Sony had a playable demo of its upcoming Santa Monica Studios-developed downloadable game for the PlayStation 3--Calling All Cars--at its Game Developers Conference press event last night. The cel-shaded action game blends cartoony visuals with fast-paced arcade-style gameplay. Though the game is still a work in progress, it had quite a bit of charm.
The demo we tried dropped us into a small, snowy level with four other opponents. The game's premise was a simple, capture-the-flag-inspired race to catch criminals running around the level and drop them off with the local authorities at a nearby jail house or a paddy wagon. Snagging the lawbreakers is fairly easy; you simply have to race up to them or catch them if they've been knocked into the air (which happens often).
Holding on to them and delivering them to the clink is considerably more challenging, however. You'll see yellow question marks strewn throughout the level, which yield assorted weapons that can be used to make life difficult for your opponents. Large hammers that create a shockwave when triggered, rockets that slam opponents' cars, and magnets that slowly pull the felons out of rival cars all offer unique ways to steal a felon away from your opponents. Dropping off your criminal booty also presents a challenge of varying degree, as you'll earn a different amount of points based on how it arrives. Zooming in through the ground floor of the jail yields a single point, while making a dramatic Dukes of Hazzard-esque high-speed leap off a platform in front of the jail and sailing through the air to the top floor yields three points.
What we played had a hectic, Twisted Metal feel to it that worked well. The game's simple control scheme didn't force you to think too hard about what you were doing. You steer and accelerate with the left analog stick. The circle button lets you break, while square reverses. The X button offers short bursts of speed, which are essential for high-speed jumping. The R1 button fires your weapon, and L1 lets you perform a jump. Finally, once you've collected nitro, the lower set of triggers kicks it in, which lets you tear along at even greater speeds.
The visuals in the game were simple and cartoony, making good use of their cel-shaded look. There was a modest amount of detail on display, along with a chunk of level interactivity. We drove through signs and knocked down some objects in the level. As is Sony's norm, the game was running on high-end Bravia's, which highlighted the game's 1080p support and smooth frame rate.
Though our time with the game was short, we're pleased by what we played. The game's simple arcade feel is nicely done. The manic pacing gives the game a good amount of appeal, while the accessible gameplay makes it easy to dive right in. Sony reps on hand pointed out that the game will feature a single-player mode, four-player multiplayer that supports offline split-screen play, and online play. Calling All Cars is currently slated to be available on the PlayStation store later this year, so look for more in the coming weeks.