It’s May! This means the Playstation Store is once again updated with fresh titles for Plus members to download… for free! We take a brief look at the PS3 titles on offer this month and let you know what they are all about.
This month, Playstation Plus fans are treated to the latest incarnation of the renowned Hitman series: Hitman Absolution, which sees everyone’s favourite killer Agent 47 on a quest for vengeance, once again leaving a bloody trail of bodies behind him.
Absolution is a slick and modern update to the renowned killer-simulator that manages to retain much of the quirks, humour and methodical killing Hitman is known for whilst adding some new and welcome features. For instance, a new point-shooting mode that makes time slow down allows players to line up the perfect shots and take out multiple enemies with satisfying headshots. A proper cover system makes both sneaking and shoot-outs easier and more natural. Hitman also has an ‘instinct’ bar now which he uses to briefly blend in with NPC’s in the same disguise as him, so they don’t get suspicious of seeing a new guy in their ranks. This instinct mode can also be used to see fiery trails which show Hitman the path enemies are treading, allowing players to methodically plan out their kills. For those fearing this makes the game too easy, thankfully it’s not as useful on higher difficulty levels for those looking for a purist experience (there are five difficulty levels for those who are true Silent Assassins).
As a Hitman game, Absolution is a lot more story-driven this time around. I don’t want to give away the plot too much, but gameplay-wise, levels are not always about killing a specific VIP target; sometimes it’s just about escaping or getting from A-to-B to the next level. It makes a change from previous titles, though true purists may prefer the classic titles in this respect. Sometimes it feels like a linear experience with less focus on the actual assassinations, but luckily Hitman doesn’t stray too far from its roots. You can still play through the game as a shooter, gunning down enemies on your way to the end of the level, but Hitman games have always shone in the stealth department and Absolution rewards silent assassins. As Absolution is heavily score-based, players are rewarded for their stealthiness with challenges to beat. As some levels are fairly linear, they do test the stealth-player’s abilities to sneak through undetected, whilst others (like the Chinatown level) feature large crowds that Hitman can blend in with. The visuals are impressive with lighting and textures making immersion easy. Plus there are still signature kills that Hitman can carry out which give huge score bonuses and add more challenge to the game.
A nice addition to the franchise is a ‘multiplayer’ mode, dubbed Contracts. Here, players stalk through levels at their leisure in a sandbox fashion, picking several targets to take care of in any fashion they like and escaping either unseen or all guns blazing. These custom hits are then sent to friends as a challenge to complete in the same manner. The catch is that other challengers have to take out the targets in the same way as the original assassin did, following the same methods; for instance hiding all the bodies, acquiring a specific disguise (or no disguise at all for a true challenge), escaping without being detected, eliminating targets with a specific weapon or tool… If the original challenger did it, then you must too.
Contracts is a nice touch and adds some replay value to the game once the campaign is over with, or some welcome relief from the story mode if getting a Silent Assassin rank is proving too difficult and/or stressful. Hitman Absolution is a nice addition to the Hitman series that doesn’t quite revolutionise the series, but it’s a welcome installment that certainly deserves attention.
Catherine is one unique, messed up game. To actually describe Catherine, it’s best to start with the storyline, since this game is more like an interactive anime than anything else. The story is what drives the game, and the gameplay is more of a tool to advance the story or fill time between cutscenes. As bad as this might sound, it’s actually refreshing and because the plot is so interesting (and rather disturbing), it quickly draws you in.
The game follows the life of 32 year old Vincent, a guy stuck in a rut and hesitant of change. With his long term girlfriend, Katherine, pushing for marriage, Vincent spends most of his nights with his friends drinking and trying to forget his troubles at the local bar. One day he meets the mysterious Catherine, a young blonde who appears in his life suddenly. Almost unwillingly, Vincent finds himself cheating with Catherine. Around the same time, Vincent begins having horrifying nightmares. Each night he finds himself in a nightmare world where he must frantically race to the top of a crumbling wall that threatens to drop him into a dark abyss. And with all the strange deaths on the news and rumours of “the Woman’s Wrath”, Vincent has a strange feeling that if he dies in the dream, he will die in real life too.
Players take control of Vincent during his nightmare stages, which is essentially a score-based puzzler mode where players must push, pull and climb blocks in a mad dash to get Vincent to the top of an ever-falling wall. Vincent must avoid enemies, obstacles and traps along the way, as well as outpace horrific monsters that try and drag him down. Each nightmare is focused on his inner turmoil, with some twisted aspects of his psyche (like a giant demon in a wedding dress) that he must escape from. The other time players control Vincent is at the bar. This is where much of the plot is uncovered, with players talking to Vincent’s friends and patrons of the bar to uncover more of the strange happenings and discussing Vincent’s relationships.
While the gameplay is fun, it’s the overall plot that makes Catherine such a twisted, unique experience. The game explores Vincent’s inner turmoil as he interacts with both of the women in his life, but it’s more than a simple romance story. Catherine is a dark game at times, and always maintains a sense of trepidation. Whether it’s escaping from nightmare demons in his dreams or interacting with the mysterious Catherine, there is always a sense of unease and a strong urge to find out what happens next. If you take away the storyline, it’s essentially a puzzler game with a pseudo-relationship simulator thrown in, but the whole package makes Catherine a unique and unmissable experience.
With the animations done in anime cutscenes and the rest of the game transitioning into nice cel-shading, the game does a great job of immersing players in the plot and the gameplay itself. Plus, it’s the little things that make it interesting. Vincent can walk around the bar, playing an arcade game or chatting to people. Ordering drinks and getting Vincent drunk makes him move quicker during the night’s nightmare stage. When he receives a text from either Katherine or Catherine, players choose from various responses to form the reply, which affects their interaction with him as well as your own emotional response to the females. Will you invite Catherine over, or ask her to send you more pictures of herself? Or will you be cold to her, and loyal to Katherine? Your choices not only affect the story, but also Vincent’s morality meter which leads to different endings. Vincent’s responses to other characters, too, often affect his moral standing. These touches add some depth to the game, and leave you feeling as if you really are acting out Vincent’s life and juggling two relationships.
The blend of humour, horror, love, romance, relationships and psychology mix into an unmissable story that really is part game, part anime. If you come to Catherine for gameplay alone, it might disappoint. But to dismiss it because of it’s heavy focus on story over gameplay would be a mistake. It certainly makes a refreshing game to play, and is well worth a playthrough.
This month PS Plus fans are treated to a second cel-shaded game to go alongside the gorgeous Catherine in the form of the artistic Malicious. It might not be quite as crisp and attractive as Catherine, but it’s a different game altogether. Whereas Catherine is a complete story-telling experience, Malicious is its complete opposite, a game with little story to focus on and much more action.
To begin with, Malicious isn’t the easiest game to jump into. This is because unfortunately, despite its visuals, it does a poor job of telling the story. This is because it is told through text, so there is a lot of reading to do if you want to learn either the story or the controls. In fact, you begin the game in a white realm with various artifacts dotted around that lead to various boss stages, but there isn’t much direction given. You know that you have to defeat certain enemies to gain some awesome power to defeat a great evil, but if you want to know more, you have to interact with an NPC to gain information such as learning basic skills and combos, and because it’s all text-based with a few images to demonstrate actions, it feels like a drag and it’s very tempting to quickly jump into a level and figure it out for yourself, which is exactly what I did.
After jumping into a random level, I was greeted with the sight of a huge golem boss and hordes of smaller enemies rushing towards me. I spent a while teaching myself the controls, and realising that I seemingly couldn’t really do much apart from block, dodge, and shoot purple beams of light at enemies. Soon after though, I figured out how to actually charge up attacks and enter a powered-up Aura mode. I knew the NPC in the white realm mentioned some of these skills and combos, but I really couldn’t be bothered to read through reams of text just to learn basic moves. However, after I got to grips with fighting, the game was a lot more fun, with my first boss battle taking over half an hour to finish.
Malicious is essentially a boss-battle game mode, with the stages being various arenas that you enter in any order. As you defeat each boss, you unlock more weapons and skills to use against later enemies. Getting chain combos and killing enough enemies fills up your aura score meter, which you can ‘release’ to enter a powered-up mode which drains your score bar while active. However, this mode can be extended by maintaining combos so the fighting becomes quite intense. The hordes of enemies are limitless, with the boss being the main focus, so the combat really doesn’t let up until the boss is defeated. It’s fluid and fast action, despite some camera troubles and the feeling of a lack of depth to the experience, but I suppose Malicious doesn’t really pretend to be anything it’s not.
Malicious isn’t the most engrossing game out there, and can feel slightly empty with its heavy focus on textual storytelling and the gameplay constructed purely of boss battle arenas, but it’s fun nonetheless and its cel-shading does look pretty. The action can be frantic and intense so it’s fun to play whilst unwinding, but don’t expect a gripping story or a long campaign to sink into. It lacks the depth of story that Catherine has, but makes a nice filler for those looking for some cel-shaded action. For those who sink their teeth into Malicious, it does have score modes and other unlockables to reward players who put the effort in. Other players may find it a fun game to play only on occasion, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth a try.
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