PlayLink turns the PS4 into a Christmas party machine


Inevitably, at some point this Christmas, your family gathering will involve playing group games. But if you’re sick of your eccentric uncle’s bumbling efforts at charades, or fed up with losing to your dad at Trivial Pursuit, fear not: Sony’s PlayStation 4 has a new feature that can revitalise the annual post-turkey shenanigans.

Called PlayLink, it was released last month, with surprisingly little fanfare. But it adds an intriguing trick to the PlayStation 4’s capabilities, which should prove very handy indeed as you catch up with your family this Christmas. In a nutshell, PlayLink allows you to control certain PS4 games (that is, those specifically created for the PlayLink system) with mobile phones, as opposed to DualShock 4 controllers.

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Martin Alltimes, CEO of The Imaginati Studio, which has created a PlayLink game called Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, highlights aspects of PlayLink that attracted him to the system: “Think about how many PlayStations are sitting in people’s homes, but are only played by one person in that house.  What’s brilliant about PlayLink is that everyone’s got a mobile phone, so there is no need to buy that £50 controller or gadget. There used to be a whole category of on-the-couch multiplayer that has pretty much disappeared because of mobile phones and online connectivity. But what’s also nice is to have these experiences that you share in a room with someone with whom you can also share conversation.”

It’s additionally worth pointing out that because PlayLink games run on the PS4 – with control duties plus, sometimes, phone-specific abilities like using the camera or microphone assigned to participating mobile phones – they can be much more visually ambitious than any games you will ever have seen running on a mobile. And already, developers are using PlayLink to exercise their more experimental creative juices.

By their very nature, PlayLink games are trickier to set up than normal PlayStation games, but not annoyingly so. First, you must purchase and download whatever PlayLink game takes your fancy (happily, they tend to cost significantly less than what full-blown PS4 games will set you back). Then, you have to download a free app (from Google Play or Apple’s App Store) specific to each PlayLink game, to every player’s mobile phone. Launch the game on the PS4, follow the prompts and everyone will be able to join the game via their handsets.

This could lead to an unwanted plethora of apps on your mobile, and the size of the mobile apps tends to vary wildly, so if you become a PlayLink enthusiast, it might be advisable to invest in a high-capacity MicroSD card. But that won’t be a problem if you’re just downloading the odd game to play with the relatives while the turkey and sprouts are being digested. Note that older relatives will require at least some basic form of smartphone with a touch-screen and camera if they want to take part. 

It’s early days yet – PlayLink only launched on 21 November. But encouragingly, the games already released for it are using the technology in diverse ways. Currently, they mostly fall into two broad categories: party-games and interactive-movie games, in the general vein of Heavy Rain or Until Dawn. But PlayLink developers are beginning to dream up clever ways of using features which mobile phones have, but DualShock 4 controllers don’t.

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The Imaginati’s Martin Alltimes points out that, with a phone, “You’ve got a device that can see you, hear you and has multiple ways in which you can interact with it.” Thus, for example, SingStar Celebration uses your phone as a microphone, That’s You makes extensive use of its camera, Hidden Agenda lets you swipe around your screen as if wielding a mouse (which is near-impossible with a conventional game controller) and the forthcoming Erica employs gestures which are well known to mobile phone users, in order to bring an unprecedented level of tactility to its control system.

In Erica, an interactive movie-style game due next year, you find yourself rubbing the screen to dislodge dust, or swiping carefully in order to uncrumple a ball of paper, and the overall effect is to create the impression that you’re somehow able to touch the game-world, which is deeply immersive. It won’t be a party-game, but it will offer a completely fresh-feeling gameplay experience.

But let’s have a closer look at the PlayLink games which are currently available.

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