Concrete Genie is Sony’s latest first person title for Playstation VR, but it’s been a while since the last one and VR support is only optional for the game. How did it turn out?
At the big trade shows like E3 and Gamescom, Sony still heavily promotes Playstation VR, indicating that they still see a lot of potential for it even though there aren’t any big first person titles planned after Concrete Genie (unless you count Dreams, for which support is also optional). Most of the exposure at trade shows is for games that have already been released (letting the public sample the technology), but the two big upcoming titles this year were Groundhog Day and Concrete Genie. We reviewed Groundhog Day recently, so we were eager to get started with the next game from PixelOpus – whose previous game Entwined dates from back in 2014.
Right from the start, it’s clear that Concrete Genie is very different from Entwined, both in gameplay and in scope. Rather than play as an indie title, it opens up with Ash, our young protagonist who enjoys drawings. A couple of bullies tear up his magic art book and the pages end up scattered, starting our quest to retrieve them. You do this inside a town called Denska, which looks a bit dreary and devoid of color – something you’ll be fixing over the course of a six-or-so hour journey.
Pretty soon, the game shows you how you can add a splash of color and life to the world around you. This is done using the DualShock’s built-in gyro sensor, so you’re essentially holding your controller as if it’s a paint brush. Move controllers are supported too, but only in VR mode (which I think is a shame but most have a technical reason behind it) – which we’ll discuss later. You can also elect to paint using the right thumbstick, but it’s less fun that way even if using the entire gamepad takes a bit of getting used to.
Painting is easy and intuitive, though limited to the templates you’ve unlocked by finding sketch book pages in the world. There’s still a lot of freedom in how you paint things though, and some of the items that you can try your hand at are the titular genies. Painting a genie brings it to life, and doing so often helps you move forward as well, as they get rid of obstacles that are in the way for you. This is largely scripted, but it’s a lot of fun that you get to determine (in part) what they look like before they spring to life – especially when playing with kids, it’s an almost magical experience.
Most of the narrative in Concrete Genie has a fairly gentle pace to it, but things get a lot more hectic in the last hour or so, when the game suddenly introduces combat mechanics. It’s a bit of a break in style as Concrete Genie is suddenly not as kid-friendly anymore (just in terms of difficulty – things don’t get particularly scary), even though the mechanics fit in with the rest of the game. You’re still painting, but it’s to defeat monsters using special attacks and to move around more quickly in between.
Throughout Concrete Genie, you can’t shake the feeling that you’re playing something different – something special, in a good way. Even if the gameplay itself isn’t spectacular (if stripped down to their bare mechanics), the gorgeous game world that you bring to life makes the experience memorable. It may not feel like it yet because we’re early in October, but I’m thinking this will be a wonderful way to brighten up those cold and dark days that are coming in the winter.
As mentioned, there is a VR mode as well for the game, but it’s perhaps a little deceptive in that you can’t play the main story mode using your headset. Instead, you can engage with separate game modes that require Move controllers in addition to the headset and focus on painting. It’s a lot of fun to do, beautifully executed, but the little mini campaign you get in VR does feel on the short side and will leave you wanting more. If you’re just getting Concrete Genie based on its VR element, you might end up walking away disappointed.
That wouldn’t be doing the game justice though, as the main game is like a storybook that you help breathe life into. Even though it’s relatively light on traditional gameplay, I can’t wait to boot this back up in a month or two for some family time.