Despite not living up to our full expectations (which, to be fair, were heavily over-optimistic) branding Sony’s PlayStation Home as a flop is somewhat unfair. Since it launched almost four years ago, the service has undergone countless updates with regular performance/aesthetic fixes as well as continual content drops from a number of big-name and independent studios.
As it stands, PlayStation Home has delivered on a great number of promises outlined by Phil Harrison during his long-forgotten 2007 keynote which hyped gamers across the globe. Being able to play music and video content in the luxury of your own virtual apartment never materialised, though, several years down the line, this seems like a trivial checkpoint on our tattered wish lists.
We can, however, form social groups, launch games, watch live Sony events, and even hoard a stash of game-related collectibles. It may not be the gaming generation’s answer to Second Life, but PlayStation Home has done well to unite a community of over 23 million PlayStation fans and will hopefully continue to expand in the months and years to come.
In an attempt to connect the social app with traditional console gaming, PlayStation Home has continued to adopt ambitious side projects, advanced even further by its recent engine update. In a nutshell, this long-awaited arrival has allowed studios and small-time creators to sculpt products and gaming experiences that don’t suffer from persistent stability issues and robotic physics/animations.
Developed by Home content veterans, VEEMEE, No Man’s Land is one of the many titles looking to spearhead hardcore gaming in Sony’s virtual world. Compared to the primitive pool of mini-games and activities that greeted founding members back in 2008, No Man’s Lands appears to be some sort of revolution initially.
However, peeling back a couple of layers shows just how far PlayStation Home has to go in order to win over its hardcore inhabitants, not to mention a nasty surprise that will sound all too familiar for some.
On paper No Man’s Land has plenty going for it; a neat-looking, cover-based third person shooter that’s free-to-play. If anything can convince serious gamers to give Home a second chance, then surely it’s a post-apocalyptic online shooter, right?
Set in the not-too-distant future, a burnt-out American district is christened No Man’s Lands following a sudden nuclear attack. Two rival factions are left to scavenge what they can from the remains, whilst authority and order begin to dissipate. It’s your typical post-apocalyptic backdrop, though one that is actually delivered with a degree of believability.
Despite the modest excitement surrounding Home’s new game-driven focus, one shouldn’t march into No Man’s Land with high expectations. This game was never destined to be a fully-fledged counterpart to Uncharted or Ghost Recon, yet the all-round lack of functionality may still come as a surprise.
No Man’s Land is a cover-based shooter, in the most extreme of interpretations. Unlike its contemporaries (even the critically-panned ones) there is a total lack of free movement. The only way players can get around the debris-littered battlefield is via continual cover-swaps (which can be chained in advance to cover longer distances).
It’s jarring, primitive, and sometimes inaccurate in its execution, encouraging players to hold down a defensible position and camp, rather than try to survive the twisted obstacle course of button presses.
With the foundations already shaking, everything else begins to fall down around No Man’s Land. Without diverse player movement, there’s little room for engaging all-out firefights, and almost zero chance of avoiding well-placed grenades. Gunplay isn’t terrific either, despite enabling two player stances (stand or crouch) and even shoulder switching.
Even more archaic is the way players progress in No Man’s Land. Instead of ranking up and unlocking numerous perks with each passing level, players simply acquire points between individual matches and hope they’ll eventually appear on the leaderboard.
The only way to access better equipment and improve your performance is to shell out for shamefully overpriced micro-transactions. It’s not as if these premium tools only offer a minimal advantage either; unless you part with real cash the only piece of equipment you’re entitled to is a fairly unreliable pistol.
Whenever discussing free-to-play games, especially shooters, the term “pay-to-win” will often rear its head. In a nutshell this is the assumption that, due to the presence of micro-transactions, paying (premium) players will always have the upper hand on their free-loading counterparts. In 2012 alone I’ve had a huge amount of experience with a variety of free-to-play shooters, none of which have offered any sort of gameplay advantage to paying customers.
In games such as Ghost Recon Online, Blacklight Retribution, and DUST 514, real money can be used to speed-up the rate at which items are unlocked. However, regular players can still unlock the same gear with earned in-game currency, it just takes a little longer.
No Man’s Lands offers no such second option; you either pay for better gear or get absolutely nothing. It’s pay-to-win gaming at its most grotesque.
- Detailed environments and improved animations are a precedent for PlayStation Home.
- Gameplay is rigid and not really fun at all.
- In-game marketplace is over-priced and cash-only.
- Doesn’t do enough compared to other free-to-play shooters.
Functional yet heavily flawed, No Man’s Land is certainly a step forward for PlayStation Home though, regrettably, a step in the wrong direction. Compared to previous offerings it has its technical highlights, though the despicable business model and half-baked gameplay makes this a Home space that needs a desperate rethink.
If you’re serious about online shooters and free-to-play gaming, until DUST 514 hits later this year, the only platform you can rely on is the PC.