Previously touted as a virtual world for PlayStation 3 owners, Sony now refers to the service as a "social gaming network". It's a transformation we've witnessed take place over the past several months, and it concludes with the implementation of Sodium 2 from Lockwood Publishing.
Sodium 2 is not like other spaces in PlayStation Home. While it has all the staples of Sony's virtual world — seating areas and posters — it is not a glorified chat-room, it's a game.
We figured Home was heading in a more social direction when we checked out the Midway Carnival space last year. For those not familiar, Midway is a carnival themed space filled with simplistic mini-games that reward you with avatar clothes and items. The space is funded by micro-transactions, encouraging you to purchase tickets in order to participate in the games.
While Midway's content isn't particularly appealing, it made us realise where Sony is heading with PlayStation Home. And finally it makes sense. The service is not simply about standing in luxury apartments, chatting and doing the running man anymore. It's about doing all of those things while playing games. Sodium 2 is the first space that's made us take a step back and say, "Yes, they're almost there."
The space itself is a sequel to Sodium 1, a three-dimensional sh'mup game with an integrated achievements and credit system. All of your credits from Sodium 1 work within the sequel, and can be used to buy upgrades for your craft.
Sodium 2 is essentially Wipeout. It's a futuristic racer with a Cold Fusion soundtrack and slick, bulky space crafts. You access the game by walking towards a set of controller pods, that swiftly load and bring up a game menu overlay. There are two modes available in Sodium 2 right now, though the engine provides plenty of potential for growth. Time attack is a simple single-player mode where you race against the clock and your friends, trying to set the best lap times. You can flaunt your high-scores in the face of your friends using the PlayStation Network's messaging system.
The other main mode is multiplayer, which allows simultaneous racing for up to three players. Races are accessed through a lobby list structure, where you can create your own public or private games. The racing is genuinely fun online, with air-brakes and rocket boosters maintaining the Wipeout feel. The action feels polished and competitive, with a custom HUD showing your position, speed and current lap-time.
It's actually impressive how well Sodium 2 plays. The frame-rate is solid, and while unspectacular, the visuals are reasonable too. We didn't encounter any lag when playing online. It really does play like a real game, which has presumably been the benchmark for PlayStatation Home for some time.
While free-to-play, Sodium 2 does introduce micro-transactions into its Garage component. Here you can make changes to your vehicle using credits (which you earn as you play the game) or real financial transactions via the PlayStation Network. In most cases it's easier to simply purchase the items than grind for credits, but that's to be expected. Lockwood's maintained some semblance of balance by requiring you to reach specific levels before you can purchase certain upgrades. It's a smart choice, as the Call Of Duty-esque progressive unlock system encourages replay value.
But Sodium 2 needs to grow before it's going to hold anyone's attention for an extended period of time. While it's nothing short of stunning what Lockwood's managed to achieve from a technical perspective in Sodium 2, it still feels like actual content was bottom of the priority list. The game only has two tracks at the time of writing, and an Arcade Grand Prix single-player mode appears to be locked out entirely. There's only so much mileage you can get out of the two tracks, no matter how much you want to rank up and unlock the better vehicle parts.
Until Lockwood can extend Sodium 2's content, it remains an exciting demonstration of potential. The game's technical proficiency in multiplayer is a particularly exciting nod towards the future of PlayStation Home, and the freemium business model seems well conceived. PlayStation Home is certainly travelling in an interesting direction, and we're excited to see how it continues to evolve. For now though, we'll settle for a couple of new tracks in Sodium 2.
Sodium 2 is out now on PlayStation Home.