Sony are proud of their history, and rightly so. There is a whole generation of gamers who grew up referring to gaming as “playing PlayStation” thanks to the incredible PSone and PS2 and, along the way, some mascots and characters that became household names. Nowadays, Sony have Sackboy as their main mascot, whilst Nintendo have Mario and friends, SEGA (they used to make consoles, remember?) still have Sonic and his extended family. The trouble is, games that were once exclusive are now multi-platform, so creating a game made up of multiple characters from other games is more difficult; even Nintendo uses Sonic in their games these days.
So where does that leave Sony? That’s the question that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was probably never intended to answer, instead we have a hectic brawler with cross-platform play, connecting both handheld Vita gamers with PlayStation 3 owners, but is it any good?
Think back to arcade fighters – in fact, modern ones too – and you’ll get some idea as to how the Battle Royale story is told. When chosen, each character has an arcade mode story to play through. This involves the player being shown an introductory cut-scene, brawling their way through multiple matches (1 Vs. 1, 3-way free for all, 4-way free for all) before facing their rival, then Polygon Man, the final boss.
It’s hard to tell whether the story moments are taking themselves seriously or not, but when Sly Cooper faces off against Nathan Drake (both treasure hunters, or thieves) it’s hard not to smirk as Drake asks Sly what he is; “Some kind of fox, or something”.
When you get up close and personal with the character models, they just don’t look as good as they would in the games that they star in. They don’t look bad – not at all – but there’s just something not quite right about them. Luckily the action is so fast and frenetic that these moments are rare. The frame-rate is a smooth 60fps too, but the real star of the visual department is the levels themselves.
Each level is based on a game from Sony’s library, but they will transition during the battle. It’s all done seamlessly and is genuinely impressive to behold. You may start the level out on hovering ships from Killzone, but you’ll end the battle on the ground floor avoiding missiles. It’s this that makes me argue that if a comparison has to be made, it be to Capcom’s Power Stone series, and man, I’d kill for a new one of those.
Where the visuals shine for the most part, the audio is a little lacklustre. You get the expected dialogue samples from the playable characters, and there is music that feels ambient for the most part. The fact the audio is so unremarkable is perhaps more a testament to the concentration the player is required to use for the gameplay. When there are four characters tearing up the screen, it’s tricky to notice anything but the fight.
Battle Royale is actually far deeper than initial impressions may allude to. With different types of attack on three of the face buttons, the fun doesn’t end there. Every attacking face button is modified by a direction press, so whilst the triangle button tends to be for a more projectile-based attack, it will change depending on the direction you are pressing, or if you’re in the air, or ducking. This makes for some fabulous combos, that, at first, just don’t seem to exist. You can nail one quick hit and get out, or pummel your opponent with a combo that ends in an air-lift, then a damaging downward smash.
On top of that, you can throw your opponents, block and dodge attacks. Every character is a unique individual and rarely do any two feel the same. The trouble is that characters like Big Daddy are just plain bizarre. Sure, BioShock came to PlayStation 3, but for a while that first game was available on Xbox 360 with no PS3 version in sight. The developers have also chosen to include both a good and evil Cole McGrath from inFAMOUS; though they do have different movesets. The argument could be made that this is a PlayStation game made for fans of the console, hell, maybe even fanboys, so why does there feel like so many omissions? You could easily make the case for Resident Evil characters or Lara Croft too, as those series’ made their name as PlayStation games. Square Enix’s Final Fantasy characters are absent, as are Crash Bandicoot (who isn’t owned by Sony, in fairness) and ICO’s lead character, again though, this feels a petty complaint, but these omissions are even more glaring when you face off against Big Daddy, or either of the Cole characters.
Part of the core combat is to build up your special bar, up to a maximum of level 3 to unleash your super power on the enemy. Doing so successfully will earn you a kill (and using a special is the only way to earn a kill), and the player with the most kills, wins the match. However, some characters have game ending specials, like Sly Cooper, who can use his level 3 special (the camera zooms out and you can target enemies as they continue to battle) to annihilate all three opponents in rapid succession, which ends the match as a victory for Sly. Getting to special level 3 isn’t actually that tricky either, so it feels a little bit like a win button at times. One thing that feels missing by default is an on-screen indication of how many kills each fighter is currently sitting on. The solution is to turn the kill-count on in the options menus, because whilst some may prefer not knowing, finishing a match you felt that you did quite well in, then not winning is frustrating.
Balance is an issue too. Some characters feel much better than others, and despite there being a generous amount of fighters to pick from, some just won’t get used. Due to the nature of the roster, people will gravitate towards their favourite character. To be fair, this isn’t the game’s fault, it’s more a simple observation that you probably won’t see many people using Spike (Ape Escape) online.
Speaking of online, the cross-platform play is seamless and pretty impressive. The online overall is extremely well done, if a little bare-bones. You can add icons and mottos to your characters just as you can in more recent fighting games, but the basis of the online modes are to fight against multiple opponents, as you’d expect, in a sort of world championship mode. It looks as though it’ll be reset reasonably regularly, so everyone will have a chance to attack the leaderboards.
Only the most hardcore of PlayStation fans will rinse the arcade mode by playing through with every character (and there are trophies for doing it with each one), so the challenge mode offers more content. The idea is that it also teaches you how to do things, whilst giving the player challenges to fulfil. They’re a fun distraction, and get quite tricky late on. The obvious replayability comes from the online modes, getting friends together to duke it out over the digital airwaves is always fun, and the cross-platform play means that there are more ways to do so than ever, which is always good.
VERDICT: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is bit of an enigma. On one hand, the argument could be made that this sort of game would usually be a downloadable title, but on the other hand, the line between digital and retail has all but vanished, and no game should be defined by its distribution method.
When all is said and done, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is pretty entertaining whenever picked up, it just might not retain the player for hours at a time. The options to play are plentiful and Sony should be applauded for the way they are producing cross-platform titles, that don’t cost the earth to enjoy. It’ll never get old seeing Sackboy beating up the God of War, either, which proves that Sony do have the characters to charm even the most cynical fanboy. The groundwork has been set here, and a follow up could be very interesting indeed.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.