Monday, 17 May 2010

Curb Your Sodium Deficiency

Sony's Playstation 3 exclusive toy Playstation Home has so far been a tough little monkey to pin down. Sure, it seems like a cool idea, what with all the extra games and video previews, but is it just a little too ambitious for the current console generation? Is it well enough supported to remain interesting and is it frankly just a little bit nerdy? Possibly, so perhaps a dose of Sodium via the good folks at Outso is just what the doctor ordered to ease some of Playstation Home's growing pains. We send Drew into the virtual world to find out...and to get rid of him for a while.

Sodium. Salt. Or, for the more scientific among you: Na. Let's face it, no matter what you call it, Sodium falls a little short of being entertaining. Even if it does have only one stable isotope. However, that could all be about to change. For those of you lucky enough to own a PS3 Sodium could be about to make your life around 39% more interesting as Outso Ltd. and Lockwood Publishing Ltd. unleash the power of salt on PSN!

Actually, if we're being honest, Sodium was released back on 17th December 2009 but managed to fly under the S&N radar because, between you, me and the rest of the world, Playstation Home (PSH) has been a little dull. Now don't get me wrong, PSH was one of the reasons I first bought a PS3, I love the concept and I'm fairly sure that this kind of massive multi-player environment is unlike anything on offer on any other console. Apart from Second Life on PC's, PSH is probably the most impressive evolution of the online chat-room environment, because that's basically what these programs are.

However, despite this scope PSH has been a fairly hit and miss affair. Particularly in Europe where every console is granted substantially less content then it's Asian/U.S. counterparts, which makes it hardly surprising that the European version of PSH has felt sparse on occasion. This problem is compounded by the United Kingdom's lack of infrastructure to cope with such infomation intensive tasks. Trying to use PSH in a country with some of Europe's lowest internet speeds is often akin to swimming the English Channel -it takes a while and leaves you cold.

So can a dose of Sodium improve the PSH experience? As I mentioned, we missed the launch of Sodium at S&N because PSH is, more often then not, too much of a hassle in the UK when the time waiting for it to load could be better spent playing games -or swimming the Channel. However, a cursory trip into Home uncovered the existence of Sodium so I decided to stay a while and check it out. The result was that I discovered Sodium One, the first of a series of environments to be published by Lockwood and I have to admit that I liked it.

Thanks for the Tanks.
Sodium One struck me as being a condensed and more interesting version of PSH but set in the Sodium Hub, which certainly has it's advantages. For a start it has everything Home has but in a smaller area which can be easily "walked" through and explored without that irritating need to download and jump to new locations as is the usual way with PSH. The area itself is based around a hover-tank inspired arena death match similar to a faster, sexier version of Cybersled, for those of you who remember the Namco shooter. Think dueling in Mario Kart meets Smash T.V. with tanks on a massive salt plain and you'll have something close. The important thing is that it's a lot of fun and is supported by various mini games throughout the Sodium Hub which include ordering/serving drinks and stomping scorpions for points. I think you'll agree that drinking and scorpion stomping are the natural progression from tank warfare.

The whole experience comes together well, both Desert Quench (the drinking game) and Scorpion Stomp (you guessed it, the stomp'in one) work well in giving the Sodium Hub a sense of instant variety and both help to push the MMO experience with unlocks for games/avatars and player interaction. Desert Guench, in particular pushes the MMO ideal with players being able to opt to either order or make and serve drinks using simple timed games. The bar staff even get free shirts!

The only downside to Sodium One is that it's not all free, however, even the way in which buying content works is refreshingly original. Salt Shooter is free for the first five levels, which are fun in themselves, but for the player who wants the whole kit and caboodle, you simply buy the pilot's jacket to gain the full game and access to a the pilots lounge. It's a simple idea that really pushes the MMO environment and gives it that little extra immersion. And whoever came up with the idea of buying bigger, better boots for stomping scorpions (you need to for the bigger ones) should be be given some kind of prize.

Player actions are tracked by an A.I. in the form of an android named VICKIE who becomes the vocal point for Sodium's progressive, long-term reward system which gives Sodium replay value which is rare in Home at this time. Players who pay for the pilots jacket and experience the full game can expect to customize their tank and amass enough fire power to ensure that not even a mountain will be left standing. In any case, if MMO's aren't for you, it's worth giving Salt Shooter a go because it plays better then some PSN offerings.

So does Sodium One, the land of hover-tanks, drinking and scorpion stomping offer something to raise the scope of PSH? Sony has billed Sodium as the next level in online interaction and they may be right. Of course you still have to wait for it to load and Salt Shooter is only available through PSH but these are really only small concerns when you consider that low internet speeds are not totally down to Sony's machine and that Sodium is designed to bring you into PSH in the first place. The main point is that you can dive as much or as little into Sodium as you like, at the very least you will get to play an enjoyable game and experience the sleek ambiance that is the Sodium Hub. Overall, as your doctor I must say that if you haven't tried Sodium yet -do so.


-It was recently established that Drew is an unstable isotope.

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