Sony has announced its final batch of PlayStation Plus games for 2018 – and while it’s short on triple-A showstoppers, there’s a fine selection of titles to be found, including Frictional Games’ existential horror SOMA and on superb racer Onrush, both on PlayStation 4.
At first glance, Frictional’s SOMA, which released in 2015, looks to be a significant departure from the studio’s previous, heavily H. P. Lovecraft inspired games, including Amnesia: A Dark Descent and its The Chinese Room co-developed successor A Machine For Pigs.
And while SOMA’s futuristic sci-fi focus is certainly far removed from the classical gothic trappings of its predecessors, the Lovecraftian thread is unmistakable as it goes big on the existential terror. Its a game as much concerned with questions of identity and morality as it is big scary monsters – although you’ll find plenty of those too, unless you opt for the no-death Safe Mode) – but to say much more would be to rob SOMA of its power.
“That Frictional has been able to take such an over-used concept as exploring an abandoned research base, populated by bloody corpses and monsters, and turn it into a sombre philosophical adventure that is also exciting and even funny, is quite the achievement,” said Dan Whitehead in his Eurogamer Recommended review, “It may not move the genre forwards much in terms of mechanics, but it spins a story you’ll be glad to have experienced.”
But if you’d rather something a little less gloomy to usher in the festive season, then you could always opt for Onrush, the excellent racer from MotorStorm and DriveClub developer Codemasters Evo – formerly known as Evolution Studios.
When Eurogamer’s Martin Robinson awarded Onrush a Recommended badge on its release earlier this year, he explained the game’s premise as follows: “What if the racing genre met with the first-person shooter, if Burnout paired up with Overwatch to create an all-new hybrid?”.
“This is a very different racing game, to the point where I’d hesitate to call it a racing game at all,” said Martin, “Is it a car combat game? A team sports game? Let’s settle with vehicular action game, with an emphasis on the action – because in Onrush, there’s an awful lot of it.”
Onrush’s chaotic racing plays out across a lengthy single-player campaign, plus four notably different multiplayer modes, each available either on- and offline. There’s Overdrive, Lockdown, Switch, and Countdown – all of which prioritise victory states far more diverse than merely being the first across the finish line.
“What an odd, odd game Onrush is,” concluded Martin, “something that harks back to that peculiar purple patch for the arcade racer, when games like Pure, Blur, Fuel and Split/Second all came bounding along with their own take on the genre. They’re hardly names you’d want to invoke in a boardroom, but they’re rightly cherished by genre aficionados, and Onrush is proof once again of how thrilling a little leftfield thinking can be when it comes to the…racing game.”
Elsewhere in PlayStation Plus’ December line-up, developer Konjak’s gorgeous, eight-years-in-the-making exploratory platformer Iconoclasts comes to PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. Its Metroid-esque stylings and surprisingly rich story elements drew praise on release, and recent updates have sought to smooth out some of its fiddlier patches, which is great news.
Vita also receives Lucas Pope’s masterful dystopian document thriller Papers, Please, in which you’re forced to make tough choices as an immigration official on the border of Arstotzka.
And rounding out December’s PlayStation 3 offerings are Steins;Gate – the sci-fi visual novel that would inspire a manga and anime series – and the delightful Steredenn. This latter is a rogue-like side-scrolling shooter from developer Pixelnest, which combines satisfying pick-up-and-play action with some pleasing depth, thanks to the interplay between its distinct ship types and diverse weapons. It also features a cracking soundtrack if metal is your kind of thing.
PlayStation Plus subscribers can download all of the above for free from December 4th.