Mento's May Madness More: #4 - Vessel

May the Fourth

The game: Strange Loop Games's Vessel

The source: Humble Indie Bundle 6.

The pre-amble: Vessel is a water-physics based puzzle game in which the player, as inventor Arkwright, has to quell an insurrection of mindless fluid-based automatons collectively called Fluros after they inadvertently lock him out of his laboratory. Most of the puzzles in the game revolve around or feature liquid substances, which power most of the Victorian-era technology as well as being the source of the automatons. The game has quite a few mechanics to introduce to the player, and the real game begins once Arkwright is back in his laboratory and starts work on his greatest invention - a device to turn the Fluros into sentient beings.

Some really nice lighting too, even if it doesn't seem to be as integral to the puzzle-solving as the water stuff.

The playthrough: Vessel's got a lot going for it, despite being the type of puzzle-platformer that is currently deluging (as it were) the Indie game market. The puzzles are clever, the game's clearly a lot more involved than early impressions (and a really long, slow-burning opening in which the game continues to teach you new mechanics) might initially suggest and the Steampunk leanings of the immense pipework structures and inventions are striking.

The Fluros are an interesting creation: They have autonomy but are programmed only to find switches and stamp on them to operate machinery. That is their purpose, after all. So while the Rube Goldberg machines they're operating might cause any amount of inadvertent catastrophes, the cute hopping water elementals are entirely blameless. Really, it's the nutty inventor character you're controlling (who looks a little too much like Penny Arcade's slightly less dim-witted protagonist Tycho for my liking) who built all this maddening extensive hydroelectric nonsense everywhere. As often as it tends to be explored in media, I'm actually quite partial to the hero mad scientist construct (see: Dexter of Dexter's Lab or Lucca Ashtear of Chrono Trigger) and how they seem to exist in these utterly insane man-made environments which, of course, are perfectly normal to them and a bunch of watery creatures hopping around destroying everything is just this kind of mild, everyday annoyance.

The game has a lot of examples of intimidating puzzle set-ups which are simpler than they appear. Well, to begin with anyway. I don't doubt the reverse will be true later on.

The game's definitely not without its issues. Any fluid-based physics engine worth its saline solution requires a considerable drain on computing power to function at an optimal level and those parts of the game when it was running at a reasonable framerate became the exception rather than the rule. There's also an upgrade system based on a special fluid currency that seems entirely superfluous, as the game will automatically provide you with anything you might actually need to solve a puzzle. It's all alternate nozzles that fire in multiple directions or with additional power, which seem more like the sort of thing you'd expect from an action game rather than the slow-paced cerebral puzzler I've been experiencing thus far, so it's definitely foreboding. In the end though the game's been quite a lot of creative fun and hasn't worn out its welcome with too many repetitive puzzles, annoyingly precise trial-and-error scenarios or any number of frustrations which tend to quench my enthusiasm for games like this. I'm content to go with Vessel's flow for the foreseeable future.

The verdict: I'm sticking with it.

Edited by Mento

Disclaimer: At no point while crafting this blog did I not receive an error message. Uploading images, publishing the thing: every step was plagued by site issues. So, uh, hopefully this is here and the images all work and you can see it.

On a related note, I believe the site now has more engineers than it's ever had. I wonder what's going on?

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