Sony’s That’s You! is a riot, even with all the dongs

Chris Stead 6 July 2017 NEWS

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Sony's new mobile gaming experiment PlayLink harks back to the good old days of party games, and its lead title That’s You is a laugh riot.

When I was making bold predictions for E3 2017 (they’re always bold, apparently) I tipped Sony to reveal a mobile experience or two. I thought the industry giant would have seen what Nintendo has achieved with Super Mario Run and Pokémon GO (I know it’s not Nintendo, but who cares) and thought; “we can do that!” Killzone Go, Gran Turismo Pocket, Run Ratchet Run, this is what I was thinking. As it turned out I was half right - *waits for applause* - Sony did announce a mobile-driven experience, but not in the way I think anyone would have predicted.

PlayLink is a couch gaming experience; not a mobile title. However, you use your mobile phone or tablet as your controller. Up to six people can connect to the PlayStation 4 through their smartphones, ditching the DualShock in favour of their everyday touchscreen as the main input device. You then sit around holding your phone in front of you, looking at your TV screen and, presumably, drinking beer.

It sounds a bit gimmicky when you read it like that, but it’s actually quite ingenious. It smashes down the barrier for old-school party play in that you don’t need multiple (expensive) peripherals, you don’t need to have wires crisscrossing the length of the rug between your couch and screen, and you don’t need to teach casual or non-gamers how to use the device. It’s their phone; they get it. In fact, you don’t even need a PlayStation Eye camera because your phone has one of those already built in.

That’s You is hilarious

There are a number of games scheduled to release under the PlayLink umbrella, but the first, and the one I played is That’s You. Like a cross between Cards Against Humanity, Truth or Dare and Pictionary, it creates an interactive trivia experience where the players are the question. The idea is, “how well do you know your friends?” And while technically you are scored on your ability as a collective to attribute the right person as the answer to the right question, in truth it becomes a battle of who can deliver the funniest in-joke.

On the TV, we see pictures of our contestants, generally immature expressions snapped on the mobile phone and then augmented with filters. In each players’ hand, their mobile. On the TV, a challenge or question is issued. At this point, the players must answer that question or complete the challenge, like draw something, in the set time limit. The answer is sent back to the PS4 and all revealed at the same time, usually to boisterous laughter and someone’s red face.

It’s an absolute blast. It’s really good fun. While I wasn’t awfully impressed by the number of high-quality dongs drawn onto my selfie during some of the challenges, I couldn’t help but add my vote to the most artistic version. In all seriousness though, the journos I played the game with at the time didn’t want to put the game down. If the questions and challenges continue to be as diverse as what I witnessed, and also don’t reappear too often, I’d play this for hours. Sony is claiming over 1,000 questions, which would just about do it.

More importantly, I am genuinely excited about the prospect of inviting some of my friends over, perhaps other couples, for a dinner party/BBQ/PS4 night. And I have not done that for a decade at least. Not since SingStar, Buzz and Guitar Hero were crowding my house with peripherals. For the first time in a long time, I am thinking Party Game as a genre I’d play. Well done, Sony.

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More PlayLink games on the way

As someone who owns a PS4 and a mobile phone, That’s You is a no brainer. Especially as it’s free to PlayStation Plus subscribers this month, a great service and smart offering from Sony. But it is just the start. Sony is working on a number of other titles that will come to PlayLink into the future, both near and far, and I’m pleased by the diversity. It suggests that PlayLink could become a platform for some great gameplay experimentation.

The intriguing Hidden Agenda is billed as a crime thriller. As the story unfolds, the group will be presented with decisions that will define the direction of the story, but it won’t be clear if everyone is working in the same objective. It feels a bit like the board game Clue meets Heavy Rain, and I am quite excited to see how this one unfolds.

Elsewhere is the straight up and down trivia title Knowledge is Power. (Why isn’t this called Buzz!?) There is the minigame focused Frantic, that asks players to bluff and negotiate their way to victory. And Singstar Celebration rounds out the announced titles, which is the least exciting only because the series has been using mobiles as an input device for years.

Ironing out the PlayLink kink

I do have some concerns with the way Sony is handling the PlayLink interface. Rather than getting your dinner party guests to download one singular app that then acts as a hub, each game requires a different app. This is cumbersome. Not only does it increase the barrier to entry and make it logistically challenging when dealing with a large group, but it prevents you from game hopping in the same session. You can’t play one game, then the other, then the other, in the same sitting and get a score across the whole night.

Sony also needs to consider an auto-save function. In the version I played, whenever someone turned on the Microwave next door – that’s my guess, anyway – all the phones disconnected. Rather than reconnecting and just playing on, the whole game had to be reset. This was an early build, however, so surely this is a fixable oversight.

As a result, while I have written the dinner party invites, I’ve yet to send them out until I can test the final game. If Sony can market PlayLink in front of the right crowd and gamers can embrace it as a way of getting their non-gaming friends involved with the PS4, PlayLink could be the next great Friday night in experience. It’s certainly a tonne of fun.

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