Laser League Deserved(s) More

Have you ever heard of a game called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars? Neither had I, but upon watching Danny O’Dwyer’s documentary on Psyonix (check out his channel Noclip on YouTube – it is fantastic for full length documentaries on video games), I realised it has a lot of narrative similarities to a game that I really love. Released on the PS3, SARPBS was a flop that managed to gather a small, passionate following that appreciated it for its unique concept and engaging gameplay. Its main hook was on the premise of rocket-powered cars playing football and thankfully Psyonix would hold onto their belief that the game had promise. A few years later, after a free month on PS+ the spiritual successor to SARPBS, Rocket League, would become one of the biggest names in video game history.

From the creators of the OlliOlli series, Laser League is a 2v2 or 3v3 competitive futuristic sports game, in which the objective is to work together to eliminate your opponents and be the first team to reach a score of 3. There are nodes that you can activate that will project a laser the same colour as your team. If your opponents hit them they are down, but can be revived, and vice versa. There are six team positions to choose from – each requiring a different approach to be effective – which results in team composition playing an important role in the way a match will play out. My favourite was the Thief, who had the ability to steal opponent owned nodes, which turned each game into a fight for possession. Boxing the opposing team into a position that they could not get out of was incredibly satisfying for me and others found equally rewarding classes that worked for their individual preferences. It is a deceptively sophisticated and engaging gameplay loop and I can only imagine this would have developed going forward. The game was reviewed favourably, scoring well across the board and publications such as Eurogamer praising it as “an instant modern-day multiplayer classic” and Kotaku saying it was the best game of 2018 that nobody has played, but the same success was never found in concurrent player numbers. Even during the month that it was a free game on PS+, there were very few people actually playing the game, and being matched with AI opponents was a regular occurrence. The pull of PS+ that had given new leases of life to other titles in the past had failed to give Laser League the platform that it deserved.

I had stumbled across the game a while before it hit PS+ from watching the Eurogamer team play it on their YouTube channel and was very intrigued but for whatever reason – most likely an absence of marketing before launch – the launch passed me by. After downloading it I was instantly reminded as to why I was interested in the first place and was very surprised with just how much fun it was. I encouraged a number of friends to download it and give it a go and found a striking pattern in their behaviour. Every person who downloaded it would say that their first impressions were of being disorientated and very frustrated with the experience. They found the roles to be confusing, they struggled to grasp what was going on at any one moment, and going from no experience to taking on more experienced players or the very competent AI would leave them quickly wanting to write the game off. However, encouragement and gentle persuasion led to them investing a little more time and finding a position that suited them, and there would be the moment where it would just click. This initial hurdle or steep learning curve that players were faced with may be one explanation as to why the game struggled to take off despite being free through PS+.

Perhaps the future for Laser League would have been found on the Nintendo Switch. My time on the PS4 version was very online-centric, but I feel the very design and ethos of the game fits perfectly in a couch co-op setting. However, I fear that there the support and belief in the game is lacking, and the potential for the game finding its audience or a spiritual successor reaching the heights of the likes of Rocket League appears to be more of a dream than something that might happen. Since the release of the game the communication from Roll7 and 505 Games has been lacking, at times hitting near radio silence, and very little promotion has led to the game falling straight out of the public consciousness. Little has changed over a year after it originally released on console and even those who love the game have stopped playing it. And this is perhaps the saddest part of the story. Not every competitive online multiplayer game can reach the level of Fortnite, Rocket League or League of Legends, as games fight ferociously to hold our attention for longer and longer periods of time. But for a game this full of potential and fun to have not even found a small foothold in the market is absolutely heartbreaking.

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Five Playstation Store Games Worth Checking Out

Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, God of War… as with Nintendo’s eShop, the Playstation Store has no shortage of fantastic first-party titles, and as a result there are a load of smaller titles that can go overlooked to the average gamer. If you are looking for something a little different to invest your time into look no further as we have five smaller titles that you should check out.


ABSOLUTE DRIFT: ZEN EDITION

After a very brief history lesson on drifting from a stone head that has risen out of the ground, you are set off by yourself to master the art of drifting – or go forth and hit walls – and doing so can only be done by reaching the top of the mountain. There are five substantial free-roam areas in the game and each gives you a number of challenges to complete before you can move onto the next, from drifting in between two obstacles to doing donuts within a zone, alongside a number of optional drift/gymkhana tracks for you to jump into as you like. The drifting provides a surprising level of difficulty, taking time to master, but when you do there are few things more satisfying than doing a perfect run or rubbing a wall. The minimalistic approach to the design of the game is really cool and I love that it gives off strong Mirror’s Edge vibes. As you drift you leave long, charcoal-like lines behind you again which can make just drifting around doing nothing mesmerising. Accompanied by the soundtrack you can find yourself sliding around turns and doing your best to skim walls for hours without realising how much time has went by. I love this game and it is by no coincidence that it happens to be the only platinum trophy I have unlocked.

Absolute Drift

Absolute Drift: Zen Edition is available now on the Playstation Store for £9.49 ($11.99)


ECHO

Not one person I have spoken to has heard of or knows what ECHO is. Given the incredible premise, the gorgeous presentation and the fact that the studio, Ultra Ultra, was a love-child of several names responsible for the Hitman series, it is still very hard to comprehend two years after the game initially released. You play as En, venturing forward into a space palace that has only been told in legends, in an attempt to resurrect someone she cared deeply about. However, when black space goo begins to form into clones of her, you quickly come to the realisation that something is not quite right. These clones, or Echoes as En calls them, will learn from and mimic the players actions throughout the game. If you run, the Echoes will learn to run. If you shoot, the Echoes will learn to shoot. It is a stealth game in which your biggest enemy is yourself. There may be times where you want to run, vault over a wall, or use your gun but cannot because it will gives the Echoes the chance to do the same later on. There is nothing quite as unsettling as watching something sprint towards you because you taught it how. Whilst the game may never quite reach the heights of its ambition, it is a fascinating experiment on the stealth genre, and dares to take it to new heights and I love it for that.

ECHO

ECHO is available now on the Playstation Store for £18.99 ($24.99)


ROGUE LEGACY

Permadeath is a mechanic I adore in video games and Rogue Legacy tackles it in unique way that it deserves a spot on this list. After every death you have the opportunity to choose your offspring, all who have varying traits that will change the playthrough, so on top of the challenge of tackling the castle you may also have to balance the side effects of things like ADHD, dyslexia or dwarfism. My favourite by far is alektrophobia, giving your chosen warrior a fear of chickens, and results in a chicken called Kentucky attacking you if you break furniture. Death awaits at the entrance to the castle and will take the remaining amount of gold you have so you need to use the opportunity to spend all you can on skills and acquiring better equipment to give the next generation the best possible chance of conquering the castle.

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is available now on the Playstation Store for £9.99 ($3.39 – on sale)


SUPERHOT

Time only moves when you do. Or more accurately it moves very, very slowly. Originally designed as a prototype for the 7 Day FPS Game Jam, Superhot takes a well-worn genre and innovates by slowing it down to a crawl. Every level is a set piece and it is the players goal to dispatch of all the red dudes as they see fit. Watching a scene play out in real-time after you have carefully orchestrated the whole thing is really cool and some of the best moments I had in the game were looking around and realising I had no way out of a situation. Whilst the gameplay is the main focus, it was a surprise that the story was as intriguing as it is, tackling themes of player agency and free will. For those who finish the campaign there is two extra modes to jump into, Endless and Challenge, giving you a lot more Superhot to jump into. And if you are still wondering if Superhot is for you, well you are in luck, as the original prototype that was built for the 7 Day FPS Game Jam is available here: https://superhotgame.com/play-prototype/

Superhot


SuperHot is available now on the Playstation Store for £19.99 ($24.99)


HOTLINE MIAMI

At first glance you might not realise that Hotline Miami is a puzzle game. Maybe it is the gravitation towards excessive violence or the hazy neon electronic soundtrack that blurs your perspective, but each level is designed to be solved. You die, a lot, but every death gives you a piece of the puzzle that you slowly put together, until you know the precise route you need to take a room to effectively take out everyone in it. Your natural inclination will be to pick up a gun at the first opportunity but pulling the trigger a couple of times quickly reminds you of the disadvantages associated with firearms – they are very loud and attract a lot of attention – and this highlights one of the small issues I have with the game. My preferred approach was the knife, taking down enemies quickly and quietly, and eventually I relied almost exclusively on this play style. When I finally unlocked Tony’s mask, giving me the ability to kill others with a single punch, I settled down and felt no need to experiment with different approaches or play styles.the need to experiment with different approaches or play styles vanished. However, the game feels incredible to play. The way in which the soundtrack comes together to drag the player into a zone, a rhythm in which they tap into, dropping enemies left and right is hard to put down on paper. There is a reason Hotline Miami skyrocketed to become one of the biggest names in the indie scene when it first released back in 2012 and you should definitely check it out.

Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is available now on the Playstation Store for £2.49 – on sale ($9.99)

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