mzuckerm's The Ball (PC) review

What Is The Ball?

Good goddamn question.  Is it a first person shooter, a sci-fi plot-heavy game, or a puzzler?  The user interface is set up in more or less a traditional first person shooter style, but that's not really what it is.  Yes, there are enemies, but only a handful of different types, and you can go long stretches of the game without encountering any.  And yes, you will have a weapon, but just the one, and it's really more of a means to controlling the ball than it is specifically designed for combat.  So that's not a very good answer. 

In the alternative, it could be a story-driven science fiction/horror game.  There are rampaging mummies, a mysterious artifact, a long-dead civilization, and cyclopean underground ruins with advanced technology to explore.  To be clear, all of that is right up my alley, but frankly the story doesn't really go anywhere.  This feels, unfortunately, like one of the the most underdeveloped parts of the game, where it really feels more like a mod (as it was originally designed to be) than a standalone release.  There are brief, occasional snippets of text, but they're usually only a couple of sentences long and come maybe an hour or so apart in the game.  That's not nearly enough to push you to want to uncover whatever secrets the game has left to reveal.  The story starts with you at the bottom of a small pit, separated from your archaeological team.  Instead of waiting for them to simply drop down another rope, you head off into the darkness alone.  Upon encountering a hitherto unknown ancient civilization, you don't turn around for help.  Instead, you just plow right on through.  The ending is also pretty bizarre, but I'll avoid spoiling it here.  It's really a shame, because the visuals and setting provide a very intriguing base for a good story.  Lots of questions are introduced (about the ball, its original purpose, and the civilization that developed it) but you're left to basically piece this information together yourself. 
Who would design a room like this?  Think of the children! 
So I guess we're left with the answer that it's basically a puzzle game.  Unfortunately, though, it's a fairly uninspired one.  Very few of the puzzles require you to really wrack your brain, and most simply require you to place yourself or the ball (or both) on brightly lit markers.  Occasionally you'll do something slightly more interesting, like tying the ball to a column or hitching it to a vehicle, but mostly it's all about rolling the ball on top of a specific marker, going through the door that opens, and repeating.  Sometimes, for some reason, there's lava or pits of fire.
All in all, the game feels like a lot of work went into certain crafting elements.  The levels are long and reasonably well-designed, the graphics are attractive (particularly coming from an indie effort), and the basic storyline is initially compelling.  But at the same time it seems like each aspect of the game required more work.  The action sequences needed a bit more variety, the story elements really needed to be fleshed out, and the puzzles needed to be a bit more complex.  Some pieces of the plot are particularly ridiculous.   The voiceover work was uniformly pretty terrible, but it's infrequent enough to not be a major hindrance to immersion in the game.  Fortunately, the Teotl Studios team did not appear to shirk QA duties.  I don't think I encountered a single bug worth mentioning when I played.  The enemy AI is fairly weak, but it's not a major part of the game so I don't think it's a major flaw.
Spoiler alert. 
I should also note that, beyond the single player story game, there is also a survival mode.  This essentially puts you and the ball in an arena where waves of enemies come after you.  Initially it isn't too stressful, but by the later waves the enemies can come fast and the action can be fairly compelling.  In some ways, this mode felt more complete than the main game did.  Ultimately, The Ball was worth playing through once, but I have a hard time seeing myself going back to it.  I'm not sure if it could ever have been a great game, but I'm confident that with a bit of improvement it could have been a very solid one. 

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