February’s PS+ Free Titles: A Wonderland of Coasters and Badasses
To say that February’s a big month for video games would be an understatement, so it stands to reason that gaming subscription services like PS+ would keep from including high-profile free games in their monthly offerings since they’ll likely get overlooked anyway. All points considered, however, this still ends up being a pretty brave month in terms of what they’re offering and an inability to offer them later, from a noteworthy recent sports title – one that’s essentially locked into being a freebie on the competition’s service — to the precursor-slash-inspiration game behind one of the larger titles to be released in March. Let’s take a closer look at what’s in store, but before doing so, remember to head over and Grab a 1-Year Subscription to PlayStation Plus at Amazon.
Planet Coaster: Console Edition
Despite having the name “coaster” in the game’s title, Planet Coaster shares just as much in common with the classic SimCity games of yesteryear as the outlandish ride creation game Rollercoaster Tycoon. While this game does allow for the player to cook up elaborate, chaotic coasters, there’s an entire other side of this management and creation sim that’s far more laid-back, relaxing, and therapeutic in tone, found in how the player designs their ideal theme part to accommodate for guests. In Planet Coaster, the player can really invest themselves in the minutiae of the park’s aesthetics, from the color of booths and types of light sources for ambience to the placement of benches, bathrooms, and garbage cans.
Sure, there’s also aspects of this in Rollercoaster Tycoon, but it’s hard to ignore how the semi-realistic 3D graphics of Planet Coaster lend themselves to being incredibly enjoyable through the lens of someone who’s lovingly crafting their ideal theme park. The general tone of Rollercoaster Tycoon comes across as keeping guests satisfied enough so they’ll stay engaged with the outlandish coasters being created, whereas Planet Coaster’s first priority seems to center on providing a satisfying amusement park atmosphere and then building the rides that “fit” said atmosphere, similarly to fitting bigger structures into a smaller developing city in SimCity. Obviously, the comparisons are tough to avoid as Planet Coaster has been labeled the unofficial successor of Rollercoaster Tycoon by both players and critics, and this Console Edition tries admirably to bring the mouse-and-keyboard intentions to the PS5 … with mixed results, in terms of control user-friendliness.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
It’s a big deal when a piece of spinoff downloadable content for a base game makes the transition into being a standalone downloadable title, as was the case with Far Cry: Blood Dragon and Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare. But it’s an even bigger deal when the content’s so appealing and holds so much potential that the creators decide that the DLC isn’t enough, and it deserves further development into its own full-scale game. Saints Row IV is kinda-sorta an example of this, where a piece of fleshed-out DLC skipped the add-on phase and became its own thing. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands occupies yet another area, though: it’s a full-sized game that takes the concept of the spinoff DLC, a wild high-fantasy extrapolation from the looter shooter Borderlands, and develops it into a standalone campaign.
So, what’s it about Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep that makes it so appealing? For starters, it takes the general dungeon-crawling and loot-management joys of Borderlands and transforms them into something much more literally inspired by tabletop RPGs, as audience favorite character Tina get the Vault Hunters together to play “Bunkers and Badasses” – yes, Dungeons and Dragons – after the events of Borderlands 2, with her as the dungeon master. The perspective then shifts from the post-apocalyptic wasteland setting to a full-fledged fantasy realm, and you gain control of one of six premade characters that have modified, wacky weapons and abilities to confront a new roster of dark and whimsical baddies. With Tina as narrator and game master, Assault on Dragon’s Keep becomes a fantasy spin on Borderlands of which players couldn’t get enough, hence the coming full-sized game.
What started as a wacky, taboo cage-fighting event in the early ‘90s — probably orchestrated to capitalize on the popularity of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, as well as of Bloodsport and Kickboxer playing on cable all the time — has transformed into a highly authentic, skill-based combat sport. UFC stands as the legitimized face of mixed martial arts, where methods of essentially any hand-to-hand combat discipline are allowed in bouts so long as they follow within the sport’s carefully crafted loose ruleset, ranging from wild punching and kicking strikes to grueling wrestling and grappling. There’s still a “wild west” aspect to the matchups based on the range of disciplines, but between rules, weight classes, and the competitive tactics that consistently work in the octagon, UFC has moved almost entirely away from shock value and into the space of competitive sport. Almost, as fighter personalities are still key.
Therefore, one shouldn’t go into the UFC games with the expectation that it’ll control like a traditional arcade fighting game, as it’s just as important to get the technical aspects of the sport right as it is to make the fights exhilarating to play. Past installments have struggled with this balance, but UFC 3 and now UFC 4 seem to have gotten much closer to the sweet spot, telegraphing the intense striking and grappling of the sport in a polished and entertaining package. Critics are quick to point out that while UFC 4 tightens up the gameplay and delivers one of the better MMA games out there, it still leaves a lot of room for improvement, especially in the more technical submission and ground aspects of fights. Players, on the other hand, expressed their distaste for advertisements and copy-and-paste game design between UFC 3 and UFC 4 (not unlike Madden), knocking the franchise on the ground and in trouble.