Sony may have burned gamers by refusing to make the PS4 backward compatible with PS3 games, but at least it’s been solid with ports and remasters of many of its best games. The latest PS3 great up for current-gen resurrection is Journey, the minimalist puzzle-adventure trek through a nearly vacant desert. Trust us, it’s more exciting than it sounds. If you’re looking for something more fast-paced, open-wheel racing hits current-gen consoles in the form of F1 2015, which looks good and runs fast but loses a few features as it makes the move from the PS3/Xbox 360 era. And the best multiplayer entry this week is Scrabble, a pitch-perfect adaptation of the beloved board game.
Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer. Publishers provided review copies.
(PS4, Xbox One, $60, Everyone)
If you’re a sports gamer who’s been around a while, you know it’s usually best to skip the first appearance on a console generation. Developers tend to use the new-gen debut to focus on graphical and gameplay adjustments, letting the extras fall to the wayside as they crank out a stripped-down experience they plan to build on for the next several years. That’s the case with F1 15, which looks and drives better than any previous entry, while leaving you with far less to do. Forget about career and challenge modes, which kept players coming back for more to top each other’s achievements. The focus here is on the day-to-day grind of tuning, qualifying and competing in convincingly globe-hopping renditions of real-life courses.
If you’re looking for a showpiece to impress friends with what your console and HDTV are capable of, this is your game. Weaving through traffic on S turns and passing neck-and-neck rivals by digging into hairpins yields constant thrills, with the finely-tuned visuals providing a convincing sense of speed and danger. Expect to spend most of your time going up against questionably intelligent computer rivals. Online offerings are sparse and weak, and the community has been slow to flock to support this game, which is a niche seemingly spread among the past couple games in the series. A stream of sizable free updates to fill out some of the modes fans miss from the past would go a long way to pull fans over to the new game.
(PS4, $15, Everyone)
Probably the peak of indie-style thinkpiece PS3 downloads, the 2012 magnum opus from developer thatgamecompany haunts the mind of most anyone who gave it a try. You play a scarf-wearing loner, stuck out in the middle of a sand-swept desert. With no prompts to urge you along, you trudge slowly toward a marker way off on the horizon. What happens once you get there is the first of a series of enlightening breaktroughs. As you advance, you begin to gain more abilities that free up and speed along your movement. Sometimes other players enter your game, and without the ability to communicate, you bond with your character by silently forming a partnership to move both of you along. Maybe you’ll start an impromptu game of tag, or part ways never to see each other again.
With such a long wait to debut on the PS4, the game could have been considerably expanded. That’s not the case, though. Just as with the recent God of War 3 remaster, the game remains intact. Supposedly the graphics and textures have improved, but any changes from the PS3 to the PS4 version are so barely perceptible that they may as well not even have been made. Although you’re basically getting the same game, at least you won’t be paying for it twice. If you owned it on PS3, you automatically get to download it on PS4. That kind of consumer friendliness has become a trademark of first-party Sony games, and its rivals would be smart to copy it.
(PS4, Xbox One, $15, Everyone)
Since one of the world’s best board games is such a natural for video game adaptations, it’s surprising Scrabble has never gotten an online-enabled go on home consoles. Now it’s finally happened, and despite mixed results the product is good enough to satisfy hardcore fans. Strict rules, such as a strict wordbank and the option of timed turns, make it less likely for matches to descend into Words With Friends-style cheatfests. The rules aren’t quite has hardcore as the boardgame, though. Misspell a word and you get to try again, rather than have to skip your turn. Boiled down, this version of Scrabble still manages to become a chess-like battle of anticipation, memory and strategy.
The harder difficulty levels put up a stiff challenge, while the easier levels are good for ego-building. Single-controller offline multiplayer makes the digital version an apt replacement for the cumbersome rack and tiles, allowing you to keep your Scrabble closet collecting dust in the closet. Online play is smooth and lag-free, making it easy to set up matches with one, two or three friends or strangers. Once you finish a match, though, you need to hop back into the lobby and reinvite everyone, making setting up binge play sessions unnecessarily tedious. Bizarrely, some words from the official Scrabble dictionary have been left out. Hopefully developers take care of that flaw with an update.