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Sorcery – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Saturday, 2 June 20122 Comments

Sorcery is one of those rare breeds: a PS Move exclusive. This wand-waving adventure from The Workshop was unveiled at E3 2010 with an initial spring 2011 release advertised, which changed to autumn 2011, before finally arriving last week. So Sorcery has been a long time coming, but the question is, was it worth the wait?

Well, we’ll get to the point quickly and say yes, but only with some major reservations.

Basically, it’s difficult to comprehend how this could have taken so long to arrive. It is an attractive looking game, but the environments are sparse, empty, unremarkable and completely linear, as though their designs have been ripped straight out of an early PS2-era game.  The only thing keeping you occupied as you move from one fight to the next is an endless supply of breakable objects (containing loot) and the occasional light puzzle.

Looking back at the E3 2010 demo, the overall foundations for the gameplay were in place. The main character Finn, then known simply as the apprentice, could cast most of the spells that made it into the final game. A flick of the wrist could fire your arcane bolt, flame blast and ice bolt spells. A swipe of the controller could conjure up a whirlwind and slamming down produced a powerful area effect spell.

Lift the heavy thing with a swing to the right

Add earthquake and lightning spells to the mix and we have Finn’s complete set. The demo even showed the combo system; send a flame spell through one of your whirlwinds and you get a fiery storm. Magic – and very cool.

The main puzzle mechanics of the final game were also outlined in the presentation. The apprentice could mend broken bridges with a spinning gesture and get past obstacles by turning into a rat after drinking a Polymorph potion. The final game doesn’t get much more ambitious than that.

The Workshop may be a small studio that relies heavily on outsourcing, but it is still surprising that it’s taken so long to put the game together. It’s fairly short, but maybe what’s more telling is what didn’t make it into the final game. Some of the changes point to a major shift in direction to open the game up to a younger audience. Some of these changes are welcome, others less so.

The original demo showed a dark and gloomy dungeon setting with the apprentice fighting ugly goblins: standard dungeon crawler stuff. The game now has a much more colourful look and a Celtic style based on Irish folklore.

Finn has ditched his cheesy cape and acquired a talking cat called Erline as a companion. The goblins are gone as well, so too has that complete level actually. The end result is a world that feels much more cheerful and fun. Finn is bursting with youthful energy and he forms a good partnership with Erline. It’s hardly a gripping Potteresque tale, but it’s charming in the best possible sense.

"Look what I did!"

Less pleasing however are the changes The Workshop has made to the gameplay, especially with regards to puzzles which have become not very puzzling at all. All of them are heavily signposted and many are a case of following simple button prompts, effectively removing all of the problem solving.

The combat has taken a small hit too. The first presentation showed Finn having more control over his basic arcane bolt spell. The presenter described how the action of the wand has an effect on a bolt’s power, but that’s not the case now. You can add a bit of curve, but that’s about it.

This spell is all you have for the early stages of the game, so that section is repetitive to the point of inducing tennis elbow. But even the better spells seem to have lost a bit of punch in development. The frost spell had an immediate and powerful effect, but now it lamely refrigerates enemies gradually.  The apprentice once had the ability to control an active whirlwind – basically allowing you to throw enemies around the level – but that’s gone too.

No doubt there were practical reasons behind these changes, but they are still disappointing. They would have offered more control and a greater sense of power. That’s what you want from your wizard game, right?

The above quibbles aside, the combat is still satisfying once Finn has his full set of spells. Flicking between them on the fly and experimenting with different combinations is rewarding. You can shoot an arcane bolt into a fire storm to create multiple fire bolts that home in on enemies, or you can shoot an arcane bolt into a lightning storm to spark off multiple bolts.

Now that's a firewall

The bosses are also memorable. Whether it’s taking on the Nightmare Witch or a giant troll, the boss fights always offer a genuine challenge that tests your spell knowledge. Each has specific weaknesses, but these aren’t always obvious and implementing the right strategy does require skill.

More importantly, it’s simply wonderful to use Move in Sorcery. It feels intuitive, very responsive and appropriate. You don’t feel silly when you do a gesture because it feels right. You know it wouldn’t be half the game if you were using a DualShock.

This is because it’s been built from the ground up to use Move. Nothing has been retrofitted. It’s what we’ve been crying out for, and we had expected Sony to have given us more experiences like this by now.

An unlikely friendship

The fact Sony hasn’t has left us with a small dilemma with Sorcery. We find ourselves recommending it for The Workshop’s excellent implementation of the device. That it’s a full-length game built exclusively to use Move makes it unique, and we know that’s what a lot of gamers want.

But we can’t help but wonder if our Move malnourishment is causing us to lower our standards. If you look at Sorcery as an overall package it isn’t particularly remarkable. It’s short, limited, one-dimensional, often unimaginative and technically average. But when it does get it right it is great fun. It offers great wand control and it’s charming.

Is this enough? We wouldn’t buy a Move controller just to play Sorcery, but it does provide an ideal opportunity for current Move owners to throw on their cloak and dust off their wand. Now all we need is for Sony to give us more opportunities. The device is great, and it deserves great games.