Every so often a game gets released that largely goes unnoticed, even though it has an original premise, a fantastic narrative, and absolutely compelling, gripping gameplay. Beyond Good and Evil is perhaps the best example of this, and even amongst middling sales and a one-way route to the clearance bin, it has remained a fan favorite, with advocates of BG&E pining for a proper sequel to be made.
In 2009, Venetica was released in Germany, with a devoted fan base similar to that of BG&E. Gamers lauded its creativity and combat, so publisher Atari thought it would be smart to bring it over to the States as well, across multiple consoles. It finally released in January 2011, with the hopes that it’d enjoy the same cult success.
Venetica is not Beyond Good and Evil. Venetica does not deserve to be spoken in the same breath as Beyond Good and Evil. Venetica is the puke that Beyond Good and Evil ejects from its mouth after a hard night of 4Lokos and Jager-bombs. It is a glitchy, derivative, last-generation mess that should not have ever been released here. Go back to Germany, Venetica, please, for the love of God.
Venetica is the story of Scarlett. She’s the daughter of Death, who, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t wear a black robe and carry a scythe, but apparently wears all-white, and an ivory mask that looks like what would happen if you tried to recreate a Stormtrooper helmet out of LEGO. Apparently an organization called The Undead Archon is trying to oust Death, or go into the “Twilight World” and gain some sort of ultimate power that would make them stronger than Death. As the daughter of Death, it’s your job to put a stop to it, using an ancient, uber-powerful sword called the Moonblade.
That’s pretty much all you need to know, storywise, and by the end of the game, that’s pretty much all you’ll still know. The plot is presented cutscenes that’re edited like a high school student’s amateur Lord of the Rings ripoff film; the pacing is absolutely clodding, and there’s no transition between scenes at all. Early on in the game, Scarlett is talking to a guy who blames her for bringing assassins into their small town, when his apparent brother sneaks up behind her and stabs her in the back, offscreen. Yes, Scarlett is standing far left, with her back to you, when you all of a sudden see a tiny little blade poke out from the left and graze her a bit, apparently killing her. From there it cuts to you being dead, and then waking up in the Twilight World all of a sudden, to another instant cut of you back in the real world, alive and well, in front of the brothers. It takes you a while to figure out what the hell just happened, and all it does is bolster any disinterest you had in the game to begin with.
It also doesn’t help that the voice acting and dialogue is just awkward, clunky, melodramatic, and at times so bad, it’s good. It may just be a product of being lost in translation from German, but when you have a ten year old street orphan saying things like “I live on the street, because my parents are dead” in a nonchalant, casual tone, you can’t help but take none of the game seriously.
Also, it may just be the immature kid in me, but Venetica may have the single best video game line of the year, when a ghost Council member tries to convince the current Council how corrupt they are now, and how virtuous they used to be in his times. He ends up talking about all the songs of pride they used to sing, and concludes it with “Songs of our seamen, brave and fearless.” This is completely voice-acted, mind you, so if that’s not a blatant joke and testament to the lack of any serious tone in this game, I really am speechless.
The combat itself is nothing special either; it’s your standard “mash X to kill dudes” affair. You’re encouraged to use your Moonblade to gather Twilight Energy, which can be used to resurrect Scarlett when she dies, but by the end of the game, the weapon is by far the weakest thing in the game, so it’s just a hassle to use. There’s a roll mechanic that’s supposed to be used to dodge enemy attacks, but it’s hardly effective, and often times it felt like the direction of where to roll was completely random. Bosses are big, intimidating, and look scary enough, but in the end they’re just huge pushovers.
The interface is absolutely terribad as well. It’s apparent that Venetica was originally developed for the PC, as the item interface completely does not jive with a console’s controller layout. The D-pad and circle button is mapped to items and abilities, and it’s just clunky having only five slots for items and abilities. Constantly having to bring up my inventory to switch items, abilities, and whatnot was a pain, and constantly took me out of the game.
Perhaps the single most offensive thing about Venetica though is the unending glitches and potentially game-ending jank that riddles the world. It may just be because it’s a PC port, but nonetheless, I may have restarted a previously saved game at least eleven times through the course of the game. During one portion I had to go to a villa and get a key from the villa owner to access the garden, as there was a magic book buried there. What happens is a necromancer kills the villa owner in a cutscene, whom you kill in return. You’re supposed to search the owner’s body for the key, open the garden door, and dig up the book.
I had to restart this section at least thrice. First time, I dug up the book, and the screen said “Treasure found!”, but it never appeared in my inventory. I restart the game, and I get to the part where the owner’s being killed, and the cutscene doesn’t fully show. My view is limited to the back of Scarlett’s head, even as all the action is going on. Once the scene is over and I take care of the necromancer, I go to loot the owner’s body, when I realize he’s nowhere to be found. Okay, another glitch. I restart again, same thing. At that point I almost give up, and head back to the exit, when I spot the owner’s lifeless corpse, floating in mid-air, embedded into the exit. At that point I loot the body, finally get the treasure, and get on my way.
It’s like that literally all game. I had to restart the final boss battle twice because I’d “died” and been resurrected, but it wouldn’t take me out of the Twilight World. That’s just absolutely inexcusable, especially for a game that took a year and a half to release in America. I’ve yet to even mention the ridiculous glitches where dialogue is very clearly occurring between characters, but their mouths aren’t moving, so it’s like one giant Charades scene.
Really, what Venetica is is a completely forgettable action RPG experience with last-gen graphics, a completely unoptimized engine, completely uninspiring fetch quest gameplay, and some of the most laughable dialogue we’ve seen since Deadly Premonition. The potential was definitely there, with an intriguing premise, and a vast world that’s actually quite impressive. But it’s simply too hard to look past all the faults of this one. Skip it kids; go play Beyond Good and Evil instead.