Hands-On: Genji: Days of the Blade
Our opinion so far on PS3's Genji sequel.
The first Genji didn't get much respect on the PlayStation 2 and there's been a lot of negativity surrounding the PlayStation 3 version too. I played Genji: Days of the Blade at E3 this year (report). I was unimpressed. The camera was bad, the graphics were laughable, and the game stuttered along. Four months later the game was at the Tokyo Game Show and it was looking much better. Still the game wasn't getting much positive buzz, but I enjoyed what I saw in the brief time I had with it. But now that I've had a chance to play it more, the flaws are more apparent.
First, I should mention that this isn't a review. Despite the debug code we were given dating back to October - near-final or final code, likely - Sony asked us to treat it as a hands-on preview. The PlayStation 3 is still four months away from Europe (at least) so it's feasible that Sony could use this time to fix the game for its third release. I'm not counting on it.
The biggest problem is the camera. In the E3 build, the camera was pulled way back, withdrawing you from the action. Game Republic has now gone to the other extreme. The camera hugs the action so tightly that often I was swinging blindly at enemies just off screen. There's a map in one corner of the screen that I was forced to use all the time because I couldn't see where enemies were. At least they're stupid enough, in that way enemies in action games usually are, that they don't double- and triple-team you, despite them outnumbering you in most encounters.
It's not just the camera that acts against you. Even though I only played the first few hours of the game, I still found myself getting lost quite often. The developers have made it hard for you to know what you're supposed to be doing with vague mission objectives and no clear indicators of where you should head next. Sometimes you'll happen upon the next step, such as when I kicked a cart closer to a gate and noticed I could jump over it. (I should also point out the terrible lack of logical consistency, whereby you can break through some doors and gates but not others.) Other times you'll walk around aimlessly, hoping to stumble upon a clue.
It's a pity that the camera mars the visual experience because the graphics are good. I especially like the way lead swordster Yoshitsune blurs when he does fast moves. You get a good sense of his speed. Another standout feature is how flames look in the game. The opening scene takes place in a flaming building and at least for a while you'll be oohing and aahing at how pretty it all looks. New character Shizuka also looks great, her flowing outfit designed to show off how powerful the RSX graphics processor is. Still, it's clear developers are still scratching at what the chip is capable of, but at least Genji is mostly pretty.
Combat is generally monotonous button mashing, lacking the sort of finesse and paced development David Jaffe and his team at Sony were able to bring to God of War. Game Republic's out is to give you several characters, all with unique capabilities, and to give you the option to swap both characters and weapons on the fly. Generally you can play with whoever you please, though there are times when the objectives demand that you use one member of the quartet. There's a nod given to motion-sensing controls, which here allow you to dodge and dive, but it's easier to use the analog stick these evasive moves are mapped to by default.
The game is filled with loading points, but the standard storage options of the PlayStation 3 means that you're able to sidestep this by installing a large chunk on to your hard drive. I was disappointed to see that the console isn't smart enough to see if you've installed it already, and it went through the minutes-long download more than once without so much as a warning.
In the end, this lack of attention is in keeping with the rest of the game. There are a lot of areas that could be polished to make this a good game, though even then we'd still be saddled with some of the more cryptic aspects of the mission design. Will Sony be able to fix Genji: Days of the Blade up in time for the European launch next year? That's the big question.