A tale of fan­tasy sports

Re­turn to glory by beat­ing the com­pe­ti­tion in sports in a land of mag­i­cal crea­tures.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Technology - By MATT MILLER

SUPERGIANT’S games are un­mis­tak­able.

Char­ac­terised by im­mac­u­late world build­ing, lush colours, ex­ag­ger­ated char­ac­ter mod­els and hip­but-poignant sound­tracks, the stu­dio be­hind Bas­tion and Tran­sis­tor has es­tab­lished a firm aes­thetic.

Pyre fol­lows through on those style con­ven­tions, but switches gears in the game­play de­part­ment. The team’s lat­est is a unique mix­ture, meld­ing party-based RPGs with clas­sic ar­cade sports.

The game’s long run-time and ver­bose char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion may turn off some play­ers; that would be too bad, be­cause the orig­i­nal­ity on dis­play in the set­ting and sto­ry­telling is top-notch, and the fan­tasy-themed sport that forms the bedrock of the ac­tion is chal­leng­ing, lay­ered and a heck of a lot of fun.

Riches to rags

You have been flung from a world of priv­i­lege and down into a land of ex­iles and crim­i­nals. The only path to free­dom comes through a mys­ti­cal cer­e­mony called the Rites in which des­ig­nated teams of ex­iles com­pete to prove their worth.

From a place of lit­tle stand­ing, you build a team of play­ers with dif­fer­ent skills. Some get in­jured, and need to sit out the next com­pe­ti­tion. Fans even­tu­ally gather to see im­pres­sive feats from their favourite play­ers.

A man­ager tracks wins and losses across the league of dis­tinct teams. And your best veteran play­ers may even­tu­ally re­tire, forc­ing you to field rook­ies.

Ev­ery­thing is couched within the nar­ra­tive frame­work of the fan­tasy world, but the ex­tended sports metaphor is clever and with­out pre­tence.

Kick off

The Rites them­selves are thrilling. Be­gin­ning with ba­sic char­ac­ters and pro­gress­ing to more com­plex classes and abil­i­ties, the orig­i­nal sport is rem­i­nis­cent of clas­sic games like Ice Hockey or NBA Jam, but with plenty of twists.

The learn­ing curve is spot-on, and can be fur­ther tweaked through mul­ti­ple AI dif­fi­culty set­tings. Teams of three char­ac­ters must seize an orb at centre court, and slam or fling it into the op­po­nent’s pyre.

De­fend­ing play­ers ex­ude a pro­tec­tive aura that ban­ishes op­po­nents. Dif­fer­ing speeds, aura sizes, stamina pools and other el­e­ments give each con­tes­tant var­i­ous ad­van­tages.

The real-time flow of a match had my heart beat­ing fast and the nar­ra­tive ties be­tween the com­pet­ing char­ac­ters kept me in­vested in the out­come.

Pyre is also a game about con­se­quences. Win or lose a match, and the nar­ra­tive con­tin­ues and re­flects that out­come.

I chose free­dom for a char­ac­ter long­ing to re­turn to his beloved, but that meant he would leave my ros­ter for­ever.

I gam­bled on the out­come of a Rite, and risked my pow­er­ful witch fac­ing a per­ma­nent stat penalty if I lost.

The story has hun­dreds of branch­ing paths that are shaped through di­a­logue choices and match com­ple­tions, and in­di­vid­ual out­comes for the he­roes and vil­lains are all ex­pressed to com­ple­tion by the time the cred­its roll. Those vari­a­tions also pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant re­play value.

Imag­i­na­tive world

Pyre’s world is drenched in a deep mythol­ogy, and filled with the weight of char­ac­ters whose re­la­tion­ships and loy­al­ties stretch back prior to your ar­rival on the scene.

From a race of sen­tient dogs and talk­ing trees to the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of a long war be­tween harpies and an un­just theoc­racy, the broad strokes of sto­ry­telling draw you in.

The in­ti­mate con­nec­tions be­tween the he­roes main­tain that in­ter­est; an­cient grudges, im­pos­si­ble ro­mances, and the deep­en­ing ties of a cho­sen fam­ily give this ros­ter of some­times adorable, some­times men­ac­ing in­di­vid­u­als a gen­uine hu­man­ity, from a hor­ri­bly strained sis­terly ri­valry to a guilt-rid­den army de­serter.

The price for that deep char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and world-build­ing is lots of text and slower pac­ing, ex­tend­ing the length of the game to longer than feels nec­es­sary. In ad­di­tion, a more freeform struc­ture in the later hours is ap­pre­ci­ated, but it slows down the nar­ra­tive mo­men­tum.

The in­cluded two-player lo­cal ver­sus mode is a wel­come bonus, but matches are to­tally sep­a­rate from the cam­paign, and don’t pro­vide any bonus other than a chance to build skill.

Ex­ten­sive op­tions let you tweak the match lo­ca­tion, cho­sen char­ac­ters, avail­able pow­ers and more.

With­out any on­line mode, it’s hard to imag­ine much po­ten­tial for an emerg­ing com­pet­i­tive scene. But as a couch-play op­tion for two friends who want to fur­ther test their skills, it’s a suc­cess.

End game

The sto­ry­telling, am­bi­ence, nar­ra­tion, art and mu­sic work in con­cert. This gives the ex­pe­ri­ence a sin­gu­lar iden­tity, and the mash-up of role-play­ing and sports game­play ce­ments that dis­tinc­tive­ness.

More show­ing and less telling could im­prove the pac­ing, and the lengthy travel and di­a­logue se­quences have the po­ten­tial to de­tract from the thrill of the “fights”.

But I’m hes­i­tant to fault that more grad­ual ap­proach, as Supergiant has once again crafted an un­usual and sur­pris­ing fic­tional back­drop, and a lit­tle ex­tra read­ing is well worth it for some unchecked orig­i­nal­ity. — Game In­former Mag­a­zine/Tri­bune News Ser­vice PYRE

(Supergiant Games) Role-play­ing game for PC PRICE: RM38

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