With Neon White, Firefighting Simulator – The Squad and Broken Lines we’re checking out three games that received console launches in December. We’re also taking a look a Divine Knockout, which was a PlayStation Plus freebie that month when it was released.
Neon White review (PS5)
We usually know Annapurna as a publisher that delivers thoughtful narratives in games that are generally paced in a way where you can contemplate what’s happening in the story. Surprisingly, they were also responsible for Neon White last year, a single player first person parkour/FPS hybrid developed by Angel Matrix. Extremely well received upon its launch on PC back in June, it finally came to PlayStation at the end of the year.
The mixture of genres that’s on offer here becomes even more interesting when you also throw in the fact that Neon White features speedrunning and visual novel elements as well, two genres in terms of pace feel radically incompatible with one another. Yet, somehow, the developer pulled it off here, with a stylish game that’s hard to put down.
Neon White is actually the name of the game’s protagonist here, and you’re looking to rid heaven from a bunch of demons. Perform well, and a year of relaxation and bliss awaits you on the other side of the pearly gates – with most of the story exposition taking place in between missions. This is where the visual novel elements come into play, with a range of interesting characters who are brought to life thanks to some quality voice acting.
But unlike regular visual novels, this game is action-packed, and levels have an explosive feel to them because they can almost always be completed in 60 seconds or less. And while ‘parkour’ may have you thinking of Mirror’s Edge, this one has much more of a speedrunning edge and a ‘challenge feel’ to it. On each level, you’re given weapons that also come with a traversal ability (like a double jump), and using these abilities takes them out of the game for that round (they’re represented as cards that you can play). It gives the game an almost puzzle-like quality, and shortcuts encourage exploration and creativity.
Between the addictive nature of the central concept, the responsive controls and the stylish presentation of an engaging narrative, it’s easy to see why this was so well-received on launch. Great to have it on PlayStation, where it’s a blast to play as well.
Firefighting Simulator – The Squad review (PS5)
There seems to be a disproportionate number of sim-titles hailing from Germany, and the majority of them can be found on Steam. Every now and then one of them gets ported over to consoles, and Chronos Unterhaltungssoftware’s Firefighting Simulator – The Squad is the most recent example of that. Published by the experienced sim experts at Astragon, it comes to consoles two years after its PC launch, and we tried it out on a PlayStation 5.
If you look at the title for the game, you have a pretty good idea of how this one will play out – besides fighting fires, you also need to worry about team/squad dynamics here. Missions are selected from a world map, with a good variety of different fire types/sizes across several buildings. Visually, these fires are realized with some impressive details – things have come quite a way since I last played a firefighting game, and the way that fires catch and spread is almost mesmerizing to see – while at the same time trying to put a stop to it.
The way that water interacts with these fires is also impressive, though the immersion can get broken a bit through some visual glitches here and there. Luckily these are much more rare in the areas where it matters most, but when you’re out and about (driving to a fire scene) you’ll notice some weird-looking NPC behavior and some texture pop-in, which is a shame when you consider how good the game looks during the actual firefighting bits.
Luckily, those parts make this one worth playing, with a good tutorial that goes well beyond “point your hose at the fire and shoot”. Expect to learn about breaking doors, trapping those caught inside a fire and making sure you and your team stays safe. That’s easier said than done in single player mode though, as your AI teammates don’t seem to care too much about self-preservation (or the mission at hand), which can lead to frustration. We imagine this is a blast with some friends though, and we wish it had a local (split screen) multiplayer option. Fingers crossed for that appearing in a patch or sequel.
Broken Lines review (PS5)
This one’s been a long time coming, as Broken Lines released almost three years ago on PC. We even covered some of its post-launch DLC that same year. Now, publisher Blowfish Studios are bringing this PortaPlay-developed tactical RPG to consoles, with versions for both current and last-gen Xbox and PlayStation consoles – we tried out the PS5 one.
As a reminder in case you didn’t catch our previous coverage (or have forgotten about it – since it’s been two years), Broken Lines is a turn-based tactical RPG set against a WWII backdrop with a few interesting twists that set it apart from the average XCOM title. For one, the game is far more character and narrative-driven, which directly relates to its premise – which follows a group of British soldiers who get caught behind enemy lines and need to find their way back.
Their predicament creates opportunities for some impactful choices – do you just try to survive and get home, or do you choose to get caught up in local conflicts? These choices affect different team members in different ways, and you get to know them on a very personal level because of this – exploring now only their views and emotions in the moment, but also their earlier lives. A mysterious sickness hangs over them, as are the hardships of war – forcing you to keep an eye on your supplies to keep both your health and morale up.
These narrative-driven elements are the highlights of the game, though the turn-based gameplay has an interesting element to it as well. Rather than having every unit move in turn, everyone will move at once after you’ve issued your orders – and this also applies to the enemy forces. This takes some getting used to, but it’s exciting stuff as you find yourself anticipating what’s going to happen when the action goes real-time – at least for a few seconds. At the end of each mission, you get a real-time playthrough of the entire sequence, which can look very cool. What holds Broken Lines back a little are its so-so visuals (just coming from Marvel’s Midnight Suns), but this is one worth checking out.
Divine Knockout review (PS5)
This one’s hard to turn down if you have PlayStation Plus, as it was one of the monthly free games upon its launch in December. Is it worth playing though? The short version of the story behind Divine Knockout is that you take Smash Brothers formula, apply the Fight of Gods roster because you can’t lean on existing IP and turn the whole thing into a 3D platform-based brawler. It wasn’t designed for offline play either, so if you don’t have PlayStation Plus then we’re recommend against picking this up – unless of course you’re reading this having joined PS+ after the game was given away for free.
The version that came with PS+ comes with a roster of eight different Gods to play with, based on different mythologies and religions. From well-known names like Thor (thanks, Marvel) and Hercules, you’ll also notice less familiar names like Sol, the Roman god the sun. They all have a unique moveset, and special moves that usually tie into their historical origins – like how Sol channels the power of the sun to launch powerful flame attacks at opponents.
Being an online only game, Divine Knockout features 2 to 6 player versus modes, supports team-based and cross-platform play. Outside of custom modes where you capture flags or zones, the main goal is generally the same though – knock the other fighter(s) out of the stage and you win the round, though changing/destructible environments do add some interesting dynamics to that.
It’s a fairly standard spin on a popular genre, but feels a bit like a platform built for micro-transactions as well. It’s kind of low on content with eight fighters and six arenas at launch, and the PlayStation store already has packs of runes for sale that you can use on in-game content. Still, as long as you got it for free on PS+, it’s worth checking out as it gets a lot of the fundamentals right for a hectic multiplayer brawler.