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PS4's The PlayRoom air hockey demo is actually kind of a blast

The PlayRoom, the pre-installed PS4 hardware tech demo that will be included with Sony's new console at launch, hides a surprisingly compelling game in its augmented reality trappings.

You've probably seen it in trailers and the like: It's a simple air hockey game played on a virtual field projected by the light bars on two DualShock 4 controllers. Each player uses the touchpad to maneuver their paddle on either end of the field — it's about half as wide as your goal, so blocking shots isn't too difficult. You can click down on the pad to sort of buckle and pop your paddle, letting you fire back the puck quickly if you time it right. At face value, it's not especially exciting — it's the way you can manipulate the court that puts an interesting spin on things.

Both players can twist their controllers to twist their end of the table up or down, letting you contort the playing field in any number of ways. By moving your light bar closer to your opponents, the field shrinks in response — the inverse is true too, as moving away from your opponent can stretch the table out to enormous lengths.

What's neat is that this isn't just a visual effect; the puck is fairly constant, and will continue moving with its natural momentum regardless of how you're moving the table. This opens up some pretty fascinating strategies: I scored a number of goals by waiting for the puck, power-hitting it then swinging my controller towards my opponent, shrinking the field and giving them no time to prepare for my shot. Bending the table lets you put all kinds of crazy english on the puck to try and stymie your opponent, although this endeavor saw me scoring on myself more often than not.

There haven't been many PS4 games or applications shown off that utilize the console's new camera and DualShock 4 light bar — other PlayRoom demos, like the miniature robots you can manipulate using the controller's many inputs, don't do a great job of showing how they can be used in an actual game. The air hockey demo is the first example I can think of that shows how it can add something to a traditional game — if PlayRoom can add something like fencing to something like air hockey, the possibilities for other developers seem endless.

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