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Venetica keeps its emphasis firmly on blade-swinging over deeper role-play mechanics, but struggles to rise above various technical deficiencies and delivers a broken, if inoffensive experience.
In the opening scenes to Venetica I was fooled into thinking it would develop along typical European RPG lines. In a rural village where the yokels herd pigs and rosy-cheeked women carry pails of milk I expected the surprise attack by mysterious forces, the devastating fire and the tragic death of an important character. What I didn't expect, even though the female protagonist is on the box and menu for the game, is for the dashing Benedict, Scarlett's literal knight in shining armour, to get one between the shoulders.
I found this switch from typical male lead to female protagonist a refreshing change. Even though other RPGs give you the opportunity to create your own character, whether boy, girl or anything in-between, having a written female lead that's interesting or strong is rare.
It turns out that Scarlett can be both of these and fortunately for her you find that Benedict isn't exactly lost forever after the village attack. By entering the Twilight mode you can still communicate with the dead and at various points he will appear to grant you new powers or make Scarlett a bit mopey.
From here the game channels you towards Venice where the majority of the action takes place. In an attempt to introduce some moral choice you can either be vindictive about destroying the undead Archon or magnanimous about the whole affair. Either way you go after the Archon and his four minions through the streets and underbelly of Venice taking on side-quests in typical RPG fashion.
The whole system of a human overseer presiding over life and death was interesting but never really forces the narrative into more than skin-deep musings.
The story shows signs of promise at first, especially when your father appears to you in the Twilight world in the guise of Death. The whole system of a human overseer presiding over life and death was interesting but never really forces the narrative into more than skin-deep musings.
Venetica's best feature is the Twilight mode. This ability to phase into the world of the dead has multiple uses and adds a layer of badly needed depth. By listening for a swirl of ethereal voices you can discover Twilight portals that reveal secret rooms or hidden passages. More interesting is the ability to talk to the spirits of the departed. Every skeleton that you find wasting away in the sewers or catacombs of Venice will have a story or issue to discover.
Unfortunately Venetica doesn't back up this mechanic with much meaningful content. In fact, most of the ghosts I discovered here either wanted a fight (easy) to ease their souls passing, needed to tell me a sordid secret (like being an alcoholic) or give me an item. The regularity to which alcohol appears in these instances comes across as an intentionally hilarious, if completely shallow, addition.
This is indicative of Venetica's squandered potential. For every neat addition that could add detail to the experience I found it demonstrating a lack of soul instead. Many European RPGs struggle technically and the bugs and idiosyncrasies are part of the experience you come to expect. They manage to circumvent these deficiencies by having charming characters or detailed eco-systems that pull you into the experience.
For every neat addition that could add detail to the experience I found it demonstrating a lack of soul instead.
A good example is the Gothic series that shines through with character and soul despite the numerous bugs and technical problems those games have on release. Venetica sinks because of its technical issues and by not pushing through with some of its creative ideas.
Most side-quests are bolt-on additions taken right out of the role-playing side-quest rule book and offer nothing unique or interesting. This itself wouldn't be too much of a problem if the main quest balanced out these issues but it never seems to get out of second gear and develop the characters introduced in the first few hours.
There are no outstanding scenes or moments that I can recall and compared to my favourite 2010 RPG, Nier, Venetica is wholly unremarkable and unemotional. I had hoped that the linear nature of the game would improve the narrative, making it stronger and more focused than it would in an open-world setting. But there's no meaningful progression for Scarlett other than improving her armour or by taking binary decisions that give you one of three endings.
It just lacked the direction needed to make a truly soulful experience and a decent videogame.
When a game struggles to deliver an interesting story or has characters that don't develop then I turn to general atmosphere in a last desperate hope. However, much like Oblivion's vacant soulless inhabitants, Venetica's are similarly lax in character. Nothing about the depiction of Venice made it feel real or solid enough to house the dark world the writers were aiming for and gives the impression that you're wandering through a waxwork museum.
And yet, despite all these negative feelings Venetica is inoffensively enjoyable. I never had a moment where I wanted to stop playing even though I could barely remember what happened five minutes ago. There's nothing remarkable about neither this game nor anything resembling a deep soul, but for twenty hours I seemed to go along with its lacklustre mechanics with little protest.
This confusing end just goes to show that for all the problems, Venetica was built on a solid foundation - it just lacked the direction needed to make a truly soulful experience and a decent videogame.
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