From PC to PS3: Vessel [Review]
Vessel has been available on PC for some time now, but recently Strange Loop Games brought it over to the PS3. I was curious to see how the game handled the platform transfer, and while most of the things we loved about Vessel on PC made it over, some did not.
In Vessel you play a scientist who has created mankind’s greatest invention: the Fluro. Fluros are liquid-based beings that can be manipulated and are capable of performing simple tasks. All a user needs to do is place a Fluro seed down around any type of liquid and the liquid will be attracted to the Fluro. When enough liquid is gathered it becomes the Fluro’s body, at which point the Fluro can start performing tasks for said user. There seems to be a catch, however.
At the beginning of the game our scientist is locked out of his lab by one of his Fluros. I thought this was a Fluro gone rogue and that this is what the game would be about. I soon found out that I was wrong. You see, Fluros will start performing tasks once they’re formed whether you want them to or not. If there is a switch to be hit or turned, they are going to do it. This is an interesting part of the game, because instead of directing Fluros to do something, you are trying to figure out ways to manipulate them to complete your task.
Those tasks can be anything from opening a door, to filling up a tank with some type of liquid or steam, to getting a machine to work, or to find a way to power something. The game doesn’t give you much direction (besides telling you what direction to go in… Sometimes), but when you reach a puzzle it’s usually easy to tell what they want you to do. If you can’t tell immediately, then it shouldn’t take long to figure out what they want you to do. Finding out how to do it is the challenge.
It’s very rare for the game to give you information first hand. From time to time you will get a passage in your journal regarding a specific piece of machinery, but most of the time I felt that was to push the story forward. Typically, you will learn from the game by observing and through trial and error. There will be times when you see things happen outside of your direct control which teaches you about the Fluros and how they react to certain things, or how certain elements react with each other. Most of my learning was through messing around with things, however. Pretty much every puzzle started with me pressing buttons, pulling levers, and flipping switches to see what they did. Once I had that down, I was able to chip away until I solved the puzzle. Most puzzles don’t rely on your reflexes, but some do require you to complete a series of tasks in a certain amount of time once you’ve started. Others may require you to have great timing.
The game equips you with tools to help you along the way. You start with literally no tools; Not even a seed for Fluros. Once you have your first seed you can begin to manipulate water directly (seeds attract water even if they aren’t deployed). The next major tool you get is the pressurized pack that allows you to hold water, letting you deploy your own Fluros wherever you want. You can also use it to shoot water at switches, cool down hot liquid, and suck liquid up.
The pressurized pack can also be upgraded, but in order to do that you need to collect a special substance called protoplasm. Protoplasm is collected like water, but it sits in its own container and is only useful for upgrades. After you reach a certain point in the game you have access to a machine that uses protoplasm to create your upgrades. Need a wider nozzle? No problem. Need to hold more water? Gotcha.
When I reached this machine something became clear to me — the developers were trying their hardest to keep my mind in that world. When you do your upgrades, you don’t just go up to a machine, select your upgrade and trade it for protoplasm. After using a lever to go through available upgrades and selecting one, you have to take a lift to an opening where you can shoot the protoplasm into a container. Then, you come back down, jump on another lever and turn it until the protoplasm has formed the upgrade you’re looking for. The developers turned making upgrades into a little game itself.
Getting back to the available liquids, you’ll be dealing with more than water in Vessel. Water is what you will be handling most of the time, but you’ll be dealing with more dangerous liquids like lava. If you touch it for too long you will die, and yes, Fluros can form out of it. So, be careful pulling out a seed around lava; it will come to you. There are other liquids that will change how Fluros behave, too. There is a blue liquid that creates a Fluro that will be attracted to more of that blue liquid, and will consume it until it explodes. Each liquid has its purpose, and you need to figure it out to solve your puzzles.
As the game progresses you will get additional seeds to make different types of Fluros. The base Fluro will only move if it see a switch to hit, but the second one you get, appropriately called “The Chaser”, will try its best to reach you wherever you are, so you can manipulate it into hitting switches and other objectives. Each Fluro has its own attributes that you will need to use in order complete puzzles.
Once started, the game doesn’t have to be interrupted. Like I mentioned before, there are journal entries to read, but the game just lets you know you have new ones; it doesn’t stop the game. Even if you don’t read the journal entries, the game trains you to poke around machines, so I can’t imagine a player would have trouble figuring out one of the machines in the journal. One of the reason I enjoyed Vessel so much is because how the developer treats players. They don’t hold your hand with hints, make the game easy, or impede your game play in any way. The dev trusts that the players are smart enough to tinker with these machines and figure out how they work, and because of that I felt it really helped the overall experience of the game.
No game is perfect, however, and Vessel does have its flaws. My only point of frustration with the game is that sometimes the AI isn’t the greatest. I’ve had Fluros that just wouldn’t move, Fluros that would explode shortly after being formed, Fluros that would get stuck (and subsequently get destroyed), and sometimes even Fluros that wouldn’t form. It doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen, and usually when I’m already testy because I’m stuck on a puzzle. The next item is performance on the PS3. The graphics definitely felt like they were nerfed a bit, and depending on how much liquid or how many Fluros are on the screen, the game can slow down tremendously. The game froze on me once or twice, but almost without a doubt if I had four Fluros on the screen at once the game would slow down to probably about 10 or 15 frames per second.
There aren’t many puzzles were you need that many Fluros, but there are segments (especially in the boss areas) that will have several Fluros walking around. In the first boss area this was a real problem, since I needed to move from platform to platform to avoid being killed. The slower frame rate didn’t help, there. These two items are things that I dealt with, but honestly, they didn’t happen enough to make me upset with the game — they were just annoying to deal with when they happened.
Despite a few problems, I though Fluro’s transition to the PS3 was great. The team at Strange Loop Games trust you enough to allow you to figure out these puzzles with no help, and because of that the feeling of completing a puzzle is VERY rewarding. I’d recommend Vessel to anyone interested in the puzzle-platforming genre, and especially those who have an interest in physics-based puzzles.
The game doesn’t hold your hand. Allows you to discover solutions on your own.
The game stays in character at all times; including when doing things like making upgrades.
The music is fitting and helps to keep you cool while figuring out the world.
No puzzle solution is the same.
Puzzles are interesting and fun.
The PS3 version suffers performance issues when too much liquid or too many Fluros are around.
The Fluro AI takes a dump from time to time.
This physics based puzzle-platformer gives players the tools they need and then leaves them to figure out the rest on their own. The puzzle aspect of the game isn’t just discovering how to get these machines working, but also figuring out how to manipulate the Fluros to do what you want. Puzzles aren’t incredibly difficult, but will take some thinking. I recommend this game to fans of puzzle-platforming.