PlayLink for PS4: Sony bring the games, you bring the friends
How do you make games for people who don't like games? PlayStation 4 has sold well since it initially launched in 2013. Perhaps the understatement of the generation - the console has outsold its nearest rival, Microsoft's Xbox One, by a rumoured 2-to-1 margin. That is fantastic news for Sony, but also presents an unusual challenge - what can they do to encourage more gamers to participate in games and potentially sell more consoles.
Let's face it, modern video games controllers are complicated beasts with triggers, bumpers, d-pads and dual analogue sticks that are also buttons. If you don't play games regularly, it can be intimidating to pick up and start playing: "What does this button do?", "I died because I pressed the wrong button", "Oh, I thought this button did that"
PlayLink for PS4 looks to lower these barriers and get everyone involved. Perfect for family events, social gatherings or parties, you can pick up your compatible phone or tablet (Android or iOS only) download the free app and join the games to play together.
Second screen experiences like this were made popular by Nintendo's Wii U or Microsoft's SmartGlass for Xbox. Perhaps "Popular" is too strong a word: "Pioneered" could be a better term, as the relative failure of the Wii U and disappearance of SmartGlass experiences may attest. For those games, the main part of the game was displayed on your main screen, the TV, while additional content like maps or inventory were displayed on a second screen. It almost always felt tacked-on and often distracted from the main game - you don't have time to be looking away from the screen to look at your phone for a map, while a Zombie horde is coming for you.
SmartGlass on Xbox went with a 'one size fits all' approach to the second screen app - All developers could display or interact via the single app. This made it easier to know where to go for the second screen experience but limited what the developers could do with the second screen. PlayLink for PS4 games, on the other hand, each get an individual app. Developers have more freedom with the content that they can put into the app and how it interacts with the game. This difference makes the experience shine; the tailor-made experience for each game gets a more polished finish. The experience of installing and using the app to play the game is relatively smooth and straightforward. Install the app, start the game and you are good to go. The technology behind PlayLink is quick and reliable, it seemed to cleverly ensure that users with a faster smartphone did not get an advantage because their app could render more quickly. Dependent on the game, PlayLink for PS4 can support up to 8 players. Some of the games benefit from more players getting involved. Once enough people are connected, you can let the fun begin. Let's take a look at some of the first wave of games and see how they stack up.
Knowledge is Power
A quiz show and a party game should be a guaranteed hit. For two to six players, Knowledge is Power sets the stage where general knowledge and sabotaging your competitors come together to determine who of your friends is the smartest. Check out our full review (coming soon)
That's You! A "comedy quiz" where friends can see how much they really know about each other or, worse, what they really think of each other. Our full review will let you know what we really thought of it (coming soon)
Hidden Agenda An investigative drama, where you have to work together to solve the case of the Trapper Killer - a serial killer who apparently strikes again just as he is set to be executed within the next few hours. Is it a copycat or did you arrest the wrong guy all those years ago? We leet you know whether this is the killer game for PlayLink in our review (coming soon) Other titles for PlayLink that were not available at the time of our review include:
SingStar Celebration: two to eight players use a SingStar mic or combine their smartphones to start belting out favourite party classics.
Frantics: Two to four players bluff, battle, negotiate and co-operate their way through a series of 'madcap' challenges with a 'wise-cracking' host to stir things up.
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier: One to four players play out a tense interactive drama set between the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes movies.
The goal with PlayLink is clear: Get more people involved in games. Making games easier to play is handled brilliantly through the apps for each of the games - anyone who has used a smartphone in the last decade will know instictively what to do. Given the lower barrier to entry and pick up and play nature of the games, it is a good first go at these types of games from Sony The launch games are a bit of a mixed bag, with some beautiful, some fun and some average games. The great thing is, however, you don't need to purchase anything extra to play these games - you don't need a different controller, a camera or a bunch of cables: Your phone or tablet all you need. We easily tested the games with a combination of high and mid-range Android phones and bargain tablets and the experience was smooth for all players. The games start from €19.99 and with that the publishers know that they will need to get people on board. These are not quite casual games in the mobile phone sense, but they are short, snappy games. The longer games, like Hidden Agenda, will take as an average movie to complete (2 hours, give or take). Summary The potential is great with the PlayLink technology because the tech itself gets out of the way and familiar pinching, tapping and swiping makes it easy just to get playing. Interaction between the mobile app and the game on the PS4 is swift and responsive. Whether these are the only PlayLink games we see, or developers plan to bring more to the console remains to be seen. Aside from the cost of the games, nothing is stopping you from experiencing PlayLink games - except if you don't have enough friends to come around and play. But we can't fault Sony on that, now, can we? Liked:
Interacting between the App and the game is fast, responsive and easy to pick up
Games are just about the right length for this type of experience.
Budget pricing of the games helps as an impulse buy
If these are the only PlayLink games we get, you're not left with random extra hardware (e.g. Camera, Cables ... plastic guitars)
A unique app for each game is a mixed blessing. You can have more quality in the app, but also it can take a while for everyone to download the app initially to get involved.
Testing of the listed PlayLink for PS4 games was performed using a PlayStation 4 Pro console provided by Sony for the testing period.
Additional hardware used for testing included a Xiaomi Redmi 3s, a Samsung Note 3 and an Amazon Fire 7 Tablet, all previously owned or purchased by TechKnow Ireland.