If there’s ever a catalyst for change and progress in the entertainment industry, it’s video games. Sony knows this, and have been at the forefront of innovation with since the early days of the original PlayStation. Pushing gameplay and storytelling through advances in rendering technology is just one part of the equation, despite it being the most prominently touted among console manufacturers and game developers. Rather, creating unique experiences that break boundaries and bring people together is the true goal that PlayStation has been quietly working towards for all these years.
Most people my age (don’t ask) will remember the PS2 era for bringing us some of the biggest advances in immersive storytelling and exciting local multiplayer action, but a few of us will also look back fondly on some of Sony’s more experimental hardware concepts. Devices like EyeToy, SingStar microphones and Buzz! quiz controllers littered many a games room in the day, and each brought with it a unique and exciting new way to play. These peripherals and their accompanying software may not have reached the successes of some of the big-name ‘core’ games at the time, but Sony believed in them enough to continue to produce software and even some new hardware well into the life cycle of the PS3.
Cue the newest and current console generation, though, and it seems gaming with expensive plastic peripherals is a dead concept. Microsoft have long abandoned their Kinect, Guitar Hero Live failed to gain any traction, and even the newest PlayStation Camera has been relegated to a workhorse for the PlayStation VR. So, how were Sony to continue to create engaging and innovative experiences to bring gamers and non-gamers together with the same success as they did on the PS2? The answer was deceptively simple, and honestly pretty genius. What better way to include as many people as possible while taking away the learning curve of a traditional video game controller than to utilise something that almost every person owns and uses every day — their mobile phones. Cue the latest initiative for the PlayStation family; PlayLink.
For the unfamiliar, PlayLink is a new range of multiplayer titles for the PlayStation 4 spanning multiple genres, designed to be played exclusively with smartphones and bespoke mobile apps instead of traditional controllers. The first PlayLink title, That’s You, launched back in July this year and has since been included free-of-charge with PlayStation Plus subscriptions in a large number of first party titles. That’s You plays out like a gameshow, tasking participants with answering questions about their friends and voting on increasingly ridiculous photo and drawing challenges, all through the touchscreen input of each player’s phone. It’s a novel concept that absolutely nails its objective of bring friends together who may not all necessarily play or even own any kind of gaming console. Every game of That’s You that I’ve played so far has been both a testament to the power of social gaming and a reminder that I have terrible friends.
In the last week, three new titles in the PlayLink series have launched and among them one really stands out to me as a solid case for this new style of play. Hidden Agenda is a crime thriller brought to life by Supermassive Games, creators of Until Dawn, and you’d be hard pressed to tell this $25 ‘party’ game from their previous single-player AAA effort at a glance. Choice-driven narrative games such as Until Dawn, Heavy Rain and any number of Telltale series’ have always worked well as shared experiences, but rarely in any official capacity until now. While Telltale have dipped their toes into the water with their new Crowd Play feature, it’s clunky by comparison and their properties lack the mass appeal of something like Hidden Agenda. I’ve found myself describing the game to non-gamer friends as ‘a long, interactive episode of Law and Order’ and I’m already anticipating a few impromptu get-togethers in the near future as a result.
Buzz-style quiz game Knowledge is Power and requisite karaoke title SingStar Celebration round out the rest of this week’s PlayLink launches, and both do pretty much what they say on the box. Together with the already-released That’s You and quite a few more interesting entries to come in the future, there are a lot of varied and worthwhile experiences to be had with PlayLink — and being able to share those experiences with others regardless of their skill level with video games is a real win for the PlayStation platform.