Sometimes dead is better.
To this point my experiences with the rogue-like style of gave have been more colorful and lighthearted, like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy. Abyss Odyssey follows a lot of those same formulas but does it in a dark world that exists within a Warlock’s dream. Playing the game feels a bit like trying to put together a puzzle when someone has turned over the pieces and stolen a few – everything I would expect is here, but none of it comes together.
The game features Katrien, a long dead Ghost Monk who finds new life within this dream world. In order to defeat the warlock and end the nightmare she must descend into the abyss, which consists of three interconnected pillars, each populated by a series of procedurally generated areas. As Katrien progresses down she can also move sideways, unlocking the second and third pillars as starting points, allowing her to begin subsequent journeys deeper into the abyss.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Multiplayer: Local and online
The game play is pretty standard for the genre, but still manages to be pretty obtuse. While the basic controls are straightforward and listed in the menu, there are some that require explanation and have none. Katrien can capture enemies, but what that does, when it is available and how to use it is left up to the player to determine. The short answer is Katrien can possess enemies and use them in combat, bringing the game’s count of playable characters to more than 30. It seems crazy that had I not dug around in the menus I would have had no idea this mechanic even existed.
While the characters play differently, they all fall victim to the same control scheme. While Abyss Odyssey touts a deep combat system that will allow players to combo and chain attacks, it really doesn’t happen in practice. While I can appreciate that the combat is intentionally slow and methodical, the input lag killed any kind of momentum I might generate. I specifically remember reading in the promotional materials the fact that players can cancel out of attacks, but in this case that should be read as “it takes so long for something to actually happen that you have plenty of time to do something else while you’re waiting”.
Beyond waiting for things to happen everything in combat just feels like it’s moving at half speed. Even when I got behind an enemy it took so long for me to turn around and attack that I gained little advantage, and effective dodging required hitting the button before I was attacked. Eventually I settled on the best strategy being attack, dodge, and repeat, regardless of what was going on. At that point every enemy becomes the same, which is pretty unsatisfying. The encounters themselves don’t help the situation. At certain points the edges of the screen would darken and a group of enemies would jump in and attack. There’s nothing organic to it, and it feels like areas are specifically segmented into places to look for gold and places to fight.
While some of the enemy design is eye catching it’s impossible to talk about Abyss Odyssey without mentioning the frame rate, which was fine in town but jerky and uneven everywhere else. I’ve played more than a few games with some slowdown or other issues, but this one was so consistently problematic that playing the game for extended periods actually started to make me nauseous, which I can say is a first.
There is both online and local co-op, which worked fine but just allowed me to share the game’s issues with another player. It plays just like the single player, with the dubious distinction that jumping (which is already suspect) is even more hit and miss for some reason. Sometimes double jumps would work, sometimes they wouldn’t. More than being an issue of timing, it just felt like the game was ignoring button presses. There is also friendly fire, which made it hard to not injure my partner when fighting a crowd.
After spending some time with Abyss Odyssey I got better at it, which is to say I learned how to minimize the game’s issues. I still felt like I was controlling a character that was knee-deep in mud though, and learning how to fake the combat still didn’t make it fun. It has all of the elements of the genre one would expect, but it doesn’t execute any of them well. For the same price there are much more enjoyable games to be had, and this one is best left in the abyss.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.