PlayStation Experience 2017 - The Games I Played

If you haven't been following along with my daily vlogs from the Los Angeles/Anaheim area for the past few days, this post will hopefully serve as an all-encompassing impressions video of the games I played at this year's event. I went hands-on with a total of a dozen titles. This is admittedly still a small fraction of the games on display, but I believe it represents the most I've played at any PSX to date.

I had been fortunate enough to have already played some of the bigger titles on display like Detroit: Become Human or Far Cry 5 at earlier events in the year so I was able to set my sights on smaller titles and just roam the show floor a little bit. Here are some brief thoughts on the games I played at the 2017 PlayStation Experience.

Donut County - After their snarky trailer Friday night, I was intrigued by this new title from Annapurna and it just happened to be the first game I sat down with on Saturday morning after wandering the show floor a bit. Some of the music selections initially had me wishing I could turn down the volume of my headphones but eventually I found myself succumbing to the enthralling trance of casually engulfing the game world in a series of growing bottomless pits - or "donuts." The small snipped I played also had great writing, both in the minimal story beats shown and in the in-game "Trashpedia" that revealed hilarious descriptions for the various items gobbled up.

Shadow of the Colossus - As I touched on back when I reviewed The Last Guardian at the beginning of the year, I find Team Ico's rag doll physics and clumsy control scheme infuriating. And despite having heard people claim the upcoming remaster of the game would resolve those issues by presenting an updating scheme, I saw no such thing here. The game, while certainly benefitting from yet another visual upgrade, still handled incredibly terrible for my taste. I imagine my photo opportunity atop the show floor's Colossus will be my last touchstone with the game for the time being (it's pretty cool I'm in PlayStation's B-roll from the show floor playing the game though).

Firewall Zero Hour - While my own PlayStation VR unit has mostly been buried this year due to my own lack of cleanliness, I still appreciate the tech and Sony's commitment to it. Firewall Zero Hour is one of the latest examples of that commitment, serving somewhat effectively as "Rainbow Six Siege, but in VR." The 4-v-4 tactical shooter plays out somewhat similarly to a watered down Rainbow Six match. My team was tasked with protecting a laptop that the other team was trying to hack. In a move seemingly designed the prevent complications of motion sickness, everyone moved pretty slowly throughout the demos' villa location but it still made for a tense matchup as the first-person VR perspective made aiming a bit more difficult than your standard shooter. Of the four matches we played, my team came away victorious 3 times and were even getting pretty good at coordinating our strategies by the second match on ("I've got a guy on the stairwell..." "Someone just shot at me from the kitchen..." That sort of thing.) If nothing else, it kind of made me want to play Rainbow Six Siege with some kind of regular crew.

Guacamelee 2 - Guacamelee is one of my favorite Metroidvania's in recent years. I love it's art style and humor. Guacamelee 2 keeps all that and throws in a crazy, frenetic 4-player co-op mode. I don't know that I'll ever be in a position to naturally play the game this way, but my brief demo at PSX with three other strangers was insane as we each raced through screen by screen, trying to be the first one through in order to carry the rest of the squad forward to the next platforming or combat challenge. A friend did ask a very interesting question, though, that was not immediately addressed in the PSX demo: "how would switching between the land of the living and the land of the dead work in this mode? Would the players have to coordinate that trigger? Is that even still a significant element of the gameplay?" The demo was limited to turning into the chicken (which was especially chaotic when factoring in three other players who might be alternating between human and chicken form at will), but player-controlled switching between life and death did not come into play here.

At Sundown - At Sundown was right inside one of the entrance doors so a few friends and I hopped on and played it when we arrived Sunday morning. A top down competitive local multiplayer shooter, the hook of At Sundown is that players typically aren't visible until they make a sound (i.e. shoot their weapon) or step into a beam of light on the map. So it's a bit like Arena Gods or Battlesloths 2025 mixed with Screen Cheat. It was a ton of fun and a definite must-have if you've got a group of friends to play with on the couch. I pitched it to my friends over at Kinda Funny as a potential Party Mode video because it seems like something right up their alley.

Pig Eat Ball - My biggest surprise and potentially my game of the show (at least the one I found myself championing when people asked if I saw anything cool), Pig Eat Ball has you playing as a pig on a quest to eat all of the tennis balls in a given level. The catch is you actually get fatter with each ball you eat. "What if Pac-Man got fatter with each pellet?" was mentioned as a guiding principal of the game's design and it wound up proving a lot of fun. I might eat a ball while passing through a tight spot and suddenly find myself to big to progress. So then I needed to barf up the ball and shrink myself back down in order to move forward. But since you won't beat the level until you eat every ball, you might have to gobble up something you barfed up, which could in turn make you sick and barf up a few more balls involuntarily. It's a wonderfully quirky approach to the old school arcade-style of game and I'm looking forward to picking up the game and enjoying the hand-crafted level design.

Trove Adventures - After seeing it at show after show, I finally sat down to play a little bit of the free-to-play Trove Adventures. The demo on hand had me playing as a drastically over-powered character but I had a bit of fun hopping into the Minecraft-inspired aesthetic and clearing out a couple of blocky dungeons. I don't quite have a great grasp on the overall scope of the game (what's the balance of crafting vs. combat, how does level-progression work, etc.) but Trevor Trove has finally experienced Trove.

Farpoint Versus Expansion - Another VR experience, I hopped into a game of Farpoint's new 1-v-1 expansion. Farpoint is another one of PlayStation's investments into the VR landscape and this expansion drops you and an opponent in an arena with your weapon loadout of choice and a series of ally spawn points across the map. Capturing one of these spawn points will pull from your limited resources to create an ally or allies to fight alongside you. You might want to devote some resources to a swarm of small spiders that will seek out your opponent and pester them. But maybe you'll be better off spending more resources for the AT-ST-like mech that will launch rockets their way. Again, resources are limited so you're combinations are as well. Once I got a feel for some of the different ally spawns and weapons, I found myself winning both of the matches against my opponent, taking them out with a pretty good mix of allies and my own shooting. You can swap your weapon loadout when you die so if something isn't working, you can change strategies pretty easily on the fly. Overall, another solid online-VR experience that got me excited at the prospect of dusting off my system and jumping in. Of note, both this and my Firewall demo were played, using the Aim controller which ends up feeling pretty intuitive, even using it for the first time, but may have played a small role in trying to appropriately ascertain where specifically it was aiming.

A Duel Hand Disaster: Trackher - Holy crap did this game mess with my head?! Trackher is another old-school-inspired twinstick arcade shooter but the game is split into two distinct halves. The left-hand side of the screen has you shooting at incoming ships on a relatively 2D plane a la Space Invaders. Kill the enemies and rack up the points. Meanwhile the right-hand side has you piloting a ship around to various points collecting parts and avoiding hazards like incoming missiles or a potentially encroaching firewall. The two sides feed into one another in terms of health and racking up point combo modifiers but I honestly couldn't quite tell you how without having the developer himself standing there next to me guiding me through the first stress-inducing level of the demo. This is definitely a game to keep an eye on if you're a fan of Housemarque games but are looking for a more challenging approach that might break your brain as you try and chase the top of the leaderboards.

The Gardens Between - The Gardens Between first caught my attention because of its serene puzzle design and ingenious incorporation of the PlayStation Experience's QR Code reward system. While most booths just had their QR code open for anyone to scan (for rewards like themes or avatars), a few asked that you play the game first by keeping them with a staffer who would only let you scan the code after a demo. The Gardens Between team one-upped that by actually storing the QR code within the game as part of a mid-demo puzzle solution. The game itself features a pair of characters walking across a series of islands. You the player control time, moving them forward and backward in time. You can also have the two characters interact with certain objects in the world, manipulating the time on those elements, to change the environment and allow them to progress forward. The girl has a lamp that collects light orbs from various flowers throughout the levels which are required to unlock bridges and even the end of each level. The levels themselves featured a variety of elements to represent the memories of the children. The top of one island, for example, featured a series of dominos and Jenga-like blocks that you could topple or rewind time to restore in order to solve the puzzle, while another featured a game system that looked remarkably familiar to a Nintendo (complete with a puzzle whose images were reminiscent of the opening of Super Mario Bros.). It's another charming puzzle game that I look forward to keeping an eye on.

Russian Subway Dogs - The only Vita I found on the whole show floor. Russian Subway Dogs, for PS4 and Vita, has you controlling a dog who wanders the Russian subway, barking at people disembarking and scaring them into throwing their food in the air. Grabbing that food nets you points and restores your slowly decreasing hunger meter. Not all Russians have food though. Some hold vodka that will explode on impact with the ground. This will hurt you if you get caught in the explosion but it can come in handy if you use it to eliminate some of the other dogs who might be lurking around trying to get your hard-earned food. The endless mode I played was fun and left me a little curious as to what the included Story Mode might entail.

Destiny 2: The Curse of Osiris - Lastly, while the greater Destiny 2 community spent the weekend playing Laser Tag, I hopped in for a more curated round of Clash in the controlled environment of PSX, where everyone had access to similar load-outs. I didn't get a chance to hop into Crucible before heading off to PSX so I was playing on a new map I was unfamiliar with but I ended up holding my own pretty well. In the wider world of Destiny 2 Crucible, I'm typically getting handily crushed. But here among the PSX attendees who felt like hopping into the Destiny 2 line late on Sunday, I did pretty well, getting more kills than the rest of my team combined and carrying us to the win. So that was a nice way to end the conference.