From the Archives - PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Review (PS3)
From The Archives posts are posts which I’ve carried over from my old blogs and sites I wrote for that are now offline so that I can keep a record of some of my better and more important work that would otherwise be lost. They come from the entire length of my time in games writing, so you’ll probably notice a big jump in quality between the really old stuff and the more recent content.
This was my first ever professional game review, written for Bigpond GameArena. Unfortunately the site was shut down shortly afterwards, presumably not because of this review. I don't think I ever actually got paid for it. Hrm. In any case, I got to work with a good editor and had a review visible on Metacritic, which was really exciting. I'm pretty sure my review ended up bringing the Metascore down by one point. The power definitely went to my head.
Before I begin, yes- I'm a Smash Bros. fan. No, this isn't a big factor of my opinion on PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. It seems like whenever this game is mentioned Smash Bros. is brought up, - and I guess I can understand why. It's obvious where Sony got the concept of the game from, but aside from that it's not a rip off of any sort. Superbot have gone out of their way to make a totally new entry in this unique genre, and in some aspects it's better, some not so much. But at the end of the day it's like saying Tekken is better than Street Fighter. Both do different things well that it'd be silly to say one is objectively better.
When I first played the game, I hated it. I loved the fighting engine - it was like Smash Bros. but with deliberate combos and more moves, and the movesets which utilised it were pretty fun. But the supers. God, those supers. You'd be brawling with other players when without warning BAM! Someone activated a super and you were dead. It was enraging. You couldn't tell when they were coming, and they're unblockable. The only moves that can kill you are unblockable. Your only options are to hit the opponent out of it (which isn't always possible and is a bit hit and miss) or try to dodge, which can be hard when you have no idea when these moves are coming. Some supers you can hardly tell apart from regular moves until you're dead, and it can be confusing when all of a sudden you're not onscreen anymore. This was my biggest problem with the game, but as I spent more time with future betas and the full game, this problem kind of sorts itself out. Eventually as you learn the ins and outs of the characters you'll feel more in control of the battle, and you'll soon be able to anticipate how people play each character. You'll know the sound bites associated with a particular super, you'll begin to read when people are trying to line up a super and you can react accordingly. It's a game you've really got to bear with for a while and get used to. I'm not saying you'll need to put up with a week of hating a game, not at all, but you've got to understand that it's going to come across as complete chaos at first. But when you learn to fire off a Super at just the right time and net a bunch of kills at once, it's a really satisfying feeling. Now, for someone like me who enjoys fighting games, this doesn't concern me too much, I'm happy to put effort into learning characters and then having some fun competing against other players, but I feel like this could alienate new players a bit and dampens the 'pick up and play' aspect a bit. If I pull this out at a party I've got to explain how AP (metre) gain works, that there are 3 different supers and that these are the only way to get kills. People will have to learn which supers are the best to use and how to dodge other players' supers on the fly - and in my experience if people don't 'click' with a game right away they're likely to move on to something new.
In other fighting games 99% of moves do damage - this means that you can use any move and do some damage to your opponent, and at least feel like you had some idea of how you were going in the match. When each character only has three moves that earn points however and you have to build up a metre to use said moves - and if you miss with said moves you need to earn the metre again... itï¿½s really not as easy to pick up and play as *braces self* Smash Bros. The game is all about the supers, and without knowledge of how to use them (and how to avoid them!) you really can't play the game. The chief cause of the game's chaotic feeling can be placed that the feet of the emphasis on Free For All. Even now I feel like some matches feel random at times - especially online, even without lag. When there are three enemy players you've got to worry about each with their own instant kill attacks, comprehending the landscape of the game can be nightmarish. Switching to two vs two really allows the game and its fighting engine to shine. What I really like about playing All-Stars is that when I chain attacks together into a combo it feels intentional, like it was designed this way from the ground up. Smash Bros. has combos, sure, but I can't help but feel that it wasn't really designed to have them. In this way PlayStation All-Stars plays like a middle-ground between Smash Bros. and more technical fighters, and when you tone down the chaos a bit by moving away from Free For All it's a much more enjoyable experience. And given the lack of a one vs one matchmaking I feel like two vs two will be the go to mode. It adds a new dynamic not found in a lot of fighting games- teamwork. You can chain each other's attacks together to make weird combos, and protect each other from your opponents. With only two threats to deal with, and another player having your back, the game is a lot more tactical and manageable. The game seems most balanced in two vs two for the aforementioned reasons, and also because it doesn't render Supers useless.
Most characters Level 2 and higher Supers are designed to kill multiple players at once in order to get a high amount of points, but when there's only one other person to kill, these Supers are often much less efficient than just using a Level 1 multiple times. It feels like it takes away a lot of the strategy of the game, because metre management brings with it a lot of tactics. For example, Sweet Tooth's Level 1 is pretty decent, it sometimes activates even when he's hit out of it (by design, not a glitch) and if used well can sometimes get more than just one kill. His Level 3 is quite powerful, often killing each opponent multiple times. However, it can take a really long time for Sweet Tooth to generate enough AP in order to get to it. His Level 2 is absolutely rubbish and one of the worst in the game, which poses an interesting conundrum- if you're aiming for his Level 3, but your opponents are gaining a sizeable lead or the match time is almost up, then you're going to have to use a Super in desperation in order to try and catch up. But if you've already reached Level 2, you're stuck with an underwhelming super and are forced to keep going towards his Level 3. So when playing Sweet Tooth you have to decide whether you'll play it safe and use his Level 1 multiple times throughout the match, or risk it all and try to earn enough AP for his Level 3 before the end of the match, while also ensuring you don't lose points either. This element of tactical behaviour is common throughout the game, and is the essence of why the game plays well. In one vs one it feels like a lot of the game is missing, which could potentially pose a problem for the game competitively because as we've seen from Smash Bros. and Street Fighter X Tekken events in the past, the competitive scene doesn't take to team and free for all play - sticking to one vs one. Which is a shame, because I think this game could appeal to them, as it has more in common with traditional fighters than Smash Bros., with combos, metre management and an engine they'll be more accustomed to. In this it feels likes PlayStation All-Stars is a bit confused at times, unsure of whether it wants to be an accessible party game or a competitive fighter.
The game offers a surprisingly large amount of content, especially compared to fighting games released recently. You've got your arcade and versus modes, obviously, but there's also a large amount of tutorials to help you into the game, and combat trials, which are like trials/events/missions from other fighting games, where you have to fight under certain conditions, like only being able to use certain attacks, or against opponents with unlimited supers, but they revolve more around getting to know how to play as or against other characters. This is a great addition, especially given how different this game is to other fighters, and while I couldn't imagine getting everyone at a party to go through character-specific tutorials to learn how to play properly, new players picking up the game can get eased into it rather well.
Then there's the online mode, which is probably one of my biggest problems with the game. On one hand, it's really easy to find matches and form parties with friends in order to play online - a rare boon for Australians as we usually have problems even finding matches in fighting games let alone staying in before the connection drops. And the online isn't always laggy, but when it is, everything goes to hell. There's the obvious teleporting characters, getting hit by attacks you dodged and so on associated with online play, but there's some incredibly annoying, gamebreaking ones as well. Occasionally you'll be given a character different to the one you chose and enemies simply won't spawn for ages after they've been killed. Or they will spawn, but they are invisible or will have their spawn immunity last forever, which makes matches unplayable at times. By far the weirdest glitch I've seen, is a match having, say, three players in it, but part way through the match weï¿½ll be afflicted by the super of a character not in the match, and the end of match results screen will reveal that there was in fact another player in the match who just wasn't shown to be in the match at all. The bugs are quite frankly, absolutely horrible, and considering that a lot of them were in the betas earlier this year, should really have been sorted out. And when you do get into a decent match, inexperienced players can really ruin it, serving as easy kills for more skilled ones.
The game has a lot to offer, and I've really enjoyed it, but something just feels missing. You've got 20 characters who are all really varied, and accurately portray their source material. Heck, Nathan Drake, who I thought was going to be a boring, generic gun user has one of the most unique movesets in the game, because the non-shooty parts of Uncharted have been incorporated into his moveset really well. All the characters play how you'd expect given their games, and there's such a varied amount of playstyles. But on the other hand, these characters don't really excite me as much as other crossovers do. I love the movesets, but the characters themselves don't excite me to play as them. It has its moments, like catching a Big Daddy in a monkey net as Spike from Ape Escape, but matches like Kratos vs. Ratchet and Clank just don't please my inner fanboy as much as Mario vs. Pikachu, or Phoenix Wright vs. Spiderman. But I don't blame the developers for this, I knew from the beginning that the roster wouldn't interest me that much, but that's my personal preference more than anything, and I commend them for how well they've translated the character's source material into fun movesets. The arcade mode has had a bit of effort put into it, with an intro, ending and rivalry cutscene for each character. Some of these are quite clever, with Big Daddy fighting Sackboy because Little Sister thinks he's more fun, or Sly Raccoon hunting down Nathan Drake because the treasure map he's following was taken out of the Thievus Racconus. But others just feel like really contrived reasons for the characters to be fighting, and aren't rivalries so much as "Hey, you're someone I haven't fought yet, let's fight because you annoy me!" But the endings are a lot worse. The majority of them can be summed up as "Well, that was fun, now look as I glow with this new power!" I wasn't expecting some sort of epic half an hour cutscene for each character, but a lot of the cutscenes just don't add anything to the experience and feel so separate from what's going on in the game. Then there's the final boss battle (who I won't spoil), who was a brilliant choice to represent PlayStation as a whole, and is really funny to see in action, but you don't actually fight him. He mimics the hazards from the game's stages while evil versions of other characters do the fighting, then you smack him a bit when they're gone, and the battle's over. It just feels like a bit of a cop-out.
On the topic of the stage hazards, they're really hit and miss too. I love the concept of mash-up stages, combining different PlayStation worlds to make for a fun stage is a really cool idea. Some of these are done really well, like Invasion, where the Helghan Army from Killzone fight off an invasion of Ape Escape monkeys, but most of them feel like one game world, where an enemy from another game randomly appears in the background and attacks you, so most of the mash-ups end up feeling really similar. It just feels like a real missed opportunity, as do so many aspects of the game, which is a bit disappointing. The gameplay itself is great, and a lot of fun, and I can see myself bringing it out to play when friends who have the game are over, and we'll have a ball with it, but the other areas just feel a bit lacking - online in particular. Still, there's nothing stopping me from playing against hard CPU opponents or friends in the Versus Mode, there's plenty of combat trials for each character, and even though the cutscenes are a bit lacking, the Arcade Mode is perfectly playable. Plus, levelling up each character to unlock customisation options can provide a nice incentive to keep playing. The gameplay really works, and it offers something significantly different to other fighting games, but with this feeling of something missing present in the game, and the online being as poor as it is quite often (a crucial part of fighting games nowadays), I'm afraid I just can't give this a score any higher than I have.