Back when I wrote for one of those girl gamer sites (yes, even I have a dark past), I got a press release about a game the got me pretty excited. Small German development team, Deck 13 were to publish Venetica, a fantasy themed role-playing game that appealed to me with its Fable-esque screen shots and open-world role-playing game promises. Venetica all but fell off the radar until 2011 when I received an email asking if I would be interested in the review.
Would Venetica end up being a under the radar gem, or another over ambitious RPG that fails to deliver?
Venetica (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Developer: Deck 13
Publisher: dtp Entertianment
Released: US January 18th 2011
The game follows the story of Scarlet who, unbeknown to her, is actually the daughter of death. Following the death of her loved one and the death of herself, she finally meets her father who sends her on one of those long-winded quests to find some mythical object and defeat the bad guy. The story is simplistic, it feels horrifically generic, as though the game had surrendered itself to not even trying. It is hard not to compare games to each other continuously, but when a plethora of RPGs already exist, if a game provides nothing new it will simply fade into obscurity. Venetica does attempt to widen its story by throwing in the whole moral choice thing, but the difference between what is 'right' and what is 'wrong' is so clearcut it feels poorly played out.
Despite the simplistic story, the dialog used by both Scarlet and the NPCs is also pretty horrific, it is tragically written, lack luster and I would even call it condescending which in turn makes the characters feel 2D. It is almost impossible to feel anything towards the characters. Early on, the game sees the death of two traveling companions. Naturally, this is supposed to be one of those dramatic moments when you are supposed to feel something, but because the characters lack any development it is actually a relief to no longer have to speak to them. The voice acting also matches the abysmal writing, the moment Scarlet opens her mouth it pretty much sets you up for the rest of the game. The voices end up being a mix and match of stereotypical accents that sound poorly recorded and conversations and chopped together and feel abrupt, they lack a natural flow which makes me want to skip as many conversations as possible.
The world of Venetica is colorful and pretty, and there's a distinct Fable feel to it, but it certainly isn't anywhere near as polished as Albion and characters seem to have a few problems interacting with it. Limbs that magically appear through doors or walls, characters use the spaces in-between the ladder to climb up and items chopping through other items, it makes it all feel messy. The environment also lacks good sound, there are times where the game is near silent and other time you are able to catch just a faint hint of music, that makes it feels disappointing as though the sound was an oversight. Some of the sounds effects are also pretty shocking, early on Scarlet takes a little walk past a waterfall and I was utterly convinced that that the TV was broke and spewing white noise at me.
The battle system is simplistic - enemies come at you and you hit 'A' to hack and slash. As the character travels through the world, teachers can be found to help Scarlet learn new moves or abilities; from dodge rolls to the summoning of crows. In turn these are mapped to the D-pad and can be switched in and out from the large and overly complicated main menu which is filled with moves, magic, and items. Except they can be annoying to use more than anything.
Scarlet could be attacked and you try to block using your mapped D-pad button, but you already got hit which means you can't then block during that enemies combo. You then try to roll out the way but it isn't that responsive, you try again but the camera doesn't auto-follow you so you can't see where you are rolling to and roll into a wall. From there you attempt to move the already skittish camera, loose sight of the battle, realize you have no healing items mapped to the D-pad and then have to dash in and out of the main menu to try and heal yourself. Except you end up getting killed only to realize that the game doesn't autosave and you have to replay that last hour of the game, can't skip any of the cut scenes, need to go through all that condescending dialog and before you know it your controller has gone through the window.
I really wanted to like Venetica, but every-time I tried to pick it up to play within a few minutes I would need to put it down because my rage from the sometimes small but continuously nagging faults made my blood pressure rise. It was pretty, but nothing special. I could rattle off a list of better looking RPGs for the Xbox 360 with better battle systems, physics, voice acting, and dialog. Yet, I still want to congratulate Deck 13 on Venetica.
A small team of less than 40 have achieved something here, a colorful open world RPG is no small accomplishment. I can't help but feel proud that they wanted to make a game on such a large scale. Maybe they did bite off more than they could chew, but they at least had aspiration. None the less, Venetica's over-ambition is its own downfall. The many imperfections that would be ironed out from larger more successful RPGs have not been attended to rendering the game as frustrating, which is a pity.