Venetica: Venice Meets Death, Death Goes Stone-Carving

The rest of Venetica's decent enough. You dash around plucking bits of junk off the ground to trade for money to buy better stuff. Conversations with locals tease deeper mysteries, though the story's fully invested in medieval fantasy cliché (complete with sylvan village pacifist who doesn't realize she's really a superhero). The real lure here may be an eccentric version of sixteenth-century Venice, but I'm still playing whack-a-boulder on the periphery. I'll let you know when I get there.

Well, if I get there. I've been playing the Xbox 360 version and it's fairly glitchy. You don't talk much, but when you do, it's possible to select topics that elicit responses that seem to assume you've completed quests you haven't. Bodies sometimes pop in or out of existence during narrative camera pans. And climbing stairs causes your character to convulse in a way that highlights the lack of fluid model-surface connectivity. If you've played Sacred 2, think that, only worse.

Thumb-wriggling the camera into position after dodging an attack tends to get screwed up by close-quarters terrain that bumps the view out of true. When you're low on health, a darkening red miasma overlays the screen, obscuring the action and all but ensuring you bite it. Other games pull this off without getting in your way. And if you're already signaling near-death in a way most players now understand instinctively, why include a traditional health bar on the heads-up display?

The world geometry itself poses an unlikely obstacle, catching you up when you're probing the edges of areas. Venetica constantly forces you into cramped spaces, throws up undetectable forcefields, then fails to lay things out in a way that's visually intuitive. Since there's no jump or "climb over" button, you'll get stuck trying to clear terrain that's only changed by a few feet.

Add "unlovely" to the list of disappointments. The game appears to run at one of those odd, sub-native screen resolutions with blurry upscaling and weird over-bright daylighting. Stand still and you'll notice the shadows stuttering, too, like watching a black mesh solarize in slow-mo.

Which is all my way of saying buyer beware. There's the outline of a decent high fantasy adventure here, but so far it's turning out to be one that's marred by weird design choices and engine incompleteness.

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