Thursday, November 12, 2015

LittleBigPlanet 3 is undoubtedly the best entry in the series

The most obvious changes are the three new characters: Toggle, OddSock and Swoop, each with a specific ability - size changing, speed, and flight, respectively. They're clearly there to give the whole package a facelift, but we're not completely sold. They work, but are definitely the 'not Media Molecule' bit.

However, what the new cast do, along with several other additions, is enable the creative side of the game for more (slightly) casual players. If you have a character pre-built for speed then it's easier to make races, for example. That idea carries through to gadgets and tools - things such as teleporters, ziplines and jet boots now possess far more 'straight out of the box' creative potential than ever before.

Where previous LBPs relied more on taking raw components - the pistons, motors, switches and sensors - and crafting tools from them, this provides a far wider range of pre-built options. If, when asked, you decline to activate Advance Create Mode then the simplified selection makes building less daunting. Many mechanisms can largely be used as is, encouraging a more 'drag and drop' feel to making stuff.

There's a more immediate range to the space you can build into now as well. The old three-layer system has been expanded to 16, creating more literal depth to the previously 2D construction. So, even without going near cameras, character tweaks or any more involved mechanics, you can make more interesting levels straight off the bat.

The sense of accessibility is also aided through some excellent tutorials. Where previous games rattled through quick video descriptions and left you to work out the rest, this uses a mix of puzzles and gameplay to practically apply the knowledge you'll need. You'll be tweaking settings and properties to bridge gaps or reach prizes, and learning far more effectively through doing than watching.

If you've never created before, or always been a little daunted by the prospect, this is probably the easiest 'in' you're going to get. It's not as instant as Project Spark's pre built toy box, as some assembly is still required, but you'll be able to do more with not a great deal of extra effort.

The only downside is those tutorials only cover the basics, which is a lot like swimming lessons that only cover walking through the shallow end of an Olympic pool. Activate that Advance mode and the deep end looms with all the promise and threat of a bottomless abyss. There's no guidance for some extremely complex concepts, and Sumo's attitude to any education past a quick paddle seems to be to throw you in and watch as you splash about.

Simply navigating menus is a skill in its own right due to the wealth and complexity of the content. The potential is huge but overwhelming, and the lack of guidance seems a little cold.

There are some things here we only know how to use because we've played all the previous games. Gadgets such as the microchip or Controlinator, along with other things introduced in LBP 2, are simply sitting in the menu, unexplained.

If this is your first time in LittleBigPlanet, good luck making sense of any of that. Similarly, there are new tools - such as the ability to create bespoke power-ups - that we only know about because we've had them shown to us at press events.

How the average gamer is going to piece this stuff together unaided is a bit of a mystery. There's a new set of Dynamic Thermometer tools, for example. In LBP the Thermometer traditionally measures the size of your level, filling up depending on the quantity and complexity of what you build.

Now you can create larger levels using a Loading Linker, Preloader and Permanency Tweaker. Powerful tools, but mastering them without introduction is largely a process of trial and error, and occasionally howling to whatever gods are listening.

Obviously, the more complicated stuff is always going to require commitment, but presumably the assumption is that once you pass a certain level of complexity, you're in it for the long haul - investigating and learning, or going on forums. But it's still a surprise to see just how much you're left to fend for yourself.

The reach and options make this feel like an actual game engine. A highly stylised one, admittedly, but just as powerful. Yet it'll come at a cost if it's your first experience of the series. There are powerful tools and gadgets here with no more than a ten-word sentence to summarize, at times, almost limitless potential.

Even the syntax of how to connect some things will basically be guesswork if you've not wired together a circuit before. The thing is, people will. If past games have proved anything, it's that the LBP community will think nothing of rinsing every potential opportunity and possibility from the systems at play here. However, it's an odd combination of accessible components, carefully explained, mixed with terrifyingly complex and utterly unelaborated parts.

The incredibly brief story (bar a few side-missions) also puts the emphasis more than ever on individual creation and community content. It's worth noting the new tools and ideas make for some of the most enjoyable stuff to date, but the seamless integration of all the old content is also impressive, creating a huge amount of available things. It was also nice to see all our old LBP 1 and 2 levels imported.

This is undoubtedly the best entry in the series, giving an unparalleled creative experience on console. But it's also the most confusing. More accessible, terrifying, approachable and incomprehensible than ever. There's plenty of creative fun to be had, but if you're going to take it really seriously then it's going require a lot of blood, sweat and stitches.

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