PlayStation 4: Launch game review round-up

The first of two big-name console releases launches Friday, and the PlayStation 4 is ready with the debut of several games. But will Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Contrast, Resogun, and Flowers be enough to hook gamers away from Xbox?

Jason DeCrow/AP
PlayStation executive Adam Boyes, second left, watches a gamer play Dying Light at the PlayStation 4 launch event, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in New York.

The last time a new PlayStation debuted, DJ Fatman Scoop and Ludacris played the launch party.

If that doesn’t date the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4’s (PS4) seven-years-in-the-making new high resolution graphics, processing power, and cleaner interface certainly will. But the console, which was officially released Friday, is just one half of the experience, and gameplay is the true test of a console’s staying power. With Xbox One set to debut in a week, it will be key for the PS4 to hook gamers with launch titles that set the console apart.

So what does the PS4 have in store? Here’s a round up of five games launched specifically for the newest PlayStation.

Knack: First up, a game for the whole family. The game is a whimsical romp in which the protagonist, Knack, collects knick-knacks (hence the name) along his journey that allow him to grow into an ever larger hodge-podge monster. Early reviewers haven’t been particularly impressed. Mckinley Noble of Gamesbeat says the extra powers (such as ice crystals) given to Knack are too narrow in scope to add new dimensions to the game, and the graphics and linear levels are surprisingly basic, which in turn offers nothing new to the PlayStation 4 experience.

“Knack is billed as a PlayStation 4 launch title, but I wouldn’t know it without the console in front of me,” he writes.

Reviewer Andrew Yoon at Shacknet agrees, but says as the game progresses Knack’s charm becomes more apparent.

“Knack changes in size throughout the adventure, and unsurprisingly, it's a lot of fun to grow building-size and pick up tanks and throw them at enemies,” he writes. “These moments evoke the kind of childlike wonder that the rest of the game should have aspired to.”

Price: $60

Availability: Available now in stores

Rating: E10+ (for players ages 10 and older) 

Killzone: Shadow Fall: Is "family-friendly" not your idea of a great game? Head to the other end of the spectrum with Killzone: Shadow Fall. This PlayStation-specific answer to Xbox's sci-fi mega-game Halo, does what Knack doesn’t on PS4: offer a real upgrade to graphics and game play.

“It's clear right away that the PS4 debut of Killzone is visually appealing,” writes reviewer Brett Molina on USA Today. “The cities players explore feature breathtaking vistas, with skyscrapers serving as backdrops and citizens or flying vehicles zip through.”

The downside? Killzone has always been a bit mired in a convoluted story that sends warring groups from destroyed worlds across the universe with little regard to a linear sense of battle. Reviewer Colin Moriarty from IGN says that hasn’t changed in Killzone, but the stellar play and environment make up for it.

“The story itself is a bit muddled -- and even nonsensical at times -- but it’s the varied environments it allows you to explore that makes it palatable, if not outright enjoyable,” he writes.

Price: $60

Availability: Available in stores

Rating: M (for players 17 and older)

Contrast: Just as there are indie movies, there are indie video games. And the PS4 is hoping Contrast will be the indie darling of the game system launch. Unlike the space and fantasy worlds generally seen in video-game world, Contrast is set in a dark, 1930’s-era European city where Dawn, an acrobat, tumbles through the city in order to put together spatial puzzles. The catch? Dawn changes to a shadow in order to get past certain barriers and confront other shadow-characters.

Despite its inventive set up, reviewers say Contrast doesn’t deliver on the promise of its concept.

“At three hours — that's finding almost every collectable — the game feels incomplete, and ends abruptly,” writes Polygon reviewer Chris Plante. “Both the PC and PS4 versions are also full of glitches and bugs that border on game-breaking, though they might occasionally allow the player to bypass puzzles entirely, rather than prevent them from progressing at all.”

However, Contrast is part of a larger cache of games offered as downloads-only, which significantly cuts down on the price of bigger, disc-based games. Plus, for anyone who purchases a PlayStation Plus subscription (which would be anyone who wants to play a multiplayer game) Contrast is free.

Price: Free for PlayStation Plus subscribers

Availability: Available for download now

Rating: T (for teens and older)

Resogun: If you remember playing arcade games in the '80s, Resogun will evoke pangs of nostalgia while launching you into next-gen consoles. The concept is simple: save your city by circling its spherical barrier and blasting the bad guys away (a la Space Invaders or Defender). However, the rainbow laser light show of colorful explosions, oscillating enemy ship patterns, and kaleidoscopic projectiles makes this a mesmerizing display of PS4’s graphic power. Though light on story, the little details in gameplay keep you hooked, says Mr. Plante, in another Polygon review.

“It's just enough complexity to make the Defender homage feel new,” he writes. “In frantic moments, collecting humans off the ground and tossing them into their safety zone felt like delivering a slam dunk — not the first thing I associate with the retro shooter genre, but a welcome addition nonetheless.”

It also excels on the technical side, keeping the spectacular graphics up to speed with the constantly shifting play.

“In a game like Resogun where gameplay is king, it’s imperative the frame rate never dips, and despite the veritable fireworks display, it stayed smooth,” writes Brian Albert in an IGN review.

Price: Free with PlayStation Plus

Availability: Available for download today

Rating: E10+

Flower: If Killzone and Resogun are about the destruction of dystopic worlds, Flower is about rebuilding them. You control the wind that blows the flower petals over destroyed industrial areas and dead fields. As your petal grazes other fledgling flowers, you create a multiplying flock of flying petals that greenifies whatever area it swirls across.  The message of renewal and exploration of the relationship between humans and nature is a far cry from the shoot-em-up games generally seen on the PS4, but IGN reviewer Mitch Dyer says that is exactly why it excels.

“Games rarely feature thoughtful or relevant commentary,” he writes. “Flower has meaningful messaging, but it never preaches gospel or intrudes on the sublime meandering and resurrection.”

And on PS4’s heightened graphics, the way this message is conveyed truly shines, he adds.

“If metaphor or symbolism don’t do anything for you, Flower is just as enjoyable as a game where you explore a dying world, discover the tasks required to resurrect it, and move on having accomplished something beautiful,” Mr. Dyer writes.

Price: $6.99, or free if you already purchased the PS3 version through Sony's PSN

Availability: Available for download today

Rating: E (for everyone)

Are these games enough to trump the current king of consoles, Microsoft, when it debuts the Xbox One next week? Time will tell, but for now, gamers have a week to decide the verdict on the PS4 with these five launch games.

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