The PlayStation Vita looks set to reboot Sony's handheld ambitions when it launches here next year, as it brings a host of new input mechanics, more power, and all-round better hardware into play for Sony's second crack at the handheld crown. While it's success is far from certain, as the 3DS seems to be proving for Nintendo, what does seem to need no further proof is just how innovative the device is going to be.
Ruin, a new title from developers Idle Minds and SCE San Diego, is adding an all-new layer to the known innovation of Vita, by allowing players to continue their experience seamlessly on the PlayStation 3 after saving their game on the Vita (or vice-versa). This cross-platform gameplay experience is something gamers have been begging for since the birth of the PSP itself, but which has never been fully realised. Will this be the game to break out and prove the concept? It's far to early to tell, however a recent hands-off demonstration of the title has us believing that it's not only possible but reasonably likely...
First, a little about the game itself. It's an action roleplaying game (RPG), in which the player takes direct control of one of three classic character archetypes - warrior, assassin, or mage - and attempts to ward off the forces of evil. Nothing all that surprising there, then. Where Ruin first starts to set itself apart is in its ambition.
To start with, Ruin is deliberately setting out to fill what Travis Williams from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) referred to as the missing middle ground between an action RPG and a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Described as a "social action RPG", the idea is that your experiences and exploits are tightly integrated with social networks, in a way that challenges your friends to defeat your achievements via the increasingly common method of asynchronous multiplayer; as in, you can participate in multiplayer exploits without the difficult-to-arrange requirement of actually being online at the same time. Kinda like play-by-mail chess, but for the twenty-first century.
The game also attempts to break out of the Diablo-style click-fest gameplay model, by adding in mechanics that are more traditionally found in pure action games. Stuff like combos, controls, and other gameplay devices are intended to attract players that are there for more than just the loot and levelling that you might otherwise expect to find at the core of a game like this.
That's not the only separation from traditional ARPGs, either. The game allows you to build your own "lair", which you can encourage other players to attack. If they do, you'll earn experience (XP) - whether they beat your lair or not; likewise, you can earn bonus XP by attacking other people's lairs - all of which, of course, is tracked and encouraged through the game's integration with social networking services like Facebook. You can even put rare or otherwise desirable items up for grabs in your lair, further encouraging players from your social group to try their luck in your dungeon.
There's also a crafting system which, much like EVE Online, requires realtime in order to craft the various weapons, traps, and bosses you might use in the game or to defend your lair. The better the item, the longer it will take to create - reinforcing that connection between the real and the virtual that the developers are keen to leverage.
The development team are keen on the game being sold on a "one purchase, play anywhere" basis, however Sony have not yet confirmed whether or not you will ultimately need to purchase the game twice if you wish to take advantage of the cross-platform capabilities. What we do know, however, is that the game will save to its own online "cloud" - you will not need to be a member of PlayStation Plus to take advantage of this unique feature.
We can't speak to the playability of the game but, if it's anything like your typical ARPG game - with the various cool-sounding extensions we've described here, of course - chances are that's nothing to worry about. We will, of course, find out more about that side of the game as soon as we can get our hands on it - keep an eye on the site for more detail as the release of the Vita itself draws ever nearer...
The Good: Innovative platform-agnostic design
The Bad: May have to buy it twice
The Ugly: Diablo 3 will likely be out when this hits the shelves