Like Giant Sparrow’s last game The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person Sony exclusive about exploring the unknown. This time, the unknown is a large manor in Washington State where the player (as Edith Finch) searches for clues about the mysterious deaths of her family members.
The manor is a hub world of sorts that plays like Gone Home, and Edith narrates as you rifle through various possessions left behind by the deceased. However, when you enter the bedroom of a family member, the gameplay and tone of the game shift, and you are transported into a interactive short story told from the perspective of that person.
In the demo, I play one such vignette as a young girl living in the 1950s. It’s a surreal and fantastical tale that has me transformed into a cat and chasing a bird up a tree in the moonlight, before I become an owl who must satiate his appetite for rabbits by diving down into a forest to grab and devour them. Then I'm a shark pursuing “fat, juicy seals", and in the final section, a sea monster who preys on sailors.
Both the overworld and the vignette have a dreamlike quality, but playing as the young girl is a much more strange and abstract experience. It’s certainly a unique game and the art direction is really nice, even if gameplay-wise I found it lacking, with the tasks like eating rabbits hobbled by sub-par controls. Even so, the mystery, narrative, and presentation have me keen to see more of Edith Finch.
I’m stoked for Fat Princess Adventures, as I reckon Fat Princess was an underrated gem. Although the PvP that was at the heart of the original is yet to be confirmed for Adventures, the online/offline co-op brawling for up to four that I played at E3 preserved the original game’s entertaining brawling while building on its cutesy visuals.
Here, the warring kingdoms from the original game have signed a truce and joined forces to battle the Bitter Queen and her army of hungry Gobblings. Despite the PvE focus, you can still switch between the game’s four classes (warrior, archer, mage, engineer) at various points, and now you can upgrade your armour, weapons, spells, and items too.
Each class also has new attacks, including an ability called Awesome Sauce that turns you into a big fat version of your character who has an earth-shaking area-of-effect attack. This is activated by filling a meter, drinking a potion, or eating health-replenishing cake when you are already at full strength. The game’s humour is intact as well: you can throw potions that turn enemies into chickens (just don’t get caught in the explosion).
Unsurprisingly, Princesses are back. They’re marginally more active than before, but sometimes they still need to be carried through levels. They do act as towers though, lobbing magic at enemies and providing colour commentary. It was nothing new, but I thoroughly enjoyed the demo of Fat Princess Adventures. It wasn’t a cakewalk like so many other games at E3, there was an intense boss battle, and the whole thing is a blast to play with a friend. It should be out later this year.
Shadow of the Beast is a game with a nice development story. While visiting indie incubator Sony XDev, Heavy Spectrum Entertainment founder Matt Birch was asked what game he’s make at that moment if he could make anything. Casting his eyes around XDev – which happens to be the former office of Shadow of the Beast studio Psygnosis – he saw a poster for the cult classic brawler, and from there it was obvious. “It was the first game I played as a kid that made me think after I’d finished it,” he says.
Heavy Spectrum’s version isn’t a remaster, but is instead influenced by the 1989 title of the same name. Like toe original, it has the player character Aarbron attempting to overthrow tyrant responsible for his transformation into a beast. Birch is aware that many players won’t be familiar with the source material: “It can’t be a nostalgiafest, it can’t trade on what Shadow of the Beast was,” he says.
From what we saw and played, it’s a tough side-scrolling gorefest featuring combat filled with blocks, counters, stuns, grabs, and evisceration. It matches the 60 frames a second of the original, and its smoothness and the weight of Beast’s movement allows for a real sense of momentum to build as he stomps across the desertscape. Unfortunately the desire for 60 frames is one factor that kept it off the Vita.
It may look like mindless fun, but Birch swears there is much more going on than meets the eye. “We’ve written out why every thing is on the world – I’ve got about 100 pages written out, but we don’t want to tell everything to you,” he says. “Some people will connect it together and get the real intention.” He’s also keeping mum about the game’s multiplayer mode, but promises that Heavy Spectrum is “trying to do things that are a bit different”.
“I’d love to think that in 25 years somebody who played our game has a similar conversation with Sony XDev in 25 years’ time with the PlayStation 6 sitting there!” he adds. Sadly, games like Shadow aren't nearly as groundbreaking as they were 25 years ago. Even so, the demanding combat, blood, and alien visuals have it on my radar.
Until Dawn has seen an extensive overhaul since its days as a PlayStation 3 Move title, but what I saw didn’t give me a ton of hope that it will be any good. A teen horror title about eight friends spending the night in a log cabin terrorised by a serial killer, it looks heavily influenced by Telltale’s adventures, but it remains to be seen if the writing or acting here will be up to scratch.
The demo I played took place during the game’s sixth chapter, called Violence. It began with a girl called Emily and a dude called Matt on the edge of a snowy cliff, surrounded by angry-looking deer with glowing green eyes. Emily is freaking out as they close in but Matt has an axe, so there are options. The game pauses and asks what I’d like to do: attack them or walk calmly through them and out of danger?
I choose calmness but Matt ends up attacking one anyway (possibly a result of where I was walking?) and is barged off the cliff by the others. He manages to grab a handhold, but I fail a quick time event when I get confused moving one reticule over another, and Matt plummets about 20 meters to his death. As Emily looks in horror, his body is then dragged into a cave by a mysterious figure.
Fortunately for Emily, the deer are now gone for some reason, so I walk her up a path through a forest, searching for help. There’s no sign of anyone, but I find a broadcast tower and climb several ladders to get to the hut on top. Here, I could pick things up and examine them, and the convoluted controls for manipulating objects do a pretty good job of drawing me into the game.
For example, I have to hold the right trigger to grab something, then use left stick to rotate or push it or whatever. It’s a system that works well, but it also draws out the simplest of actions.
The electricity is off in the hut so I find the fuse box and fire it up, which starts a blinking beacon which I see from the point of view of a person I presume is the serial killer. The power allows me to make a distress call to the forest ranger, but he’s in no hurry to help, and so won’t be here until dawn. Figures. I then fire a flare gun, which the game registers as a “butterfly effect” moment (i.e. one that branches the plot).
Perhaps that wasn’t a smart move as the killer then cuts wires holding the tower up, and the whole thing topples over spectacularly. There are a pile of QTEs here, and although I think I passed them all, the tower comes crashing down on top of Emily with a crunch, burying her body under steel and snow.
Visually Until Dawn looks good in places, but the acting and plot scream “B movie”. I hope I’m wrong and it goes more Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks than I Know What You Did Last Summer, but it did remind me a bit of Sega’s infamously terrible Night Trap in places. Whatever the case, we will be deciding the fate of the characters and game when it releases for PS4 next month.
Tearaway is one of the best games on the Vita, but it makes such great use of that system’s inputs that it was somewhat strange to see a PS4 version (Tearaway Unfolded) announced. However, the promise of playing the whole game and some extra bits in 1080p and (maybe) at 60 frames per second is enticing, and the DualShock 4 brings some unique features of its own to the game.
The demo we played was the familiar stage of Giblet Hill. Photos were added to the game using the PS Camera rather than the Vita’s built-in one, and I created wind gusts by brushing my finger across the DualShock 4’s touch pad rather than blowing into the Vita’s mic. You can draw using the touch pad as well, and despite using a smaller surface than the Vita screen, it works just fine.
Unfolded's new mechanics were pretty cool. One allows you to pick up a rock in the game and throw it ‘out of the screen’ into to your controller, then fire it back into the game. While doing this, shaking your controller even makes it sound like there is a pebble in there, but it’s a practical effect too, as you can better aim projectiles using the controller and even smash things your character can’t reach.
The second new mechanic involved using the controller’s light bar as a torch. Apparently you will be able to hypnotise enemies and melt things by doing this, but we didn’t see much of it. There’s also going to be a Tearaway companion app available for Unfolded that gives a second player access to the cutting mat so they can cut out new creations, customise a character, re-texture the world with photos, and collaborate on creative challenges, all in real time as the game plays.
All of this is good news, and the game remains charming even if it doesn't look as sharp as it does on the Vita's small, vibrant screen.