Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Venetica

A short time ago, I discussed the movie Hogfather, featuring a woman who had the rather unique identity of being Death's granddaughter, with fantastic powers since "some things were inherited through more than genetics...some things were inherited through the soul...some things were in the bones."

Apparently I must have a thing for women whose link to Death makes your typical goth girl look like Amy Adams in Enchanted, because while skimming the shelves of some cheap games I stumbled upon Venetica, a story of the daughter of Death itself tasked with killing a necromancer.  Now, I'll insist until my last breath that I initially picked this game up because I saw it took place in Venice, and that was my favorite part of Assassin's Creed II.  

Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's a game featuring an attractive female lead.  Why?  I'll let Francis from PVP explain it: I'm human.  Deal with it.

Where was I- oh, right.  So, this game., this game.  Originally released in Germany in 2009, it first reached the states for the Xbox 360 (the system I picked it up for) in 2011.  It's rather startling how much progress a game can make in graphics and voice acting in two years, and this game embodies that.  The graphics are, at best, "adequate," and the character design is rather puzzling.  Actually, I want to amend that.  The graphics look dated for a 2009 game, with stiff models that jerk like marionettes when they move, but they aren't so bad as to ruin the game by itself.

The story starts with Scarlett, a young woman in a small village near Venice, essentially breaking up with her boyfriend because he's going off to study how to be a soldier and a hero, and she feels like she wouldn't belong in that world.  An attack by assassins quickly kills off a majority of the population of the village, kills your boyfriend, and fits into every other major RPG that happened in the 90s and early 2000s.

This is where things get a bit strange, as in your dreams you meet a person who claims to be your father (or perhaps your mother with a deep voice, it's hard to tell from the image).  He explains, pretty frankly, that "your time has come" and you need to "choose your path" and "save the world."

Of course, when you wake up, everybody around you immediately goes "well, that makes sense" and gets you ready for a grand adventure.  I have mixed feelings about this approach, as it does cut down on the build-up that tends to bore me when a game has you playing a main hero's life during the "before things get bad" stage for several hours.  On the other hand, it's just weird having every single person in town simply accept that "yes, everybody died because assassins came for you, but hey, we knew you were different so let's get you packed up and get you out of here before more assassins show up, mmmkay?"

And it's not like you're being kicked out permanently.  There are still people in town who like you, such as the blacksmith who helps you get a different wardrobe than the one you start the game in (a tattered white dress that's barely staying on).  Of course, the only other clothes in town, apparently, belong to his daughter, so he busts out his sewing skills to help them fit you, thus presenting our default costume:

I'm not sure if I should be saying "Shakira was right, hips don't lie" or pointing out that maybe sheer mesh and lace isn't the most practical combat outfit.  I enjoy an attractive outfit on an attractive character as much as any other guy playing video games, but I always feel a little weird when I realize that any time my character gets hit with a bladed weapon, there really shouldn't be anything keeping it from reaching my kidneys in one blow.

Now, I'm still playing it, so perhaps I should be calling this "initial impressions" instead of 'review."  I'm not too deep into the story, but the game does have a neat little skill tree to progress and learn through, letting you pick up new powers and combat abilities.  The inventory and equipment system is somewhat clunky, but my biggest complaint is that while it's great that the game cuts through the chaff and gets you right into the plot, it would be nice if there were any tutorials on how to do basic things like "sell items" or "heal myself" instead of blindly pushing buttons to see what happens.

The system also appears to be aping moral choice systems, as I've had several instances where I either get to make a choice that's optimistic and kind to a fault or lets me be the biggest bastard in the land, with the occasional "middle path" road.

One of the big ones so far is helping two brothers settle who inherits their uncle's estate.   One brother looks like a mixture between Vasco De Gama and a musketeer, but his brother's apparently a time-tossed Lex Luthor.

Your job, naturally, is to go into their uncle's house, solve a puzzle, and return with the will.  The brothers then ask you to read it to them, and you get to pick which brother gets the land.  Oh, and the twist?  Lex Luthor there wants to turn the old house into an orphanage, while the brother whose name is actually in the will is solidly of the opinion that what every town needs more of is ale and women and wants to turn it into a bar.

So, yeah, it's not Sophie's Choice, but what do you expect from 2009?

Combat in the game isn't really anything remarkable yet as to the time of this writing,  as the way to beat assassins seems to be "keep walking forward and swing sword wildly, then take one step to the side when they slowly try to hit you back."  Hopefully it picks up because, strangely enough, I find myself enjoying this game despite its faults.

This game almost reaches a "so bad it's good" level, with stilted animation, people clearly reading their dialogue straight from a script, and little glitchy moments where your character will suddenly slide sideways fifteen feet because of a misplaced tree root.  

There's enough interesting ideas in the game to keep it going for now, as well.  The one I'm most interested in exploring so far is a power where, should the energy bar to fuel it be full enough when you die, your body crumples to the ground but your spirit gets to wander around freely for a short time, allowing the bad guys to wander off before you get back up and stab them in the backs.  My guess is that there will be some puzzles or hidden areas that can only be accessed by the undead version of you, and I'd like to know where, exactly, the writers have in mind for that to go.

Plus, I haven't reached Venice yet, and that was the whole point of picking up the game.

I'll provide updates as I play if anything in particular leaps out to make this a brilliant game or makes me quit in frustration, but for now it's just a fun time killer.

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