Review: PS+ Free Games: December (PS4)

Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition

Injustice came out towards the end of the last console generation, and received a release on the PS4 as well. It is NetherRealm’s most recent fighting game since the last Mortal Kombat. The basic premise is that, in an alternate universe, the lines between heroes and villains are blurred, allowing for some unlikely alliances and enemies featuring major characters and locations in the DC universe. If you’ve ever wanted to beat up Superman as Batman, this is your chance. The core fighting mechanics are done well enough, with nice little features such as interactive environments and incredibly over the top special moves (such as Batman running you over with his Batmobile, or Superman smacking you off the planet). The game is nowhere near as violent as Mortal Kombat, but still borrows basic animation styles and mechanics. That being said, it does feel like a lighter fighting game than more dedicated franchises, whether that is Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. Needless to say, this is a fun way to enjoy a fighting game focused on super heroes.

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Additional features are packaged in, including training and mission modes that teach you the characters’ moves and combos. This is all built around a very basic story mode that can come off as very shallow and cheesy, and I doubt it will please even hardcore DC fans. The game really trips up with its visuals, however. It is quite noticeable that this was a game made for the 360 and PS3, and the difference can be jarring as even by those standards the game isn’t the prettiest. Considering it is a free download, this is a good way for you to scratch that fighting game itch, especially if you are a fan of the DC universe.

Reviewed by Vedran.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Secret Ponchos

Secret Ponchos is a multiplayer-only, top-down shooter that delivers genuine thrills in each of its three match types. Unfortunately, the game’s long loading times and lag distract from what was, at some points, some of the most fun I’ve had playing videogames this year.

Because there’s no tutorial in Secret Ponchos, you’re immediately thrown into the deep end. Your first few matches may leave you floundering and frustrated, but things get significantly better once you learn the controls. Each of the game’s five characters comes with unique primary and secondary weapons, from Kid Red’s dual pistols and dynamite, to the Matador’s banderillas and sword. That each character plays differently is a strength, but it also means that learning good strategies for each character’s style takes time. Personally, I gravitated towards the Deserter, the most tank-like class, and took advantage of his stunning evade to disable opponents and take them out at close range.

Regardless which match type you choose first, start in the Rookie match set. Rookie’s options are more limited than Rank, but you can’t lose bounty for playing poorly, so it’s the best place to get up to speed and find which character suits you best. Bounty is the game’s reputation system, and Rank, as the name suggests, is where your ranking is more affected by weak play. Higher rankings are unattainable by playing Rookie, but honestly I had more fun in Rookie matches than the more competitive Rank. Secret Ponchos’ perk point system essentially rewards people who’ve played for longer periods of time with quicker fire rates, more health, or stronger weapons, but it’s deactivated in Rookie, so Rookie matches feel more balanced.

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As mentioned before, there are three match types: Free For All, Deathmatch, and Domination. Free For All is chaotic and sometimes devolves into moments of just mashing the trigger, but being the lone survivor in a five-player shootout is exhilarating. Deathmatch is last-man-standing, played best of three. Whether you’re playing 2v2 or 4v4, Deathmatch requires the most strategic approach and tends to favor skill, unless the match swings to one team’s favor, in which case the outnumbered quickly get overrun. Domination is won instead when one team gets five more kills than the other. 2v2 feels like the tug-of-war that Secret Ponchos describes it as, but I enjoyed 4v4’s unpredictability better. It’s not uncommon for one team to run off three kills at once and flip the balance of the match, which is more exciting than 2v2, where things feel fated once a team takes a lead. Three match types with five characters, spread over five maps, may not seem like a lot of content compared to other shooters, and it isn’t, but the low numbers allow for truly differentiated options that all produce strong gameplay, and the game is better for it.

The problem is, matches seem to pass by as quickly as the wait times are long, because people just aren’t playing Secret Ponchos. This isn’t the developer’s fault per se, but apparently even the releasing the game for free and giving it a catchy name wasn’t enough to entice people. The other problem worth mentioning is lag, which occasionally rendered matches unplayable. If lag got fixed and more people would give it a go, it could’ve gotten a 4, but as is, too little time in Secret Ponchos is actually spent in-game.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Titan Attacks

Developer Puppy Games has declared its Titan Attacks “the best Space Invaders tribute ever,” which should tell you almost immediately what to expect. The basic slide-your-ship-across-the-bottom, shoot-slowly-advancing-enemy-waves gameplay is the same, but since this is the 21st century they’ve added in an upgradable ship, more enemy types, leaderboards, and updated visuals. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that combination; Space Invaders’ gameplay is simple yet effective, and more variety works here. The problem is that in the 36 years since Space Invaders first appeared in arcades, videogames have come so far from needing to rely on repetitive gameplay where the only incentive to keep playing is high scores. Titan Attacks doesn’t meaningfully break free of this formula, so I can’t help but feel let down.

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That isn’t to say Titan Attacks doesn’t have some things going for it. Space Invaders is great source material if you’re looking to update a classic, and Titan Attacks borrows well. The player advances through 100 stages, 20 on each of the game’s five levels, from Earth to the enemy’s home world of Titan. Each level adds new enemies of varying difficulty, requiring slightly different strategies for successfully advancing through the game. As you progress, you’ll earn cash which can be spent on better or more weapons, giving you the necessary firepower to complete the game. This provides some good variety, and each person will have their own preference of what to upgrade first to be most successful. The last stage of each level is a boss, who usually provides the biggest challenge of the game. After completing all 100 stages, which doesn’t take that long, the player ends up at stage 101, which is really stage 1 again, just with all your upgrades intact, a doubled high score, and somewhat tougher enemies. And so the game repeats.

There’s no story, there’s no endgame. You just keep playing to get a higher score, which starts to feel pointless. Especially by the time you start stage 101 and realize 100 sounds like a lot, but you wish they would’ve added in another planet or two between Earth and Titan to make the game feel more substantial. The first time playing through Titan Attacks, everything was new and fun and the challenging levels were exciting. Doing your best to figure out what upgrades to get with limited cash felt worthwhile. That experience ends too quickly though, and soon the only encouragement to continue is a high score, which was fine during the age of arcades, but in 2014 I need more to keep me going.

Rating: 2 out of 5

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