too many away from Black Flag and Killzone.

Rating: Good

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Hohokum (PlayStation 4)

Sony like the obscure. As witnessed by Flower and Noby Noby Boy, the abstract has found a home on the PlayStation and that trend continues with Hohoku, a 2D game that wouldn’t look out of place as a short animated features on Sesame Street explaining concepts of colours and sound to children. It’s full of simple shapes and unfussy design.

You guide a brightly coloured snake weaving through the sky. Continually moving forward you can only vary its speed or jink it from side to side, persuading it through the open expanse to explore. Hohokum seems primarily about creating a sense of style and wonder and with each change in motion forms you add a coloured stripe to the snake, creating a veritable moving rainbow.

As you fly through the various adornments on the background the world bloom into life. Brushing past plants could light them up or set a track playing, whilst moving close to a small woman may see her jump on your back and surf along. It was hard to tell what the game itself was other than triggering and layering all these incidentals but with each being so unique it was always compelling to find more. Another level saw us slink through a darkly lit world, igniting lamp plants before revealing a giant and his son playing a saxophone.

I can’t quite tell you the point to Hohokum but I can tell you I’m glad that it exists.

Rating: Awesome

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Resogun (PlayStation 4)

Although 2D shooters like Super Stardust HD and Geometry Wars feature very classical mechanics, their restrictive nature actually allows developers to show off a huge amount. When limited to just a pair of dimensions and a tight environment the effects that can be triggered can be huge and elaborate. Resogun takes that idea into the next generation.

Although there you can only move horizontally and vertically the play space is wrapped around into a tube, encompassing a human city set some time in the future. You fly above, protecting the humans below from being kidnapped by incoming alien ships. As you can’t see everywhere at once arrows flash red alerting you to their presence. Buzz over and shoot them down and life can continue. Except that the invaders have brought their own fighter ships and the screen is soon filled with invading aliens of all shapes and sizes. It’s frantic and, in the spirit of the 80s arcade that heavily influenced it, heavily addictive as you start to learn patterns and look to eke your points total ever higher.

Visually it looks a treat. Huge explosions fill vast areas of the screen and beneath you the city itself slowly deforms and crumbles as the blasts wash over it. Seemingly made up of tiny voxels it produces a lovely sight that helps to reinforce the thought that you are defending earth from a true onslaught rather than a boring static background.

With simple controls but an obvious level of depth as you begin to get your eye in, Resogun seems perfect for a console launch; something show off just how shiny your new box is to your friends but also to set a bit of friendly competition going between you all.

Rating: Good

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Octodad (PlayStation 4)

It’s ridiculous. For the first few minutes I was wondering what on earth I was doing. Or to be more exact, what on earth Sony were doing in allowing this freak of a game in their booth. A game where you had to control the tentacles of an octopus, how could this farce be a title to trumpet the arrival of their new hardware?

With the analogues jointly controlling a swinging tentacle I had to clear a table, sweeping across its top to send a stack of bottles and pots dashing to the floor, before inexpertly reaching down and finding a key amongst the mess and unlocking a cabinet. It’s a very strange controls scheme as the right stick controls the vertical plane whilst the left handles in and out, and one that never felt naturally. It always felt like a bike with the axle just off centre so that whilst the motions were similar the outcome was off and I never felt quite in control due to a lack of perceivable depth. Doing anything was achieved through stumbling stabs at the stick.

Where my stance began to soften was when Octodad had to walk across the room. Suddenly you’re not just controlling his arm but his legs, though “control” is wholly inaccurate. With a strange combination of triggers and stick he’ll lurch around the room as if auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks. His large, lunging steps will send him bashing into the furniture in the room, knocking vases from their stands and scattering chairs and tables as you haplessly blunder about in hilarious fashion. The simple fetch quests you’re ask to perform turn into a comedic episode as disaster follows you everywhere.

Quite how this Mr Bean of the cephalopod world will pan out as a complete game I am unsure. Whether its slapstick nature will endure through multiple hours or whether the skill comes from completing tasks as precisely as possible, this is so different from anything else on display it’s a fine complement to the launch catalogue.

Rating: Good

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Driveclub (PlayStation 4)

After partaking in a quick demo on the rather underwhelming Forza 5 for the Xbox One, Sony’s stand was the perfect to reaffirm faith in the next generation of console racing with #Driveclub – Evolution Studios’ new IP for the Playstation 4. This is one of several games you’ll be getting a version of with Playstation Plus on launch day, and – on the basis of this build at least – it’ll be an entertaining if slightly underwhelming ride.

Taking a heavy Mercedes out onto the lush mountainous road in the Gamescom build, the overwhelming sensation from #Driveclub is that of a studio pushing for visual fidelity but not quite reaching a standard that’s immediately impressive. Foliage is abundant but heavily aliased, particle effects are sparse but well-implemented, vehicles are detailed without being spectacular, the lighting is a little flat and the framerate seemed to hover around 30 without much in the way of post-processing to smooth out the sensation of speed.

It’s likely this is an old build however, and with any luck #Driveclub will have that final layer of polish and optimisation closer to launch. It’s set to be a fun experience regardless of aesthetics, with vehicle handling coming across as a hybrid of Forza’s simulation-driven physics and the drift-heavy action of something like Need For Speed. The two cars chosen for the demo were both curiously heavy and ponderous into corners but there was plenty of wiggle room to slide out the rear end with a little practice, and so with a few tweaks, #Driveclub could prove an entertaining diversion.

Rating: Good

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