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Vessel Review

by Lloyd Sabin, 10 April, 2012

Developer: Strange Loop Games

Hard core war and strategy gamers should not write-off Vessel as just another platformer. It is a game obviously put together with care and love, by a team that that has succeeded in injecting the final product with a sense of mystery and wonder that is not found just anywhere.

Before you jump on me screaming “not a wargame,” hear me out. I was just talking to a friend and fellow reviewer last night over IM and we were discussing what we had most recently been playing. I mentioned I just got another hour in with Vessel, a new platformer/action game developed by Strange Loop Games. He replied that Vessel was not his type of game, and it is for exactly that reason I recommended he try it out….because it is not my kind of game either, and I am slowly falling in love with it.

A Surprising Future

Vessel follows the work and adventure of M. Arkwright, scientist and inventor. Arkwright has created a technique to intelligently animate any kind of liquid to create fluros, liquid-based beings. In the world of Vessel, Arkwright’s fluros assist humans in industrial endeavors, doing the dangerous and mundane work that humans do not want to do, and have helped usher in an industrial revolution different but familiar to us here in reality.

And of course, these fluros have started to think for themselves and in so doing have taken over Arkwright’s lab and factory complex. Before things get really embarrassing, the player must take control of Arkwright and reign in his creations that have begun to run amok, utilizing some of them along the way.

Details on player direction and the world of Vessel are presented through journal entries as the game world is unveiled. Each of these entries is succinct but detailed enough to create an engaging world of scientific discovery and industry with just the thinnest veneer of menace. Reading through them I wished that more in-game writing could be like that found here – it’s very well done. And the writing is not even the best part of the game.

Delightful Animations Make Me Squeal with Delight

The visual highlight of Vessel is in the liquid modeling. I’m not sure what each liquid is supposed to be, but it typically looks and behaves like water so that is what I will call it here. It is constantly flowing and falling, and is used in all sections of the game’s 2D side scrolling levels to help guide Arkwright to the next. Water flows from pipes, out of grates, and into funnels. Now, if this does not sound particularly fun to you, try to stick with me for a bit.

The water is key to the game and is used to advance through the industrial landscape. It is also used to create new fluros that will also assist Arkwright in his journey.

Lost in Space

I have not played a platform or puzzle game in almost 30 years. My last favorite game of this type was Pitfall II! If you want to get really technical than I suppose the Assassin’s Creed games have platform and puzzle elements as do the Thief games, so perhaps I don’t have to reach all the way back to the early 1980s for a reference. However the game I was immediately reminded of with Vessel was Pitfall.

Typically I get frustrated with puzzle solving and maze navigating and usually have to resort to game guides and online wikis in desperation, but that has not happened with Vessel. The game environments offer useful hints and in the early levels the paths that the player is to guide Arkwright on are clearly marked.

Exactly how to get from Point A to Point B is not marked, but everything the player needs, from gyros to elevators to pulleys, are all available on the screen. How the player manipulates them is a trial and error process, it is true, but a fun one. The simple act of working in and manipulating the environment is interesting and made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Vessel creates a strong feeling of happy discovery and creation while also developing a slightly troubling sense of creeping menace.

Color Me Industrial

The art style and music of Vessel goes a long way too. The music is a fusion of stringed instruments, mostly violin and viola, mashed with modern rock guitar and synthesizers at critical gaming moments. In a nutshell, the music rocked, and if you enjoyed industrial rock music when it was new, as well as classical pieces, you too will enjoy Vessel’s soundtrack.

The art style is also great. Colors are vivid, in-game machines are just amazing to watch and the lighting, from bright white to dim golden hues, are all rendered beautifully. I sat back just to soak it all in a couple of times…some of the levels and screens are truly beautiful and look like paintings.

The architecture is also very evocative. Red brick, black wrought iron and orange gaslight abound and go a long way to add to Vessel’s mood. Underground caves, tunnels and labyrinths are not particularly creepy, but not knowing where they lead to does add a great level of anticipation and sense of the unknown.

A Happy Discovery

When I first learned of Vessel I was instantly I intrigued by the art and the steampunk setting. The game obviously does not take place in our world or in our time, but in what I would guess to be a late 19th century alternative Great Britain. Why Great Britain, precisely? It’s hard to say. The game world just feels British, and that’s a good thing.

Hard core war and strategy gamers should not write-off Vessel as just another platformer. It is a game obviously put together with care and love, by a team that that has succeeded in injecting the final product with a sense of mystery and wonder that is not found just anywhere.

The combination of the game’s art style, the music, the architecture and the fact that the game strikes the balance between being challenging and frustrating makes Vessel a new favorite for me. It is a great title to ‘cleanse my gaming palette’ between long campaigns in other games and is good for simply letting a player’s mind wander for a few hours - great escapist gaming. I commend Strange Loop Games for putting together a product both technically and artistically sound in an age where so many games fall short in both areas, and I eagerly await to see what this studio puts out next.



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