The PlayStation Showcase came and went and many felt a little disappointed; no The Last of Us multiplayer, Uncharted 5 was missing and many first-party Sony studios were absent. But, I fell in love with many of the indies shown. These games revealed some eye-catching art direction, stylish presentation and elegant design.
You can read my PS5 review to find out why I love the console, or catch up on my PSVR 2 review for why this new hardware is a revelation. But it takes inventive and beautifully designed games to make this tech tick, so below I pick some of the outstanding new titles from last night's PlayStation Showcase (see my PlayStation Showcase live blog for all the announcements, as they happened).
Best designed games from PlayStation Showcase
The games below aren't the 'best' or 'hottest' games, I'll leave the hype to others. The games from last night's PlayStation Showcase I'm picking are those that are doing something a little different with game design, art direction and the technology. So, here are the new PS5 games that impressed me.
Bungie is the original developer behind Halo and the studio that created the huge universe of Destiny. Marathon is the team's first game as a Sony studio, a PS5 console exclusive, and a follow-up but not a sequel to its cult hit Marathon from 1994 (one scene of two planets references the old Marathon logo).
What's striking is how Bungie once again manages to craft a unique art style to wrap its game and lore around, this time seemingly inspired by the epic sci-fi art of the 1970s and early 1980s. The bare, clean look reminds me of the art of Michael Whelan and Mike Hinge with a bit of Syd Mead.
Game Director Christopher Barrett said on the PlayStation Blog: "There are many elements to what makes a Bungie game. To me, it runs the gamut from the incredible feel of the weapons to beautiful and evocative world building, rich in lore, immersion, and opportunities for incredible adventure.
"Our design philosophy here is to have players affect the story of the world through their choices and their actions. This approach also lets us shape the overall narrative direction of the game experience while giving players a direct sense of agency and power."
Phantom Blade Zero
Phantom Blade Zero started out as an indie game called Rainblood: Town of Death, the series grew to 20 million fans in China and now has a new name. While it resembles a FromSoftware game like Sekiro, the team at S-Game has carved out its own unique art direction, which it calls KungfuPunk.
S-Game founder Soulframe Liang told PlayStation Blog: "You’ll find Chinese Kungfu, intricate machines reminiscent of steampunk, arts of the occult, and intriguing stuff that doesn’t quite fit into any of these categories. […] We are adding a new twist to the formula, a heavy dose of punk spirit, alongside with stylish visuals."
While the art style is scratchy and uncomfortable, the animation is anything but; this is fluid and slick. The movement is incredible and Liang says it's inspired by 1990s martial arts movies. I'm not sure you'll play a better animated game on PS5 this year.
The psychedelic sci-fi art style of Ultros grabbed my attention. It looks like a 1980s punk rock gonzo album cover meets Jack Kirby's New Gods. The game takes place inside a giant giant cosmic sarcophagus and it features a colourful, crafted animation style.
Game design director Mårten Brüggemann said on the game's reveal: "We’ve created a unique blend of hand-drawn art with big juicy sprites, topped off with dynamic zooming, creating a hypnotic effect. The goal has been to create a look that feels like one big canvas, where every frame is like an isolated piece of psychedelic art."
He adds: "One of the first things that’ll hit you when you see Ultros is the vivid neon colour palette and eccentric art style we’ve created; this stems from the enigmatic mind of renowned artist El Huervo, known for their work as an artist on the Hotline Miami series. We’ve created a unique blend of hand-drawn art with big juicy sprites, topped off with dynamic zooming, creating a hypnotic effect. The goal has been to create a look that feels like one big canvas, where every frame is like an isolated piece of psychedelic art."
Revenant Hill developer The Glory Society is a new kind of studio, a co-op where everyone who works there owns a part of the company. This means, on paper, there are no bosses and everyone has a stake. The trend in collaborative workflows is growing and Glory is at the forefront of it in game development.
The team has some talent too, for example Bethany Hockenberry and Scott Benson work together as writers and narrative designers, and co-created indie hit Night in the Woods.
Technical designer Coby West details: "Our art team includes Seyoung Jang and John Wilinski. Seyoung has helped produce many animation projects. When it’s nice out she can be found at a park petting dogs. John is our Lead Animator and Co-Producer and is bringing his experience from the animation industry into this project. On a good day he can be found wrestling with his kitten Suplex."
The game revolves around a cat called Twigs and its journey and life in the world of Revenant Hill; expect puzzles, quirky characters and sharp dialogue. The art style reminds of 1970s animation and paper craft; it's stiff and sharp but full of charm.
Neva is a new platform game from the team behind Gris, and it's a style masterclass and a lot of heart. The game has a strong ecological message and is delivered with little fuss to ensure the character design and art style are pushed to the fore.
Co-founder of Nomada Studio, Adrian Cuevas wrote on the PlayStation Blog: "Neva is our own newborn baby, a love song dedicated to our children, our parents, and our planet. It tells the moving tale of a young woman and her lifelong bond with a magnificent wolf as they embark on a thrilling adventure through a rapidly dying world."
The visual direction plays like a 1970's children's cartoon, the textures are flat and the colours bold and impactful. There's minimal UI and fuss, which ensures the delicate art style and traditional animation shine.
It's telling that most of the games from the PlayStation Showcase with innovative art and design are from small studios and indies (Bungie aside). Perhaps because the pressure is off, but also the development costs are lower and access to technology is easier. Game development is more accessible than ever, and if you want to get started I'd suggest reading our guide Unity and our Unreal Engine 5 review.
You may also want to read our guides to the best laptops for 3D modelling, best laptops for animation and the best laptops for game development. You don't need to spend a fortune these days, and who knows a year from now you could be revealing a game at the next PlayStation Showcase.