I never really got the love of martial arts. The Bruce Lee movies and UFC just don’t click as a genuine art form. Any semi-knowledgeable person would be able to totally disregard my old self. The me that thought throwing punches and kicks at another human being was all about primitive action rather than calculated dedication. Out of all things pop culture that turned this once ignorant train of thought into a huge amount of respect for the sport; it was a game. It just shows how much the medium has grown since the Street Fighter days.
This game was Absolver, and through my time with such a magical peer into the fighting universe, I learned a lot about the complexity of fighting, even if it was all mostly fictional. Our story starts in an odd way. No voices, no fancy monologues, only masked individuals. After creating your hero (fully equipped with a range of different hairstyles and combat types), you are guided to a spirit of sorts which triggers your journey to become an “Absolver”. Though not exactly emotionally charged, these scenes have enough intrigue to spark anyone’s interest in this weird world and its speechless, masked characters. From here my adventure began, and I set foot on a journey which would enlighten both my gaming mind and my sports mind all at once.
Something strikingly obvious from the beginning of this long trek was the beauty of this new place I was inhabiting. An art style void of much texture but one teeming with its own style. The whites, grays, and browns all show history on tiny huts which dot the landscape as you go on. The light of the sun glimmers through broken down ships and trees creating some of the best shadow work I’ve seen in games. The fidelity and rendering abilities might not be on par with the best, but Sloclap certainly used their art style to make up for it.
As I continued on my way, I noticed that my equipment and skills were always changing, and I learned that although some outfits might look really cool, their stats vary wildly. I also had fun trying to learn what skills were most useful than others and which ones to invest in. Through this constant level of customization, I never found myself wanting anything more out of Absolver’s campaign, nor did the systems ever feel overly abundant. All of this was even better when I found that this fighting game contained something more important than multifaceted systems and character growth; it has amazing sound.
When it comes to fighting games, no other feature is as underrated as sound quality. You might think “Well, I don’t need good sound when all I’m doing is punching or kicking the other guy,” oh, how wrong you’d be. Sound is often the first thing our brains process when experiencing a movie or game, and in the case of the fighting genre, the importance of sound quality certainly transcends both mediums and becomes one of the most important aspects of creating art that services the fans. The crunch of bones, the squirt of blood, even the subtle grunts of human beings trying to lay waste to the other. In Absolver, there are none of these realistic sounds, but like the art style, Slopclap made use of what I’d thought to originally be a handicap.
When you punch, a glowing fist meets your enemy’s face. Your controller vibrates, and you hear the thump of the punch. Though the sound feedback isn’t realistic, it matches the art and fluid animation so much that the fakeness actually makes it feel better in the world of Absolver. This package comes together to institute a grand ballet of movements which enchanted me, leaving me to marvel at the intricate movements I planned and at the perfection in which my character peformed those movements. Even more than that, my appreciation for the art of fighting originated here, in the depths of dying and dying again. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to respawn constantly, and in Absolver, the same is true. You will die over and over, but you will also develop somewhat of an understanding with the balance between punching, dodging, and position changing that is essential to surviving in Absolver’s campaign. It’s a game you wouldn’t think is as detailed and hardcore as it is, but within ten minutes, I truly understood how hard my new journey was going to be, especially when playing online.
Though Absolver offers much in its unique gameplay, it is not the same for its story. There was nothing overly cheesy, but the choice to not even use voice actors for much of the game reflects the effort Sloclap probably did not want to put into the actual story of Absolver. I’m not saying that voice acting is a must, because plenty of games have only text and contain heart touching stories, but the absence of it with the combination of average writing means the narrative of both the unspoken cutscenes and the slogs of text don’t amount to much. That being said, I know barely anyone who is purchasing this game for the fighting elements would care if the story barely amounted to anything, after all, the words are just in the way of the fists in people’s faces.
Absolver’s multiplayer is the other half of a game that I think Devolver Digital highly underestimated in terms of needed maintenance and online infrastructure. Within the first week, Absolver suffered from shabby online performance both in matchmaking abilities and overall quality. The latter is extremely negative, seeing as Absolver’s combat is so fast and needs to be fluid. Every skip of a frame is noticeable, and more often than not one of those skips can be enough to throw you off for a whole match. Then again, if you can’t connect at all, that might be worse. Either way, Devolver Digital definitely needs to learn their lesson and find some way to heighten their multiplayer server capability.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 29th August 2017