Knack – Preview
To be the first title used to première a new games console is no small feat, but when the PlayStation 4 was finally announced back in February, only one could take that honour. That game was Knack, a vividly-colourful and uniquely-animated title developed in co-operation with the PS4′s lead architect Mark Cerny – otherwise known for his work on Sonic, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet & Clank and Uncharted, to name but a few. With such an incredible pedigree behind him – especially considering that he’s been in the same way responsible for most of Sony’s greatest and most popular franchises – Knack’s presence began to make more sense, and although the wonderfully animated trailer did much to excite, it would all be for naught if the gameplay didn’t back it up. After my time with it at E3 – and my first exposure to the upcoming console – I can safely say that Sony may have another masterpiece on their hands.
Mankind is at war with the goblins and, in an attempt to help tip the tide in humanity’s favour, one scientist invents Knack – a collection of ancient relics that he has bound together and given consciousness – although he is not entirely aware as to the extent of his creation’s powers. While tiny in size at first, Knack can acquire more relics and add them to his body, allowing him to grow from a few feet tall to a colossal wrecking machine. This isn’t the only power at his disposal, as he can also drop any additional relics at once to revert back to his original size, or incorporate substances such as ice and metal into his body to bolster his skill-set. Not content with giving players just one level to try out, the developers saw fit to include select moments across the story to give players a wider variety of gameplay and help communicate just how special Knack will be.
As one of the PlayStation 4′s flagship titles, many would be remiss not to analyse its graphical power and see how much we’re stepping up from the previous generation, and this is an area where Knack doesn’t disappoint. Rendered in a 3D-animated style that feels wholly its own, there’s plenty of colour consistently exploding out of the screen, but that’s not where I found myself most impressed. Instead, I was drawn to Knack himself; every single relic he acquires and uses to build his own body is individually animated and shadowed, and they’re always moving as he does, meaning it’s sometimes hard not to be mesmerised during sequences when he’s far taller than his original size. One such sequence took place right at the end of the demo, where Knack was easily twice as tall as all the surrounding building; when looking at his shadow you could clearly see every piece moving of their own accord and shuffling about even when Knack himself was idle, even though the number of relics in his body was fast approaching the four-figures mark.
That being said, one of the early sequences of the demo required Knack to have as few relics surrounding him as possible – none. Tasked with infiltrating a high-security area and the only one who can fit into the ventilation systems to bypass the laser grids, our miniature hero sets off. While the ventilation shafts are no match for the pint-sized wonder, the laser grids are a different matter, and to make his way through without tripping off the security systems, Knack in fact has to remove every relic from his body, rendering him translucent and thus unable to set off the lasers.
At any point throughout the gameplay Knack can remove all of his relics with a press of a button, and restore them again with the same command, although he’ll only be reformed to his original few-foot height, meaning you can say goodbye to some of his larger sizes in the process. Though normally the bane of most titles that shoe-horn it in, this stealth section actually came off feeling fresh and original, thanks to the use of unconventional solutions rather than the standard “be seen and fail” pre-requisite that comes with moments like these.
A later segment saw Knack enter a more wintery environment, and this is where I was able to see how his ability to fuse with other elements would work out. Throughout this section he’d been infused with the power of ice, and although this gave him a more intimidating icicle-reminiscent look, it also gave the unfortunate offset that he was far weaker than before, and all it took was two hits to see our hero shatter into pieces. This was also a chance to see some of the platforming at work, and with a fixed-camera in place, these sections were minorly simplistic but showed that there was plenty of potential for some tricky jumps later on in the story.
Where Knack truly excelled however, was during those aforementioned moments where he took to the streets, towering over his opponents and ready to layeth the smackdown. Not just because these were the times when the graphical prowess of the PlayStation 4 was shown off most effectively, but also because they allowed for some wonderfully-cathartic moments where the domineering Knack could make short work of the enemies around him. While it wasn’t the most complex combat around, our hero’s formidable size only exacerbated his potential power, and it wasn’t long before he was making short work of tanks and goblin aircraft, reducing them to nothing more than scraps.
These fights were also a great chance to see some of his special moves in action, with only a few opportunities to pull them off in every level depending on your skills. Best used around a cluster of enemies or some of the more powerful foes, these moves would take full use of Knack’s relics and use them in full force against anyone who dared to stand in his way. One particular highlight was the tornado manoeuvre, which saw every relic used in a whirlwind specifically designed to cause as much harm to our hero’s surroundings as possible, and again the might of the PS4 was on display as you could see individual shards flying around in the maelstrom of destruction.
While a blockbusting behemoth, getting cocky isn’t a wise strategy, as every successful blow against Knack will see some of his relics drop off and scatter away, reducing both his health and his strength. This being said, Knack doesn’t have the capabilities to block, and instead must dodge-roll with the right analogue stick in order to avoid taking damage. As such, the camera duties are left entirely to the game itself rather than the player, and while this could have led to potential frustration, I was pleased to find that the camera didn’t cause me a single moment of grief throughout the entire demo.
Although some may have found it an odd choice to first show off the potential of the PlayStation 4, after spending some time with it it’s clear that there’s far more than meets the eye, and with Mark Cerny (did I mention he’s also worked on Resistance, God of War and Marble Madness?) behind it, it’s hard to imagine Knack not being a must-have launch title when the console launches later this year. Knack may have the appearance of just another cutesy platformer, but even when you look beneath its impressive skin, there’s a whole world of potential just ready to burst out of the seams.
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