Who says that games have to cost money? Not all video games carry a hefty $60 price tag with them, even on the home consoles. Many developers are starting to shift towards the free-to-play platform that has been established on mobile devices and bringing that same experience to the mainstream platforms such as the PlayStation 3. PlayStation Home, in particular, is filled with a variety of games that don’t cost you any money up front to play, but will require you to throw down a few dollars in order to get the most out of the experience. One of the more recent additions to the PlayStation Home library of free-to-play games is Lockwood Publishing’s Sodium 2: Project Velocity. This futuristic racer is free to play and enjoy for all gamers, the problem is that I am not sure why anyone would want to based on what I have seen.
First off, you should know going into the “game” that Sodium 2: Project Velocity is far from complete. The experience isn’t fully functional at this time yet it is still open to the public and was pitched to media for review. The game is a futuristic racer in the same vein of the the ever-so popular Wipeout series and similar hovercraft racers. The game even features music tracks by the esteemed CoLD SToRAGE just like Wipeout, but unfortunately that is where the similarities stop.
Players may have a little difficulty navigating around the Sodium 2 space within PlayStation Home, I know that I did. It is easy enough to find when roaming around Home, adverse to simply launching it from the menu bar, but once you get inside there is little indication given to where you need to go to do do whatever it is you want to do, be it race or mess around in the game’s garage. Aside, from the big banner stating “multiplayer”, there is no indication of what each of the numerous terminals scattered around the space give you access to; you start basically wandering around aimlessly seeking out each terminal on a trial and error basis.
Eventually you will find your way over to the single player game launcher where you will discover that the only available option is to do a Quick Race on one of 4 courses. There is the tease of a nice arcade mode listed right on the main screen, but the option cannot be selected and in promised to be “coming soon". “Quick Race” is your only option at this time and it doesn’t even involve “racing” against any sort of competition. There are no AI controlled racers competing against you, little to no leaderboard information to drive you forward, nothing. You just run a single lap around a course and that is it. Sounds fun huh?
As for the actual act of racing, it feels more like a leisurely stroll along a couple of less than interesting race tracks. Despite the fact that the speedometer on your hud reads in excess of 1,000 MPH, it hardly feels like you are moving at any nominal rate of speed. I have gotten better senses of speed at a full sprint on foot, and I am a hefty guy (if you get what I am saying). The movement of the track below your vehicle looks fine but the surroundings seem to creep past you at the pace of a tortoise; the two don’t seem to match up. Players can improve the speed of their crafts with one of the numerous upgrades that are offered in the game’s garage area, but that only seems to alter the number listed on your speedometer, not the actual movement of the vehicles. Of course, that is if they are willing to throw down real cash in order to acquire one of the numerous vehicle parts that are unlocked as you earn experience by running the quick races over and over.
Yes, you read that right: completing races earns you experience which eventually leads to the notification that additional parts are available to customize your racer in the garage. Once you get in there though, you will discover, without any proper warning, that although they have been unlocked, you will need to invest actual money in order to obtain them. Most of the parts in the game cost the equivalent of $1 or a comparable amount of in-game currency known as Sodium dollars. while the game will give you a chance to earn some Sodium dollars during your experience, not everything can be purchased using that currency. In order to obtain the truly great equipment and benefits, you will need to fork over real cash.
I don’t have a problem with the free-to-play formula and completely understand the economic model that it entails, but I found the game to be misleading in terms of what you actually had access to and what you didn’t. There wasn’t even an option for me to experience the benefits of upgrading without making purchases. It would have made more sense to offer a couple of items which could be unlocked just using acquired experience so that players would get a feel for the improvements and benefits that could be had in upgrading; instead you are left to stick with your base equipment which leads to a lackluster gaming experience.
In addition to the simple, quick races, Sodium 2 also offers a real-time multiplayer component which proves to be just as bland as the single player. It is a pain just to get into the matches as 9 out of 10 times that you try to connect to a multiplayer match, you will be booted. I tested this on numerous occasions at all different times of the day, thinking that it had to be a problem that would go away, but it didn’t. When I did get into the races I experienced the same less-than-stellar racing that existed in single player, only it seemed even slower since there were so many (apparently) static vehicles on the screen at once.
The Sodium 2 experience appears to be driven by the in-game economy that Lockwood is attempting to create but the failure to do anything to draw users into that economy will ultimately lead to its downfall. I don’t exactly know what they were / are going for with the current release of Sodium 2. The game seems to have some ambitious ideas in store, but what is available now is bland and boring. The racing lacks any and all sense of speed and racing by yourself on a track over and over just isn’t enjoyable at all. The multiplayer options are a pain just to get into and much like the single player, completely lacking any sort of thrills or excitement. The game feels more like a proof of concept than an actual title at this point; I hope that the updates and improvements that are planned in the future can added some badly needed substance to the package if it wants to last.