Playlink review (PS4)

This festive season, Sony has introduced a brand new way of playing Playstation 4 games through its Playlink platform. We checked out the technology and a few of the games currently available for it: Singstar Celebration, Knowledge is Power and Hidden Agenda.

This actually isn’t the first time we’re talking about Playlink, as the recent Planet of the Apes title is also a Playlink game. We didn’t talk extensively about the platform in that review though, and we’ve gotten to play several other titles since checking out Last Frontier.

The general idea is the same though – Playlink is a clever way to include people into your game who aren’t traditional gamers and perhaps less comfortable with a gamepad. Instead, it lets people use their tablets and/or smartphones to connect with and control a game, with a simple to use interface. Skills with a gamepad don’t come in to play, making this a great way to include people who aren’t seasoned pros and still make sure everyone has fun.

Playlink doesn’t work with a generic app that works for every game (like the second screen app), but instead has you downloading a game-specific app for each Playlink title. It’s a tad cumbersome, but understandable when you consider how graphically rich the app interface can be. So with a dedicated app, Playlink works a bit like the recent It’s Quiz Time – though that one is not PS4-exclusive like Playlink is. Setup is easy though, as you connect phones to the same local network as your PS4 or use the console as a hotspot – the latter being a great option if you don’t feel like sharing your wi-fi password.

So with other games (including several karaoke ones) having used dedicated apps before, it Playlink revolutionary? It’s not, but it’s a good push towards making gaming more inclusive for a wider target audience and with a more varied set of games to play. Speaking of which…. on to some of the titles.

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Singstar Celebration

Perhaps the least exciting title of the bunch in terms of offering something new, Singstar Celebration is a new collection of songs for the Singstar platform that marks the first of these collections in ages. The Singstar team had already added support for a Singstar app to allow you to use your smartphone as a microphone, so in way this new Playlink title is more of an evolution of something that was already there than something completely new. The new Playlink app works like you’d expect – it’s the old “microphone in a smartphone” experience but with an enhanced user interface to make controlling the game without a gamepad possible. The song selection is decent enough though, with about 30 songs from the past 30 years of pop music all included in the package. Singstar Celebration is unlikely to draw former Singstar players back in, mainly because the PS4 isn’t compatible with the PS2/PS3 era discs you might have.

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Knowledge is Power

It’s been years since we had a new Buzz! game, and now suddenly the PS4 is getting two quality quiz games in quick succession. We previously reviewed It’s Quiz Time, and its Playlink equivalent is called Knowledge is Power.

With two quiz games available, the question of course is whether or not they are different enough from one another to warrant playing both. I’m tempted to answer that with a yes, but only if you’re a fan of the genre. Both games obviously have a ton of quiz questions at their core, and Knowledge is Power has a great selection of them – spread out over a host of different categories.

What makes Knowledge if Power different, however, is that it features mechanics to make sure you don’t always have the same person winning. Knowing more than others isn’t enough, as knowledge isn’t the only “power” in this game. Players can target others and makes their questions harder to answer, or hinder them during some of the mini-games that the game comes with. Obviously, if someone is ahead then the rest of the pack will find that person an obvious target – leveling the playing field a little.

It’s a great mechanic for keeping the game interesting over the entire course of the quiz, which is presented with a game show format. It’s a tad frustrating when too many people turn on one player too many times, so (as with any other quiz game) it’s still a title best enjoyed with a group of people who are somewhat evenly matched. Get a group like that together, and the momentum swings frequently.

The use of Playlink means that answers can be given using a touch screen, as well as giving you the option to create an avatar to represent you on the TV screen. As is the case with It’s Quiz Time, the user interface can change to accommodate various rounds and question types – and you can also play trump cards once per game if you don’t like a group decision.

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Hidden Agenda

While Knowledge is Power and Singstar essentially just use Playlink to convert existing videogame formats to a new form factor, Hidden Agenda creates something very different. Without Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, I’d call it unique. Hidden Agenda is the superior of the two games though, mainly through its use of the Playlink app.

Thematically, Hidden Agenda is a crime thriller where you get to make the (moral) decision at set intervals in the game. An interactive movie of sorts, you can play through the game as a single player experience or enjoy it with a group of players. In the latter scenario, you have to reach a consensus, but personal opinions will no doubt stand in your way.

Further infusing the group process with drama, decisions can also sometimes be forced by individuals, overriding the need to reach a shared and supported decision. Offering you real time insights into how the story is progressing and who ended up choosing what, Hidden Agenda excels at creating suspense both on-screen and off-screen.

The story is relatively short and despite its branching structure it’s not too different the second time around, so the amount of replay value is quite limited. The quality of writing could also have been better as there’s a danger of spoilers that ruin a potential second playthrough altogether, but at least the audiovisual delivery is excellent and it’s a great group experience as long as people aren’t familiar with the game yet. If you have an hour or two to spare, Hidden Agenda is quite possibly the best example of an interactive movie that you can enjoy with a group of people. Let’s hope more games like it are coming.

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