The only thing more frustrating than a bad game, is a game that comes so close so being truly amazing and yet just fails to completely pull it off. It’s with these feelings always at the back of my mind that I’ve found it really hard to review Abyss Odyssey, a side scrolling action adventure game by Chilean indie developer ACE.
The story is rather basic, but serves its purpose of setting up the ensuing rouge like action. A chasm has opened up, and spewing forth are the realisations of a sleeping Warlocks dreams and nightmares. Taking control of a suitably battle hardened hero, your mission is to descend through the depths and destroy said Warlock.
That’s as interesting as the story gets and it’s gameplay, rather than a narrative that tries to do the job of bringing you back for more. A deep if rather confusing combat system is full of highs and lows. It’s all about timing, skill and learning your enemies attacks. So close to being perfect, its the sort of control system that would seem more at home in a traditional fighting game rather than this sort of game, problems do crop up a whole lot more frequently than I’d like though. At times there is so much lag between pressing a button and seeing the corresponding action on screen, that it seems unfair if not unplayable. This issue does seem directly tied in to the frame rate, which is rather inconsistent to say the least. After playing for several hours on 360, I was tempted to just buy Abyss on steam, hoping for better performance but after doing a bit of digging around it seems the issue is not limited to the 360.
Rolling In The Deep
Whilst you start your adventure as feisty female Warrior; Katrien- as you progress you’ll be able to unlock a further two characters. A slower but more heavy hitting Ghost Monk and a near naked Spear wielding Goddess. Each character is definitely unique, with their own set of suitably special special moves, but the varied ways to play doesn’t stop there. Defeated enemies drop souls, if you have enough Mana you are able to mark an enemy and take on its move set once you defeat it. So that leaves you with over 30 different combat routines to learn and master if you want to dive that deeply into Abyss Odyssey.
There is lots more I could mention about gameplay, but another frustration and equal joy is discovering all these little things for as you play. The game doesn’t provide much in the way of hand holding or explanation, what is explained isn’t done so very clearly but it’s worth delving into Abyss with your eyes open and finding all these things for yourself. The way the respawn mechanic is implemented is very clever, but I’ll let you discover that bit for yourself.
Levels in Abyss are short and sweet, all procedurally generated, and your path through them is also randomised. From icy caverns to lush almost alien looking tropical subterranean gardens, they can be absolutely stunning, and often overshadow some of the excellent character design. The enemies are equally as varied and beautiful. From you standard skeletons, to more fantastical creatures and beasts, the developers have clearly let their imagination run wild, and when everything is running at a harmonious frame rate its really is a beautiful game, beating even Child of Light or the recent Rayman titles in the pretty stakes when it comes to 2D visuals. However as seems a running theme with Abyss, it does fall just short of perfection, the stuttering and sometimes shambling frame rate can be really jarring, it’s such a shame as it really can break the immersion that the artists have clearly laboured over.
In Too Deep
Despite the issues, Abyss Odyssey is still a great game. It’s a testament to what the developers have actually got right that despite the glaring problems it’s still getting a cracking score. I can’t work out if the game feels slightly rushed or ACE have just tried to pack a little too much into what is essentially a very reasonably priced downloadable game. One thing is certain, Abyss is completely unique. It will frustrate as often delight but you will not find a gaming experience quite like it any anywhere else.
Abyss Odyssey is available digitally on Xbox 360, PS3 and Steam.