It is a truth universally acknowledged, by the internet, that no video game should be subject to any censorship, ever. The ratings system is there to protect children, the argument goes, and to safeguard the rights of responsible, free-thinking adults to murder prostitutes, set fire to tramps, and beat people to death with their own arms.
But perhaps more attention should be paid to the games kids are playing, and the lessons being learned from them. Case in point: Sorcery, a new PlayStation Move title (the Move being Sony’s largely forgotten clone of Nintendo’s “Wiimote” motion controller). It teaches one lesson, over and over again: In the face of adversity, fight. There is no time for discussion, no scope for negotiation, and no possibility of retreat. When life gives you lemons, kill them.
The game follows the adventures of Finn, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and his sidekick, an annoying talking cat. They’re on a mission to defeat the Nightmare Queen, who is using her Dark Powers to corrupt the Faerie Realms with Loads Of Weird Black Swirly Clouds And Stuff.
It might sound mystical and exciting, but really Sorcery is just a third-person shooter for kids. Instead of a gun, Finn wields a magic wand. Rather than collecting ever-more powerful weapons as the game progresses, he learns new spells. These are used to defeat a wide range of enemies, from brown orcs and green ghosts to brown orcs with shields and green ghosts who also have shields. He wanders endlessly from arena to arena, forced to eliminate waves of increasingly familiar baddies before the path to the next area opens up.
The twist is that Finn’s wand is controlled using the PlayStation Move. At first, this works well; casting spells by flicking the controller feels fun and natural, and less silly than waving some invisible object around in front of the Kinect. It also seems easier to aim accurately than when playing similar games on the Wii.
But as Sorcery plods on, the illusion wears off. It becomes apparent that the game’s artificial intelligence is doing an awful lot of the work. Waggling the controller in the general direction of an enemy is just as effective as trying to target it precisely, and a lot less effort. Even if you do try to play it straight, there are moments when the Move goes mental and seems unable to recognize what you’re aiming at, anyway.
Finn’s spells are all just different ways to kill enemies, and they’re not very imaginative ways, either. Anyone who’s played more than two video games will not die of shock on learning that once you have encased an enemy in a block of ice, you can shatter it with a firebolt.
The rest of the game is similarly lackluster. There are some tedious, old-fashioned boss battles, such as one against a giant troll who lobs boulders at you while you’re simultaneously attacked by his brown orc minions, some of whom have shields. There is some dull business about turning Finn into a rat so he can crawl through small holes. There’s a bit of nonsense about mixing your own potions, a process that quickly makes the transition from novelty to chore. It’s all about as magical and enchanting as a day-old ham sandwich.
It doesn’t help that Sorcery is such a mishmash of visual styles and narrative tones. There are some quite lovely art nouveau-inspired touches to the scenery, but the effect is ruined by crude foreground elements and over-dramatic lighting. It’s hard to appreciate the intricate carvings on the elegant stone doorway Finn is approaching when you’re wondering why it looks like he’s holding a torch under his face.
The fantasy themes of the storyline and folksy Oirish soundtrack clash with the modern-day banter of the main characters, who speak with West Coast accents. They’re always pulling out unfunny wisecracks and anachronistic observations (“Whoa! That banshee is seriously bad news!”). It’s as if the game can’t decide whether it wants to be Fable or Uncharted, and ends up stuck in some weird no-man’s land between the two, with no one for company but Michael Flatley and his crappy flute.
Sorcery assumes that kids won’t care—that they’ll be too busy enjoying the fact you can zap a monster by flicking the thingy like a real wand, at least for a good nine minutes. But kids can be more discriminating than that, and they deserve better. They deserve smart puzzles, fun spells, and characters who feel like they belong in the world they’re exploring.
In Sorcery, all they get are hordes of boring enemies to defeat, and a stupid talking cat from L.A. Still, at least they’re not battering prostitutes to death with the burning corpses of murdered tramps.