Vessel – Game Review

(Dr. Pembroke is taking a couple of weeks off from his endless, er, I mean, extremely informative medical essays for the time being (he’s in Venice or something – bodies are cheap there) and so he left me, Daniel, in charge. I have to write some articles, feed the Caged Ones, and also the cat. At least I think it’s a cat. It says ‘meow’ but it also reads books. Indeed. It’s best not to ask questions.)

Pembroke Vessel PIC 1

Where does he get his fabulous cosplay props?

Vessel is a steampunk themed 2D platform puzzle game, available on the Playstation network, Mac and Windows via Steam. It combines an engaging storyline with stunning backdrops, as well as accessible interface and good gameplay. Quickly addicting and rewarding.

Produced by independent studio Strange Loop Games, ‘Vessel’ takes us through the engrossing narrative of the life and trials of the famous inventor M. Arkwright as he seeks to right the chaos caused by his inventions, the mysterious ‘Fluros’. These automated, amorphous fluid-based creatures exhibit weird and wonderful behavior far beyond that which the inventor envisioned. Having been adopted as the perfect worker in factories around the world, they have inevitably gone a bit wrong and now it’s up to Arkwright to get everything ship-shape. Or water shaped. Or something.

For an independently made platformer, the graphics are sumptuous and complex, aesthetically resounding with the familiar warm dark woods, polished brass and exposed brick of the Victorian era. Added to that is the open-source feel of the Steampunk genre with its component cogs, gears and wondrous contraptions, contrasted by the beautifully designed fluid water mechanics of the Fluro’s themselves.

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I want to live here.

I’m not normally a fan of platform games – least of all puzzlers – and I’ll be honest in admitting that while it was the steampunk component that initially drew me in, it was the gameplay and story-line that held me, hour after hour. I was quickly engaged and totally immersed. The art and game designers have not just adopted the visuals of the steampunk genre, but also the feel of it. Rather than panic in the face of the chaos caused by his inventions and blowing the crap out of everything in sight, Arkwright seeks to better understand and develop theories on his ever evolving creations. As the character, you develop new technologies and tools, capturing the enduring innovative and creative ethos of the age. And yes, he wears goggles.

The puzzle element is extremely pleasant, but the learning curve more resembles a hilly landscape than a gentle sweep. Don’t give up though, completion of puzzles is extremely rewarding, and this authors notorious lack of patience for seemingly unsolvable things was not overly strained. Progress relies upon the players increasing knowledge of the environment to solve the problems with each machine you must fix and each scenario you must pass. Sometimes the engimatic Fluros assist you, sometimes they hinder you. They’re sort of adorable – until they get you killed under steam-powered spike platforms (those were fun, let me tell you). The player interacts with pistons, wheels, buttons and consistently makes use of the unique attraction and repelling properties of the Fluros themselves.

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I know what this looks like, but I swear you don’t have to urinate on things to make them go.

Lastly, the game score – and here I have to admit to a little bias. The composer is one of my long time favorite electronic artists, Jon Hopkins. Although you might feel that electronic music would do nothing but detract from the Victorian ambiance of a steampunk game, you’d be mistaken. Much like Cliff Martinez’s treatment of Cinemax’s fabulous medical period show ‘The Knick‘, the soundtrack at first seems at odds with the visuals but before long, it’s inextricable from the general experience – you couldn’t imagine it any other way. The tracks are mesmerizing and beautiful, and a perfect match for the ongoing progress of the character.

This title has received extremely positive reviews worldwide and is a wonderful experience, not least to the Punkers in us all who can’t get enough our beloved genre rendered in such gorgeous and exciting ways. Check it out and post your thoughts in the comments below.

(Watch out for my review of ‘The Knick’ in the weeks to come.)

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