Version tested: PlayStation 3
We don't know about you (you always looked shifty), but digital distribution continues to bother our wallets like a 10-year-old after his pocket money. In fact, it's a good thing that virtual wallets and made-up online currencies shield us from the painful truth of how much we've spent, because at this stage we probably couldn't take it. It's inevitable though, especially as - thanks to the likes of Super Stardust HD, Warhawk, flOw and Everyday Shooter - PlayStation Network has developed a reputation for interesting and innovative games, rather than dull, repetitive and/or broken-headed ones.
So then, here are a couple of dull, repetitive and/or broken-headed ones.
- Developer: Game Republic
- Release Date: Out now in Japan, early 2008 in Europe
- Price: TBC (possibly EUR 8 "on the continent")
It would be easy to dismiss Dark Mist, because it's a simplistic hackandslash dungeon-crawler. But then this is a PSN game, and the rules are different on PSN, where Sony invites people to make virtually anything and the results are often surprising. Folklore and Giant Enemy Crab developer Game Republic's approach is to pretend it's the late eighties or early nineties, and the result is cheap, cheerful and largely harmless.
In it, you control a warrior of the light, Artemis, and have to work from one side of a dungeon to the other via a series of single-screen rooms. With locked doors barring progress, you wander around the intricate environment looking for keys and ultimately the exit, battling the forces of darkness when they pitch up.
Viewed from overhead, and with three different weapons at your disposal, it feels a bit like Atic Atac and a bit like Zelda as you dance around, your thumb hammering the fire button in an attempt to kill the beasties responsible for the smoky blanket of gloom.
Larger enemies typically prowl around certain rooms, so you have to position yourself nimbly to avoid their projectiles and aim accurately to dispatch them. Some are merely a nuisance, but others harbour keys essential to progress, and so it goes until you face the inevitable boss creature on every fourth level.
As nice as it is to have three main weapons to cycle through at any given time, the differences between are largely cosmetic. The right stick isn't utilised as the firing device, so directional fire is locked to whichever direction you're facing, which makes the business of taking out enemies more challenging than it might have been. Elsewhere in your arsenal, you also get a couple of bombs to use during a level, not to mention a powerful but slow attack that recharges between bursts.
Oddly, there's no save system. If you quit the game, you must start over from level one, despite the fact that you're able to continue the game indefinitely if you can stomach it. Obviously, since you can see the score by now, the repetition puts you off doing that. Indeed it's rather baffling, especially given that the How To Play instructions suggest it's deliberate. We can imagine having more fun poking away at it every so often rather than always starting again. But we have to. And other than that, it's only worth nothing that it has an online leaderboard and a time attack mode.
With no level-select, and hugely repetitive gameplay, Dark Mist quickly loses its appeal and feels like a shallow exercise in retro-headed bloody-mindedness rather than a loving link to the past. For the price, old school gamers will appreciate what it's trying to achieve, but most of you will be hacked off with a game that thinks it's a good idea to make you start from scratch every time you load it up.
- Developer: LightWeight Co.
- Release Date: Out now
- Price: GBP 3.49
You've got to love the slightly random nature of PSN games - except when a developer comes up with something so horribly uncontrollable and annoying that you have to physically restrain yourself from throwing the Sixaxis at the telly. Sky Diving is quite comfortable (and indeed discomfortingly) the worst game to emerge from Sony's great downloadable games experiment to date. Playable with three AI skydivers, or in co-operation with three of your chums, the idea is to tilt and turn the Sixaxis pad, make squiggly man-shapes in mid-air and then land safely. It sounds quite fun, but that optimism will hurtle violently to its death pretty quickly.
There are several game modes. The first, Formation, is the easiest to get going with, and probably the one you'll spend most time with as a result. As part of a four-man sky diving team you're tasked with joining in a pre-determined mid-air routine and clocking up as many formations as possible within the time limit. So it's a Simon Says score attack, where quick changeovers between positions are rewarded with a higher rating and therefore a higher score. The best scores get entered on the high score table, and uploaded online.
Gameplay is almost exclusively controlled via the motion sensors in the Sixaxis pad, with your man's position on the screen corresponding to the tilt of the pad, while rotating the pad clockwise or anti-clockwise allows you to reorientate your flying daredevil. L1 and R1 correspond to your left and right hands, so you can grab hold of your team-mates, although punching is sadly out of the question. In theory it's all instantly intuitive, and the concept of pulling off as many formations as possible lends the whole thing an initial sense of gleeful panic.
In practice, though, problems arise as soon as the pressure's on and you're expected to pull off quick changes against the clock. The game flashes up a red outline to let you know where you should go, but all too often by the time you've moved to the suggested area your team-mates have fanned out a little, meaning that the position you actually need to be in has changed dramatically. This leaves you wiggling haplessly in mid-air until the game flashes up a new destination. Even when you're confident about where to go, you're often penalised for lining yourself up ever so slightly incorrectly, and end up over-compensating your adjustment to the point where it all goes horribly wrong. Once you screw up, the whole round goes to pot, and frustration quickly ensues thereafter.
The game also locks the stages available to you until you collect various licences. Getting the A licence is eventually doable with a bit of determination, but whether you'll bother going for the S is debatable. It's too much pain for too little gain.
As for the other main mode, Landing, the idea is to land on a small target on the ground with higher points awarded the closer you get to the bulls-eye, but the whole process is too boring and long-winded to put in the necessary practice to get good at it. Before you land, you must try and gain bravery points during freefall by pulling the ripcord at the last minute. Once you've done so, you gently and boringly float to the ground. Tilting left or right essentially rotates you, while pulling back on the left or right sticks allows you to do sharp turns, and pulling both back at the same time slows you down considerably. The only incentive to wade through the various licence stages is to unlock the mysterious third mode.
However, once you do, you might wish you hadn't wasted all that time, as it turns out that Extreme mode involves little more than collecting money as you fall through the air. You can't even upload your scores online.
As interesting an idea as Sky Diving is, sadly the concept fails to deliver thanks to clunky motion sensing. It's on occasions like this that you curse Sony for not offering free trials of its PSN games, because this sounds quite tempting on the page but ultimately deserves to get tangled up in its chute and plummet into nothingness.