After a long break, tempted by unexpected news of a free expansion, I have played some more E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy over the last few days. I still have things to do with it and it’s still provoking some thought, but that can wait. For today I finally gave in and tried the expansion, Blood Games. It’s (ugh) multiplayer. And… wow.
As feared, Streum’s decision to focus their efforts on this was a really terrible one. Anything but the most off the wall, original multiplayer system couldn’t hope to build on what made the single player game so unique, and while the game modes introduced by Blood Games aren’t bad, they are utterly ordinary.
I’ve only tried the basic all vs. all deathmatch mode, not least as there was only one server with more than four people playing, and it’s fun, but very badly thought out, extremely unfair on new players, cuts out almost everything that made EYE interesting to begin with, and the playerbase, while not unpleasant, was barely into double figures throughout the whole evening.
Players spawn with a random weapon and armour, which goes a little way toward helping new players, except when it just makes it even harder. You only get one clip of ammunition, so with a couple of exceptions, using the weapon cleverly is key rather than simply brute forcing it, and almost every round will turn into a swordfight before long. Still, there are at least some fun tactical options in choosing how and when (or whether) to use the weapon you’re given, as well as any you might collect from fallen foes.
But while you might start with the minigun (and therefore have about a 70% chance of wiping everyone out), you might also start with the terrible sawn off shotgun (which is even worse in multiplayer because it only comes with two shots, and its one microscopic advantage of small size doesn’t apply, as there are no inventory restrictions)…. or the medkit.
You might start armed with only a medkit. In front of a hostile interceptor armed with rockets. For several levels have environmental hazards, which aren’t explained, and for a while seem to just be the game randomly killing you off (and deducting points for the “suicide” of being unavoidably killed by a random, off-map mortar). And finally, players can take their single player characters in, who can jump forty feet to your three, hit harder and faster, and while your dedicated hacker (or simply lower level character) struggles to fire more than two accurate shots from a kneeling position, they’re shooting with 100% full auto accuracy from the hip while sprinting and flying through the air. If you want to catch up – just to break even, you’ll have to grind the singleplayer side missions for approximately ten thousand years. Added to all this is the frustration and tedium of the Counterstrike model of deathmatch, wherein players get one life per round and must sit the rest of it out before they can play again. This is bad design in a game with random unavoidable death, and it’s particularly baffling given that the single player had an in-story system of “lives” that saw the player resurrected on the spot every time he died. Here it just seems unreasonably cruel.
The one potentially great thing about it is the melee system. Parrying with your sword will block any incoming shot from the front, be it from a pistol, minigun, or a sniper round to the face. It drains your energy though (and note that higher level players commonly have more energy), so you can sometimes overwhelm a defence (ie: prey on weakened enemies, or just use the minigun), or you could time your shots so that you hit them in between them dropping their guard and stabbing you. Or you could run and regroup, or get them in the back, or, more likely, get your own sword(s) out and have a duel. They’re quite fun, and four or five people fighting it out can be a good laugh, but it’s far too arbitrary to be truly satisfying. Hit detection, range, speed of swings, and even basic things like the number of contacts a swing can hit are a complete crapshoot – you’re as likely to hit two enemies with one shot where in the same position five seconds ago you hit nothing, and instead exploded as someone seven feet away apparently killed you by stabbing your shadow. Some melee weapons occasionally fail to swing at all.
So it falls far short of its potential simply because it relies on the wonky melee combat from the single player, only you can’t tear into the mooks here because they’re like you, and can parry your attacks all day until someone’s wild flailing happen to please the random number gods, who choose to strike down the other player.
You can’t use augs. You can’t hack (well you can, but it’s totally worthless, as everyone’s defences are beefed up to absurd levels, so even if you could somehow hide without getting attacked, you’d likely run out of time before you hacked one target). You can’t use psi. If you haven’t built your character to be a shooting, stabbing whirlwind of bullets and blades, you’re at a huge disadvantage. Oh, and there are little niggles too, like the number keys still not consistently delivering the right weapons, no indication is given of how many other weapons you have, and the chat messages disappear within nanoseconds, are unreadable while you’re typing, and for some reason dead players’ messages are visible to those still in the game. This would have been a design flaw at the turn of the millennium. In 2013 it just seems embarassing.
I’ve not played the team mode yet. I’m told you can use psi powers and augs in it, and that it’s class based. Maybe team mode redeems it, but I wouldn’t know, because there were never enough players on to find out. In four hours there were at most about ten, maybe twelve people playing on one server, with a handful scattered about elsewhere.
I don’t enjoy saying any of this, because I like EYE and want its clearly deranged developers to do well. But this is not going to win anyone over, and I can’t see it offering more than a few nights’ worth of play for existing fans.
If you already have E.Y.E., I do suggest you give it a try. It’ll be a laugh for a few hours, and the maps, while not spectacular, are rather interesting and well-realised. Everyone else though, well, my previous thoughts stand.
Let’s face it, E.Y.E:Divine Cybermancy is a terrible name. That the developers were not native English speakers doesn’t really explain it, unless there’s some kind of EU subsidy involved; I’m quite sure that the French also have a phrase for “What the hell did I just play?”.
For this is the question I am still asking. My pad is scrawled with over four thousand words written while playing, and I’ve recorded more videos than my hard drive will ever forgive me for. And still my brain is overflowing with things to say.
I’ve completed it. Except I haven’t. I finished the story, except that I didn’t, and if I tell you what that means, it’ll spoil the ending. Except it isn’t the ending, and aaaaaaaaargh.
“We don’t know any more than you, frankly.”
EYE is an indie FPS with a heavy dose of stat-side RPG, casting you in the role of an amnesiac warrior-monk-alien-human-hybrid-samurai-assassin with psychic powers and cybernetic implants. And yes, that does sound like something a 7-year old would breathlessly exclaim while playing in the garden, but it actually works in context. It is an inbred, bastard descendant of Deus Ex, Half-Life, Warhammer, Painkiller, and Doom. It grew up with The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Syndicate, and had intrepid sex with Aliens, Groundhog Day, Flashback, Total Recall, and The Dark Tower, and you now fully understand it, so I can knock off for the day.
Oh, fine. But we’ll have to separate the game’s structure and story parts first, or we’ll be here all night.
My, what a relevant screenshot.
You’re given objective-based missions stretched across a variety of very large and open levels. They’ll mostly involve shooting things, hacking them, or talking to them. You start with several stats that govern skill at shooting, running, hacking, using psi powers et cetera, which manually increase when you level.
In addition to stats, you can upgrade your robotic body parts, which grant bonuses to stats, protect you, help you run faster or hide better or refill energy, and so forth. On top of this, there are optional cybernetic implants that give you the power to cloak or use echolocation or resist gunfire. These function very much like Deus Ex‘s augmentations. As well as implants, you’re offered psionic powers that act as spells, allowing you to create clones of yourself or teleport into an enemy, bursting them messily open. In yet another feature, the player can collect briefcases of data from fallen enemies and research them in a sort of X-COM/System Shock 2 crossover, which will further augment your powers, or unlock more spells, abilities, and implants.
Options include a cyber-thyroid. I’d settle for a functioning one, myself.
You’re sent off to a series of maps, on which you’re given several tasks to complete as you see fit. There are usually sub-missions from NPCs. Once you’ve finished a map, you can go back there for randomised missions to grind for cash and XP, or if you just want to mess around and kill things for a while. We’ve all been there.
Though it’s up to you how to achieve objectives, you absolutely will be in a lot of gunfights. Cloaking your way through trouble is sometimes an option (though more to change position and choose when to open fire), and you can also attempt to hack your enemies via a fast-paced and often tricky mini-game that sees you balancing three power levels against your opponent’s, be it another cyberbrain or a simple door. Most hostiles themselves can be directly hacked, wirelessly, allowing you to take remote control of enemy agents and make them gun down their friends. It’s worth noting that when you attack something thus, it will hack you back, with the result ranging from harmless through annoying right up to they will make your fucking head explode. Even the ATMs and doors fight back.
Interaction with NPCs is very basic, sadly. The outcome of conversation can vary a lot – most will pay you for a favour or help you out if you sweet-talk them, but may turn hostile if you annoy them. Calling it “conversation” is generous, really – you’re given a list of badly written, poorly translated responses, and picking the right one too often feels like pot luck. Occasionally you’ll be asked to make a big decision, but this is where I have to step across to the story section. Back in a bit. Enjoy some clips while you wait.
This is what your base has instead of corridors. Because why not?
Oh, God help me.
You’re part of E.Y.E, an organisation ostensibly trying to investigate and stop a mysterious force of monsters that’s popping up all over the galaxy, but secretly trying to overthrow the Federation, a government spread over hundreds of planets. Meanwhile, E.Y.E. itself is split into two factions, with your leader ordering you to wipe out the other faction, but your mentor urging you to work with them. It’s a fanatic holy order, so this isn’t the kind of rivalry that will be settled with a cup of tea and lengthy chat. You’ll have to decide what to do about the other faction, how to deal with your conflicting loyalties, and, perhaps overthrow a galactic empire. Easy, right? Oh, you’re also an amnesiac troubled by a recurring dream in which you’ve just killed your Mentor. Or not. Or it’s a premonition. Or a warning. Or not. Um.
Let’s go back to structure, shall we?
Screw you, Phil. Our dystopian future has a pool.
So, there’s a Big Decision there, and it’ll come sooner than you expect. I can’t tell you how much the plot diverges because I’ve only seen one path. I’ve only seen one path because this game has the worst save system I’ve ever seen. You can’t save the game. Ever. It autosaves whenever you change your character, complete an objective, or die (death lasts a few seconds, after which you resurrect on the spot – which often will mean you die three or four times in a row. Every time you die, there’s a chance your stats will suffer. Yeah). Quit the game before leaving a map and you’ll have to do it all over again, but you’ll keep your stats and gear. Essentially, it saves whenever you don’t want it to.
This system is AWFUL AND OBJECTIVELY BAD AND WHAT THE HELL HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN OH MY G-
Interceptors are a nightmare, but an open invitation to a hacker.
Once I’d made that Big Decision and seen the result play out, I realised why the game does this. It helps that before this, I ran out of “resurrections”, but instead of getting a game over, my resurrections topped up, and my recurring dream now featured a strange man who told me everything was just a premonition of how I might fuck up. Then I was sent back to where I’d just left, with a slight stat loss and hopefully some cool scars.
So yes, that save system. And that “resurrection” thing. It’s not explicitly stated, but by the end of the plot thread I saw, I realised that it’s tied to the story. You can’t save because you’re not supposed to see ahead via the magic of saving. It’s a choose your own adventure that forces you to actually choose, and not just eschew the dice altogether because seriously, screw dice. You’re supposed to live with your mistakes. To understand what it’s all about, you’re meant to keep trying until you reach an ending and get another chance to do it again the right way. All with the same character, getting stronger and better the whole time.
Some objectives must be searched for manually. Good luck with that.
This is structure stuff, but I’m writing it under story because it was the story that (eventually) explained the absolutely insane save system. This is arguably a spoiler too, but it’s worth it because, well, there’s a point to it. EYE Cap’n Sah isn’t well written or anywhere near as fleshed out as it deserves to be, so instead of spelling things out for you, it’s the way it plays that gives it meaning. And that isn’t clear until the end, and even then, all you know is that you’ve found the wrong way, bringing you closer to the right one. It’s all rather Zen (or Samsara, or Moksha, or … look, I was raised Catholic, okay? You’re lucky I even know Zen is a thing).
Is this Zen? This doesn’t look like Jesus. It might be Zen.
I’ve never played a game like this. Not the “play it over” thing – God no – I’ve played and resented many games that expected me to play 300 times before I can do anything fun (hi Japan!). By contrast, EYE: Bovine Hyperdancey lets you have tonnes of fun right away, however your real potential will never be reached if you don’t try again. And of course I’ve played games that tried to be about something, or had a twist, or a moral, or some face-punchingly awful fourth-wall breaking twattery (hi Kojima!), but this really caught me off guard. It’s nothing spectacular, and the plot remains rather simple and poorly told, the characters barely there, the world an untapped mystery, but the fact that I’m now defending the save system that I’ve just spent two weeks constantly swearing a blood oath to destroy is remarkable. It’s absolutely about the bizarre and sometimes thrilling experience above all else, and the older I get, the more appreciation I feel for that.
I’d still like a save option, mind. I could have reviewed this in half the time with that.
EYE, Invisible Killer Robot Priest With a Minigun has many other flaws. You’ll get used to the UI, but it’s still bad. The hacking minigame is neat but imperfect – it’s sometimes far too tedious to hack multiple targets when a bullet ballet would sort them out in seconds. The possession script is wonky. The AI is rather simple. The difficulty forms less of a curve and more of a strip-mined mountain range. There are long stretches (and the entire “special missions” bit, as far as I can tell) that are not possible to complete without being Robocop’s less subtle cousin, and you get no indication when this is about to happen. Character generation is an esoteric mess. There are bugs, most notably one that switches around weapon hotkeys; you’ll frequently draw the wrong weapon because the keys have changed again. The translation really is awful, and the writing can’t have been much better in the original French. There are no interesting or memorable characters at all.
Hacking is easily understood once you try it, but can be laborious.
All this plus the ballsed up save system that only makes sense if you’ve played the game for dozens of hours should add up to a game I loathe. But I just can’t. This game pisses me off, but I love it. It’s ambitious. It’s original. It’s insane. It evokes countless games and films and books without being a clone or rip-off of any (although the Aliens-inspired level cuts it close. It’s a homage, really). The game is awash with references to other works, both explicit and thematic, but remains independent.
The gunplay is enormously exciting, and combat dances you back and forth wonderfully over a fine line between being a total badass cutting a path through dozens of mooks, and being a desperate man with his back against the wall, fighting for his life. Mooks go down with a shot or two, but armoured toughies are a bloody nightmare. You start the game with free access to shotguns, sniper rifles, dual swords and miniguns. The levels are intricate and frickin’ huge.
<PERSUADE> … GOING … <PERSUADE>
The levels! Some of them are wonderfully realised. There’s a whole map that is more Syndicate than anything we’ve seen for 15 years. It oozes atmosphere. You can hack into a man’s mind. Bite off more than you can chew and the trauma can leave you paranoid and hallucinating. You can wield a pistol and sword at once. You set people on fire with your mind. You can counter an ambush by leaping thirty feet in the air and attacking it from above with a rifle. You can hack into a gunship and watch it strafe rockets all over your enemies. Have a look at this:
See what happened there?
Land. Jason Bourne can eat my hole.
Trapped on a staircase with the feds coming, I suddenly remembered I’d invested in cybernetic legs. So, I leapt off the stairs, and spun around 180 degrees in the air and shot a man in the head before landing and killing another. Because I could.
I still haven’t finished EYE: Sublime Fillerpantsy. I’ll be back to write about it again. It is rough, weird, confusing, needlessly fiddly, and at times infuriating. There’s a lot that will put people off, and frankly, they’re right to be. I wouldn’t blame you if you thoroughly hated this game. I’m honestly surprised that I like it so much, and there’s still a chance I’m completely wrong about the “keep doing it” thing.
But it’s so utterly unique, and the combat is such a damn joy. If you’re at all interested in games that are odd or ambitious, and you’re not troubled by some major flaws or mechanics and a plot that keep you in the dark, you might enjoy it too. Go into this one with gritted teeth and both eyes open, and you’ll find something that reminds you what games are all about, and what incredible potential they have in the hands of people with a little imagination, and the lunatic force of will to do something with it.
EYE summarised in one image: Lofty heights with broken stairs.