Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: Plane Weaver

Platform: Windows PC

Developer: Blue Coral Studio

Publisher: DADIU

# of Players: 1

Official Site

ESRB Rating: None

Score: A-

Developed in one month (!) by a team of eleven students at The Danish Academy of Digital & Interactive Entertainment (DADIU), Plane Weaver is a marvelous mix of 3D platforming and puzzle elements that come off as more fresh and innovative than much of what constitutes "Game of the Year" material on consoles and PC. While it's not a supremely lengthy experience, it's visually striking, nicely challenging and genuinely rewarding as you're pulled into some excellently designed levels. The game lightly echoes elements of sleeper hits such as ICO and the upcoming Lost in Shadow, yet never feels too derivative or under-polished. At only 66MB and a free download (for now), it's an absolute must for anyone who craves originality and creativity in their games.

What makes the game so compelling is how well it all works along with the fact that it's pretty non-violent, making it accessible for just about anyone who wants to play it. As Silke, a Plane Weaver that can transform into either a hulking demon or a cloud of mist, you'll need to use your skills to navigate through a massive mostly mechanical series of maps in order to rescue the trapped soul of your brother from a huge enemy fortress. The game starts off with a tutorial that guides you nicely through getting Silke around using your keyboard and mouse. If you're new to playing games this way, it'll be a lot trickier to nail jumps, but once you spend time practicing, the controls are pretty fluid and well implemented.

Silke's normal form handles the jumping portions and she can cover some pretty decent heights as well as distances provided you pay attention to where you're landing. Much of the machines and giant gears you'll be jumping on and around are in constant motion, so it's entirely possible to end up falling into a bottomless chasm until you nail the timing. The demon form can shoot magic arcs that disrupt or disassemble some machines with the heavy parts left over only movable by this stronger form. Finally, Silke's spirit form is used when you get stuck and don't have an idea of where to go. By holding down the "C" key, the world turns hazy and you see a greenish glow around areas that more or less guide you in the right direction. I say "more or less" because the game still allows you to work through puzzles in a few ways.

For example, you can use the demon to zap a series of rolling log gears and once they're disabled, switch to Silke and have her run or jump across. Or you could stop the machine by having the demon push a gear from another disabled machine into it, stopping it long enough for Silke to scoot across. There's also a tiny bit of combat using the demon form to zap some baddies with his magic. The game isn't a big action blaster at all, so do go in expecting to see massive explosions and body parts flying all about. The game is all about the journey and your time spent getting around the vast environments.

From a presentation standpoint, Plane Weaver's minimalist yet nicely representational visuals along with different graphics options (Fastest, Fast, Simple, Beautiful, Fantastic) allow it to run on pretty much any PC with a halfway decent 3D card. Environments are quite large and between the mist, gigantic gears constantly turning and assorted wear and tear in each area, there's a nice mix of fantasy and steampunk elements here that make the game quite appealing. Sure, it would be nice to be able to zoom the view in on Silke or her other forms once in a while, but you'll more than likely want to see where you're going rather than ogle the heroine. The sound design and music are great throughout, particularly the way the score drives the action forward right from the title theme.

While the game has no multiplayer modes, it absolutely doesn't need anything other than the simple story to keep you playing. Trial and error haters may think parts of the game are too difficult, but again, you're not penalized terribly for failure. As a free indie game, what's here is a lot more engaging than many games with "blockbuster" stamped all over the game case and it would be great to see this either updated for PSN and Xbox Live Arcade or given some sort of full-on console treatment down the road. Definitely try out Plane Weaver if you're in the mood for something that's not only original, but challenging and a really fantastic showing by a bunch of students who have extremely bright futures in the games industry.

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