This Month on Playstation Plus – September 2016

Continuing our run down of recent PS+ games, we roll into September, which brings an eclectic selection of goodies to savour.

Journey

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Developed by thatgamecompany, responsible for both Flow and Flower, Journey was originally released on PS3 in 2012 before receiving a PS4 upgrade.

I had been aware of all three games but, despite positive reviews, never had the inclination to play them. They seemed rather esoteric and I struggled to understand the point of them. What better reason to play something though than it being free as part of your subscription. And boy am I ever glad that I did.

As the name suggests, Journey tasks you with reaching a particular destination, a distant mountain peak of light. You start in the middle of a seemingly endless desert with nothing but sand for company. Your robed avatar can walk or slide down sand dunes and clamber up small obstacles. Periodically he comes into contact with pieces of red cloth, your touch activating them to build pathways that help you reach higher areas or triggering the release of flying cloth beasties.

And to start with that is all you know. There are no instructions, no HUD, no on screen hints or character voice overs. Your character doesn’t speak, he doesn’t grapple, he doesn’t shoot or punch or manipulate or any of the other things you might expect from a traditional videogame.

Indeed your first few minutes with the game will be a period of orientation as you try to comprehend what it is you must do. Activating the strange red cloth allows you to fly for short distances and, with the exception of a musical chime that you can emit, which sends out a blast of light, you have no other direct influence on the world around you.

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But slowly you begin to let go of your preconceptions. It doesn’t matter where you are going or what you are doing. You share your character’s compelling need to move forward, each musical emission bringing the world to life around you, the feeling of uncontrolled floating like being gently lifted up by the clouds as you soar in the sky, pass through an abandoned outpost and glide down the other side.

And then something magical happens; another traveller appears on the journey. Your first instinct may be as mine, to be on your guard, wary of attack. But the traveller is not an interloper, he is a companion on the same journey, your musical chimes your only means of communication, powering each of you to flight.

In some ways it feels wrong to call this a game. Rather it is an experience. I have played nothing else like it. It is a marked change from the cycle of death and destruction that is the stock in trade of most games. With one section near the end aside, there is no physical threat to your character. You cannot die, this isn’t a game that is out to stop you or frustrate you. It feels like a collaboration between you and your avatar. One stand out moment in particular towards the end of the journey, echoing a scene from MGS4, sees you pushing on against a hard wind, desperately clawing your way forward inch by precious inch as your pace slows, wondering if you will ever make it, wondering if this is to be your journey’s end, so near and yet so far.

It is moments like this that sum up Journey. For about 90% of it I had no idea what I was doing or why but in the end it didn’t matter. Emotionally evocative, it is the type of experience that asks you to open up your soul and let it in. Graphically it is beautiful in a sublime, understated way supported by a haunting, almost ethereal soundtrack that reacts dynamically to the environment.

Undoubtedly Journey will leave some feeling cold. There is no action to speak of. Nothing happens as such. It is almost laughably short at just a couple of hours of playtime. And yet I found myself utterly engrossed and eager to start the journey again as soon as I had finished, this time playing it not as a traditional game that you race to complete but instead exploring the world, seeking out other travellers and just losing myself in the Journey.

A beautiful, unique, enthralling emotionally uplifting game that everyone should experience.

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Lords of the Fallen

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Well after that joyful experience, our next destination is somewhat more rugged. Developed by Deck13 Interactive and CI Games, Lords of the Fallen is a third person action RPG. After choosing your class, armour and magic preferences, you find yourself launched into a story of embittered angry blokes, dirty great enemies and vengeful Gods.

Yes we are in God of War territory here, at least superficially in terms of plot. In playing terms though this is altogether different. As our growling protagonist emerges into a desolate monastery, a hulking beast with an even hulkier sword comes barrelling down the stairs to set off a tutorial led tear up. Unlike the merry adventures of Kratos and his ilk, combat here takes a slower, more targeted approach. Rush in swinging your mighty weapon (so to speak) and you’re likely to be tasting blood in your mouth. Instead this is all about taking your time, watching the attack patterns, blocking and countering and using your unique set of attributes to overcome your foes.

Case in point is the first meaty challenge you face in the form of a First Warden. An imposing sight, especially so early in the game, I found myself dying repeatedly, hammered into oblivion by his flaming sword and seemingly unavoidable attacks. After probably 15-20 attempts, and an unashamed glance at some online guides, I finally got to grips with the balance of patience and attack. With your opponent’s signature moves so potent, avoidance is the only strategy, waiting for gaps to appear to unleash an attack. Finally I cracked it and suddenly it all seemed so easy.

The mechanics of fighting use a combination of R1 for light and R2 for heavy attacks. L1 blocks whilst X lets you dodge and weave. Being an RPG, all movements sap your energy meter and so must be replenished before you can execute the next move, although this is fairly painless.

I have never really played RPGs, they are the sort of games that somewhat intimidate me. Reviews of these types of games salivate over the endless combinations, attributes, character paths and the like but it leaves me anxious. I feel like I’ll never get it. I dabbled in World of Warcraft and am aware of Dark Souls without ever playing it. Within that context I don’t know how this compares to other games in the genre but as a noob I certainly felt eased into it, the combat coming first before overwhelming me with upgrades and magic.

The combat is certainly an acquired taste. I am an impatient man and so tend to favour the fighting style of, say, Devil May Cry over the more tactical approach on offer here. It can be frustrating constantly moving and dodging when all you want to do is wade in and smash something round the chops with your ruddy great hammer. But whilst combat forms a bulk of the game, there is more to it with dialogue options and exploration very much to the fore.

Rather like last month’s Rebel Galaxy, I have only played for a short time and feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what is on offer but I have seen enough to be intrigued, rather than put off, and I look forward to spending more significant time in its world.

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Badland: Game of the Year Edition

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What a bizarre little game this is.

Ostensibly a side scrolling action adventure, Badland is a curious mix of physics-based puzzle solving. Much like with Journey, you are dropped into the world cold with no instructions and no on-screen prompts, left to figure things out for yourself. To start with I didn’t even know who (or what) I was controlling but after a stab of the X button, a weird little Boglin took to the sky, flapping a pair of leg-wings to traverse the landscape. From there things just get weirder.

The concept is simple; after being spat out of a chute, make your way from left to right and try to guide your Boglin into the chute at the other end. So far so Mario. the gimmick here though is that you only have one move, holding X allowing you to adjust your height. From there the world sets out to squish you, trap you and otherwise prevent your progress. Get squashed by a falling log, a broken pipe, an Indian Jones-esque rumbling boulder or just fall off the left of the screen and its curtains.

I wasn’t expecting much from this but was pleasantly surprised. Whilst the core concept is simple it is spiced up with all manner of detail, including pick ups that make you bigger or smaller, playing into the puzzle element of the level design. The graphical style is unique too, a minimalist, arty vibe that compliments the off-beat action well. Sound is limited but absolutely crystal clear.

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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Now we’re talking.

Long time gamers will no doubt remember the original Prince of Persia that was released on the 16-bit machines. Whilst I dabbled I never played it extensively, however I did thoroughly enjoy the 2003 PS2 reboot, Sands of Time plus the sequel, Warrior Within. The Two Thrones sits in my burgeoning collection whilst a further 2008 PS3 reboot, the confusingly titled Prince of Persia, was a capable if somewhat less worthy follow up.

Which is a very confusing and convoluted way of introducing The Forgotten Sands. Picking up sometime after the events of Sands of Time, you once again take on the role of the titular Prince, jumping, running, climbing and fighting your way through obstacles and enemies to save your kingdom.

I bloody love Prince of Persia. It perfects the complicated art of making control seem simple, fluid and easy whilst framing it around complex, challenging obstacles. Unlike, say, Tomb Raider, in which each jump must be meticulously planned, Forgotten Sands encourages you to push the boundaries and see what is possible. Your Prince has a wide variety of moves that are introduced in a well paced tutorial and it is not long before you are sprinting up or along walls, jumping across gaping chasms or taking on multiple enemies without picking up a scratch. It is exhilarating and empowering.

Graphically this is superb as well. The opening cut scene is an impressive orgy of violence but when it gives way to the action things are no less impressive. The camera zooms out expertly to guide you along its pre-defined path, explosions rocking the ground around you, arrows parting your hair as you sprint across the wall, jumping at the last moment to make a seemingly impossible grab onto the ledge behind you. Combat is repetitive to an extent but also hugely satisfying, enhanced by the introduction of elemental powers as you progress.

In some ways it seems like Prince of Persia doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Undoubtedly a direct influence on the fluid movement and platforming of Uncharted et al, The Sands of Time era Persia games stand out as one of the great game series of their generation, making The Forgotten Sands an absolute treat for subscribers.

Datura

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What the hell is this? Look, I don’t mind weird but this is just downright bizarre.

From the minds of Polish developer Plastic, Datura is a first person…thing. Oh my, this could get confusing.

You start off waking up in an ambulance with an unknown woman dressed as nurse hovering over you. Controlling a disembodied hand, you pull the sheets back and rip out some wires, only to receive a swift injection of something or other from the ghastly nurse.

Waking up in a strange forest, you proceed to stroke trees, scribble notes, play a game of shoot the ducks and generally wander around wondering what on earth you are doing.

Apparently the whole thing takes less than a couple of hours to play through but I go bored well before that. Props though to the developers for using the full range of PS3 controller functionality, the Sixaxis function implemented in a reasonably logical way.

If weird is your thing than go nuts, but this one left me cold.

Also Available

Lucky enough to own a PS Vita? Treat yourself to visual novel Amnesia: Memories and a cross play version of Badland.

Coming Soon

As the cold winds of winter start to bite, get cozy in front of the fire place with a remastered PS1 classic and the return of a childhood favourite.

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