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Sony PlayStation Spring Showcase Impressions

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Starhawk (PlayStation 3)

At the Sony Spring Showcase preview, the latest swath of games you’ll see on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita took centre stage on top-of-the-line high-definition televisions, while developers, PR managers and invited journalists lounged in comfy leather couches. Catering by The Food Dudes offered mini sliders with cucumber and flatbread squares topped with wild mushroom, arugula and a white balsamic glaze.

In short, it’s nothing like the typical gaming environment for someone between the ages of 13 to 45 years old, where Cheetos and a dusty living room couch are just as likely companions to you and your controller. Yet it still served its purpose, which was to make the previews of Sony’s latest upcoming games as palatable (if contrarian) as possible.

Sony showed off its best wares for the upcoming summer season, including its front-line exclusive games leading up to next month’s E3. They also showed off some of the best Canadian game talent, including titles by some of Toronto’s talented indie developers such as Dyad and Sound Shapes.

First, however, we’re taking a look at three of Sony’s marquee titles for the next quarter of 2012.

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Starhawk (PlayStation 3)

You might have seen the reviews for Starhawk already, a game by Lightbox Interactive and Sony Santa Monica that has more or less flown under the radar up to its release. The sequel to 2007’s Warhawk, the multiplayer-only third person shooter with a heavy emphasis on in-flight dog-fighting action, takes a turn for the Firefly and adds a single player storyline campaign.

We tried out a few slices of action from the campaign, putting on the hard workin’ bots of Emmett Graves. Graves is one of the Rifters on Planet Dust, space miners who cultivate a fuel source known as Rift Energy. Thing is, they’re constantly attacked by Outcasts – humans who have OD’d on Rift and turned into monsters not unlike the Husks from Mass Effect.

Throughout the game, you’ll be running and gunning on foot, armoured vehicles, and in the game’s titular Hawk aircraft. New to Starhawk is the ability to reconfigure your Hawk into a Bayformer-like monstrosity that can massacre ground forces with ease, and stomp on the ground causing even more havoc.

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On the standard flight controls settings, maneuvering with the Hawk was quite simple and satisfying. A flick of the right analog stick throws your ship into a barrel roll, or a loop-de-loop to avoid enemy fire. While wailing away on the machine guns felt cathartic, the lock-on rockets proved far more effective in dispatching enemies.

On the surface of Dust, we took a look at one of Starhawk’s new features that one doesn’t usually expect in a fast-paced third-person shooter: base-building mechanics. The Build & Battle system, or B&B, is fuelled by Rift energy globes you collect from fallen enemies.

Within seconds of choosing where on the battlefield your impromptu terrain should appear, a couple hundred tonnes of cargo drops onto the ground with a shuddering crash, much like the crude delivery systems in the Dawn of War strategy games.

The B&B system worked fairly well, and in the case of missions where you have to defend your Rift Extractor base, absolutely essential to the mission. In the frantic pace of a battle, however, if can be difficult to figure out just where to position your new defenses while as enemies rush to your territory.

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Combat on foot, like the Hawks themselves, is fast and fluid especially compared to other third-person shooters. You can destroy canisters of Rift energy in case there aren’t any enemies around, which seems counter-intuitive to a miner protecting the stuff, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Some concerns we have for the full version are whether the B&B gameplay will become an asset or a hindrance for sprawling 32-player games, and whether the single player campaign will offer anything of real substance. Will we learn enough to really care about Emmett Graves and the rest of the Rifters? – Jonathan Ore

Starhawk is available on the PlayStation 3 now.

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Sorcery (PlayStation 3, Move)

Sorcery (PlayStation 3, Move)

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If you are one of the gamers who purchased a PlayStation Move with dreams of having HD games with advanced motion controls that translate one’s waggles into responsive and engaging/fast-paced action… then you are probably rather disappointed by now, as the Move has yet to live up to expectations.

Thankfully, at this week’s PlayStation Spring Showcase, we had the opportunity to try out Sorcery, a Move exclusive. In Sorcery the player controls a sorcerer’s apprentice tasked with protecting his homeland from invading enemies. The plot is rather basic but the gameplay is surprisingly fun.

Sorcery’s gameplay features short, quick, and responsive movements as opposed to relying on over-exaggerated flailing meant to represent physical empowerment. Simply put: you flick the Move’s wand in the enemy’s direction and a spell emerges to wreak havoc (something akin to how wands are portrayed in the Harry Potter films).

Even switching between differing spells is satisfyingly quick and responsive. Each spell has a corresponding gesture that, at least in our demo, requires the player to move the Wand in quick half-circle motions. Again, each of these half-circle gestures is easily performed with a quick flick of the wrist as opposed to over-emphasized arm waving.

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The player can also combine spells – one example had us using the fire spell to create a wall of fire, and then firing off our basic attack spell through the fire to create a fireball. The fire spell also has two attacks: the aforementioned wall of fire, which is cast by moving the wand either left or right, and a close-ranged explosive attack cast by flicking the wand towards the screen.

We also saw a very rudimentary puzzle that was a little disappointing in regards to motion gameplay, but hopefully these puzzles will become increasingly complex as one progresses through the game. Sorcery looks primed to give Move owners an intelligently designed and satisfying title that is less focused on waggling/flailing and more focused on giving players fun and responsive controls. – James Farrington

Sorcery will unravel its magic for the PlayStation 3 Move on May 22.

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Resistance: Burning Skies (PS Vita)

Resistance: Burning Skies (PS Vita)

Of Sony’s major first-person shooter franchises, Resistance tends to take the backseat to Killzone, what with the latter sporting whatever new technology the company wants to promote. It’s a shame, since the early 20-century setting and mostly-likeable protagonists of the Resistance series provide something fresh compared to the general milieu of super-soldiers and one-dimensional bad-asses we see in the genre.

Burning Skies takes place in the mid-1940s, in the alternate timeline where the Chimera alien forces have just begun to invade the earth. The new protagonist, Tom Riley, is a firefighter from Staten Island, New York when the Chimera begin their assault on the city. While he’s as physically capable as his career demands, the married father of one is certainly “a fish out of water” when facing the Chimeran invasion, according to Sony’s marketing director for PlayStation Canada, Matt Levitan.

The first thing you’ll notice about Resistance: Burning Skies are the visuals, which impress even compared to its bigger brothers on the PS3. The areas are noticeably smaller and more linear than the more open environments from Resistance 3, however.

The controls are also nothing to sneeze at, either. The introduction of dual analog sticks makes all the difference in the first true first-person shooter on the Vita. Aiming, shooting and strafing are just as easy and natural as it comes on a full-sized controller.

Burning Skies inherits the series’ insane arsenals infuse the touch screen functions into many of their secondary firing modes. The Bullseye rifle, for example, now requires you to touch the enemy on the screen to tag it, allowing you to fire at it from around the corner. It’s a little odd at first, but we got used to it after a few tries. We’re not sure if our fingers will be able to handle the more intense firefights in the later levels of the single player campaign or on the fast-paced multiplayer modes, however.

Multiplayer matches have been reduced to 2-on-2 or 4-on-4 modes, which Levitan helps facilitiate the shorter playtimes on a handheld system. “You can set timers to be longer or shorter, but we wanted to make it so you could play two-to-five minute games that you could play in between meetings or class,” he explained.

Resistance: Burning Skies looks to translate the first-person shooter to a portable format better than most of its predecessors, with some crazy guns and contraptions to boot. It launches on the PS Vita on May 29. – Jonathan Ore

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