by Davneet Minhas
previewed on PC
Puzzles and exploration make up about 75% of The Ball. The other 25% is combat. As you progress deeper into the ruins, mummies and other scarier monsters decide to awaken from their slumber and attack you. I guess they don’t like you using the Ball.
To stop the mummies from feasting on your flesh, you can hammer them with the ancient device in the same way you hammer the ball. But that only knocks them down temporarily. They are back up and feasting on you quickly enough. To put them down permanently, you have to crush them with the Ball.
Combat with the Ball is like playing a shooter with only one bullet. After every shot, you have to chase down the bullet while avoiding all the baddies you missed. When you are up against a handful of mummies, it’s not really a problem. But when you are surrounded by thirty of them, some throwing harmful projectiles at you, it can get pretty stressful.
You can release some of that stress by crushing monkeys, the innocent bystanders of The Ball. The game lets you know how many monkeys you have killed at the end of each level, along with other stats, but I’m still not sure if crushing them is good or bad. Whenever I thought to kill a monkey, I imagined some ancient Aztec monkey god rising up to smite me. An angry letter from PETA would’ve probably been more likely. Either way, the monkeys seemed tortured enough having to live underground with perpetually angry mummies. Fear of being crushed by a ball Indiana Jones-style would’ve only added to that. I let them be.
Graphically, The Ball is unmistakably an Unreal Engine 3 game. Every object – from wooden beams to the ancient weapon – is highly detailed. Lava lights up otherwise dark caverns and cooks and thickens the already claustrophobic atmosphere. Cobwebs stick to your face when you walk through them, and spiders crawl across your view. It’s easy to imagine the feel of soft moss over rough rock when looking at in-game cliffs.
But the game also suffers, at this pre-release stage, from the grey-brown monotony that is, or at least was, typical of Unreal Engine 3 games. Recent and upcoming Unreal Engine 3 games, like Borderlands and Bulletstorm, certainly have expanded color palettes, and such examples make The Ball feel like a graphical throwback. The details dull and blend into each other as you progress through each stage, and it becomes easier and easier to overlook all the effort that went into crafting each texture.
Then you remember that Teotl Studios is made up of only three full-time developers, and you forgive any sort of repetition in the graphics or any other minor shortcomings.
For a game that’s still about a month from release, The Ball is very stable. It’s already entertaining and impressive in its design – many modern, big-budget titles offer less-innovative mechanics and a duller presentation. And when you take into account its small number of developers and its budget price, The Ball looks to be a triumph. Look for it on October 26 on all major PC digital distribution platforms.