Release Date: October 2010
There are some games I probably should not be allowed to review. Not because I can't be fair and objective, but because I just don't know how to play them.
The property in a game I value most is immersion. I want to get lost in the game and play as if I was really there. But some games just aren't real enough to get into. That doensn't mean they aren't fun. It just means that they must be played with a different mindset.
The Ball is such a game.
You play the part of an archeologist who stumbles into a jungle cave filled with ancient artifacts. The most prominent item is a five foot sphere which was the source of power for an alien race who had once befriended Man. You also find a bizarre motorcycle made of bones, but with no wheels. This vehicle has both a hammer and a magnet installed in the front. With these you can send the sphere out from you or attract it to you. It's almost like playing a giant game of billiards.
The Ball is an action/adventure game in the same genre as Tomb Raider. Only instead of hand guns and acrobatics you must now use the sphere to solve an elaborate collection of puzzles, smash through things and fight against those who still guard the secrets.
The game is played like a console game using the A-D-W-S keys to move around and the mouse to steer. The mouse buttons control the hammer and magnet.
Fair enough. So I started up the game and tried to get into it. But any attempt at immersion just got me into trouble.
You are a professional archeologist who has just been lowered into a jungle cave. Then the hoist breaks before any one else or your equipment can come down. You can shout to your team and all you have to do is wait for the spare parts to arrive. So you decide to pass the time by walking across some wooden boards which have been in this jungle cave for years. Surprise! They are rotten and you fall through to a deeper level. Who would have expected that? Actually, I did and so avoided those boards until it was obvious that nothing was going to happen until I went and did the stupid.
In the lower area you find all sorts of old stuff which should set your archeologist's heart atwitter. So do you patiently wait for your equipment to arrive so that everything can be measured and documented? Not if you want anything to happen. You must take control of the Ball and proceed to smash through everything in your path. Some scientist you are.
So I got over the hurdle of thinking like an archeologist and started thinking like a tomb robber. Unfortunately, my childhood instincts kicked in and I treated the game as if it were indeed a giant game of billiards. This was a mistake.
I would try to position myself behind the Ball juuuuust right to line up the shot. But the movement keys are not very sensitive. I would need to move two inches to the left, but when I tapped the "A" key I would jump two feet. So I would have to perform all sorts of elaborate maneuvering to get into just the right spot to make the shot. It was like trying to play miniature golf with an RC tank.
So I slogged on through one painfull puzzle after another when I encountered my second frustration – there is no way to save a game in progress. Just like the consoles, there are only save points and they come after every few puzzles.
This was frustrating because there are many ways to die in this game (although you have unlimited lives). I would be working on trying to cross the narrow beam over the lava pit, would slip off and be sent back to the save point. Now I would have to play though two or three tedious puzzles just to get back to where I was to try again.
After almost two months of playing I still had not completed the Introduction.
Now, to be fair, I was playing a beta version. The LOAD GAME option showed about a dozen slots for save games, but only the first slot was ever used. It could well be that a SAVE GAME option was included in the final version.
Enough was enough. I sat down and wrote a scathing review complaining about how unplayable the game was. But I wasn't quite finished. I appeared to be at the very end of the Introduction, but I could not figure out how to solve the last puzzle. There just didn't seem to be any way to get to the place I needed to get to. So I went online and found a video walkthrough. And discovered that I had been playing the game wrong all along.
The player in the video was using the magnet almost non-stop. He would keep the magnet on and drag the Ball with him everywhere. Then when he got to the right spot, he would simply release the Ball right where it needed to be and then use the hammer. Infinite energy. Perfect aim every time.
I went back and replayed the game using this method. I played through the entire Introduction in less than twenty minutes. So much for six weeks of misery. It even started to be fun. I don't know whether to apologize to Tripwire for misunderstanding their game or to really unload on them for making a game which went against my every instinct.
OK, now having established that Robert is an Idiot, just how is the game? Not bad, although it is an Action/Puzzler rather than a true Adventure game. You will need good hand/eye coordination and reflexes. There will definately be adrenaline. What makes it more than just a pure Action FPS is the constant supply of puzzles. It is the puzzles which make the game.
The graphics are actually better than the screenshots can show. The world is 3D with flickering lights, crawling bugs, etc. These flat, still screen shots cannot do justice to the effect of seeing the pyramid for the first time.
The story line is best ignored. I've already explained the Stupid in the begining. As the story unfolds you are led to believe that the Ball is the all important Thing and that it must be protected. The worst thing would be for the Aliens to get it back. So why is it placed at the entrace to the caves where it would be easiest to find and remove? And why are you expected to take it deeper and deeper into the caves where it would have been best protected to begin with? And, of course, you have infinite energy, immortal camp fires, wood which never rots and machines which still function after thousands of years. No, we can ignore the story and just get on with the game.
The bottom line is that The Ball is a well made game and is fun to play when done correctly. I still want to take half a point off for the lack of an obvious SAVE GAME feature. At best it means you can't just stop it when you need to go and pick back up where you left off. A worst it means having to repeat several puzzles over and over as you work through a tough one.
Final Grade: B-
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