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Shakespeare in the Making (Beware of Spoilers)

  • amerk
  • 06/29/2010 02:53 PM
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose…”

Okay, maybe comparing this to Shakespeare is a little extreme (especially considering Shakespeare finished his stories), but at first glance, A Blurred Line is a splendid example of what gaming used to be like back in the days when role playing games were intended to be designed for both story and gameplay, and not so much about graphics and effects. Lysander really goes out of his way here to create an elaborate plot with a rollercoaster ride full of twists and turns, but what makes this indie game stand out above others is the time and effort he uses to establish the plot, the detail he provides to the viewer, and the intricate in-game cut scenes he uses that shows off his talent in game design and events. Perhaps one of the best twists he uses occurs within the first several minutes of the game, in which he employs a bait-and-switch that catches the player off guard. Here we are introduced to 3 characters at the start of the game. It’s no secret that this is merely an intro, because he starts the player off right in the middle of the action without giving any background information. One other game comes to mind when I see this, and that’s Lufia & The Fortress of Doom for the Super Nintendo. Unlike Lufia, however, we are not witnessing a prologue of events prior to the game, but rather a series of events that will supposedly occur late in the game. Another twist is the fact that the 3 characters we are first introduced to are not the main characters the player will be controlling. On the contrary, the person we were led to believe is the villain is indeed the hero of this tragic tale, and the leader of the original three (Kersh) is actually the villains, or one of them anyway. The purpose of this game, therefore, is to find out what led up to the events in the intro, and whether or not there can be any real justice.

Unfortunately, that is where the game falls short, because it was never completed, and so many answers remain unsolved. But more on that in a moment.

One of the things that stood out about ABL is Lysander’s style to “not” use swear words. Lately, more and more indie games seem to be falling back on their swear words as an excuse to make a mature game, when all it takes is some planning, some understanding of the human language, and the ability to tell a complicated tale. Throughout the game, there are multiple branching opportunities that lead to various outcomes. One of these is a bit flawed, and unfortunately it doesn’t matter what you decide through the course of the game since the end result is the same, but it does allow for replay value so people can pick and choose different paths each time the game is played. This allows for opportunities to see the game world through different eyes, to pick up parts of the story we may otherwise have missed, and offer the chance to explore different dungeons and find different kinds of treasure depending on the actions and the characters that you are with. The music was also utilized well, in spite of some looping issues, and the different pieces fit the mood real well, regardless of where I was in the game.

That’s not to say it was all perfect, of course, and there were several game design choices that I think could have been handled better, and the current game as it stands remains unfinished and unpolished. There were a few mapping errors, where Talon could scale a wall where he otherwise shouldn’t have been able to. Outside of Lashe City, the mapping also tends to become bland and in need of a make-over. There’s a lot of open space that could have been utilized better, villages become a run-of-the-mill similar to other indie games, and the game tends to lose some of its steam about halfway through. And as mentioned previously, some of the music pieces had looping issues where, after the tune had run its course, it would pause several seconds before starting up again. Most of the music was good, but there were some areas where I had to turn the volume down because the music became annoyingly loud and repetive.

These, of course, were minor issues in comparison to the game play, which I felt was the most flawed. Please allow me to explain.

As I’ve said before, the branching was a unique concept to allow for replay value, but only as long as it’s handled correctly. You start the game (after the prologue) with Talon, and you get to decide, through the course of your actions, what character you will team up with later: Ultimately, you can decide to befriend one of two gangs (and gain either Saldra or Arden), or befriend neither of them and gain a robot late in the game. This makes decision making very hard, because the robot is powerful, Arden has a good personality, but you really need Saldra in order to make use of the various items you find, such as a weapon and a book on looting you find in the Rat Tracks. So without Saldra, you really can’t utilize a lot of the equipment and items. Some diversity would have definitely helped.

Because of these branches, there is a big glitch in Section 32 late in the game, right after your confrontation with the Agency Guards in the warehouse. Here you will find Stash’s Emporium. Now, if you’ve taken the hover-tram to work, you would have met Stash, who robbed you of your credits but gave you a business card in the process. You then can come here to his Emporium and he will convince you to take his robot as compensation. However, if you don’t end up taking the tram to work, coming here results in a game-ending bug. The reason for this is because Stash will only talk to you at the Emporium if he previously gave you the business card. No business card, he won’t talk to you, and for some reason you also can’t leave the Emporium to continue the game. This of course, has led me to another, ultra secret discovery. If you agree to help the Lazer Teeth (by pointing out the Neon Viper spy) and then elect to use the hover-tram verses walking through Section 33, you not only acquire Saldra as your companion, but you still can pick up the powerful robot. This doesn’t work for Arden, though, since befriending the Neon Vipers doesn’t allow you the option of taking the tram to work.

Another thing I wasn’t fond of was the battling. Talon had a unique way of obtaining skills, and I really wanted to utilize this more, but those skills could only be used and absorbed for just that particular battle, and couldn’t be carried over into future battles. Saldra’s looting is sort of a “luck of the draw” experience, so a monster that has a rare weapon may only drop it a fraction of the time, and you can only use the looting just once per battle. The combination of the two (Talon’s aura and Saldra’s looting) made running around hunting for monsters pointless, aside from the normal grind fest. And because the game was never extremely difficult, grinding for levels was never too much of an issue for me.

The battlers themselves were a hit and miss, since some of them seemed to be well-designed, but others seemed odd and out of place. Case in point, in the prologue, the droid looked like something a 3rd grader might have designed, and the Junkbot (fought in Stash’s Emporium) looked like a contender for Aqua Teen Hunger Force. However, other battlers seemed to have been well drawn, and even looked a bit like anime in style. Also, I wasn’t too keen on the choice of battlers, either. For instance, when Talon first goes on the run, he ends up fighting – of all things – rats, dirtballs, dogs, and muck of some sort. It would have been a far more effective gaming experience if he were to fight enemies related to high-crime city life, such as thugs, criminals, independent gang members and maybe even a rogue agent or two. Later in the game you have more opportunity to fight various enemies, but even then you are surrounded by your typical fantasy enemies (wolves, scorpions, slimes, snakes, spiders).

Finely, some of the challenges the game through at you were oftentimes hard and confusing: when you are leaving Lashe City, you have to dodge cars and you are travel at high speeds. It’s a lot harder to toggle the up and down buttons than it would have been the left and right, so perhaps this would have been better had the street lanes been perpendicular verses horizontal. I was also not too keen on the simulation game you play near the end and found this to be rather difficult. But there were other things that made up for it, and I found myself enjoying Paradise much more than any other part of the game.

In the end, though, so many questions were left unanswered. Who is Talan? Why was he chosen? Does his ability to absorb have anything to do with it? What is this package? What is the relationship between Kersh and Pierson, Emily’s father? The intro suggests Emily was Kersh’s wife and had died, but how does this occur? And why? Throughout the game, Kersh is shown as the villain, whereas in the intro he seems to be conflicted and Talon is the villain. People do change, so does this mean that we’ve been rooting for the wrong guy all along? And what is the Advocate’s plan?

Perhaps in the final version, all of these things would have been resolved. But unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be a very likely possibility. At the end of this game we are shown a trailer of what should have been Line’s End, but nothing ever came of this. Only Lysander can answer these questions. But don’t let this stop you from giving this game a try. In any case, regardless of how incomplete it is, it will surely provide you with an experience not found in very many games. Shakespeare it is not, a classic in the making, it is.

Story: 3.5/5 (Very suspenseful, plenty of twists, but left unfinished with too many unanswered questions)

Music: 4/5 (Great selection with some exceptions, some looping issues)

Graphics/Mapping: 3/5 (Not terrible, not great, some passage issues, mapping outside of Lashe City could have been a little better)

Gameplay: 3/5 (Some unique ideas, decent replay value, well designed events, but various mechanics, a branching bug, and battling seemed to bring this down a couple notches)

Conclusion: 3.375/5

“… this isn’t the sword of Langermal! Get out of my sight! Foolish knave – ”


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Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
I agree that comparing this to Shakespeare is pretty extreme. =P Even though I too think the writing is very good.

Just like to point out that if you absorb a skill enough times, Talan gains it permanently.
Ah, I was not aware of that.
I think this review is a little confusing.

And I definitely don't think ABL's writing is that good. The story IS great, but the writing is good, but nothing special.
And I definitely don't think ABL's writing is that good. The story IS great, but the writing is good, but nothing special.

And I definitely don't think ABL's writing is that good. The story IS great, but the writing is good, but nothing special.

Are you saying good writing = good story?
I'm a dog pirate
A well-written review for ABL? That makes a change. Now ABL has more than 2 reviews that aren't complete shit.

I didn't think my review was that bad. Never had one of my reviews -- or ANYTHING I've written -- called complete shit before. I mean, I know it's a fairly short and concise review that I wrote for the hell of it, but I don't like to think I shovel shit onto this site. Thanks.
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