BySteve 'jsslifelike' Conger
Becoming Harry Potter isn’t really high on my gaming “to-do” list per se, but wielding arcane magicks is always a welcome activity. Enter Sorcery- a game that was intended to be the mystical force that would push Sony’s Move motion controllers off of retail shelves and into consumers’ living rooms. Unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010, the game showed “core” audience potential for what was thought to be a casual control input method. After almost two years of unannounced delays and utter lack of information, Sorcery finally hits stores, but was it worth the wait?
The simple answer is “yes”, but the explanation as to why is nothing as cut-and-dry. The adventure begins with a bungling sorceror’s apprentice who attempts to liberate a magic wand from a locked armoire against the wishes of his master, who has journeyed into town for supplies. Playing the part of his conscience is a talking cat, whose sole motivation seems to be protection and guidance in a snarky, yet caring fashion. Finn and Erline, voiced by Charlie Schlatter(MGS 3: Snake Eater) and Ashley Bell(2010’s Alice In Wonderland), respectively, seem to genuinely care for one another. Make no mistake- although Finn can channel the elements, the real magic exists in the interactions between co-stars.
The Move wand only takes seconds to calibrate(upon returning for each play session) and is incredibly accurate, making for a soft learning curve. The caveat here is that the player NEEDS to own the Navigational Subcontroller(think Nunchuk), unless he or she elects to use one-half of a Dualshock 3 controller. Finn is physically controlled with the NS’ analog stick while the wand represents one-to-one parity with the one in his hand. As more elemental knowledge is ascertained and harnessed, each can be selected by holding the MOVE button and performing individually different motions(also, time slows during input).
Character progression is handled intelligently as well. Upon discovering this particular potion-crafting system, the thought of, “I’ll be forced to constantly buff myself to progress” comes to mind. Nothing could be further from the truth- each elixir is a one-time-use that permanently augments Finn’s attributes. Once a recipe is researched, gamers can use the ingredients by making grinding, pouring or sprinkling motions, then flip the wand upside down to begin stirring them in the cauldron. Once the liquid is concocted, all that’s left is to shake it up and knock it back. Bottoms up!
Combat in Sorcery is about what one would expect from such a title. Enemy encounters are fairly predictable, as the game’s linearity shines a floodlight on the areas that are more arena-like, essentially alerting players to engagements well before they occur. For the most part, the adversarial forces are basically run-of-the-mill. That’s not to say that each fracas doesn’t get progressively harder, because it does. Later in the game, a group could consist of three crawling enemies and four on foot, with a few of each requiring use of separate elements to dispatch. The battle system stays fresh soley because it feels so damned good to lay a line of fire, then summon a whirlwind which sucks it up and directs it toward foes. If that doesn’t sound appealing, Sorcery just isn’t for you.
If you’re at all familiar with Unreal Engine 3 tech, the visual quality here will be no surprise. Solid art direction and use of vibrant colors help to sell the crypts, towns and other environments you’ll encounter along the course of the 5-6 hour escapade. The only real issue here is that Sorcery suffers from horizontal screen-tearing, and badly at that. The good news is that, for the most of the journey, the player will not need to swing the camera abruptly enough to cause it. Cutscenes are produced in a 2D storybook, motion-comic style with all of the assets given a Photoshop canvas texturizer filter to really sell it. And that brings me to my final point…
The best thing about my decision to finish Sorcery after E3 2012 is that it afforded me insight into what the game lacked to make it great. Sony revealed Wonderbook, an augmented reality game with a casual twist that utilizes a book, the PS3EYE camera and a Move wand. One of the titles announced for it was Book of Spells, a game collaboration with author J.K. Rowling. In it, the player learns spells and completes various objectives to progress. As underwhelming as it was, it would seem to be the perfect missing component to complete Sorcery. Imagine researching a potion recipe or learning to master magicks, all by reading a book Finn could carry in a satchel on his excursion- it could do wonders, if only for the pacing alone.
All in all, Sorcery is a fun, entertaining romp that is well worth the reduced price of admission(MSRP $39.99 USD)- if you already own a complete PlayStation Move set, that is. The narrative, while nothing to write home about, is entertaining and does offer a plot twist a great deal earlier than one would suspect. Solid gameplay, charming voice work and smart use of “waggle” make the game enjoyable, but lack of Vsync and certain other niggles hold it back from becoming truly great. The alliance between SCE’s Santa Monica Studio and The Workshop(think ex-Treyarch employees) worked out in Sony’s favor, but it could have been a real “boon” if the game had been released alongside the now-flailing motion controller.