I remember I had concerns about the Ball pricing. Well. Now that I bought and finished the Ball, I made up my opinion.
The Ball isn't the newest nor the freshest thing on the market, yet it breathes some fresh ideas on the Puzzle genre, First Person Puzzler, to be exact.
The very first cutscene hurls you directly into the action, kinda Unreal-esque when you woke up in the crash-landed space ship, making your way out you drop down into a cave and directly into a hallway of some ancient, buried culture that affected mankind. However, this mere storyline is only presented in few (and brief) cutscenes. I think more visible scenes or wallpaintings couldn't have hurt.
However, presentation is otherwise very good, only very few things can be found, and you need to look out for them, really. Visually, the game is top notch. It's one of those games that makes the UE3 stand out again, it is no realism-only-engine, it captures unique looks, and the Ball is no exception. Lighting, Architecture, most of the texture work, character design, it's all gorgeous. Now if you could add some detail layer to the cave textures to make them look less choppy and pixelated...
Sounddesign is a different story, though. The original riddle tune may be used a little too often, but then, the music is well composed and fitting, as is the overall sound engineering (haaaark, what a word at this time of the day). The Ball is massive, and you can hear it.
Animations, Coding, and everything else related to those writing 1s and 0s is fine, nothing seemed jumpy or edgy. It is fitting into the world, into the game. Only thing to mention here is the AI, the routines are slightly simplistic, but they are varied enough to not make you bored on your playthrough. Tlalocs could strike slightly faster, me thinks.
In one of the reviews, the author complained about the controls. I cannot share his view. I agree jumping somehow seems to make you faster than travelling by rolling around, yet controls feel sharp, and physics tight. It's no over-top-realism, like mentioned earlier, but it's absolutely believable. Especially with all the groovy effects later on.
Speaking of progress, Leveldesign shows that you progress further into the world, and like mentioned earlier, it looks very good by that. My main gripe with leveldesign is just, the later stages seem to have no real purpose other than it's just mentioned as machinery. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to show parts of what they built, what they refined, how they worked other than serving as puzzles for the player. I know that task isn't always easy, but it would have made the world more believable.
Oh right and I Teotl 2, after the boss fight and past the bridge out of the city, you can use the ball to jump up the gardens and then fall off the map by jumping into one of the gaps close to the building. Results in either cheating or a map restart. A fix for a patch.
Other than solving riddles, the game also ramps up in difficulty by fighting. While there's not a horribly awful lot of stuff wrong with the mechanics, it feels a little simple with the method of running into an enemy again and again until he goes down. And in the end, I found myself wanting just to rampage past all the enemies and solving more riddles, which were logic and well concepted. I almost never found myself struggling because I didn't know what to do, all seemed very clear, so kudos here.
One thing to note, when the Ball comes very close, I experienced a noticeable drop on my framerate. Not so much that the game swam around or stocked, but noticeable. Maybe coming from all the effects going on along with full AA, but my rig should be able to handle any UE3 game without problems.
Last but not least, the survival mode. Nicely done, the maps definatly have this UT influence from most of the mappers onboard. It's fastpaced, hectic, and the traps leave that special grin on your face if you have your go on a dozen mummies at once. Hope no one complains should I borrow an idea or two for a UT-DM-conversion. Would like to see you doing it oldschool again, by the way.
Final notes, a few suggestions:
- A counter that adds all times together, and statistics that show who is the fasted ball-roller around
- a healing system that kicks in between the fights, possibly randomly hidden in urnes and stashes so that your health has more purpose than it has now
- more, possibly harder riddles in either special challenge maps or side notes of the game. I know that not everyone shares the same logic ways that I have, but I found the game slightestly easy.
To get back to my initial intro - the length was more than I expected and the atmosphere and gameplay really made it stand out for me. Definatly recommending the game!