Version tested: PlayStation 3
PSN, we really missed you. Week after week of hopeful expectation that Sony would resume service went by, and nothing but sullen messages about maintenance. But it's back! Back! [We know, it's been back a while now, but this article got held up by some glorified meeting in America. -Ed.]
The expected content flood hasn't quite panned out the way some of you might have imagined. Wisely, Sony has given us extra helpings, but presumably not all the pending content that would have emerged had things operated normally.
The good news is that most of it is exclusive to PSN, so rather than trawl through a bunch of games we've already played on 360 and PC, we're focusing on the standout titles that are worthy of your attention.
- PSN - £7.19 to PlayStation Plus subscribers. £11.99 to non-members.
18 years ago is officially long enough for Cannon Fodder to be thought of as an old man's game. All the more reason to liberally pinch some of its best ideas and refashion it as an accessible real-time strategy game on console.
Whether Portugal's Seed Studios intended to crib from Sensible's Amiga classic or not, there's a similarly refreshing directness to Under Siege. You point. You click. They fight.
Each level kicks off with a limited number of spawn points, and a goal to fight your way to. At first, you're restricted to burly melee fighters and feeble ranged archers, but as the game progresses a greater range of strategic thinking comes into it. Spawn points increase, and your units level up the longer they survive.
As you'd hope from a console RTS, the controls are concisely designed to make swapping between units instant and intuitive. But this breezy simplicity doesn't stop the AI units from bloodying your nose the moment complacency creeps in to your tactics.
If anything, the learning curve is more savage than you might expect, and you have to be mindful to protect your ranged units at all costs. Your opponents waste no time hacking them into chunks given the chance, and once they're gone, your ability to restore the health of your frontline troops goes with it.
Although the levels tend to be on the short side, it's still a tad frustrating to nearly reach the conclusion and be forced to start over because of one costly error. With a slightly less uncompromising approach, Under Siege could have been a great gateway drug for those otherwise resistant to the allure of RTS - especially with multiplayer and level editing waiting in the wings for those who really get into it.
As it stands, though, Under Siege is a game that requires a degree of patience and tolerance before it truly clicks. If you have the required resolve, there's plenty to admire.
The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character
- Minis - Free (timed PlayStation Plus exclusive). Available to buy soon for £2.49.
If you simply call your game The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character, everyone immediately knows where they stand and can get on with their lives like enlightened citizens.
So there you are, rolling an Octopus around the edges of simple 2D environments, trying to rescue your pals while avoiding the inevitable hostile sentries.
Unable to quell his rotational urges, the cheery-eyed Octopus moves continuously and can only do two things: change direction or jump. With that in mind, getting around proves to be a rather more exacting process of anticipation than it might otherwise be - especially once you move on to later levels.
Suddenly it's no longer about cheerfully rolling around making adorable noises. It's time to show off your long-dormant 1980s gaming chops and get ready for precision jumping as you dislodge obstacles and avoid imminent one-touch death by an Octowhisker.
It might look cuter than a kitten, but Rotating Octopus can be just as savage when it wants to be. And we still love it, fools that we are.
Red Johnson's Chronicles
- PSN - £4.00 to PlayStation Plus subscribers. £7.99 to non-members.
It's nice that we no longer have to carp on about the sad demise of the adventure game. It's back for good. Here to stay. And various other appropriate song titles.
As is so often the case in the world of point-and-clickery, someone is dead. Mysterious dark forces did it, and you're damned well going to pore over every pixel to find out who's responsible and bring them to justice.
Despite trying its best to shake up the tired formula, Red Johnson gets off to a pretty dreadful start. Stuck at a murder scene, the game resolutely refuses to move on until you finally figure out the relevant hot spot to click on, while hearing the same stock pieces of dialogue when you try to do anything outside of its narrow focus.
If you're not already tired of the woolly-hatted investigator within the first chapter, then the lazy stereotyping of Saul, your streetwise, superfly hint provider, will probably tip you over the edge.
Assuming you can put up with that kind of nonsense, the game at least nudges in the right direction with its interesting and challenging puzzle system.
Rather than opt for the thoroughly worn-out 'combine X with Y' inventory system, each of the game's problems takes the form of thorough object examination and manipulation, followed by analysis and comparison tasks once you're back at your HQ.
Each and every problem feels fresh, though it's a flawed system that can sometimes venture into rather obscure territory - and if you're stumped, Saul's hints mostly state the bleedin' obvious.
With its clumsy dialogue threatening to ruin everything at every turn, Lexis Numerique's high-gloss offering is a challenge to play - but perhaps not always for the reasons the developers intended. When it's good, it's great, but when it's bad, you might want to wear a gum shield to stop you grinding your teeth to stumps.
- PSN - £7.99.
- Coming soon to Xbox 360.
Soon after confirmation that Carmageddon is finally making a comeback... along comes a game that drives headlong towards the cankered corpse of Stainless' zombie-splattering racing relic at full pelt. Coincidence or spoiler?
In a business ram-jammed with, ahem, loving tributes, Targem Games wears its Carmageddon love like a soup sandwich. Set in a familiar sandbox environment, you get to drive around smearing zombie goop over your windshield, with the perennial option to dive into various race events at your leisure.
For the want of a less lazy comparison, this is a low-rent Burnout Zombie Paradise, with all the usual racing disciplines from straight-up circuit racing to elimination, as well as brutal takedowns.
The floaty handling model and overly forgiving boost system gives it an instant accessibility that some may warm to initially, but after you've won the tenth event in a row without really breaking sweat, excitement soon flatlines.
And don't be fooled by the PEGI 18 rating. Smashing into the shambling undead and slicing them up with your wheel-mounted blades might give it a perverse appeal, but it's wholly undermined by the uninspiring visual style and routine gameplay. Smashing into crowds of rancid flesh-eating zombies ought to be a terrifying life-or-death battle, not like shooting fish in a barrel.
Babel: The King of the Blocks
- Minis - Free - PlayStation Plus exclusive.
When they're done well, simple shape-piling balance games can be inexplicably entertaining. Just look at Shin'en's overlooked WiiWare wonder The Art Of Balance.
Shorn of the excellent twisty-tilty controls of Wii, Stormbasic's Minis effort takes on a stripped-down form, but still manages to be more entertaining than you would reasonably expect from such an obviously low-budget offering.
Set atop a rickety bridge, the game's idea is to simply stack up the various shapes in your possession without causing any of them to a) fall over or b) touch your bridge.
Of course, the reality is somewhat trickier, with a skinny plinth to drop them onto and ill-fitting objects that delight in rolling into the abyss if you align them with their shapely pals without resolute exactitude.
Stacking them into improvised towers of dubious quality becomes an increasingly fraught process with every passing level, and it's small wonder that you invest painstaking minutes trying to do better than last time. You know you can. You just need one more chance to prove it. Just one.
Bonus Round: Also Out Now in the PlayStation Store
After nearly six weeks out of action, it was hardly surprising to see a lorry-load of content spilling out attractively. Here's the best of the rest.
- Outland (£7.99) - Probably the best game of the lot. A 2D platformer that's "pure design craftsmanship," according to Christian.
- Parasite Eve 2 (£5.49) - Forget the Third Birthday - survival horror completists would be better off checking out this PSone relic.
- Space Ace (£7.99) - In 1984, laser disc games looked like a glimpse into an impossible future. Now they just feel like clunky anomalies.
- Wizardry: Labyrinth Of Lost Souls - ($14.99 - US only) Acquire's old-school JRPG favours first-person 3D grid dungeon exploration. As hardcore as it gets.
- Red Faction Battlegrounds (Free to PlayStation Plus subscribers) - Rather dull top-down arena combat twin-stick shooter. Just as well it's free.
- Bunny Dodge (£2.49) - Dodge falling blocks as a bunny who wants to become the king of all the carrots. Seriously.
- Drums Challenge (£2.99) Another curious addition to the Minis, involving, shock, drums and challenges.
- Puzzle Agent (£7.99) - Arguably Telltale's best yet. Brilliant on PC. Great on iPad. Definitely worth owning on PS3 for a bit of unhinged Professor Layton-style nonsense.
- Streets Of Rage 2 (Free to PlayStation Plus subscribers) - Always regarded as a true early-nineties classic, now a bit rubbish really. But don't let me ruin your nostalgia.
- 20Q - (£2.49) The popular 20 Questions premise knows what you're thinking: why on earth would I consider paying money for this?