Ace Team, the studio responsible for Zeno Clash and wonderfully charming Rock of Ages, makes their debut on the PlayStation 4, though not in the way I had hoped. Abyss Odyssey: Extended Dream Edition is a re-release of the action adventure roguelike that debuted only one year ago on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Beyond a bump in screen resolution and addition of multiplayer content featured in the PC release, there really isn’t much to the PlayStation 4 to lure in repeat players. I played the original Abyss Odyssey on PC and came away feeling not wholly impressed with the adventure because of problems I had hoped would be fixed in the Extended Dream Edition. Unfortunately, by neglecting the most serious barrier to enjoyment Ace Team fails to address the mistakes that prevent Abyss Odyssey from being better than it is.
From an artistic point of view, Abyss Odyssey is a conversation piece. An action roguelike isn’t new but the aesthetic direction of the game and its unique setting let it stand out from the pack. Set in the late 1800s, the Chilean city of Santiago is terrorized by an army of fantastical demons and monsters spreading violent malfeasance the city guard is woefully under equipped to handle. Enter Katrien, a warrior who informs the soldiers that the creatures are the unintentional manifestations of a slumbering Warlock hidden deep underground. As a manifestation herself, Katrien is blessed (cursed?) with immortality and uses her strength to confront the Warlock and end the nightmare. The notion of a powerful magic user causing unrest with his dreams is a novel plot device and it’s a shame that it doesn’t do more than serve as a pretense for getting the player into the labyrinthine abyss. Adding to the surreal nature of the story is a gorgeous art nouveau aesthetic that offers perfect, if repetitive, dream-like environments and menagerie of monsters.
What gives Abyss Odyssey it’s roguelike legs is the design of the Abyss. Like a hellmouth, the vertical shaft sits at the center of Santiago and is populated with a series of rooms that vary in difficulty (Easy, Moderate, and Hard). Boss rooms and challenge areas mix up the flow of progress as do paths that move you across the shaft as a means to access special rooms or forge an easier path to the bottom. The genre’s telltale feature is putting the player at the mercy of the game’s tendency to generate random levels, weapons, items, and obstacles. In this regard, Abyss Odyssey goes a bit off the reservation. Items never spawn when you really need them, shopkeepers tend to carry an unhelpful stock, and the Abyss tends to generate boss rooms at the worst possible time.
More hurtful to the game than its unpredictability is combat. It’s disappointing that Ace Team didn’t make a change to where the game needed it most. Fighting enemies is a chore because the player’s attack animations are long and slow. There is no way to cancel out of a two- or three-hit sword strike. Katrien, and the supporting characters, are committed to their actions as soon as the button is pressed. It also feels quite unfair that enemies are unburdened by the same combat limitations. Cheap hits are a guarantee and nothing sucks more than the feeling of powerlessness as an enemies rolls through your attack and hit you from behind. Enemies constantly post a challenge no matter the room difficulty but oftentimes luck can be on your side - that “luck” being the sometimes wonky enemy AI that causes them to either attack all out or stand around like an idiot.
Katrien may just be another part of the Warlock’s dream but she can still be defeated. When killed, instead of immediately going back to the beginning of the Abyss, you’ll get a “second chance” in the form of a capable soldier. The game then becomes a race to a special altar where the main player character can be brought back. This task isn’t always so easy because soldiers have a limited move set and can’t take advantage of special items. To add another layer of tension, the altars needed to revive the character aren’t always available in a level. If the soldier is killed, you’re sent back to the beginning of the Abyss with all possessions removed and the rooms randomized. On the plus side, gold and experience points are left untouched, allowing you to stock up on some supplies before heading back down. Giving players a second chance is a nice idea on paper but it tends to be more trouble than it’s worth. There were situations, like boss fights, where it made more sense to get my soldier killed and start over. The better alternative is to utilize Katrien’s ability to “trap” monsters and assume their form and combat repertoire.
In the end, Abyss Odyssey feels like it actively works against the player. Combat is slow, recovery items are never around when you need them, relevant weapon drops are few and far between, and boss rooms rear their ugly heads at the worst possible time. Such spikes in activity are designed to make what is a pretty straightforward adventure more interesting. In reality, such obstacles recklessly slam the brakes on player progress. As a re-release, the addition of competitive multiplayer and new bosses are not substantial enough to bring people back. Your tolerance for weighed down controls and unpredictability determines what you’ll get out of Abyss Odyssey.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.