Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: Disney Infinity (Xbox)!

The initial temptation is to dismiss Disney Infinity as a cynical, cash-in Skylanders clone, which may be true if you only glance at the surface - both games do require you to purchase separate collectible figures to unlock characters and content within the game. But dig deeper and there’s far more lurking underneath Infinity’s skin. Part Minecraft, part Little Big Planet, sometimes a shooter, sometimes a racer, sometimes a weird Tony Hawk hybrid, it really has unlimited options for play, thereby living up to the Infinity name.

This also means there’s a lot to unravel, and I’m not sure that Disney has done the best job at communicating what this game actually entails. So I’m going to tell you all about it... after the jump!

Firstly, I want to state that I really admire the thinking behind Infinity. Disney/Pixar release at least two major films a year and now, rather than release flimsy standalone tie-in games like they’ve done in the past, they will be instead making new movie-themed modules that will plug into the existing Infinity infrastructure. It’s a smart move, because if the game is successful (and I am under the impression that it’s already selling very well) then they can continue to mine both new and old films for the foreseeable future. It’s no coincidence that two of the currently available modules are Monsters University and Lone Ranger - both films released in 2013 - with content to support the release of animated film Frozen planned for later this year.

So let’s get our head around the basics. There are two main modes in Disney Infinity. There’s the Toy Box which is your open world where anything goes. This is where you can play as any character you have available and you can construct your own worlds and create your own games using all of the objects (vehicles, buildings, set pieces, weapons, building blocks, terrain, physics objects, buttons, levers, etc) that you’ve unlocked. This area is only really limited by your creativity and you can create and save as many worlds/games as you wish. This is the part of the game that was the most appealing to me.

The other part revolves around the playsets. Think of each playset as a 6 - 10 hour game of its own, themed around a particular movie. Each of these playsets is a unique, immersive game world and the gameplay differs depending on the franchise. The starter pack includes: Monsters University, The Incredibles, and Pirates of the Caribbean. There are two additional playsets which are available to purchase separately and these are Cars and The Lone Ranger. An additional playset costs $35-40 Australian and includes two figures and unlocks the 6 - 10 hour themed game. There are more restrictions on the playset gameplay. You can only enter a playset using characters that belong in that world (e.g. while playing Monsters University you must use Sully, Mike or Randall). But you do unlock items as you progress that will be then available for you to use in the Toy Box.

So in summary: Toy Box = open, creative, anything goes world. Playset = a self-contained game based on a movie.

There’s a USB attached base which the figures must be sitting on in order to use. (Remove a figure and they will disappear from the screen to be replaced by a jittery hologram). 

The figures are large and far better quality than I expected. They have a very sleek, stylised design which captures their movie likenesses but also allows animated characters to blend in seamlessly with live action ones like Captain Jack...

You must also have a playset piece on the base to play that particular game. (Monsters, Pirates and Incredibles are all on a translucent cube piece, and Lone Ranger and Cars have their own translucent pieces). Here's the one from the starter...

And you can also add “power discs” which are small translucent plastic discs that when added to the base will unlock a special piece of additional content like a vehicle, a background, or a buff. They are not necessary to play, and are more a novelty than anything, but you can buy them in separate blind-packaged booster packs if you wish.

There are a couple of other catches, and this is where a bit of the cynical cash-grabbing rears its head. The starter pack comes with a figure for each of the three included worlds (Sully, Mr. Incredible and Jack Sparrow). You and a friend are free to play any combination of these in the Toy Box, but if you want to play co-op in one of the Playsets then you will need to purchase a second character from that world. There’s a sidekick pack which contains Mike, Mrs. Incredible, and Captain Barbossa, and without it you’ll be restricted to playing single player through the Playset environments. 

But it doesn’t end there. You can also purchase a three-pack of villains for each of the starter playsets (Randall, Syndrome and Davey Jones). Or why not a bunch of singles so that you can add Violet and Dash to The Incredibles or a couple of extra cars to the Cars Playset? You don’t NEED to buy these things, but the most insidious part of the game is perhaps the inclusion of scattered item vaults that can only be unlocked by specific characters. There’s one large vault in each Playset which requires ALL of the associated characters to open which, in the case of The Incredibles, is five. And, if you’re enjoying the game, it’s easy to get sucked into the madness of wanting to unlock everything. (For the record, the additional Playsets are the best value and the single characters are by far the worst. Only get the singles if you’re hardcore or cashed up).

So that’s all the basics. Now is it any good?

We’ll start with the playsets, all of which are fully realised worlds that are completely different from each other. Each one is a reasonably large open world sandbox where additional areas gradually open up around a central hub. (Pirates gives the initial impression that it’s more of a linear, level-based adventure, but by the time you complete it you’ll realise that it’s also a giant sandbox - it just does a better job at disguising it than the others). Each of the playsets have a very rich, immersive design which is true to the specific film it represents. I was immediately impressed with the visuals and all five Playsets I played (including the two extras one) were of an equal level of quality and detail.

Much like an MMO you collect quests from characters and traverse the world completing them. They all start out very basic but get a little more complicated and engaging as you progress. There are all character specific challenges to take part in, and plenty of collectibles scattered across the land. You can spend a massive amount of time exploring and experimenting in order to unlock everything and it really is one of the best part. You can scale buildings and mountains and really run amok across every landscape just trying things out. Simply playing around is always at Infinity’s core.

The Playset gameplay varies depending on the film. Lone Ranger is more of a shooter where you’ll be riding horses, shooting cannons, and battling on moving trains. Monsters University has stealth elements and a ton of paintball. Incredibles is a fast-paced destructive action game where you’re constantly bombarded with robots. Pirates adds ship battles on the high seas. And Cars involves racing, plus some stunt park sequences that are very reminiscent of classic Tony Hawk. They are fun, and each world is instantly alluring, however after a couple of hours of each I did begin to experience Playset fatigue. Some of the quests can be repetitive and dull, or the progression can be inconsistent. For example, Lone Ranger starts off pretty great, but towards the end you are constantly delivering supplies via the train and it becomes incredibly tedious with very little action. Each Playset is only really refreshed when you unlock a new gadget or vehicle to use - The Incredibles is particularly good at this as you progress to a backpack glider, a hoverboard, a laser shooting car, and finally a missile-firing helicopter.

So that’s all what you’d expect, but the best thing for me is the Toy Box where you can use all of these unlocked items to free up your creativity. And even if you’re not keen on designing your own games or cities, you and a friend can have a ton of fun just messing around. You can spawn in any available item from the level editor, so you can suddenly become Sully riding in a Tron Recogniser (while the Daft Punk theme plays), shooting blocky lasers at Jack Sparrow, riding an elephant and shooting back with Buzz Lightyear’s gun. You can throw down the Cave of Wonders from Aladdin and ride a train through its mouth, or dive into Scrooge McDuck’s money vault, build a castle, or a palace, or a city, or a western town. And if you are interested in game design you can make a giant pinball machine, or a paintball arena, or a racetrack, or an Angry Birds style physics game. You can make whatever you can think of really, providing you’ve unlocked the tools and you understand how to use them.

And that’s perhaps the biggest failing of the Toy Box mode. There’s a very good reason why Little Big Planet has about 80 video tutorials, and the fact that Infinity only has about seven means you’ll spend a lot of time scratching your head. It shows you how to connect objects and define their function (for example I was able to create an array of pop-up turrets outside my fort that could be turned on or off at the push of a remote button), but some objects just don’t appear to have a lot of explanation. I was able to set up two opposing bases and make one a blue team, and one an orange team, and even spawn in enemies that would only attack the opposition. But then I spawned in a scoreboard and I have no idea what to attach it to. How do I get it to record each time I kill someone on the opposing team for example? What does it do?

None of these objects have any significant support text so, at this stage at least, I can’t effectively utilise many of the more complicated items. I really hope that they patch in some more support here, or perhaps develop a site or materials that is dedicated specifically towards creating games. It has a ton of potential, too much perhaps, that it’s a little overwhelming at times. Plus a lot of the unlocks are generated by random spins (you earn these as you play) in the Toy Vault so it may be a long time before you get the particular piece you need. For example, I have the starting line for the race track which triggers a race game, but I’m yet to unlock the finish line.

So I’m very excited about Infinity, however, I do hope that it’s able to evolve. I hope that they not only further develop their creation system, but I also hope that they continue to add meaningful content, and by that I mean less single characters and more playsets based around franchises that people really love. (I’d be happy to pick up Tron, or Aladdin, or even see them tackle an older classic like The Jungle Book or something). I’m not a massive Disney enthusiast by any means but I would like to see this game succeed because I think it’s a model that could carry over to the other franchises that they own. I’d particularly love to see a Marvel Infinity or a Star Wars Infinity. The possibilities are endless.

No comments:

Post a Comment