Every now and then, there comes a game that looks spectacular in screenshots. For me, Subject 13 was one of those games. As a fan of puzzles and logic problems, I was really looking forward to a fresh and challenging perspective for the genre. Unfortunately, Subject 13 only nailed the challenging part.
Let's just get my biggest gripe about this game out of the way: the incredibly obtuse camera. The somewhat clunky, unresponsive movement controls could perhaps be forgiven if the fixed third-person camera weren't quite so obstinate. While it thankfully doesn't jump around as you move around a room as it did in the old Resident Evil games, the fixed camera can make it far more of a headache to navigate than it should be.
I lost count of the number of times I got stuck on scenery, pathways, apparently invisible objects, and in particular, any sort of railing. The clipping area around objects seem to be drawn ridiculously haphazardly. Couple that scenery issue with narrow pathways and the absolutely stupid camera perspective, and you have a game in which basic movement becomes frustrating.
The atrocious game world navigation could be forgiven if the other core mechanics were good. Unfortunately, they are also flawed. Object interaction and manipulation is clearly designed for a mouse, which is perfectly fine—this was, after all, originally designed as a PC game and then later ported to console. But I have to wonder if the development team tested their game on console, because the design choices for the controls are baffling.
Objects require manipulation in ways that don't lend themselves well to being mapped to three different controls: the right thumbstick for turning and orienting the object, the "A" button for 'selecting' parts, and the left thumbstick for controlling, manipulating, or moving those parts. The detection areas for certain things, like the dial on a combination lock, can be extremely small. It's thus better suited to the sensitivity of a mouse instead of the inaccuracy of a controller. The speed and deadzone of the joystick seem to run the gamut from snapping and vehemently sticking onto certain things, to shooting halfway across the screen at the slightest touch.
Other times, it feels like the game just flat out refuses to acknowledge your inputs at all.
The game does helpfully provide a feature where you can press the R3 button (pressing down on the right thumbstick) to highlight all of the objects in the environment that you can interact with. This is invaluable for when you get stuck: make sure you interact with anything and everything that is highlighted, even if it looks like it might be an extension of an object you've already looked at.
Sound design is unfortunately another area that leaves much to be desired. The voice acting is flat and lifeless, and the onscreen subtitles frequently don't match what the characters say (which is not really a problem in and of itself, but it does make it look unpolished). I get that it's a game made on a tight budget, but the actors seem completely disinterested; why should the player become invested in the main character's existence when he doesn't even sound invested in his own? On the other hand, sound effects are generally competent: they're nothing amazing, but they work. Again: budgetary constraints. However, I found the music to be repetitive and dull, and I turned it off after about the first ten minutes.
Thankfully, the actual puzzles fare better than the controls used to solve them. They can be challenging, but thinking about what you need to do first can go a long way. The process of combining objects is not a novel idea by any means, but some of the combinations can be quite inventive. For example, one puzzle requires the player to use objects to fashion a makeshift compass. Although some of the puzzles are challenging, there's (almost always) a hint available. These hints are kind of silly though. There is nothing that indicates how to complete certain challenges, so how does the main character know how to solve it either? Luckily, most of the unintuitive puzzles are ancillary to the main story and are only really necessary for collecting radio diaries.
Overall, Paul Cuisset's Subject 13 is challenging, but for the wrong reasons. There are perhaps a handful of very well-designed problems to solve, but most of the challenge comes from fighting the game's camera angle and infuriating controls. The easiest solution to those two problems would be a switch to first-person, as it is at the very beginning of the game. (I was actually rather disappointed when it switched from first-person to a fixed camera perspective.) Sure, the graphical fidelity might suffer a little bit from the closer perspective, but it would be so much easier to see and interact with the environment.
I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.