GAME NAME: Abyss Odyssey
DEVELOPER(S): ACE Team
GENRE(S): Platformer, adventure, action, rogue-lite, indie
RELEASE DATE(S): July 15th, 2014
Abyss Odyssey is a game that really can only exist in the indie space. It’s the amalgamation of several genres, ideas and even art-styles into a singular whole that no big name developer would ever dream of creating. A lot of the time this is a good thing; it means a team (in this case Chilean developers, ACE Team) are thinking outside of the box and attempting something new. It can also be a very bad thing as what an isolated team of people want to create might not necessarily be what the greater public wants, and there’s a reason why certain ideas are not developed into games – it’s because they won’t make any money. Certainly, Abyss Odyssey is for the most part an absolute blast to play – the various components that it comprises of are all unique and interesting. Unfortunately, they just don’t quite come together as a cohesive whole.
The game takes place several hundred years in the past, in an alternate-history Chile, as a powerful warlock has fallen asleep in a deep underground cavern. When his nightmares begin to come to life, they reek havoc on the citizens and settlements above his resting place. As the hero, you’re tasked with putting an end to the chaos. We can’t think of a better reason to go dungeon-crawling and for that reason the story set out by Abyss Odyssey is perfectly serviceable. That’s pretty much all you’re going to get, however, so don’t expect the story to be fleshed out any further or for even a basic expansion of lore – you’re fighting bad guys in a dungeon.
With regards to the gameplay of Abyss Odyssey, it’s actually pretty difficult to give a fair description (although the above video should give you a good idea). The closest and perhaps most obvious inspiration is that of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in that there is a fair bit of side-scrolling platforming and killing of monsters using a variety of accoutrements. The actual combat, however, seems to take its inspiration from sprite-based fighting games with a very rock-paper-scissors feeling to all encounters, meaning a simple peon can easily take you down if you’re not paying attention. While I had no complaints with the platforming (with a controller making a world of difference), the fighting system feels somewhat underdeveloped. In fact, in several encounters with specific enemies, it felt like a chore to slog through rather than something I wanted to play.
This being a traditional dungeon-crawler, it also sees some roguelike elements enter the mix and for the most part these are actually a welcome addition and some of Abyss Odyssey’s brightest moments. The characters (classes) that are available to you are all also figments of the sleeping warlock’s dreamscape and so death doesn’t mean a restart. Rather, you respawn as a weak soldier and have to make your way to a shrine in order to respawn your hero. Upon respawning, you lose all of your weapons and the game world regenerates which adds a decent level of depth to the experience as you’re never really forced backwards in your adventure. It means that you never lose any tempo. Unfortunately, even this unique twist is hampered somewhat as exiting the game does not save your progress at all, so you either have to complete the game in a full run or not all. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it seems positively archaic given the other changes to the roguelike formula the game teases.
It should also be noted that the experience greatly improves with a friend. Battling monsters together requires both co-operation and good timing and someone who knows their way around the games mechanics can actually offer a lot to new players. Online, there are no real problems (besides South African latency), but on the same PC there can be a few camera issues with the game battling to decide whether to follow one player or the other. This isn’t too much of an issue and the idea of a PvP arena coming in a future update is also quite an enticing prospect as the game systems seem perfectly suited for an almost Super Smash Bros. level of battling.
Visually, the game is actually rather pretty and despite not being technically impressive, it features a very unique art style. In particular, the character designs and general artistic direction contribute the most with nearly all of the NPC’s being instantly recognisable and some of the monsters truly horrifying as a result. The game also features a genuine level of detail, with various items actually appearing on your character when picked up and most areas ordained with crumbing ruins and beautiful viewpoints. Despite the game taking place only several hundred years ago, the designs genuinely lend themselves to a fantastical and magical feeling leading to an incredible level of atmosphere, something even most top-tier AAA games often fail to achieve.
Once again, the experience is hampered somewhat by poor performance no matter what hardware we threw at it and that seems to be the recurring theme in Abyss Odyssey – good but not quite excellent. In many ways, this is more frustrating than a game that’s actively bad as you’re constantly waiting for the experience to kick it into gear where as it’s quite content to do the speed limit. That said, without a doubt I can see a cult following surrounding the game, one that’s arguably deserved considering the amount of secrets and unique mechanics the game holds, and, indeed, I can definitely see myself jumping back into the Abyss as there is something oddly addictive about the tactile gameplay. That said, it is most definitely an acquired taste, one you would be forgiven for sticking your tongue out at.