Republished on Wednesday 27th January, 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February 2021's PS Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Of all Sony's in-house developers, Pixelopus perhaps has the most to prove. Its debut game, Entwined, didn't set the world alight, and so its follow-up needed to up the ante. It's fair to say the young team has done just that with Concrete Genie, a far more ambitious title that aligns itself more with the regular output of Worldwide Studios. That's not to say this is your typical PlayStation 4 exclusive — far from it.
Having clearly been inspired by the cinematic storytelling of Sony's major players, the game begins by introducing you to Ash, a young boy with an artistic flair. As he's minding his own business, some bullies arrive, steal his sketchbook, and tear out all the pages before sending him up to the supposedly haunted lighthouse. Equally as important as Ash is the town of Denska, abandoned and overrun by delinquents after an accident causes a mysterious dark rot to take hold. After Ash receives a magical paintbrush, a decent tutorial gets you familiarised with the basics, and then you're tasked with reviving the town by painting living murals on its decrepit walls.
It's important we mention the tutorial, because Concrete Genie's controls are somewhat unorthodox. Ash controls as you'd expect - he even scales buildings like a low rent Nathan Drake - but when you're in paint mode, the DualShock 4's gyro sensor takes precedence. The good news is that painting is wonderfully tactile and intuitive. After highlighting your chosen design, you simply hold R2 and move the cursor as if painting a brushstroke. Motion controls don't sit well with everyone, and you can swap them out for the right stick if you prefer, but they do make the game very accessible, and it feels wonderful to have your actions turn into glowing, animated pictures.
You can't exactly freestyle, however. Painting is restricted to the pages you've unlocked or found within the miniature open world, each one giving you either new landscape items, genie decorations, or new genies to create. Despite not being able to paint just anything, you have plenty of freedom within the boundaries. What's more, it's almost impossible to make something that doesn't look wonderful — even if you've not a creative bone in your body. The fruits of your labour are almost always a sight to behold — it's satisfying, and sure to bring a smile to your face.
The titular genies are the stars of the show. Dotted throughout each area of the map are opportunities to paint these monsters that inhabit your murals, and again, it's largely up to you what they look like. However you present them, these creatures are much needed companions in an otherwise pretty solitary adventure. They can interact with you and each other in several ways, but most importantly, they'll help you out with some environmental puzzles. This isn't a game about challenge, so don't expect to be stumped by these, but the occasional obstacle in your path is a nice change of pace, even if the act of painting is consistently pleasing.
What is unusual is how combat is introduced to Concrete Genie. We don't want to spoil anything, but combat makes an abrupt and short-lived appearance at the end of the eight-hour story. After a relaxed, gently paced jaunt as you brighten up Denska, you'll very suddenly learn to fight and to paint surf, the latter of which allows you to move much more quickly. It's a jarring change, and one you'll need to grow accustomed to fairly quickly. The final hour or so is spent largely battling paint monsters, but holding it off like this feels as though the studio lacked confidence in this aspect of the game. It's kept in context by the story, of course, but it's a clumsy final step.
Despite its unusual arrival, combat is a fun addition. Like his genies, Ash's attacks come in the form of fire, electric, or wind, and you'll need to match your offence to the corresponding shields. You can use your newfound paint surfing to stay mobile, and a generous dodge will get you out of harm's way. It's fast and frantic stuff that, although hardly anything special, is pretty fun while it lasts. Quite why it's all left until right near the end is beyond us; if anything, peppering the story with small combat scenarios would've helped to keep things ticking along.
The art style, meanwhile, is gorgeous, and we love the almost stop-motion quality to the characters. Denska can initially feel a little cold, but that's by design — it's literally a canvas upon which you can decorate to your heart's content. The Free Painting mode allows you to go to the various areas of the map and start over with no distractions, which is a nice distraction. If you happen to have PlayStation VR, you can also dip into a supplementary mode that acts as a virtual extension to the main event. You'll need a pair of Move controllers, but it's similarly whimsical, if a little on the slim side.
The VR mode operates at a smooth frame rate, as is the requirement, but sadly the main game falters in this regard. It's not a constant bother, but uncharacteristically for a first party title, performance does take a hit every now and again. Animations can feel a little clunky, too, but again, this shouldn't get in the way all that much. The usual polish attributed to Sony's games just isn't quite there. Thankfully, this is a title that just about gets away with missteps like these because of its sheer charm. It isn't perfect, but this is absolutely a step in the right direction for Pixelopus.
Concrete Genie is a warm, joyful experience that embraces creativity in a unique way. Painting your way through Denska is effortlessly fun, and the genies that help Ash through his adventure are delightful. While this main thrust of the game is well realised, combat feels like an afterthought, as it's stashed away right at the end. This and a couple of smaller issues hold the game back from greatness, but taken as a whole, this is definitely worth playing — and pretty as a picture, too.
Wait, Sony really set the embargo for the exact hour this game dropped? That makes me really nervous...
@RBMango Don't be. This is the lowest score I've seen so far.
Fair enough score.
Any questions, copy me in!
Sucks that some of the trophies are tied to owning a PSVR headset. Bad decision imo.
@DeepSpace5D I think they’re treated like DLC trophies. I don’t think you need PSVR to platinum the game
Good thing I play games to enjoy them not hunt artificial trophies that no one cares about, bring on the dislikes.
I still cannot get why HDR is not incorporated in this title. They say because it's a small team that worked on it.
Would have been a joy to see HDR in this.
Looks good and it’s only $30, I’ll try it after I’m done with gow plat
I tried it very briefly at PAX and I was really impressed with the painting/creature creation!
@JayDub No one? Obviously some people do, get off your high horse.
Considering how long its been worked on the 7 must be dissapointing for the developers. Yet another game with performance issues.
@RBMango no? The game releases at different time points around the world
@Quintumply Is there an option to map paint to L2 for us lefties?
@JayDub i'm sure most people play games to enjoy them, Trophies are just an extra incentive to keep playing once you've finished the game. Just adds a bit more to do and extra challenge. Not a huge trophy hunter myself but i recently went back and got the platinum in HZD bringing my total to eight.
@Mergatro1d No, but for what it's worth, I'm left handed and had no problems.
In the VR mode you can swap which hand holds the brush at any time.
Thanks for testing out the VR mode too. A number of the other reviews I've checked out didnt bother. Great review
The other reviewers probably did not think it was worth it as only 4% of PS4 owners have PSVR
@Quintumply thanks. So do you need to hold R2 down while you move the controller? I'm totally cack handed, so if I need to paint with my right hand it'll be a bit of a deal breaker.
@Quintumply You’re left handed? I always knew there was something not quite right about you! 😅
@hotukdeals needs to change because PSVR is great!
@get2sammyb HEY! Leave us sinister types alone!
@Mergatro1d So the way it works is you enter paint mode by pressing R2. That's when the motion control takes over (or you can swap to using the right stick in the options). To paint something, you hold R2 while you move your controller (or the right stick). It's not really like painting with your right hand — it's more like you're holding the brush with both.
Plus, skill doesn't really come into it. The game is designed so that anybody can get through it. You don't have to paint elaborate masterpieces to see the whole game!
@Quintumply Thanks buddy!
@Quintumply Great review. It’s about what I expected, minus the noted small performance issues. I’m still undecided but I think I’ll pick it up. Sounds charming.
It’s been a while since I played it but maybe a little like Okami as far as the paint brush controls? As long as you get the basic motion down then the game will recognize which pre-determined pattern you’re drawing?
@Th3solution Okami is sort of right, yeah, only the game isn't trying to deduce what you're painting. You select what you want to paint from a menu, and then you do so by holding R2 and motioning with your controller. It's very simple but very intuitive.
Nice i knew this game was gonna be great.next up medievil the legendary sir dan fortesque.word up son
Want to play this, but will wait a few weeks, or months, to see if it gets patched, updated, expanded, whatever. Need to charge my 2 Move controllers again. And I need Astrobot. PS+ could really use a PSVR game a month. Probably even sell more PSVR headsets that way if people knew they'd have 12 games to play a year.
Good review by the southpaw.
might pick it up tomorrow, not sure. i usually like to support sony's smaller projects/studios if it's a decent game, as i have enjoyed stuff like rain and puppeteer on PS3, and niche arty stuff like the last guardian and shadow of the colossus, but i'm still just not quite feeling it for concrete genie, though it is averaging high 70s on metacritic, which is positive.
I'll be receiving Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair and Indivisible today in the mail, so I decided to wait on Concrete Genie, but I won't be waiting long.
@OscarHTX Aside from some simple puzzles, there's almost no challenge for the main thrust of the game. To be honest, I enjoyed my time with the game throughout despite this — it's nice to have something so chilled out for a change. When combat does come into play, you're presented with a slight challenge, but you likely won't have any difficulty with it.
have wanted this game since it was first announced 7 is fine but some have given 9s & 10s so looking forward to playing it.
hotukdeals does enjoy talking negatively about Playstation all the time why is that 🤔
@JayDub At least tag me before trying to put words in my mouth. I expressed it was unfortunate to put some of the trophies behind a $400 headset purchase, and that is my opinion. Never did I say I wouldn’t be playing or enjoying this game because of that.
@Quintumply True, it’s only for the DLC, but will still be annoying to see an incomplete trophy list if you dont make a PSVR purchase. If I’m not mistaken, this is only the first or second time a non-VR title with a tiny VR mode has required a PSVR purchase to get 100% trophy completion.
This looks lovely, the sort of game you want to play after playing some sprawling rpg. Might be on my christmas list for after death stranding. Cheers for the review!! I nearly missed it in amongst the crazy ps5 drop
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