Speakeasy is what happens when you take a great idea, strip it of all but the very bare essentials necessary for it to work, and then release it at about ten times its worth and hope that people buy it based on the premise alone. If it were free-to-play, you’d feel ripped off. This game isn’t just bad, it’s insultingly superfluous – and the concept deserves better.
Imagine this: a game in which icons of the 1920s battle it out in a tournament to win a hidden stash of hooch. Picture beautiful cel-shaded visuals and a jazz score. It sounds like a fantastic idea for an indie fighting game.
Except the developer is quick to point out that this isn’t actually a fighting game; instead, it’s a party game in the style of a brawler. We’re not sure what sort of parties the team behind this goes to, though, because this has absolutely no inherent entertainment value. This would be the sort of party where four incredibly religious teetotallers debate furiously on what sort of Christmas sweater Jesus would wear on his birthday. This is the sort of party where the host reads his own poetry about the gloriousness of living in Bognor.
Just to put into context how dull this release is, producer Ben Strauss, on the official PlayStation Blog, openly described the gameplay as boring – and this is a title that he’s got a stake in selling.
Comparing it to ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ may be a little too generous, but the basic premise works. You have three moves at your disposal – attack, fake, and defend – and you have to kill your opponent. While ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ has a number of possible outcomes, though, Speakeasy has two: you either press the attack button at the right time – or you don’t.
A countdown takes you into what we’re going to very nicely call a battle, and you must time your attack so that your opponent isn’t defending when you move. This is made incredibly simple by the fact that you can only use each attack a set number of times; the different number of moves available to you constitutes almost all of the game’s modes.
On paper, this almost sounds like it might work. You can easily picture yourself faking an attack and then hitting out quickly afterwards, once the person that you’re facing decides to defend. Except it doesn’t work like that, because chances are, in the time that it takes to fake an attack, your opponent will have killed you. Of the games that we played, perhaps 60 per cent were over within a second, as whoever reacted first with the attack won.
The rest were contested. When both players attack at the same time, or when the timer runs out, a quick action minigame starts where you must out-press your friend. This can get very quick, and is one of the few positive features in the game. Indeed, it actually elicited a laugh or two our end, which came as a surprise for all involved.
With such a limited amount of gameplay, you’d expect there to at least be variety in what happens on screen. Unfortunately, the creator’s animation budget limited each character to just a single move: they jump across the screen and knock the other player’s head off. This happens over and over and over again. Like some kind of bad Miniclip throwback, it plays like something you’d have closed your browser over back in 2003.
And this is a shame, because the graphics themselves are quite nice. The handful of backgrounds are pretty, as are the character designs – but they’re all so limited that it feels repetitive almost from the get go. You can unlock extra accessories for the fighters, but these go over the clothes that they’re already wearing, so that you’re popping a dunce cap or top hat over an aviator’s helmet. Muscling in a collection feature like this feels like a lazy attempt at adding replayability, but with gameplay this bad, you won’t bother anyway.
The fun is apparently in who you play it with, but there are better games out there that offer far more in terms of entertainment. Yes, this is simple to pick up and play, but that’s only because there’s nothing to it. Something like Sportsfriends, despite its limitations, offers much more fun with only a slightly harsher learning curve.
We should also mention that there’s no option to play alone against the computer. Of course, this makes perfect sense, because without being able to gauge a pattern, what little degree of skill there is goes straight out of the window.
Speakeasy may well be the worst game on the PS4. Its initial charm and originality is quickly replaced by an overwhelming sense of laziness. This is a very poor mobile game at its absolute best.