Doctor Frankenstein; the original “mad scientist.” Though the prototypical “mad doctor” has more so taken on the role of the villain, evil sidekick, or dastardly man behind the curtain, the original blueprint had the rebellious inventor set as more of a tragic hero, out to destroy that which he created with only good intentions in order to set things right. With those roots in mind, open the world of Vessel, an alternate reality, industrialization-era type world where the previously alluded to mad scientist-type has seen his liquid creations go rogue and are now causing havoc all across the world. The game ventures out to provide an enticing story and has puzzle-solving gameplay that touts being as equally enticing. Is this liquefied experience the Niagara Falls of puzzle-games or is it just another watered-down time-waster?
Knowing the basic setting of the story, you are thrown into the shoes of Arkwright, the successful inventor of the world-renowned, world-changing liquid automaton, the Fluro. As great an idea as these little amorphous balls of gooey machinery may have been, they have now gotten out of control and it is up to Arkwright to go ahead and set things right. As mindless and non-threatening as these guys might initially seem, one should not be fooled. As players progress further into the game they begin to see how adaptable and resourceful these liqui-bots are in any situation and how dangerous they can actually be to the world. Without giving much away, as the stalwart inventor you must use the Fluro’s adaptations to your advantage, along with one’s handy, dandy liquid-spewing/sucking machine, using their many adaptations in unison to form the master solution. (Or, at least, that is how I decided to interpret the almost psychedelic ending) The story is whimsical and, honestly, scarce on details, but it almost seems to be part of the style this game portrays, leaving the rest to one’s own imagination.
The gameplay tends to fall in line with this style as players find that the many puzzles this game is built upon can be solved in more than one way. At first, the obstacles put in Arkwright’s way are simple and usually have an obvious solution, but as players get deeper into the game, the puzzles become more complex and may require more than one step or precise timing to proceed. This can be mostly attributed to the slew of liquids and Fluro adaptation-types that are discovered along the way after Arkwright discovers his awesome, Mario Sunshine-esque liquid vacuum/leaf blower thingamajig. Using these two components in a variety of ways, players can utilize their problem-solving skills to conquer any obstacle, in any environment. For example, using a Fluro-type that seeks-out more of its form’s liquid make-up (a “drinker”), a player can coax a water-based drinker into running into a molten rock deposit using one’s Super-Duper Soaker 3000 to provide an enticing puddle passed said deposit, causing the drinker to run through the deposit killing itself and, in the process, creating steam that is sucked up into the curiously placed overhead steam engine that powers the door that was blocking the way. (Is that complex enough for ya?) Suffice it to say, the puzzles are increasingly difficult for the not-so-creative as much as they are for the overly-creative.
The game is given further replayability through the feature of its optional upgrades that can be purchased using the “currency goo” that can be found throughout the game in challenging, hard-to-reach areas. Going to the designated Workshop, players may upgrade their nozzles (in the most G-rated sense) and purchase other new equipment to give good old Arkwright some much needed flexibility. The options are not innumerable, but with all the different Fluro-forms, liquid-types, and nozzles, the game keeps itself from getting too repetitive.
The graphics and sounds in this game are very underwhelming, and, though they are obviously not meant to be the highlight of this title, they still leave a lot to be desired. The art style of the game is an interesting mix of 2D and 3D textures, maps, and lighting that features a neat liquid-physics engine that gives it a nice retro/new age feel that does not feel all that unique, yet has an unexplainably good feel to it; it’s just hard to explain. One has to feel it. Now, while the liquid-based physics are great and accounts for such fun gameplay, the other animations can be very clunky at times and just down-right glitchy the rest of the time. Arkwright can look simply ridiculous while doing the menial tasks like cranking a switch or riding in a mine car. Also, the fact that Arkwright never seems to get injured from a fall of any height begins to fester as a bit of a physics conundrum. While it is nice to just be able to pass those long climbs down ladders, it makes many of them useless and points to some bad level design decisions. The sounds are not as bad and the music is actually quite pleasant, but, overall, if it is a visual, expertly conducted masterpiece that is being looked for this game is a bit lacking.
The OnLive version of this game can be accessed through the Playpack subscription, so it is a great deal. In terms of controls, Vessel can be played using either keyboard and mouse or a gamepad, both working well. Other than that, there are no exclusive features, and the game runs smoothly save for a few framerate issues here and there that this reviewer ran into. This is simply a solid indie game for any Playpack subscriber.
So, Arkwright or Dr. Arkwright, to bring this review full circle, provides a great, fun couple of hours to any gamer’s delight. Vessel is an indie title that touts fun, challenging puzzles that utilize a liquid simulation that is unique to the game. While there are features in this game that can seem very lackluster at times, the most important part, the gameplay, is consistently entertaining. Do yourself a favor and give this game a try!
***NOTE: This review was first published during the OnLive 1.0 era.