Review: Visually Striking Vesper Is a Flawed Puzzle Platformer
I think ever since Limbo’s silhouetted art style I’ve been a sucker for visually striking games. Vesper stood out to me from moment one as a game that can be outright beautiful. Of course, graphics or art do not a good game make, and Vesper stands in testament to that. Don’t get me wrong, Vesper is not a bad game, but it’s a pretentious one that sometimes relies too heavily on making striking visuals than meaningful and fun gameplay.
Vesper is a side scrolling puzzle platformer. In it, you play as one of a machine race, long after the death of humanity. Your own civilization is going through an apocalyptic upheaval, and you’re tasked with braving the aftermath, and setting things right. To mean, Vesper feels like a combination of games like Limbo for its silhouetted style and Out of this World (Another World) for its fish out of water feeling and the constant running away from enemies.
While you’re not entirely helpless in Vesper, you can’t directly attack enemies. In fact, most of the time you’ll be spend avoiding, sneaking, or running away from foes that can kill you in one hit. In fact, you’ll die in Vesper often, which isn’t a problem, I just don’t appreciate the gloating of your enemies taking up time after they kill you. Unlike games like Super Meat Boy that plop you back in immediately, I have to watch my enemies celebrate before being met with a loading screen, which is a bit frustrating. But Vesper never becomes very challenging in the twitch reflex sense: it’s all about the puzzles.
While a lot of Vesper’s encounters are filled with enemies, Vesper is a puzzle game at heart. Stealth and avoidance is part of that puzzle as you flip switches, hide in tall grass, and outsmart foes you can’t fight against. Eventually, you’ll receive a sort of gun which acts as a way to harness balls of light that can be used to take control of your enemies—or power previously unpowered devices. Vesper does have some pretty challenging puzzles, but it doesn’t do a great job with signposting.
One of my earliest impressions of Vesper was being completely lost while trying to figure out where to go next. Sure, that happens in video games, but up until that moment Vesper kept having me go to the right in a linear path. Never once had it even hinted that you might have to go back to explore to find a missing ability. In fact, when I restarted the game out of frustration (and thinking somehow a trigger didn’t trip correctly) it put me back a screen to the left of where I was stuck. It wasn’t until much later that I finally backtracked a half dozen screens or more that I found a way I hadn’t yet been. The proper signposting just wasn’t there, and it was a frustrating first impression.
Vesper does have moments of brilliance, but mostly through its art. Unfortunately, it really spends too much time forcing you to run across empty screens just to see the newest vista or other backdrop. Eventually I’d find myself thinking, “yeah, it makes good screenshots, but I’m not having fun.”
There is some interesting world building going on in Vesper, too. Unfortunately, Vesper heavily takes the “tell, don’t show” approach with most of its story being told through messages left behind that you can discover. A lot of these messages are extremely cryptic, and vague to the point of obscurity—I would find my brain tuning out, instead of latching onto interesting plot points.
The easiest way to describe Vesper is “pretentious.” That’s probably not the fairest reduction, but I think it’s apt. While Vesper does have some fun puzzles, its most stand-out feature are its visuals—something that can’t carry a game.
Vesper is available now on Steam.
A Steam key was provided to us for the purposes of this review.
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