During this year’s PAX West, I was invited to play a preview build of Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, currently being developed by London-based studio Imaginati. In a general sense, it follows the footsteps of recent story-centric games similar to Telltale Studios’ recent work, but it shows several key differences which got my attention.
After having a lengthy discussion with studio CEO/founder/owner Martin Alltimes, an interesting point we landed on was the way that people’s game habits change as they get older, especially if they have kids. Specifically, it becomes more and more difficult to arrange schedules and find babysitters in order to get together with friends for electronic entertainment. With opportunities (and length of time per session) becoming scarcer, Last Frontier seems like the perfect thing to fit the bill.
The first design choice towards this grown-up reality is that Last Frontier is approximately the length of a long movie. So, it’s a smaller commitment for those who find it difficult to schedule epic sessions, yet still offers a complete, satisfying experience. Taking that idea one step further, the game is broken up into chapters. For those who may not have the time for an entire movie (and that’s often me, for sure… I’m guessing this describes others, too) they can play one discrete ‘chunk’ of it and then come back for the rest later without feeling like they’ve left things hanging in limbo.
The other part that seems geared towards fitting a busier lifestyle is the use of Sony’s new cellphone controller technology, PlayLink.
While Sony debuted this new technology at E3 earlier this year they’ve been oddly silent about it since, but I suspect that’s about to change. Despite being a narrative-focused experience, Last Frontier actually accommodates up to four players. One PS4 controller is used to get the console turned on and the game started, but three other players can join using mobile devices, though their use is optional.
This system actually works quite well since the game is designed with a streamlined, simple interface — a perfect fit for easy handling on a phone’s touchscreen, and since many people already have smartphones, they come prepared with a controller in their pocket when dropping by a friend’s for the evening.
Once on the couch, players a watch a section of Last Frontier and when a choice comes up, the entire game freezes. At this point, everyone playing has a chance to discuss what they’d like the characters to do for as long as they like — there’s no rushing, pressure or time limit. Should the apes raid a human camp for food, or should they stay away? Should an ape prisoner be roughly interrogated, or should humans show mercy? Part of the appeal is debating with friends what the correct course of action should be, and why. After all players vote, the action happens and the game continues.
While the idea of ‘interactive movie watching’ might not be the first thing that leaps to mind when busy people are trying to fit multiplayer into their life, I can say from experience that it’s actually a great time — although not specifically built for it, my wife and I enjoyed Until Dawn sitting side-by-side and discussing choices as they popped up, and we’ve done similar with The Walking Dead and a few others. It’s more involved than simply watching a movie, but remains easy and accessible — perfect for kicking back with after a long day, or when there isn’t enough time to finish that killer raid.
There will be more details available in the future as the game draws closer to its release this fall, but at the moment I can say that Sony’s PlayLink looks like it’s perfectly crafted for an experience like this, and having had experiences like this, I can say that I’m ready to have more. Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier looks to fill that gap, and I’m guessing we’ll see others follow suit.
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