Platform: PS3 (PS Move)
Developer: The Workshop
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Sorcery is one of those games that appeared at E3 a couple of years back, and then disappeared completely off of the radar, to the extent that we had to ask whether or not it was even still in production. It's the sort of game that had it actually come out the year it was shown may have caused a splash, such was the buzz surrounding it at the expo in 2010. The most ambitious PS Move title by far - insofar as it actually uses the full range of the motion controller and packages such delights in a relatively cohesive, full game bundle - Sorcery could have heralded the start of something beautiful for Sony's response to the Wii.
As it stands currently, Sorcery is far more likely to be the Move's epitaph, and the ghostly spectre of potential untapped, more than anything else.
Fast forward two years and it's been tacticly acknowledged that the Move is far more of a curio piece - a supplementary accessory if you will - enjoyable with the smattering of core games that have provided functionality alongside "regular" controls (Heavy Rain, Killzone 3 etc.). But where Microsoft have pumped money into their take on motion control, defining it with exclusive experiences, Sony haven't taken that plunge. Until now, when it's arguably too late.
The first good thing to note about Sorcery, though, is that it taps into something that every child (especially those of the Hary Potter generation) have done: picked up a stick/loo roll holder/pen/ruler/rolled up newspaper and pretended that it's a magic wand. Stepping into the shoes of the rather earnest apprentice Finn, you can fire spells from the end of your wand with a flick of your wrist, which initially involves transforming sheep into giant rats. This being a motion control title, accuracy in terms of aiming is a little off, though the game generally does a fair job of auto-aiming in the direction you shoot, and crucially it's an easy system to get the hang of. A nice little touch comes from being able to curve projectiles with a twist of the wrist as you fling your spells at an adversary, with the Move providing the perfect tool for such activity.
Sadly, Sorcery has something of a slow start, made all the more frustrating by the game's own relative brevity. Six/seven hours is frankly not long enough, and it's only after a good two hours or so that you really feel like things are starting to open up. But even when things do, it's difficult not to feel like spell balancing could have been looked at in greater detail. Fire and Ice are only useful against specific enemies, and I completely forgot I even had an Earth attack. The Wind attack comes in handy for some of the extremely simple puzzles in the game, and also for spring cleaning caves, but it's the Lightning attack that you get nearly half way through that makes you feel like a wizarding saviour for the first time...and then you realise that Lightning is obscenely overpowered.
The thing is, by the time you've amassed all of the spells, you'll have realised that you can combine them together to make things like fiery tornados and electric storms, you'll have tapped into the surprisingly effective alchemy system that encourages you to delicately concoct potions and salves, with realistic Move actions making Finn mix, mash, grind, pour, and shake his ingredients into something more useful. It's a great little system that's very well worked indeed, and by this point Sorcery suddenly erupts. The combat combinations etch a massive smile on your face and you begin to realise that you're completely engrossed in a Move game that isn't a fitness title or a collection of spurious minigames. It takes a little while, but there is genuinely an hour or two when Sorcery really comes into its own, carefully walking the tightrope between accessibility and depth, and mostly succeeding. Mostly.
It's a shame, then, that Sorcery utterly drops the ball when it comes to story, with the adventures of Finn and his talking cat never pulling you into the action sufficiently enough for a game that can become something of a repetitive wagglefest, particularly at the start. Thankfully the plot doesn't really get in the way, to be fair, but the voice actors do; with Finn whining like a high school kid about not being taken seriously, and his snooty princess kitten constantly putting him down. Even though you're flinging spells left, right, and centre and felling swathes of creatures in seconds through actions specifically designed to give you RSI, it's difficult in the first half of the game to feel particularly empowered when you want to strangle the two main protagonists.
Although the story and the character might do little to pull you in, the same can't be said of the art style. Simply put, Sorcery looks gorgeous. Ambient lighting systems, charmingly stylised art, some breathtaking views and vistas, Sorcery might not be blowing the lid off of the PS3, but it's clear to see where the extra time and money has gone. Similar things can also be said of the sound design. Voice work apart, the sweeping score is wonderfully done, and the spellcasting sound effects fizz and zip satisfyingly indeed. The impressive aesthetics almost manage to do what the narrative can't, and give you something of a sense of place and purpose, even if it does stick to well worn fantasy staples.
But The Workshop developers never go far enough. Just as it seems that Sorcery might be taking off, the final chapter arrives, and with it an anticlimactic boss encounter. Just as the game comes into its own, it's all over, and after such an inconsequential narrative, a lack of encouragement for exploration, and hidden collectibles in plain sight, there's little reason to go back. A hardcore mode, or New Game + type of feature would have been most welcome, but there's none of that here, and nothing to make you stick around or go back for more after the credits roll.
In making the most of the Playstation Move, Sorcery should be applauded. It'll give you a reason to dust off your wand, provide a few smiles over its six hour running time, and probably delight your kids. But you'll come away from it unsatisfied in the end, wishing that there'd been more, and probably not giving it a second glance, which is a shame...
...because it could have been brilliant.
- Excellent use of the Move
- Strong aesthetics
- Combining spells, and the alchemy system are both great
- Barely challenging
- Occasional camera/targeting issues
- Cripplingly short
The Short Version: It's got some great ideas, and it's probably the most (only?) ambitious dedicated Move title to date, but it's just not ambitious enough. Though it makes good use of the motion controller, and boasts some charming aesthetics, Sorcery runs out of steam just as it comes into its own, which is a crying shame.