Friday, July 08, 2011

Child of Eden review

At long last, the fantastic music/on rails shooter hybrid Rez gets a pseudo sequel in the form of Child of Eden. It shares many elements with its predecessor yet also manages to make its own mark with its use of the Kinect sensor and the Genki Rockets soundtrack that is present throughout every stage. Does it live up to the brilliance of the older game? Let's jump right in and see...

Format: Xbox 360 (also available for PS3)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Q Games

Expect to pay:

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The visuals within Child of Eden are a fantastic blend of bright neon colours, sea creatures, insects, cogs and other imagery, depending on the theme. Whereas most of Rez had a techno industrial vibe, the themes used for the various levels in the follow up are much more organic in their nature. For example the second level is entitled Beauty, and features many colourful flowers that bloom when you shoot them. When you shoot down the enemy bullets during this stage they make the sound of raindrops.
Most levels feature multiple boss encounters, usually one around the middle and another at the end, and these are impressive multi stage battles. My favourite of these comes at the end of the fourth stage, entitled Passion. This level shares the most in common with the design of Rez, as it takes place within machinery and features a fast paced techno tune. The boss is a giant green machine which keeps you on your toes by making you constantly switch between your two weapon types (more on this is a little while). Overall the graphics of Child of Eden are great, but it's when they are combined in synch with the music and the game play that the game truly becomes something special.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
At the most basic level, Tetsuya Miziguchi and Q Games have used various tunes by J-pop group Genki Rockets (which is itself a project by Miziguchi). However, things are a bit more complex that that because not only are the tracks remixed, they've also been cut up, split into their separate channels and rearranged into unique forms just for this new game. It works extremely well as the tunes usually build into a crescendo by the close of a level and gradually the vocals are introduced. The Genki Rockets tracks that have been used are the singles from their Heavenly Star album that can be downloaded from iTunes. Since buying the game I have bought the album myself and am loving it.

Besides the music, the sound effects add another layer to the experience and are created directly by the player. As you lock on to your enemies and shoot them down, various effects are released such as a hi hat or the aforementioned raindrop sound. This ties into the game plays well because if you lock onto the maximum 8 enemies at a time and then fire on the beat, you get a perfect score bonus. This is fun when playing the game with a controller because the force feedback rumbles in time with the beats, but it truly comes into its own when playing the game with Kinect. In order to stay in time, it helps to groove along with music, and when you're using your body to control the game this will probably happen without you even realising it.

Check out some footage of the early stages of the game, thanks to GhostRobo

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Child of Eden takes place over 5 levels initially, with an additional challenge stage that is unlocked once you've completed it for the first time, and a series of different visual skins that are gradually made available by earning stars. The stars are handed out at the end of each stage and the quantity received depends on the percentage of enemies and bonus items you manage to shoot, your total score and how much health you have left. Because it's harder to be precise while using the Kinect controls instead of the controller, the game is slightly more lenient with you. Those who play with the controller will have a smaller targeting reticule, the thresholds for awarding stars will become more stringent, and each control method also has its own scoreboard (which is only fair, to be honest).

The control method that you favour will depend on you as a gamer, and what your living situation is like. Though you can technically play the game with the Kinect while sat down on your couch, it is a much more enjoyable experience when played whilst standing up. I don't have much room to move furniture around in my flat unfortunately so it is easier to use the standard controller. Whichever option you go for, they both work, and this game shows the true promise of the Kinect when it is applied to a "proper" game, and not the usual mini game collections that have littered the Wii release schedule for years and what we've seen from the Kinect to date.

While this review splits the game into graphics, sound and music and game play, with this particular game these three aspects are so inextricably linked to the overall experience that you really have to consider them all together. Those expecting another Rez run the risk of being disappointed because the music is of a different style which may not be to the taste of everyone. I also don't think that any of the levels quite match up the to the excellence of Area 5 from Rez, though its counterpart does come quite close.

This is the trailer that was revealed back at E3 2010, where I fell in love with the music.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
While the overall structure of the game and the concept is fundamentally the same as Rez, the implementation of the Kinect sensor shows its true potential as a platform for serious games and so Child of Eden deserves a respectable score here.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
This may be the one potential sore spot for gamers - the five main levels of the game can feasibly all be unlocked and completed within a couple of hours. For some, they may decide they've seen enough there and regret spending £40 on such a short lived experience. Others like me will probably consider Child of Eden less of a game in the conventional sense and more of an interactive album - something that you will come back to time and time again. The different visual effects do help to add a little variety, but don't really change the game at its core. If you're someone who tends to play through a game once and move on, then I would recommend renting Child of Eden as it's definitely worth experiencing. I'm glad I have another game to go along with Rez and the two Space Channel 5 releases in the "interactive album" category.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Child of Eden is a fantastic experience that I think falls just short of the brilliance of Rez. It deserves to do well, but I fear that the majority of gamers are content to keep playing "Generic Military Shooter X" rather than trying something different. Saying that though, as long as we have game designers like Tetsuya Miziguchi in the world, and publishers like Ubisoft and Sega that are willing to give them the freedom to design the games that they want to design, I will be happy.

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