Tech News on G4
LittleBigPlanet a masterpiece in the making; SOCOM only so-so
Oct 3, 2008
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
It's always a treat to walk into a grocery store and spy a 'free samples' table set up. You get to try something for free, pretend you're interested in buying some of whatever it is and walk away with no further commitment.
These days, free sample tables are popping up all over the home console world in the form of the 'beta' - a pre-release sampling of a game that is meant to give developers an idea of what works and doesn't work and fix bugs before a full release.
G4 Tech TV Canada had a chance to plow through beta versions of two upcoming first-party Playstation 3 games. One was so good that if it were a food, we'd be buying a years supply of the stuff without a second thought. The other we'd be giving the polite smile to and moving on:
If you're a Playstation 3 owner, you've probably already convinced yourself that you've played through the best game of 2008 - and one of the best games in recent memory - with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. There's no way something equally as special could be coming out on Sony's big black bohemoth, and especially not a mere six months after MGS4's release, right?
By now you've probably at least heard of the Sony-published, Media Molecule-developed 'LittleBigPlanet'. There is a ton of hype surrounding it, and after whiling away many, many hours in a robust beta version of LBP, it's safe to say that this could very easily challenge MGS4 for game of the year.
It's quite simply one of the most unique, well-made and downright fun games to come out in a long, long time.
You, like a lot of people, may still be wondering what exactly LittleBigPlanet is.
Well, it's difficult to describe, but the best way to characterize it is as a pixelated playground that allows the creator (that would be you, the gamer) to do almost anything. And we mean anything.
In LBP, you control Sackboy, a fuzzy little guy (or girl!) that hops, swings and runs from one end of a screen to another like any good platforming character. It's what's on the screen, though, that makes LBP so endlessly, wonderfully unique.
Because though Media Molecule includes its own levels for you to play through, LBP gives all the power to the gamer to make whatever their mind can conjure up, and share it in a community that is quite obviously overflowing with creativity.
If you have no interest in creating levels (shame on you!), you could easily own and love LBP for as long as other gamers are creating levels for you to try out online. The game isn't limited to 10, 20, 100 or 1,000 levels. Even in the beta version of LBP, creations are popping up every single day, many of them absolutely astounding in terms of humour, creativity and outright fun.
On our very first day with the beta, we played through the standard tutorial and jumped online to try out some user-made levels. One level had us tasked with turning on an Xbox 360, where we were then pelted with red rings (hilarious!). Another had our Sack boy running through a gigantic bank to steal a pile of money, where we had to avoid robotic police officers, jump across chasms, and even put in a numeric code to open a vault. Another level still had us pitted against a gigantic boss - a fire-spewing dragon that could only be taken down with a carefully-placed rocket.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, and the rating system LBP incorporates is ingenious. You can 'heart' any level you enjoy, so if you see a level that has been 'hearted' thousands of times, you can guess that in all likelihood it's probably pretty awesome. After finishing a level, you can also pick from several pre-made adjectives to describe it, everything from 'short', to 'hilarious' to 'ingenious'. The most popular adjectives for each level then pops up in its description, so if you're looking for a level with a boss, just skim through until you find a level that has that word in its description.
Now, as for making your own levels, LBP has to have easily one of the best, most robust level-creators ever made for a console. If you can think of it, chances are there's a way to do it. As you play through the pre-made levels and complete tutorials, you'll earn new powerups, items and abilities which you can use in your own levels. You can even earn items when playing other peoples' levels. Careful though - physics plays a big part in LBP, so while it adds to the realism, one must remember that there are limits.
There is admittedly a LOT to go through in the level creator and many of the items you have can't be used until you go through a mandatory tutorial, but you know what they say - short term pain equals long term gain. Go through each tutorial, and those abilities are yours forever. And if you ever forget how exactly to use something, you can always opt to go through the tutorial again.
As we said earlier, the possibilities truly are endless in LBP. Though there is a cap on how much stuff you can fit in a level, there's still a ton of room (literally and figuratively) to do just about anything you want. Going back to a level and changing it at any time is a matter of a few button presses, and putting it online is just as simple.
Keep in mind, too, that LBP supports 4-player local or online play. This is where we found our only complaint with the game. Often times one or more players will get left behind in a level and after dying, will have to wait for any surviving players to reach another spawn point, which some creators aren't overly generous with. It's frustrating to start a level, miss jumping on a fast-moving vehicle for instance, and be forced to lose out on playing an awesome section, all the while at the mercy of your fellow players and the spawn points. Ideally, it would be great to have the screen adjust and zoom out as needed when Sack people get separated (which it does to a point), but considering how big some of the levels are, that could be quite tricky.
That is one negative to pick out in a world of positives, though. We can't stress enough just how fun and expansive LittleBigPlanet already is - and this is only the beta!
There is so much more to this game than can be said on a computer screen though. Try it out, and you'll see what we mean. Chances are after a few minutes on LittleBigPlanet, you'll never want to leave.
Do you ever get to the cereal aisle in a grocery store, and beside all the name brand cereals, you see the generic stuff? You know, 'Flakes of Corn', 'Crispie Rice', 'Bran with Raisins' or 'Loops of Fruit'?
And really, there's nothing wrong with the non-name brand stuff, but when there are so many other choices that just look and taste better, why go generic?
After playing the SOCOM Confrontation beta, 'generic' is the first thing that always seems to come to mind first. For the uninitiated, SOCOM is a series of tactical squad-based third-person shooter titles that have enjoyed much success in the past on Sony consoles. 'Confrontation' is the series' debut on Playstation 3 and will be an online-only offering. Just like Warhawk before it, there will be no single-player campaign - a shame considering how good those were on the PS2 titles.
Sony has opened up a beta version of 'Confrontation', and G4 Tech TV Canada is here to weigh in on the good and the bad.
The 'Confrontation' beta is a limited offering, with but a few character customization options and only one map available to play on (a remake of SOCOM II's 'Crossroads', in both a large and small offering). It's not what's available to the player that makes it so generic-feeling though. There's simply nothing about this shooter that really stands out.
And considering its up-and-coming competition on the same system - we're looking at you, Metal Gear Online - SOCOM looks even more bland. Whereas MGO has more unique game modes, more interesting maps, better graphics, tighter controls and less server problems, the most interesting feature we find in SOCOM is the ability to dance on top of a downed enemy for added humiliation. Plenty can change from a beta version of a game to its completed product, but at this point, MGO blows SOCOM out of the water in terms of potential.
SOCOM's gameplay is for the most part standard fare, though it's interesting that unlike so many third person shooters these days, there's no need to 'ready' your weapon with one button, and shoot with another. Your soldier is always at the ready, with a tap of the R1 button the only thing standing between an enemy and a clip full of bullets. It's quite annoying that zooming in and out is mapped to the d-pad, though. You'll always have to move your left thumb off of the analog stick to zoom in or out, thereby leaving you open for a headshot, even if it is a few milliseconds.
Game types are also what you'd expect, with the usual deathmatch, team deathmatch, escort and control games available (with fancy names like 'extraction' and 'suppression' that don't change what the game modes are at all). There is also a demolition mode where you're tasked with entering an enemy compound and destroying it which is the highlight of the modes.
Graphics are impressive, though characters themselves look somewhat bland compared to the detailed environments. There is definitely some choppiness throughout the games, though nothing that makes it unplayable. This will hopefully all be cleared up once the retail version of the game ships. It's worth noting that there are several servers to choose from before it's time to peruse a list of open games, and no matter what server we went to on any given time or day, loading of games tended to take a long time, especially those with the maximum amount of players allowed (32).
SOCOM fans will likely be quite content with what 'Confrontation' has to offer upon its release on October 14th. Gamers that are unfamiliar with the series, though, may overlook this one altogether considering the influx of shooters being released in the coming weeks.
About G4 in Canada
G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.