After spending a few weeks with Sony Computer Entertainment’s The Eye of Judgment, I can’t help but thinking folks really missed the mark on this one. Here is a fun little card game, albeit with a pricey gimmick attached. But instead of giving players a complete game from the get-go, SCE decided to walk down the dark and brooding path of collectable card games, and thus really turned off this (and probably many other) hopeful gamer.
The game itself is actually quite good, if simple. Gameplay happens on a 3x3 grid, with each two-sided square representing one of the games elements (earth, wood, fire, water, and a neutral element). The goal of the game is to be the first player with creatures from their 30-card customizable deck controlling at least 5 of the spaces. Each creature has a specific facing, attack pattern, and mana cost, and when it is played to the board it lashes out in the direction(s) indicated on its card, attacking enemies (and sometimes friendlies) that happen to fall under its attack. If an attacked creature isn’t killed in the initial strike, it may get a chance to strike back, depending on the orientation and type of card. In addition to playing new creatures, players have the option of turning and attacking with creatures already on the board, provided that players have the necessary mana points to do so. Spells round out the deck, providing some direct damage or board-changing elements to the game. Since most creatures keyed to a particular element gain bonuses on their native element and penalties on the opposing one, flipping the creature’s square to a different element can have drastic effects on the battle. Battles continue until one player controls at least 5 spaces, or until someone runs through their 30-card deck. Each game takes about 15-20 minutes, which is just about perfect for a strategy game of this depth.
So far I’ve described a fun little game, but no word about the PS3 itself. And that’s where the first of the problems begin. This is a game that really doesn’t need a $500 machine to play. It would be perfect on a table, with a modular 3x3 board and a friend. Enter the Playstation Eye gimmick. The entire game is played in front of the Eye and tied to the PS3, with each card bearing a special code readable by the system. The Eye is set up on a mount over the game mat, and players need to orient themselves in such a way to see the table, the television, and (if playing a friend in person), each other. Complicating this feat is the fact that the Eye is quite finicky about the lighting necessary to play this game. Thankfully, I have some nice overhead lighting in my living room, so I only had problems with some afternoon sunlight. Once everything is working properly, the addition of the PS3 is kind of fun, since it animates the board, creatures, and spells onscreen. Play involves placing the cards on the mat in their proper orientation, or “presenting to the Eye” spells for their casting. Not every movement is intuitive, as several of the moves involve placing a “control” card somewhere on the board, but for the most part play is pretty smooth.
The graphics are decent, but not in any way spectacular. Watching the little animated representations of my cards battle it out is fun for a while, but I soon chose to turn them off and just play the game. Sounds aren’t great, with the generic fantasy units’ voices often getting on my nerves each time they attacked. Even though it was a bit amusing playing with the PS3 all hooked up, a little 15-minute battle had to be prefaced by a complete rearranging of my living room, a hauling out of my card table, and a sometimes frustrating Playstation Eye adjustment and orientation. And when I was done, everything had to be replaced. It just wasn’t worth the effort for the amount of enjoyment I got out of things.
And here’s where the “collectable” part of the game rears its ugly head. The Eye of Judgment comes with a pre-constructed starter deck, which is fun at first but soon becomes stale. Why? Because those cards are all you get to play with, and against, out of the box. While I was learning the game it was fine, but playing offline against the PS3 means you are only playing against your own deck, controlled by the AI. And this just isn’t fun. If you want more cards, it’s off to the store to grab a pack of randomly-assorted cards (or a few pre-constructed decks). And then back home to play them against the few cards stored in the software’s memory. Things do get better if you find someone else to play with, since you can then challenge other constructed decks both online and in person. Be warned, however, that online play first requires players to “register” their entire 30-card deck before hand. In addition, the PS3 “draws” the cards for each player, meaning players have to dig through their decks to pull out the matching card for play. I understand this is necessary to prevent cheating, but it’s still a pain. So if you’ve decided to buy the software, several packs of cards (hopefully getting a nice deck out of the mix), and you can find someone else to play with, you just might get some entertainment out of this whole deal. Those looking for a casual strategy card game on the PS3, however, are going to be quite disappointed.
I think the developers missed the mark on this one. Had they sold the game as a complete set out of the box, with more (non-random) card expansions on the horizon, I would have been much more excited about this title. Not only would they have a stronger player base, they could also include some sort of single-player campaign, something the game is sorely lacking right now. As it stands, I just don’t think The Eye of Judgement is worth the price or hassle to play, especially when there are both much better boardgames and better PS3 titles to choose from.