I had the opportunity this week to visit the Princess Anne Theatre in Piccadilly, for a special preview of the upcoming Ubisoft Kinect title, Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Child of Eden, courtesy of Gamespot UK and Bafta.
A spiritual successor to the cult classic Rez (itself at one point named Project Eden) the game takes much of it’s visual style and game play queues. The only major difference I could see during this preview was the omission of the player avatar. In the first game you have a physical, if somewhat abstract representation of yourself. In this game, however the idea seems to be immersion, so the developers have decided to make you you’re own avatar. This means this game now resembles the hallucinogenic break down of someone who really should stop playing Call of Duty and lay off the acid.
The reason for the direction of this game to be one of such immersion seems to be that the technology (or the technologies pretensions at least) has finally caught up with Mizuguchi-San’s vision. Now, anyone who has read my other blog (none of you) will realise that I am pre-disposed to dislike this game. It’s been made with Kinect in mind, it’s been used to advertise Kinect, the foul stench of Kinect infests it. Kinect is a piece of rushed technology, used to exploit the casual gaming crowd and appeal to the market that Nintendo created. It was developed more because the technology was possible and unique rather than it being a genuinely viable platform for gaming software.
Having said that, when the technology exists, there will always be people who have the technical insight and creative vision to make the absolute best use of it. And without a shadow of a doubt Tetsuya Mizuguchi is one of those people. Possibly as far as Kinect is concerned, the only one.
Child of Eden’s first impression is breathtaking. The most elaborate and lavish menu screen ever conceived; it is the perfect introduction to such a psychedelic game. Particles fly around you in majestic streams like a storm of cherry blossom petals. Creatures move, crawl and fly giving the most mundane of game components its own ecosystem, breathing life into something usually so static and inanimate. And in the middle of all this optic candy lies the games centrepiece, a mysterious female character dressed only in the purest white who may be familiar to fans of the previous title.
All this would be a waste though, if the core game couldn’t match up to the stunning nature of the games opening screen. It does. And then some.
The game is broken up into several parts, in other games known as stages but in Child of Eden they are referred to as “Archives”. You have the Matrix Archive, the Journey Archive, Archives for Passion, Beauty and Hope. And in accordance with their titles they are all themed as such.
Child of Eden takes it’s name from a 22 page poem so it’s art style was never going to be obvious. Each level that was demoed was incredibly distinct from the others and even had parts of levels that were distinct from themselves. Beauty in particular looked amazing, like a digital river banked by binary forests. Never has something so rooted in technology seemed so natural. The theme of nature isn’t just in the basic aesthetics either, the whole game moves with a sense of evolution and growth, with many of the games organisms developing in a way that is completely organic and astoundingly beautiful. Also, all of you’re playthroughs are punctuated with light touches of philosophy, giving you perspective on your performance when you win and lose.
Yes because with all of the talk of the visual mastery we mustn’t forget that this is a game and will need a level of interactivity to justify its position on a console. The game itself seems to let the creativity take all of the complications, because the gameplay itself is deceptively simple. The main crux of the controls rely upon you clenching your fist to lock on to a target and opening your hand to shoot it. This is harder than it seems with our esteemed host Mr Guy Cocker (no seriously, that’s his name) dying half way through his section of the demo (hilariously called out by the game itself in front of an audience of journalists and developers with the antagonising line “An ugly finish but without the grotesque there would be no beauty”). Obviously this game has an underlying depth that doesn’t make itself immediately apparent.
While much of this game still remains a mystery, this much is clear. With it’s commitment to Microsoft’s Kinect Peripheral and the reports that it will support native 3D on all consoles, Q entertainment are trying to make the most immersive game ever and it might be working. The way that the screen constantly bombards you with mutlilayered images all of which are designed and composed with painstaking detail means this game might be one of the most emotionally evoking of the year.
However I would like to make one small disclaimer. I saw this on a theatre set up, complete with HD projection and a full surround sound system turned up so loud the people around me were putting their fingers in their ears. That and Ubisoft kindly put some money behind the bar. So while I still believe it’s one of the most beautiful games ever created; if you don’t have a HD TV, a surround sound system or living arrangements that can accommodate the Kinect technology (or a cranium swimming in Carlsberg) you might not get as much out of this as I did. If you do however, the government might have finally found an acceptable alternative to hallucinogenic drugs.