Who says cheaters never prosper? PETER HOSKIN reviews Card Shark and the revamped PlayStation Plus
Since the Cold War ended, we’ve all lived in the shadow of another ideological struggle between rival superpowers: the Console War. On one side is Microsoft, with its all-American Xbox. On the other is the Japanese might of Sony and its ever-popular PlayStation.
It’s hard not to regard anything these two powers do, in gaming at least, as some new front in this conflict — and that goes double for last week’s launch of the revamped PlayStation Plus service.
For those who were already making monthly payments towards PlayStation Plus, they’ll recognise much that’s contained in this new version, such as online gaming and backups to the cloud. But it also rolls in the features of a previous service — PlayStation Now — and a few other things.
Consider it Sony’s attempt at a Netflix for games: quick access to dozens and dozens of titles, so long as you keep on subscribing.
This week I have been playing Card Shark, a game set in the gambling dens and gilded salons of 18th-century France
Card Shark has so thoroughly ingratiated itself into my head that I’m now at least ten times more debonair…and a hundred times more devious
Card Shark is much more than just its mechanics. It is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played, an illustrated world suffused by light
But it comes years after Microsoft launched its own Netflix-style service, Xbox Game Pass, which has so far attracted 25 million subscribers. Game Pass offers, frankly, many stellar games at a reasonable price. It’s my go-to recommendation for anyone seeking a Christmas or Birthday present for a gamer.
So we run into the question: does PlayStation Plus match up to Xbox Game Pass?
In terms of cost and structure, the two services are quite similar. PlayStation Plus has three tiers, each offering more features for more of your hard-earned. The ‘Essential’ tier is effectively the old PlayStation Plus for £6.99 a month or £49.99 a year. ‘Extra’ (£10.00 a month, £83.99 a year) affords you access to a catalogue of dozens of games. ‘Premium’ (£13.49 a month, £99.99 a year) opens up an even bigger catalogue.
Being a ritzy kind of a person, I got a premium subscription, and immediately set about testing its special features. It was great fun to dive into its selection of classics, including Ape Escape (1999) and Tekken 2 (1996), even though fewer than I expected — 37, by my count — were from the properly bygone days of the PlayStations 1, 2 and Portable.
More impressive is the cloud-streaming available to Premium subscribers, meaning that you can play PlayStation games on your console or (novelly) on your PC without having to spend time downloading them. It took me less than a minute to start actually playing what may be the greatest PlayStation-only game of them all, Bloodborne, and it was an entirely stutter-free experience throughout.
There are many other games available, including some of the best of recent years: Spider-Man, Death Stranding and Desperados III among them.
But when it comes to the most recent of the recent, that’s when PlayStation Plus starts to feel different from Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s service gives its subscribers complete access to the biggest Xbox-exclusive titles, such as Forza Horizon 5 and Microsoft Flight Simulator, on their release days.
Whereas PlayStation Plus is far more guarded with its exclusives. This year’s Horizon Forbidden West, for example, is offered as a five-hour trial version — and that’s only if you’re a Premium subscriber. If you want to play beyond that, then you’ve got to buy the game like anyone else.
And that’s when the other limitations of PlayStation Plus start to stand out. There’s Far Cry 4 in the catalogue, but not Far Cries 5 or 6. The discounts offered on games in the PlayStation store are often quite paltry and, in any case, are just another way of encouraging subscribers to part with more cash.
Yet I don’t want to complain needlessly. PlayStation Plus still offers hundreds of hours of mostly fantastic gameplay for less than the price of a thimbleful of petrol. If you already own a PlayStation, then the Essential tier is basically precisely that — essential — while the Extra and Premium tiers have much to commend them.
It’s just that Xbox Game Pass is so generous that it might appeal to people who don’t even own an Xbox, and could even sway their future actions in the Console War. Microsoft vs Sony. It’s never over.
WHO SAYS CHEATERS NEVER PROSPER?
Card Shark (Switch, PC, £17.99)
Verdict: Ooh la la!
Madame. Monsieur. Take a seat, s’il vous plait, and I shall proceed to — how you say? — rinse you of your cash.
Sorry. Don’t know what came over me there. Or, rather, I do — for this week I have been playing Card Shark, a game set in the gambling dens and gilded salons of 18th-century France. And it’s so thoroughly ingratiated itself into my head that I’m now at least ten times more debonair…and a hundred times more devious.
As its name suggests, Card Shark revolves around games of cards, but it is distinctly not a card game. Instead, you, a mute, have to work with the Comte de Saint Germain, a puffed-up conman, to cheat your opponents out of their money. Whenever you see a card, it is to pocket it, switch it, mark it, or otherwise put it to use in your schemes.
This is one of the wittiest games I have ever played, full of characters and situations that are written to perfection
Can you press all the right buttons in the right order so that the next hand falls nicely for the Comte?
In terms of gameplay, this means learning a series of increasingly complicated tricks. Can you press all the right buttons in the right order so that the next hand falls nicely for the Comte? It is a game of dexterity, but also of pressure. The longer you take, the more suspicious your opponents become.
But Card Shark is much more than just its mechanics. It is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played, an illustrated world suffused by light. And it is also one of the wittiest, full of characters and situations that are written to perfection.
Sometimes, it’s true, there isn’t enough of that writing — you’ll see a lot of repeated text as you return to old locations. But that barely matters when the rest of the game is so elegant, so evocative, so… oh, no, you’ve lost again! As we say in France: c’est la vie.
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