Do You Believe In Magic
Sorcery is finally here. The game that was initially heralded as the perfect ambassador for arguing Move’s relevance to hardcore gaming has had an uneven journey on its road to retail. It first surfaced at E3 2010 where it showed off some unique interface mechanics, and then promptly disappeared from the radar as a slew of Wii knock-off games waggled their way onto Sony’s motion control system. Well, now it’s here, and while it can safely argued that it’s the best Move game currently available, considering the competition, that’s not saying much.
Harry Potter’s More Irritating Jock Rival
Finn is a sorcerer’s apprentice. Because this is an American game, unlike Harry Potter, Finn is not a polite, good natured, humble young man with a good heart and personality that he shares with a helping of kindness, honesty and loyalty to his friends. Instead, he is rude, smart-mouthed, and would likely be the kind of person that would have stuffed Harry Potter in a locker on his first day at Hogwarts for being a nerd wearing glasses. In other words, he’s a typical American teenager, and thus perfect for that audience that equates “jerk” with heroic. When he ignores all common sense and opens the way for a great evil to enter the world due to pride and his own arrogance, he attempts to correct the wrong-doing so as not to get caught out on it by his master. Thus, with that incredibly noble quest set in his path, Finn sets out to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.
Sitting down and watching the game in action is a much less irritating experience. The first and most important thing to note at the start is this Sony exclusive uses the Unreal engine. The PS3 is not terrific with the Unreal engine, not without a lot of work, and this game demonstrates that once again. The ferocious bloom lighting characteristic of an out of control Unreal engine is on show here, as are the occasional delayed lapses of proper texture resolution that Unreal is known for. Rocksteady with their take on Batman is still probably the best example the PS3 has of a game built on Unreal that doesn’t show many performance issues. It’s just surprising that even a PS3 exclusive couldn’t quite hit the same mark. On the other hand, the frame-rate remains stable despite the graphic glitches. Players can rely on a technically solid gaming experience even when there are a lot of enemies spawning on screen. For a game made on Unreal, it’s actually got its own distinct art direction that manages to avoid the shiny, Vaseline coated ‘Roid Gorillas that the engine was born to render. This is a competent graphical job, neither riddled with glitches, nor lined with greatness.
The audio for Sorcery follows similar suit. With a fairy-centric tone, the music is full of Celtic influences and instruments like mandolins and hammered dulcimers, and it all comes through crisply and distinctly. As gamers have come to expect these days, the music is no slouch, assuming that you’re into something like a cross between Battlestar Galactica and Loreena Mckennitt, that is. The audio effects are also competently done, and, as to be expected from a game focused on magic, “sparkly.” Magic missiles, fire bolts, lightning and gusts of wind are all represented in the elemental magic used, as well as the obligatory grunting of bogeys, trolls and other monsters of Celtic myth. Everything is given adequate audio coverage, but again, none of it reaches the heights of some of the best audio seen in games such as the soundscapes of Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption with evocative mixes of ambient audio and music. The voice acting is effective, though obviously skewed towards a younger, tween players. This is a game that knows its primary audience has an innate distrust of adults but is still too emotionally uncertain to be honest about their feelings and it all comes through in the insults that Finn and his magical cat companion hurl at each other constantly throughout the game. The actors have done a good job of portraying the awkwardness of teenagers in a difficult time, eschewing any kind of sense of timeless, fantasy dialog for straight up, colloquial delivery. I’m pretty sure “That’s awesome,” wasn’t said with any regularity by teenagers of the medieval period, but it’s still in heavy usage in the fantasy land that Finn inhabits.
Flicking, Waving and Stirring to Victory
The big question that everyone likely has about Sorcery is, “Does the Playstation Move work with it?” And the answer is mostly yes, with a couple of significant criticisms. This is a game that was touted, from the ground up to be a game that was Move-centric while still conveying a hardcore sensibility for the more serious gamers out there. The Workshop aimed for the moon, and they didn’t quite get there, but they got out of orbit, at least, and that counts for something.
Sorcery is essentially a 3rd person action shooter, only instead of guns, you wave a wand around, shifting between various elements to do damage, or occasionally using other spells such as shapeshifting and telekinesis to negotiate certain obstacles. Almost everything in Sorcery could probably be done with a traditional controller, and some things—like combat—would probably be more responsive and accurate if they’d been given that option, but unlike No More Heroes—which is probably the closest thing this game has to a hardcore competitor—no such option exists. It’s either Move or bust.
Players use either a Move navigation controller Dualshock in their left hand for the actual moving of Finn around. When it comes to the shooting, a combination of auto-targeting and some slight angle and motion detection come into play with the Move motion controller itself. Most of the time this is functional, especially during the course of normal play when the game only throws a few enemies at you. The game will normally lock on the closest foe, and you can run n’ gun—or cast, as the case may be—flicking the Move controller forward to signal you want to unleash a magical bolt. If the enemy is elevated, you can raise your arm to shoot higher, and if the enemy is behind cover, you can actually apply a little “English” and whip the controller to side to give your bolt a curve to go around and behind cover to hit enemies hiding there. It’s even more impressive when you’re doing mundane things like breaking open the many vases, barrels and other Mandatory Videogame Boxes With Loot that litter the world. Standing near three vases, you can actually flick the controller to the left, right and center, and auto-targeting combined with motion detection is nuanced enough to tell the difference and take out each one in your desired order. There are also mini-games for the creation of permanent, stat-boosting potions that have you mixing ingredients Macbeth Witch-style, grinding up mushrooms, sprinkling essence of starlight and mixing the whole thing up before shaking the move controller to get your potion “fizzy” and then tilting it upwards to mimic taking a huge gulp. There’s a cute sense of immersion to the motions that will likely tickle younger gamers with the enthusiastic embrace of the “let’s pretend you’re really a sorcerer” vibe the game is pushing. In that regard, as a game for the younger set, Sorcery is an unqualified success and any child that is still mooning over—or has yet to discover—the allure of Harry Potter will get a huge kick out of this game.
For those of who were wondering if this that fabled experience successfully married to the Move system, the answer is still a much less enthusiastic, “I suppose.”
The Move mechanics work, there’s no question of that. It just feels like some extra work is required in order to play it this way. This is most obvious during those sections where the player is taking on a horde of enemies instead of just a few. The game collapses under the weight of too many enemies attacking at the same time, and its auto-targeting at these times rarely jibes with what players will want to do. If a giant troll is attacking you and you want to do some damage to him thanks to his vulnerability to fire, it’s frustrating to have the game insist that what you must be trying to do is burn the bogeys next to him, despite the fact that they’re not actually attacking you right now. This, combined with the lack of a controllable camera can turn those “horde mode” moments of the game into a nightmarish experiences that the developers hadn’t intended. The Move system can also run into trouble once your repertoire of spells increases. Like I said, they want you using buttons as rarely as possible, so switching from fire to ice to wind requires gestures. While it’s easy to switch to the default magic missile, which requires just pushing the Move button with your thumb, fire requires a downward half circle to the right, while lightning requires a straight slash from left to right, but lowered. As you unlock more of these elemental spells, the similarities in some of the motions pretty much guarantee that during hectic fights you’re not always going to be switching to the element you wanted, with lightning—your most powerful spell—being the most difficult to access in high pressure situations. This can seriously work against you in a big way if you can’t maintain your precision when combining elements, a major mechanic of combat. Players can do things like create a wall of fire, send a miniature tornado through it to create a fire tornado, and then fire magic missiles through said tornado that get spit out as fireballs. It’s an effective tactic, but only if you can train yourself to maintain discipline and precision with your gestures. Few players will probably have the patience and determination to do this.
These two serious criticisms aside, the game plays adequately. When it’s not acting up on you, Move works reasonably well. Be aware that the physical nature of constantly swinging and flicking your arm pretty much guarantees you won’t want to be playing for more than a couple of hours straight to prevent serious muscle soreness. It’s also not a very long game, clocking at 6-8 hours depending on player skill and difficulty level chosen. Is this this the best Move game on the market? Considering how poor so many of the others are, yes, it is. Does that mean you should immediately go out and buy it? If you’re looking for a demo piece for your Move system, or a game with a strong chance of enchanting younger players, definitely. I myself still found that the No More Heroes port to the PS3 was a more engaging, hardcore Move experience overall. Sorcery, however, is a mechanically superior game if you want something that shows off what your Move system can do.