PS+ Titles for January: Dirt, Strikers, SPACE DWARVES
Competition has greatly benefitted subscribers to Sony’s PS+ program, because the company’s desire to keep up the pace against the awkward tiers of Microsoft’s cluster of services led to a surprisingly robust and consistent 2021, full of both next-gen and current gen free downloadable games. One would assume that so long as one studio maintains the status quo, the other likely will as well, and the start of 2022 seems to convey this as well.
Sony continues their streak of offering both a decent pair of titles for the legacy PS4 and at least one attention-grabbing title for the PS5, though there’s a little added spice this month: there are actually 2 PS5 titles here, one being a heavy hitter and another being a well-reviewed, badass action-fueled title. It’s not a groundbreaking month for the service or anything, but it does reinforce why the Plus subscription service remains a tremendous value for Sony’s customers. Let’s take a gander at the titles, but before doing so, make sure to Grab a 1-Year Subscription to PlayStation Plus at Amazon.
There was a time when Codemasters explored different genres with the games they developed, yet ever since they discovered exactly what works for them with the racing genre, they’ve become reliable industry leaders with a predictable calendar. That consists of the annual F1 title based on the corresponding year’s season, and … some kind of offroad/rally racer, usually alternating between GRID and DIRT. DIRT 5 marks the last title independently developed by Codemasters before their acquisition by Electronic Arts – cue cartoonishly ominous music here – and they make sure to do so with a bang by delivering one of the most refined iterations of the rally racer yet.
For the most part, DIRT 5 doesn’t try to deviate from the formula that works, telegraphing much of the same satisfying borderline-arcade racing action of previous entries in its most refined, graphically impressive state. Some new additions that come along with the jump to next-gen hardware include dynamic weather changing that inherently affects the gameplay, as well as impressively stable 60fps splitscreen compatibility for up to 4 players. There’s also a more story-focused, forward-moving career mode featuring the voice of Nolan North in the lead. Most critics and players have been kind to DIRT 5 and how the PS5 version exemplifies the franchise’s evolution, though players have also dinged it for wonky AI, gameplay that’s tilting too arcade-like, and online connectivity issues.
Deep Rock Galactic
Sometimes, just describing a game with a single sentence is enough to capture one’s attention. With Deep Rock Galactic, it’s this: “First-person shooter dwarves use lots of neat gadgets to blast their way through randomized caverns and alien foes, and you can do it with up to 3 other friends.” The combination of elements has such a wonderful flow to it. Dwarves? Already sold. Not enough games with dwarven playable characters. First-person shooter gameplay? Even the staunchest of opponents to the genre has got to be mildly intrigued by how these things would fit together. Procedurally generated caverns/landscapes? A surprise at every turn, and that’s not even taking the destructible aspects of the environments into account. Aliens? Yup. And 4-player co-op? You have my axe.
Deep Rock Galactic marks the first outing for Danish developers Ghost Ship Games, though they’re also powered by partners Coffee Stain Studios, the folks also responsible for Goat Simulator. Billed as “Minecraft meets Left 4 Dead”, the end result is a delightful blend of genres that hinges on class selection, progression and upgrading along the way, driven by the dwarves mostly just doing honest work of retrieving resources and gear while demolishing their way through colorfully rendered caverns. Both critics and players have noted that the premise does have some slight longevity issues once you’ve been in the caverns repeating tasks for a while, but otherwise it delivers on the concept in an exceedingly fun way that heavily encourages playing with friends (or matchmaking).
Persona 5: Strikers
It’s difficult to imagine a more popular spinoff video game series than Persona, originating from the consistently appreciated JRPG series Shin Megami Tensei; the third installment in the series, Nocturne, was recently remastered to critical acclaim. Persona operates around a cluster of focal high-school aged students who utilize the power of “personas” – a real-world materialization of the individual’s psyche – to engage in combat against evil enemy types. Labeling them by genre isn’t very successful since all of the entries incorporate a little something new, though they generally involve turn-based combat scenarios and traditional dungeon crawling exploration. And from those, there are other spinoffs: Persona 4 Arena delves into fighting game mechanics, while both Persona 3 and 5 have rhythm game modeled after their particular settings.
Persona 5: Strikers finds the series in the hands of Dynasty Warriors game-makers Omega Force, serving as a crossover event between the two franchises and, thus, employing a much more action-oriented gameplay style. A continuation of the Persona 5 narrative in a new gameplay space, the game latches onto the series’ classic role-playing aspects in combat and its vibrant almost-cartoonish visual style, but it also amps up the pacing through the more twitch-based action and dazzling chaos of Dynasty Warriors. Much like the way the Yakuza series was received when it shifted from straight action to turn-based combat in Like a Dragon, both critics and players have praised the way Persona took a detour into direct action-RPG territory, though a lot of it simply roots in the reunion of the Phantom Thieves in any capacity.