Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale Review

It has been a while since there has been a game that four friends can enjoy together as a group. Sure, you can play Call of Duty or Halo online, but there are few games of late that I can put on at a party that everyone can enjoy. Generally, the party games of choice are Rock Band/Guitar Hero or Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Playstation Allstars: Battle Royale looks to change that a bit. The new party game on the block, PABR, looks fun to play and seems like a good time, but is it just a carbon copy of the old standby, Super Smash Bros.? I spent days finding out.

PABR is pretty much exactly what it looks like: Super Smash Bros. with Sony characters and Sony themed maps. All of the usual aspects are there, with each character having unique moves tied to a button and moving in a different direction and pressing that button will result in a different move. You can play via a timed battle or with lives depending on your preference. A big difference is how you win in a match. The only way to score points or kill your opponents is to nail people with a characters’ super move, so as you fight you build up a super meter, with each character having a level 1, 2, and 3 super. Basically, you are on the offensive almost all the time: working out the best combos and attacks that build your super meter the fastest or with the most efficiency. Most of the maps have walls so you can’t fall off the stages, and if you can, then you just respawn and sit there for a few seconds vulnerable to attack. There is a guard and a dodge roll available but their only real use is to dodge someone else’s attacks and jump back in the action. It feels like the developers created an atmosphere where the more you are in your opponent’s face, smacking them around with combo after combo, the better. There is depth within the characters and their diversity, but unfortunately the solo player aspect of PABR is frankly forgettable and disappointing.

The story mode in PABR feels like it came out of the N64 days, with very little in the way of story. Essentially, the mode serves only as a way to familiarize yourself with the character of your choice. You simply fight a series of battles until you fight the boss who has a few snappy evil villain cliché one-liners. The rest of the single-player modes are some training battles and challenges. While they do help in training you in both general tactics and the moves of each character as well, the single-player side of PABR has to be the most barebones and simple single-player I have seen in a long time. Since the full roster of characters is unlocked from the beginning, the only motivation to play the single-player is to level up each character and unlock the various customizable additions each character has.

Each character can unlock various intros, icons, and so on through playing and leveling up said character. Each character only has 2 or 3 new things to unlock per category, but it is nice to have something to distinguish you when playing with friends or online. Unfortunately since all of the unlocks and leveling are purely aesthetic in nature, they serve about as much functionality as the names you can choose in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

The real meat of the game is in the characters themselves. Each character is pretty unique in how they are played and their fighting style. Big Daddy, for example, is very slow with a lot of power and his attacks can build up points very quickly, while an agile character like Kratos fights with his swords and his combos feel visceral and satisfying just as in the God of War franchise. Fighters like Sackboy and Parappa the Rapper are very close range and all of their moves reflect that in a really intuitive way. However sometimes the characters can feel similar enough depending on how much you play. After playing with Raiden from Metal Gear Solid for a while, then switching to Nariko from Heavenly Sword, I felt little difference in how I battled against my opponents. My strategy was more or less the same: make a lot of combos with my sword (or swords) and never let my foes get much respite. Same thing with characters like Nathan Drake from the Uncharted franchise or Colonel Radec from Killzone. I was fighting with a lot of guns and weapons that required timing, patience, and well placed grenades or shots. Though there are definable differences between the characters, the minute-to-minute gameplay feels very similar with certain characters. While both the character roster and the map choices are smaller in comparison to other fighting games, each character and map is still worth looking at, at least once.

The areas that you fight in are very interesting and engaging. Each map starts out as a background from a Sony IP and halfway through, it changes to another. Metal Gear Rex sliced through the background of a Loco Roco stage and started firing missiles everywhere. Another surprising addition is the use of Area Hazards. Each map, after transforming/changing in some way, will introduce a map hazard, which can be anything from missiles aimed at random parts of the stage to monkeys running around with giant hands smashing their way through the stage. If a character is hit by any of the hazards, their super meter will be depleted. It adds a certain amount of tension in playing, as well as a healthy dose of annoyance, especially when you are fully charged and ready to use a level 3 super, and you get smashed by giant baby headed rockets. The hazards, weapons, weapons, and the imbalanced supers can make the online aspect of PABR exasperating.

When you decide to take your skill and go online to fight someone besides your friends and family, tread carefully and be prepared to lose. I was matched against people who obviously played the game much more than me, and they knew exactly which characters were the most powerful and the combos that can get you super meters in no time. While each character is unique, some are much more powerful and versatile than others. Characters like Kratos and Raiden have very powerful and quick combos that build up their super meter and their level 1 supers are quite powerful in comparison to characters like Jack or Parappa. If you are willing to invest the time to learn move combos and really practice, then the multiplayer can be a challenging and fun experience. For me however, I ended up not playing it as much as I was quite jarred by the gap in skill I found.

Verdict: Playstation Allstars: Battle Royale is a fun game and I might even pull it out and play it once in a while. However I don’t think there is enough there to warrant a full priced purchase, unless you own a PS3 and a PS Vita. When you purchase the PS3 version of PABR, you receive a free copy of the game for your PS Vita. With the ability to play on your Vita and use it as a controller for the PS3 version, PABR would be a good investment if you are looking something that you can pick up and play for some fun. Otherwise, I would recommend waiting for it to go on sale and then trying it out.

As a side note, I have high hopes for the next game in this series. I feel like the developers would not go through all the trouble of making a game like this without plans to create sequels with bigger rosters and more maps, so hopefully the second iteration will improve on the first and fix some if its problems.

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