I must have completely missed the arrival of Vessel on the PC back in 2012, as playing it on the PS3 for the first time in 2014 I found myself in the unusual position of knowing nothing about the latest game I was about to play. Even the name ‘Vessel’ was something of an enigma – I expected it to be a reference to some kind of ship or spacecraft. However as the game booted up the loading screen displayed a human character, equipped with what looked like a Ghostbuster’s proton pack, opposite some sort of walking blob with a single eye. This blob turned out to be a Fluro, a liquid-based entity that populates the world, and the eponymous vessels of the title.
The mysterious vibe continued as the game started, the introduction of the Fluros to this steampunk-themed world illustrated by a few quick glimpses of newspaper clippings and photographs. The human protagonist Arkwright is shown to be the hero who invented Fluros – an artificial seed that can animate a body of water into a semi-autonomous being that instinctively seeks to activate lit switches – and in doing so revolutionised all forms of industry in the world. However, in the present time the Fluros are starting to malfunction and it’s up to Arkwright to investigate what’s gone wrong with his inventions – once he can get back into his lab after carelessly getting locked out.
Early impressions of the gameplay seemed to indicate a fairly basic platform game featuring physics-based puzzles, albeit with some impressive use of water. However it quickly starts to get more interesting once you get the ability to create Fluros and collect your equipment, which allows you to spray or vacuum up water. The puzzles also get more elaborate and inventive and sometimes require some outside-the-box thinking, although the lack of instructions can get frustrating when trying to understand a new feature – or even for something as basic as trying to work out how the upgrade machine works. Particularly annoying was the accelerator puzzle which is introduced fairly early in the game and which I spent far too long trying to solve, until I eventually realized I was supposed to leave it alone as it could only be solved when the rest of the game had been completed.
This vagueness also stretches to the storyline and disappointing lack of atmosphere. We aren’t given too much background information about the world that Arkwright and the Fluros inhabit, and the only exposition comes from the text entries in Arkwright’s which make for pretty dry reading. Arkwright himself is a pretty uninspiring character, there’s no personality in his body-language and the expression on his face never changes, and as the only human present in the game this is pretty disappointing – titles like Limbo and Bastion excelled at creating atmosphere with a minimalist style but Bastion isn’t in their league. The saving grace however is the Fluros themselves who, despite being pretty mindless and bound to follow their pre-set behaviours, are captivating. Everything about them is fairly creepy, but at the same time you can’t help but feel sorry for them and at other times you’re just impressed by their ability to evolve. Despite their simplicity they also possess the personality that the rest of the game lacks, helped by the fact that each one appears to be unique depending how much liquid is used to create them and where the seed floats within them.
The Fluros themselves also look great, which is more than be said for the rest of the game. Everything is very murky (apart from the Orchard which is refreshingly bright) and it’s often difficult to see sections of the screen or identify what objects can be interacted with. The murkiness does mean the use of lights and glowing objects work well though, and as previously mentioned the liquid modelling is impressive. Sound is also pretty uninspired, the music is suitably moody but most of the time the only noise you will hear is the clanging of Arkwright’s boots on metal surfaces.
My other main complaints are due to the game design and the fact these issues haven’t been addressed in the two years since the PC release. A lot of the game feels very fiddly – whether it’s trying to climb a ladder, move a switch or spray liquid though a vent. Even more glaring is the regular slowdown which is pretty unforgivable given the basic graphics and small environments. I also encountered numerous technical problems playing through the game – saving glitches, audio mistakes, events not triggering properly and in some cases puzzles somehow getting marked as solved before you’ve actually solved them.
However to be fair there are several intelligent design decisions – puzzles can be bypassed and returned to later if you get stuck, and each section of the game can be completed without necessarily having to complete every single puzzle. There also isn’t any unnecessary filler, and although this does mean the game isn’t particularly long it also means you never get bored or encounter any repetition. Despite my numerous criticisms Vessel is (for the most part) satisfying and fun to play and I would easily recommend it to fans of the puzzling-platform games, as long as you’re able to overlook its flaws and enjoy the well-crafted puzzles.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - /10
Graphics - /10
Sound - /10
Replay Value - /10
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