Eye of Judgment Review - 08/11/2007

In this day and age, games with real innovation are quite hard to come by, especially on the more "hardcore" consoles. You get the odd shining light in different forms, totally different from anything else.

Okami hit the nail on the head, it was a 'new' title. Nobody had ever played a game where you're cast as a wolf that can use special powers to sketch items into the world. It played very well, got amazing reviews, and sold unbelievably bad for such a great game. The original LocoRoco on the PSP was another 'new' way to play. Sony scrapped the traditional 'move-your-player-with-the-left-analogue-stick-or-the-d-pad' side scrolling adventure and opted for a more fluid and enjoyable 'tilt-the-world-with-the-shoulder-buttons method'. While both of these games are highly thought of in the gaming industry, neither sold particularly well with the general audience - the people who don't follow the gaming industry closely. It's becoming increasingly harder and harder for developers to find the courage to put these ideas into practice, because of the earth-shattering cost to make a game. Plus, if the idea doesn't turn out as planned, there's a few grand down the gutter. And even if everything goes to plan, people could just not buy the game, and go for the more traditional generic FPS. So, along comes The Eye Of Judgment (EoJ). With its completely unheard of style of play, and reliance on a slightly geeky gimmick. If people decided not to gamble on Okami for 30 what's going to make them go that extra mile and fork out 70 to play EoJ. I'll tell you why, that is not only extremely fun to play, but there's a warm feeling of satisfaction when you put down that Scionder Fire God and defeat two or three of your opponents helpless monsters. And bar pressing start to begin and end a session, you don't have to press a button during play. It's all done by the four function cards. Status, Action, End-Turn, and Cancel. Not to mention the collection element. Remember that the following review was written by somebody who has an unforgotten love for card games, so if you have always thought that they were stupid, look away now, as we embrace our inner child.

The Eye Of Judgment comes in an A4 sized cardboard box including the Playstation Eye, playing mat, camera stand and 38 cards. It is slightly harder to set up compared to most mainstream games, but it'll only cost you an extra five or ten minutes. After you have laid down the mat, and placed the camera so that it is directly over the top, keeping a watchful eye on the playing field, you're ready to go, and you get to witness one of the best, and most pointless opening sequences of 2007. It's an atmospheric treat, where dozens of EoJ creatures are flying around the screen, attacking each other. Then it cuts to a visually superb battle, where a rich-looking snob is taking on an almost purple- faced outlaw. It looks certain the outlaw will win when he places down Taurus Monolith, but his opponent shows that size isn't everything when he plays a seemingly weak water creature, that keeps dodging all the attacks before it cuts into the start-up screen.

It's incredibly hard to write the rules down in a review, as it will make it sound too complicated. As there's so much to take in, most would be lost in a sea of text. So I'll leave you with the basics, to win you have to gain possession of five of the nine fields. The only way to have a self-inflicted loss is by running out of cards in your deck. Each card is of a certain element, fire, wood, earth, water, and biolith. With the last being a fancy word for machinery. When you place a creature on its affiliated field, it gains 2 health points, and the opposite happens when you place it on its weaker element. Fire is water, water is fire, wood is earth, earth is wood, and Biolith has no weakness and no advantage. It all sounds a bit stressful, but if you persevere, and get to know how the game works through practice, rather than text, it'll soon click. Suddenly you'll be whooping arses international style, and that's when you realize how great the game is.

The actual cards are great quality and have a significant amount of detail on them. Health points, attack points, mana and activation costs, what element they belong to, how rare they are, how and where they can attack and counterattack, and of course the heavily touted 'cyber code' that the Eye reads to determine which card shows on screen. While cyber code sounds technical, it really isn't. All there is, is four bars with purple hieroglyphics on them. Do a quick search on the web and you can find any Dick or Sally drawing the bar-codes onto a plain sheet of paper, and stupidly the camera mistakes them to be the real thing. While something so momentous could ruin the game, it really shouldn't. The way the game works is that to use any card, it costs mana. So having a deck full of ultra-rares isn't going to help you at all, and if you're crap at the game in the first place, having better cards isn't going to magically improve your skills. Although...

Certain card games can be played with a simple starter deck, and even if you're playing somebody with the full set, greatness can prevail and you could still triumph. While it can be said in EoJ, buying more cards heavily improves your chances of winning. As horrifying as it sounds it makes sense. Sony makes game, Sony releases cards, and Sony wants to sell the cards, so makes those cards essential. It's all a big money ploy, but an extremely fun one at that.

When you're playing a game over the internet, or against somebody inside the same room, the games are magnificent. While in certain games, like the Yu-Gi-Oh series, you can almost tell who will win after the first few turns, this certainly cannot be done in EoJ. It swings on a giant pendulum, back and forth until an eventual winner is decided. There is a genuine excitement to be felt. Like eating too much sugar, it will make you giddy. And it will bring you back to the 'olden days' when playing games was really about fun, and not money and graphics.

But, the graphics are awesome. Every creature is highly detailed, and depending on which arena you have chosen, the lighting effects and shadows are immense too. For example, the earth arena has a blisteringly hot sun, so the shadows are lock and solid. Whereas the water arena doesn't have any shadows at all, but the reflections are the best I've seen on a console in my lifetime. It's this ice-cream like variety that makes the graphics and the game as a whole so enthralling. Obviously, I'm not going to babble on about how you feel as if you're there, because that's not going to happen. But it's just like watching a TV program, but you are the main character. Not some macho man with an incredibly slick hairstyle, see: Yu-Gi-Oh.

While having decent graphics is all well and good, as is having a brilliantly strategic game that not only is fun to play, but is something that you won't have experienced before, it all adds up to a game in need of some more modes. The only option, bar single matches against a player or the computer, is the cleverly named 'Judgment'. In this mode you pit two or more cards against eachother and the game will decide which is best and for what reason. If you're partially blind, or can't be arsed thinking, this mode will get top marks from you, but otherwise it's pointless. Why let the computer figure it out, when you could just look at both the cards yourself. They took a simple task and manipulated it into something stupid and pointless that only adds to the number of modes, not the level of satisfaction. The title craves a story-mode, name me one triple A game without a story-mode and I'll take this back: If you haven't got a friend to play with, or aren't hooked up to the internet (more on this matter later) then you might be slightly disappointed. Not only is the AI quite hard to beat on the default level, there isn't really anything that makes you want to play the computer anyway. Playing a friend in the same room means you can share emotions and feelings, while at the same time having a conversation. Playing an opponent online gives the same effect, only that you are actually rewarded by going up ranks, which gives you that sense of achievement that Playstation 3 owners currently crave. When you're against the AI, the only incentive is to be able to play against them when they have different decks. What a great idea! I think not.

The online experience is good one at that, and I one of the main selling points. When you played other card games at school, people tended to be more attached to the collecting element, rather than actually playing, but now you can find an opponent in the press of a button. While it can sometimes be an ordeal trying to find an opponent, when you do the war is on. No players show any mercy, especially if you're talking on the microphone. To eradicate cheating, the developers have introduced an ingenious system that means while you are in full control of the game, the computer is the one who picks up the cards for you. A magic grabber doesn't literally come out of the disc slot, but the computer shows the cards you are meant to pick up on screen, leaving you to thumb through your deck until you've found it. It can be a bit frustrating, and annoying having to do this every turn, but I think you'd rather everyone play nicely than set their deck up in the perfect way. Because, you know even the most honest John would have to fight the temptation to cheat. Desire's a bitch.

Like I said, without a story-mode, this game can lack in the longevity department. The spectacular intro is put to waste, as it could have unraveled into a brilliant tale of royalty, honour and despair. You could have had to work your way through tournaments and reach certain goals before dueling and defeating the infamous 'purple-faced outlaw'. Not much of an epic, but it would serve its purpose. Maybe downloadable content could sort this, you know how developers are these days, charging you for things that should have been included in the full game anyway.

My only let down, was the fact that experienced players can play much faster than the game can take. Like when you place down a card that has a choice of who can attack, instead of just placing the action card on your monster, and then the creature you want to attack, you have to wait for the game to acknowledge what you have just done before you can move on. It's not like it loads for ages, a mere 5 seconds maybe, but it can aggravate.

To sum that all up, The Eye Of Judgment is the best use of a camera since the original eye-toy play, and what it lacks in story telling it makes up for in sheer innovation and fun. While it might not have the same level of depth as something like Magic: the Gathering, it is definitely tonnes more fun, and seeing everything played out in front of you is a blast. It becomes more apparent the more you play that this game is actually more innovative than something like Wii Sports because not only is it a 'new' way to play, but it creates a whole new genre and paves the way for more games of the same type, but maybe not of the same caliber to emerge. I wouldn't be surprised to see a PS3 exclusive card game based on something like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh released in a couple of years either, fingers crossed. Eye Of Judgment is a flawed gem, go out and buy it!

- Tyler Roberts


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