Multiplayer fighting done right.
Playstation All Stars Battle Royale (or PSASBR moving forward) is an interesting concept – it poses that simple, twelve-year-old’s question we often ask: Who would win in a fight? Thanks to Sony taking a leaf out of a competitors well-worn handbook, you can now satisfy your desires of taking a Big Daddy Drill to Sackboy, or perhaps testing Infamous’ Cole against Nathan Drake – 20 of the top characters in Sony’s history (of which three have some cross-platform interest, but never mind) are here for all the bunfighting goodness you could wish for. As a quick aside, it’s worth pointing out that PSASBR is strongly compared to a certain Nintendo heavyweight fighting franchise – luckily, I never played it, and therefore can’t comment on similarities. Is it a ripoff idea? Possibly, but in this case, it isn’t going to affect the score or the review. So, upon loadup, you get presented with a very flashy FMV trailer showing the possibilities, backed up by a very rousing blast of Madeon’s “Finale”, before dropping into a title menu with a small flotilla of options. Solo play, story mode, training, multiplayer online or off, the initial game modes are pretty extensive, with a further elements added by the stages and characters themselves. PSASBR is something of a no-nonsense brawler at heart, although with a few interesting mechanics to spice up the playstyle. I’ll get to that in a minute. First up though, the presentation is nothing short of brilliant. Superbot and SCE Santa Monica have really taken a bold step in presenting a title that really showcases the diversity of Playstation as a brand, and this is more than present in the characters themselves. Every character has retained their art style, so Sly Racoon looks like a cel-shaded cartoon character, Parappa (oh yes, he’s in) is still flat and floppy, and yet Cole McGrath and the Helghan soldier Colonel Radec retain their hyper-realistic looks. All sounds have been licensed too, so characters spit out familiar lines alongside context-specific quips – there are even lines that point out the absurdity of the levels and their context. For a title that skirts a fine line between believability and ridiculousness, it was a good choice, and really works well. But all games need a coherent central idea, and in PSASBR it comes down to the combat. Each character has a different style based on their identity, and the movesets initially appear quite limited – three buttons relate to attacks, with variations attributable to directional holds. These movesets do actually vary a lot from character to character – the Big Daddy is a lumbering brute, and therefore has a limited set of smash attacks with some Plasmid ranged damage to back him up, whereas Devil May Cry’s Dante is a whirling blur of sword and gun attacks who can traverse distances much more quickly. Each character really does come into their own, offering a unique playstyle and move suite, with the one exception of Good and Evil Cole (Infamous) – a small misstep hidden behind slightly different powers, but a bit of a fault nonetheless. Combat takes place in a variety of unusual arenas, all of which blend two (or more) mismatching PS titles to unusual effect – take the pit of Hades which gets invaded by Patapon spearmen, for example, or the Killzone ISA carriers hurtling through the air before being invaded by monkeys and a Goliath mech. It’s maddening stuff, and yet, gives each level an identity, as more often than not the background characters will get involved in the on screen onslaught, giving players another thing to be watching while they scrap. And yet, despite verging on the limit of chaos, it all maintains a level of fluidity that works, and this is in large part thanks to the health system. Or lack thereof. You see, to win matches, you need to have the highest amount of kills at the end of the round. Hitting your opponent doesn’t damage their health, but instead builds your Super meter, which has three levels – each of which allows you to unleash a super move. Unleashing Super moves is what scores kills, and the levels correspond to the level of damage you can do – 1 usually has limited range and effect (and requires careful aim), level 2 has some larger effect allowing you to score multiple kils, and level 3 is often the game changer. Now, these bars can be reduced gradually by damage received, especially in the higher levels, which adds another layer of tactics. All matches start is a simple scrap – players wail on one another in a race to score some early kills, before focussing on meter building for the big multiple kills, where sometimes killing all opponents simultaneously can end a game (in a limited kills match). Players, therefore, often focus on teaming up against the strongest player on the field – three on one can quickly strip back a strong leader, and the back-and-forth this creates is something many other fighting titles miss. Attacks are also limited in the level of damage they can dish, so there’s no annoying juggles or unblockable attacks for the newbs. It’s a very interesting and engaging fighting style, and yet, it is going to jar with a lot of gamers – with no clear view on how many kills each player has, or a simple damage bar to chip away it, it’s somewhat disconcerting. And yet, it is also what makes the game so much fun. Every match changes based on who is in it, the stage it is on, and the players involved, and this keeps the game fresh and interesting. Less interesting however, is the minute you play against the system instead of flesh and blood people.
It’s the best “on the sofa” multiplayer I have played on any system in some time
The Story mode has a laughable attempt at spinning stories behind each character, and woeful AQI combat – in my first hour with the game I completed both the Big Daddy and Raiden storylines without losing a match – suffice to say there was some fun to be had but it lacked any real engagement. This is a game for friends and online, clearly – I’d even say it’s the best “on the sofa” multiplayer I have played on any system in some time. The online features are buttery smooth too, making matchmaking and combat feel as engaging as ever, and any combo of online, offline and Vita’d-up players can all mix it up together – it’s remarkably simple and easy. Weirdly, despite it’s initial simplicity, I have to commend PSASBR on it’s actual depth – it takes a good amount of time to really get beneath the skins of each character, thanks to the variety of enemies and level design, and in a genre as static as the beat-em-up that’s truly admirable. Removal of health just enhances the need to focus on your playstyle from one moment to the next, and it will take months before you find your consistent character roster. Weirdly, this ended up making our offline matches even more interesting, as no one wanted to pick f
irst for fear of others building the roster against their character. And I haven’t even mentioned stage weapons, unlockable extras, and so much more So, I never played Smash Bros (d’oh, I said it!), and I struggle to play modern fighters for much more than the occasional twenty minutes, and yet I have to say I love PSASBR – it’s a little niche at times, but for the 90s nostalgia joy of a shared sofa, some beers and ton of banter, it’s tough to think of a better game this generation. Purists will argue the superiority of Nintendo’s offering, but in todays world every game is a derivative of another, and taken at face value, PSASBR scores huge – the single player may be a little weak, but overall the online and offline multiplayer are the most fun I can remember on my PS3. It’s certainly going to eat into the Queens Speech on Christmas Day….
The Bad: Crappy singleplayer; weak story mode; Good and Evil Cole (can’t we have someone in for one of them?)