Distributed by the same people that distributed Drakensang, Venetica is another delightful RPG from Germany — though this time it’s more hack ‘n’ slash and less Baldur’s Gate. But this is no bad thing, for each style has its place.
The game is wonderfully bizarre. As the name implies, it takes place in Venice at some arbitrary point in the past… With the exception that some magic exists, there’s a bit of steampunk technology in there, and weird demons and funny wild animals… According to some promotional literature it’s not even shaped a lot like Venice, so they could probably have gone the whole hog and made up a new universe for it; then again, critics would have cried “rip-off of Venice” so I suppose there’s no easy way out of this one.
And then everyone has an English accent, but I suppose that’s a given in the international version of a German game (I really need to become German so I get games like this faster; still waiting on Drakensang: The River of Time… and its expansion pack). It’s the same in Hollywood period dramas anyway.
The game rules are “based on” something called Terra Magna, apparently a pen and paper RPG system, but I’ve not seen anything about the setting being related to something larger. I do believe this is one of those mythical Original IPs everyone makes so much fuss about these days.
For a simple village girl who was all set to romance sub-plot it up, protagonist Scarlett (yes, with two Ts… this makes it a fantasy name instead of a real one) is pretty adept at fighting. When your village gets raided in the opening scenes, it doesn’t take you long to find a poker and start wielding it like a pro — and against Serious Business Assassins, too.
Combat is standard fare; click to swipe, no ducking or jumping but you do get barrel-rolling instead. And if you’re into strategy, instead of just clicking like you’ve never clicked before you can click at the end of each swing to line up… better swings (assuming you don’t get interrupted by someone, or something, slicing your face off). I think this could be the reason why I failed so hard at The Force Unleashed, since there I really did just break my mouse rather than applying any kind of timing or strategy. Then again, that game had several exercises that really were straight-up mash-like-you’ve-never-mashed-before, so it hardly encouraged strategic thinking.
The game is also absolutely gorgeous. It’s got the same penchant for stunning vistas as Drakensang (in a more insane-urban-architecture than natural scenery way), though all characters (except for Scarlett) tend to be a little on the Warcraft-extended-chin side of stylised. And when I say a little, I mean a lot.
Unfortunately, these looks come at the price of performance in the more cluttered areas of Venice itself. The display settings don’t allow much room for optimisation, either; there is a single setting for “details” and another for “fullscreen details”, unless I haven’t worked out how to use the menu to reveal more options (and that’s not impossible).
The INI files have the same lack of precision options, so I just took the occasional performance hit to keep the game looking sumptuous. Suffer for my art, et cetera.
The game is extremely fond of cinematics. When opening a door into another area, Scarlett opens it a crack and slips round before the screen fades out to load the other side. When going for a rest, she sits on the bed and lies down. I know this could theoretically get tiresome, I found it just… nice. Unfortunately, there are other points, such as going into the catacombs, where she just stands there as it fades out — as if there was meant to be a little sequence that never got finished and wired in.
The funny thing is, however, that while Scarlett herself is (mostly) animated beautifully, a lot of other characters (most obviously during cinematics) suffer from awkward motions.
She even has floppy physics-system hair. A lot of people also have floppy physics-engine cloaks and dangly bits (ooh er), but unfortunately this mostly results in the cloth falling through the solid parts a tiny little bit in an unseemly manner.
Scarlett is a small woman, at least compared to the huge, burly men she spends most of her time shredding (except those insipid Necromancers). In a traditional RPG, you’d be able to strip the bad guys and immediately make use of their equipment — not so in Venetica! You can’t wear that giant, unfitting sack of plate-mail until you’ve had it altered by a professional — which tends to weigh in at many hundreds of Ducats… Luckily I’m well versed in selling the rest of the stuff I’ve picked up, and have so far maintained a small fortune.
Unfortunately there are only about five sets of clothes in the entire game, so you’re not going to spend your life at the armoury. I never found a merchant that sold pre-fitting armour, either.
Of course, there are downsides. The dialogue and text in general seems to have suffered in translation, with the written subtitles frequently being different from what the English voice actors are saying, as they’ve tried to cobble the words into something a little more natural. Not that any meaning is lost, but sometimes conversations and sentences just don’t flow that well.
Overall everything is still clear and concise, so it’s not a deal-breaker by any means; and plenty of the dialogue is enjoyable to indulge in.
One of my favourite dialogue moments was trying to bluff my way into the trading centre; naturally, you have to be a merchant to get in, so I rolled out the bluff and told the guard I was a merchant. He asked what kind; I picked “food”, thinking that would be the end of it… And then he asked for a sample of my produce. If I’d picked Copper Ore Merchant, this would have been a bit of a bind; I sold all my ore waaay back at starting zone San Pasquale. Luckily, though, as years of training in Deus Ex have taught me to filch anything that isn’t tied down, I had a huge store of consumable food items (there is quite a variety, and entire fish heal as much as a single apple), ready to hand one over. Access granted!
I think what speaks to me most in this game, however, is that it’s pretty much the logical conclusion of what This Wreckage will one day become as a real game. It’s an open world in the same way, where new regions are unlocked as you progress and old ones remain with new objectives scattered around them. It’s built around melee combat with additional magic, though I’d ramp everything up a few notches further — the skill trees are quite short, and as noted before the variety of equipment isn’t particularly large.
This is perhaps because the game was made by a (by today’s AAA standards, at any rate) relatively small team; the credits for the actual dev team take up nary a few pages of the manual, compared to the likes of Mass Effect going on for days. Maybe it’s not as polished, but it’s still fun, and perhaps most importantly of all, it isn’t a cover shooter.
Fair enough, it’s not absolute and instantaneous perfection like Drakensang; but then again, its lore is not based on centuries of pen and paper role-playing or a massive Hollywood budget. Maybe it does have rather a lot of interface annoyances (things like the lamp and the shovel should really have their own buttons and not be a part of the normal inventory).
But it’s wonderfully ridiculous, often breathtakingly so, and it’s fun. Even though it’s all about Death and the Twilight World, it staunchly refuses to descend to wallowing in Dark Fantasy crapulence (though there are hints of Supernatural Romance).
Recommended? Yeah. I caught it for £20 on the high street and that’s a fair price.