Pyre PC, PS4

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Su­per­giant Games For­mat PC, PS4 (tested) Re­lease Out now

You’ll want to win, since your op­po­nents are of­ten ar­ro­gant, nasty or malev­o­lent

Ajour­ney through pur­ga­tory would seem like the ideal time to get off the wagon. In Pyre, how­ever, get­ting back on it is part of what makes a sup­pos­edly hellish trek so plea­sur­able. It may seem cramped, but we have a va­ri­ety of trin­kets mark­ing our achieve­ments and com­mem­o­rat­ing the places we’ve stopped along the way. There’s a strange float­ing ob­ject we can bat around, a lute which dou­bles as a juke­box for Dar­ren Korb’s nim­ble score, and a large bell – though we haven’t rung that for a while, for rea­sons we shan’t re­veal. It’s a place to take a load off, to chat with our fel­low ex­iles, or to catch up on some light read­ing. We’re sup­posed to want to leave this place, but over 15 hours, this ram­shackle trans­port has come to feel like home.

The views aren’t bad ei­ther. Jen Zee’s richly evoca­tive art is sat­u­rated in vi­brant colour, con­jur­ing clearly in­hos­pitable but of­ten strik­ingly beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ments. Jagged ice­bergs jut from frigid wa­ters, wisps of toxic gas ris­ing from bub­bling pools of lurid green as swirling tem­pests rage and steam hisses from boil­ing fis­sures. This is the Down­side, a world into which you’ve been cast for crimes com­mit­ted in the Com­mon­wealth. Three oth­ers, sim­i­larly cast out, find you and bring you on board, be­fore invit­ing you to trans­late the text of a mys­ti­cal tome that leads you to­wards a rit­ual which may yet prove to be your way out.

These are the Rites, es­sen­tially an an­cient form of three-on-three basketball. Two pyres lie at ei­ther end of the arena, and your job is to douse your op­po­nents’ flame by dunk­ing a ce­les­tial orb into it. The dam­age you deal is de­pen­dent on the player: the hulk­ing de­mon Jo­dariel and the slip­pery crone Bertrude do more than tiny Wyrm-Knight Sir Gil­man and Rukey, a dog with a Terry Thomas mous­tache. But their bulk means it’s harder for them to get there. Once in pos­ses­sion of the ball, the pro­tec­tive aura that sur­rounds them dis­si­pates, leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack, ei­ther from an op­pos­ing player walk­ing into them, or cast­ing their aura out­wards in a straight line. You can, how­ever, dodge those at­tacks by dash­ing away, or leap­ing over them – or even by hurl­ing the ball at your op­po­nent and cast­ing your aura as soon as they catch it. But scor­ing also leaves you dis­ad­van­taged, since the player who reached the pyre will be briefly ban­ished from the game, lend­ing it some of basketball’s back-and-forth rhythm.

You’ll be fre­quently con­vinced that cer­tain char­ac­ters or moves are over­pow­ered, not least when com­bined with un­locked abil­i­ties and equip­pable tal­is­mans whose buffs can be fur­ther en­hanced by pur­chas­ing star­dust from a trav­el­ling ven­dor. But there’s a counter for just about ev­ery­thing. Ex­tend the flut­ter time of fly­ing imp Ti’Zo, and he can be tough to deal with – though a well-timed leap is enough to dis­pos­sess him. Rukey’s light­ning pace, sim­i­larly, can quickly take him be­hind an op­po­nent’s back­line. With a souped-up jump, he’s hard

IN ITS RITE PLACE

Su­per­giant does its best to en­force tac­ti­cal ad­just­ments by vary­ing the arena en­vi­ron­ments, and while you’ll mostly end up re­vert­ing to re­li­able fall­backs, the dif­fer­ences are just enough to keep you on your toes. One venue is pocked with mounds of star­dust that can pro­tect you from in­com­ing auras; an­other fea­tures slid­ing stones which you can push around to stay in cover; a third has thick tan­gles of vines grad­u­ally en­croach on the play area, giv­ing you less room to out­ma­noeu­vre your op­po­nent. Later, you’ll play on a pitch pa­trolled by ex­citable imps, whom you’re en­cour­aged to im­press by per­form­ing cer­tain feats dur­ing a match – like us­ing a spe­cific char­ac­ter to douse the Pyre, or ban­ish­ing all three op­po­nents at once – which will earn you a larger post-match purse. to stop, but then your op­po­nent can al­ways pro­tect their pyre by plac­ing large units close to the base, and to one an­other, which in turn ex­pands their auras.

It favours phys­i­cal­ity over re­spon­sive­ness, forc­ing you to com­mit to your ac­tions while giv­ing you a stronger sense of each char­ac­ter. Jo­dariel’s steps are slow and de­lib­er­ate, and you can al­most feel the ground shake when she lands from a jump. Bertrude is pon­der­ous at walk­ing pace, but hold the trig­ger and she’ll speed­ily slither along. The mo­men­tum of smaller, faster char­ac­ters can be tricky to ar­rest, too. Change di­rec­tion with Rukey and he skids around like an OutRun drift, and you risk graz­ing an en­emy aura if you don’t man­age his ac­cel­er­a­tion care­fully. There’s a sense of weight else­where, too. In the early stages, the nar­ra­tive gives you just enough con­text to make each Rite feel like it mat­ters. The story might con­tinue af­ter a de­feat, al­low­ing you to re­group, but you’re los­ing your op­por­tu­nity to level up to give your­self a bet­ter chance of win­ning later events. You’ll still be able to pick up some slack on your trav­els, with fork­ing paths let­ting you de­cide, for ex­am­ple, be­tween Rukey col­lect­ing on a debt, or fol­low­ing Jo­dariel’s hunch about rare (and thus highly sell­able) flora. And at rest stops, you can men­tor an in­di­vid­ual team­mate, study for small univer­sal team gains, or for­age for sup­plies to trade at the mar­ket. But a nar­ra­tive shift raises the stakes, mak­ing a loss harder to take, since the fi­nal Rite of a star cy­cle means one of your num­ber can go free.

It’s a bit­ter­sweet mo­ment. There’s a ten­sion be­tween self­ishly want­ing to keep some­one around for their skill in the Rites and the feel­ing that they’ve earned their right to re­turn to the Com­mon­wealth. But would it be even more self­less to throw the game and let the cap­tain of the op­pos­ing team go back? In most cases, you’ll want to win, since your op­po­nents are of­ten ar­ro­gant, nasty or down­right malev­o­lent, but one or two have no­bler aims, or more com­plex mo­ti­va­tions, and seem equally de­serv­ing of redemp­tion.

As the cy­cles con­tinue, these op­po­nents come to feel like proper ri­vals. And the light­weight difficulty on Nor­mal – we fin­ished with an un­blem­ished record – is less of a prob­lem when you gain the abil­ity to mod­ify the chal­lenge by call­ing upon the stars to has­ten your op­po­nents’ re­turn from ban­ish­ment, or to re­duce your pyre’s flame be­fore the match has even be­gun. A newly gained abil­ity to travel quickly be­tween Rites doesn’t en­tirely pre­vent rep­e­ti­tion from set­ting in, and the loss of favoured al­lies can leave you stuck with char­ac­ters whose per­son­al­i­ties and at­tributes make the clos­ing stretch drag a lit­tle. Still, if Pyre never quite feels like a clas­sic sport­ing strug­gle, your rag­tag band of rebels and their de­light­ful mobile home are a heart­warm­ing up­side to life on the Down­side.

RIGHT Good­ness, it’s pretty, and that’s be­fore you’ve seen it in mo­tion. Tran­si­tions be­tween ar­eas are par­tic­u­larly lovely, as your wagon hand­ily trans­forms into a boat to cross treach­er­ous seas.

MAIN Op­po­nents im­prove af­ter the first time you play them, mak­ing the re­turn match more chal­leng­ing. When their pyre is close to be­ing snuffed out, they gain buffs and may play more ag­gres­sively.

BOT­TOM Away from the story, you can con­duct a Rite against the CPU or an­other lo­cal player. While it loses some­thing for the lack of any real stake in the out­come, it’s a wel­come op­por­tu­nity to play as one of the other cap­tains

ABOVE Os­ten­si­bly one of the more or­di­nary char­ac­ters, all-rounder Hed­wyn is such an af­fa­ble, gen­er­ous chap that you’ll be loath to see him go. We self­ishly kept him around un­til our guilt even­tu­ally got the bet­ter of us

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