Scarlett has some nice combo combat moves - some of them are realized in bullet time.

I would like to present to you a nice find of the german game kitchen. The first time I discovered some information about it was quite a while ago in a game developers magazine called Making Games. They presented Deck13 from Frankfurt/Main who was working at that point on an action role playing game called ‘Venetica’ and has received already a few national developer prices for its series of ‘Ankh‘. What immediately caught my eye was the level of detail they put into the animation, facial expression and clothing of the female protagonist character ‘Scarlett’. I knew at that point that i had to play this game, but by its release on 4. September 2009 it went somehow forgotten to me again.

When I actually got my hands on it one year after (it was winter by that time), I really felt like diving into a fantastic story that reveals the potential to take me away from the gray, cold days. Now that i finished it a few weeks a go, here is what i liked and disliked about the game…

I just bought and installed the game and I was blown away by the graphics immediately. I know there are games out there with a lot more realism now, but it is the style and details in facial animation and voice acting that got me from the first moment (I was playing the original german version).

 

Story

Scarlett's first day in her home village: "What now?"

Let me tell you without spoilers about the excellent story idea as well: Scarlett has been growing up in a village in the mountains as an orphan. She has no idea who her parents were. The story starts by the village being attacked by assassins who – for the sake of romance twist throughout the whole game – kill her boyfriend. It is up to the player to decide whether to take the revenge route or being understanding or even ignorant about the fact that your loved one died. However she soon discovers that she was the reason the assassins came to her village, because of her heritage which at this point has been still unknown to her.

Don’t worry, i am not going to spoil too much of the game: this is all happening within the first couple of minutes. There is one thing revealed at this point which kept me glued to the game immediately: Scarlett is actually the daughter of the current Mr. Death and accordingly possesses certain powers that are now in the player’s hand to develop. One of them is the fact that she can jump from any point to the parallel world of the dead. The other one is a special weapon that she has to find during her first main quest.

Switching to the parallel world of the dead is one of Scarlett's most impressive capabilities.

Besides the fact that you are constantly able to choose for which reasons your are embarking on your quest in certain dialogs, the storyline seems to be linear and filled with side quests, although not as huge as for example Oblivion. Also the skill system and special abilities as well as the number of different items are in my opinion perfectly cut down to a manageable amount. Something in between Oblivion and Deathspank. Now that is perfect for me because I believe you can focus a lot more on the story and beautiful landscape as you progress instead of being worried constantly to have your character skilled in a wrong way (like I did realize after hours spent in Oblivion).

 

Equipment

Scarlett's attributes are simple to grasp. You basically distribute the skill points on each level-up to 4 categories - done.

Scarlett has only 4 types of weapons to choose from during the whole game (although there are several different ones within those 4 categories). All types have their advantages and disadvantages that make a difference depending on against which kind of enemy you are encountering. You are also learning special attacks and combos for each type along the way. Dressing her is even more simple: by selecting her full clothing in one piece. This however makes her always dressed in sound and overall fitting way that is nice to look at, which I think is a huge plus, because you are going to look at her the whole time during the game. As I mentioned the developers seem to have put a strong focus on her character and animation. This shows especially in the dialogs: she can perfectly switch from being sweet and then snappy, accompanied by wonderful facial animations.

The 4 different weapon trees to skill.

Again about the weapons: Even though i played through almost the whole game using only her special weapon, the other 3 types have special abilities against certain types of opponents which you should choose wisely during your fights. Some attackers are pretty hard to crack, so you have to use your warhammer. If you have some enemy that is hitting you with several moves within seconds and is to fast for you to counter you should use a weapon that is quicker (like your swords) or attack from more of a distance with a speer. All weapons provide you with a block move, although you have to unlock this and other special abilities with the progress of leveling up.

The magic of someone of Mr. Death's family.

Besides the weapons Scarlett also learns her type of death magic that she should know because of her heritage. These magic attacks are fueled by her mana type of energy (one of the 4 character attributes you can skill). The magic attacks are very powerful but limited, so in the end you will probably always have to skill your character to a mix of the two lines to be able to do enough damage with your weapons as well in case your mana runs out. This was kind of disappointing to me, as i prefer to play magical characters but then again there was not so much of a risk to mis-skill your character along the way too much when you keep this into acount (and you will after the first boss fight makes you realize that pretty clearly).

 

Environment

The game was not too long and not too short. The difficulty was perfect (at least for me – but i am not an RPG nerd) and I liked a lot to just discover every possible spot on the maps. You are going to unlock progressively more and more of the map as you go on – almost never being forced to travel back and forth if you don’t want to (except one time if i remember correctly where you get sent back to your village). Only once I discovered some bugs where I fell through the ground into nirvana. This has been usually prevented however by the fact that you dont have such a complete freedom of where you would like to go. There are certain paths that are laid out for Scarlett to walk on as you may be able to notice on some corners or stairs on which you get stuck because you just cut the curve to sharp, or on roof tops where you cannot jump off. I guess the restriction of where you are able to go was a decision of budget balance, making a bit less trouble to catch all the possible glitches that otherwise could have happened and invest in the nice facial animations instead for example.

Beautiful environment, amazing character and animation.

Even though not real time, the game follows the typical day-night cycle giving you a different lighting on the world during different times of the day. Often you will encounter NPCs in the night and not during the day (and vice versa) making the world feel a little bit more alive.

 

Comparison

As I already mentioned above, it feels a little bit like Oblivion but with a much smaller world and a lot less complexity to grasp. Instead you will feel more like inside an adventure game. If you are an adventure lover who likes to explore new worlds instead of focusing too much on character development, this might be a game for you. Its not quite as simple as Deathspank, but close. There is not a lot of humour except Scarlett’s occasional responses you may select in her dialogs. The graphics are nicely done, especially Scarlett is just breathtaking – there is no comparison in my opinion. The houses and vegetation surroundings are mostly beautiful, but modern game engines might make more out of it now witha lot less demand on the processing power (the game became quite slow at some points). It feels like Deck13 was not sure whether to go for a realistic or fantasy art style and ended up somewhere in the middle between Crysis and World of Warcraft. The story feels somewhere between the epicness of Grim Fandango and “simplicity” of Deathspank. Like in any adventure game it is nearly impossible to die. You have to almost force it and therefor you are not getting too frustrated. Basically you have an epic main quest, but it does not feel that epic except in the beginning and until you actually follow it at the end and look back at what you have achieved – which gives you a lot of opportunity to finish up on all available side quests first. It is not getting boring though and i am sure i even missed one or the other house to break in or creature to kill. I am pretty sure to have solved all available quests though, so i can say: All in all a very solid experience that makes it easily into the favorites among my games to just lean bag and enjoy the atmosphere.

 

Summary

I would love to give you more details and especially screenshots on the different settings, clothes, weapons and parts of the world, but i fear i would be spoiling too much because just exploring everything was the most fun for me. Maybe you can just request those in the comments and i might think of a separate post to cover the ingame details along the story line a bit more. In summary I was quite pleasantly surprised by the game. It also was not too long and not too short for my taste. Only the occasional romantic encounters where a bit too ‘dropped in’ like they are not really making any difference in the story at all but had to be there – even though they were almost taking you completely out of the current context. Maybe that was just my impression.

I definitely will keep my eyes peeled for Deck13’s next release ‘Black Sails’.

http://www.venetica-game.com

Did you share this experience playing the game? Do you want more information about the gameplay itself or another title you are thinking about playing? Please feel free to leave a comment, as I am planning to make those game reviews a more frequent thing on my blog from now on…