Posted by Sammy Barker
A kind of magic
Sorcery is the game that PlayStation Move owners have been craving. The motion controlled title that captivated crowds at E3 2010 has been a constant source of conversation right the way through to its re-reveal late last year. But having spent almost 18 months shrouded in the secrecy of Sony’s invisibility cloak, the title finds itself in a much more challenging position two years later. With enthusiasm in PS3’s motion wand at an all time low, does the adventure have enough magic to cast the troubled peripheral back into the spotlight?
Sorcery isn't a perfect game by any means, but it is an utterly charming one. Even without the appeal of motion controls, it’s refreshing to experience an adventure set in a mystical world that’s a million miles away from the gritty military battlefields that otherwise dominate PS3. But when you factor in the PlayStation Move controls too, Sorcery presents itself as a pretty unique experience.
See, it isn’t a mini-game compilation with a magical theme. As its E3 2010 showing demonstrated, it’s a traditional campaign designed specifically with motion controls in mind. Outside of a handful of Nintendo Wii titles, such a proposition is rare, and as such Sorcery feels like a relatively unique affair. Motion controls aren’t an option here – they’re required. You’ll need one of Sony’s glowing wands, and a DualShock 3 or Navigation controller to complete the control scheme.
In many ways, Sorcery is a fairly obvious experience. The look and feel of the Move controller makes it a perfect fit for a game starring a magician, and subsequently the implementation of the motion controls almost design themselves. Waving the controller around in front of you prompts a satisfying one-to-one replication on-screen – an addition that serves as a reminder of the underlying accuracy of the Move device. A quick forward flick fires off an Arcane Bolt, allowing you to smash pots, attack enemies and, comically, transform sheep into giant rats.
But Sorcery doesn’t settle for simplistic controls. Mimicking the rags-to-riches plot of its apprentice magician, the control scheme gradually gets more and more complex as you progress. Spells can be switched and combined to create deadly combat solutions and, wonderfully, the implementation just seems to work.
That’s arguably what’s most impressive about Sorcery. Up until now the industry’s three major motion control solutions have – with some exceptions – suffered from serious caveats, but The Workshop has managed to find away to fulfil the Move’s evident potential with very little compromise of accuracy. A short, simplistic calibration screen paves the way into the action, providing you with complete control over every motion you make. Shots can be targeted by flicking from side-to-side, and the game never seems to lose sense of what you want it to do. Some subtle auto-aim helps to guide your attacks, but never to the degree where you feel out of control. It just works.
That effortless implementation makes even the most mundane tasks feel fresh and new. Pots loiter around the edge of the screen, waiting to be smashed – and you’ll do it over and over again, simply because flicking the wand feels so responsive and fun.
As your skills progress, you’ll be conjuring lighting, whipping up hurricanes and building fire barriers against hordes of mythical creatures. It’s combining these skills that represents the most exciting element of Sorcery: a quick circular motion switches you to your wind spell, allowing you to cast a storm which can be set alight with a counter-clockwise twist and a downward thrust. Then, with a quick tap of the Move button, you can switch back to your Arcane Bolt and pepper the flaming cloud with illuminated ammo, scattering flaming orbs all over the map.
Sorcery is brimming with combinations that keep the combat feeling fresh throughout its six hour running time. And it’s the depth of the mechanics that really gives the game a traditional appeal. Make no mistake, Sony is clearly hoping a younger audience buys into the adventure, but there’s enough depth in its mechanics to ensure those paying close attention to the industry will feel compelled too. It’s a game that treads a narrow line between accessibility and depth, and is largely successful in its aims.
The gameplay is strung together by a whimsical plot featuring a trainee sorcerer named Finn and a contrary kitten called Erline. Like most fairy-tales, Sorcery doesn’t really delve into much back-story or context; instead it presents the facts and pulls you along for the adventure. The minimal approach will probably disappoint some, but the light-hearted nature makes it an easy game to digest. In that sense, it’s a good palette cleanser.
Unfortunately, while the narrative is kept to a minimum, the voice acting still manages to grate. There’s an evident insecurity in the developer’s decision to cast American actors in the role of the main characters, and it’s to the detriment of the game. Finn, for example, talks like a student straight out of Saved by the Bell, and it just doesn’t fit. It’s easy to imagine a subtle (and not stereotypical) Irish accent suiting the character much better, and lending itself to the game’s tone.
The issue is made more frustrating because the sound design elsewhere in Sorcery is absolutely stunning. The game’s energetic orchestral score oozes high production values, and the sound effects which accompany the title’s wealth of magical spells sound incredible too.
It’s clear from visuals alone that during Sorcery’s hiatus Sony considerably increased the game’s budget. It never comes close to competing with the best on PlayStation 3, but considering the limited expectations of motion controlled software, Sorcery is packed with outstanding vistas and a really ambient lighting system. The animation could be better, but that aside, Sorcery is a graphical feast.
There’s much more to the game than it initially appears, too. As opposed to implementing a bog standard XP-based upgrade system, The Workshop instead opted for something a little more creative. As you progress through the campaign you uncover ingredients, which can be combined to augment Finn with new powers. Once you discover a new potion, the game moves into a mini-game, which sees you shaking, stirring, pouring and grinding concoctions using the accuracy of the Move controller. The mini-game is simple, but really adds to the feeling of being a sorcerer, and it’s a much more interactive method of levelling up than simply browsing menus.
Indeed, the controller is used intelligently throughout. A swift swivel unlocks chests, while full circular motions help to rebuild fallen structures. Meanwhile, unlocking doors enters a first-person viewpoint where the key can be moved in a full three-dimensional space. Crucially, the implementation always feels natural.
That said, the limitations of the control scheme do result in some camera issues. You can centre it behind Finn by tapping L1 but, while the game does a reasonable job of framing the action, it’s sometimes difficult to place it exactly where you want. This is particularly problematic during combat.
Similarly, the frame-rate isn’t always as smooth as it should be. Dips are most noticeable while the game saves, but it’s also prone to stuttering during processor intensive set pieces such as boss fights.
Minor technical flaws aside though, the biggest problem with Sorcery is how little there is to it. Outside of the lure of trophies and different difficulty levels, there’s very little reason to revisit the game once you’ve beaten its main campaign. A New Game Plus option could have easily eschewed this issue, but it’s agonisingly overlooked. Considering that the story can be completed in less than six hours, Sorcery feels lacking in the content department.
PlayStation Move has struggled to find defining software that justifies its existence, but Sorcery represents the most ambitious attempt yet. Its seamless integration of natural motion controls makes it the best example of Move’s potential to date, and while the campaign lacks replay value, it’s still worth experiencing if you want to put Sony’s underutilised wand to use.