Review: Child of Eden

Game: Child of Eden
Format: Xbox 360
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft

Child of Eden is the Ubisoft published spiritual successor to Dreamcast cult hit Rez. It’s an on the rails shooter, boasting some of the most beautifully mesmerising visuals the gaming industry has ever seen.

Continuing an idea established by Rez, Child of Eden makes the player an orchestral conductor of sorts; every enemy you target, shot you fire or pick up you collect contributes towards the game’s score, resulting in some mesmerizingly chaotic music. Did I mention that this has been designed to be used with Kinect, Microsoft’s body tracking camera?

You could be forgiven for thinking that all of these factors together would make for a game that plays like a car wreck, but you would be utterly wrong. Simply put, Child of Eden is one of the most involving games released for years; and is a work of art in its own rite.The (admittedly rather flimsy) story revolves around Lumi, the first person to be born in space. Because she was born away from Earth and was never able to visit, she developed a great deal of profundity, and became a symbol of hope to humanity. When she died the human race wept and, in an effort to cling on to her symbolic status, the universe’s greatest scientists stored her consciousness on a disk. Hundreds of years later she was uploaded to the Internet, which is now known as Eden, to live on in cyberspace and share her insights and beautiful music with those that are far away from earth. Sort of like a futuristic Celine Dion.

However, there is a corruption in Eden that is endangering Lumi and risks destroying everything in Eden. You are tasked with purifying Eden, to ensure Lumi’s survival and bring happiness back to the human race. No pressure, right?

Meet Lumi, the most important person in the universe.

While the game has been designed to utilise Kinect, anti-motion control snobs out there need not fear: you can use a regular pad, and yes, it controls almost exactly the same as Rez. However, there really is nothing like playing this game with Kinect. Your right hand controls lock-on-rockets, while the left hand controls the machine gun. Switching weapons is as simple as raising one hand up, and placing the other arm by your side. To perform the Euphoria attack (think of it as being a screen-clearing explosion) simply lift both arms above your head. When using the right arm you simply move your hand to control the cursor and highlight enemies. To fire you simply push forward. The left hand machine gun fires automatically, but this does slightly less damage than your rockets.

The pure fidelity of movement with Kinect (the on-screen cursor tracking your movements in almost perfect real time) cannot be matched by the controller. In fact, after completing the game in one sitting with Kinect I found it incredibly difficult to go back to the controller for the purposes of this review. That is not to say that the controller controls are bad in any way shape or form, it’s just that the Kinect controls are that good, bringing us an entirely unique experience.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, your targets tend to be colour coded, which indicates the best weapon to use on them. For instance, if an enemy is purple then the best way to purify them is to use your machine gun. The machine gun is also useful for taking out large crowds of enemies and shooting down adversarial projectiles, something the developers have gone to great lengths to telegraph for you, allowing for plenty of reaction time.

Purple enemies are best handled by your machine gun, otherwise known as the left hand.

Because the game only tracks your arm movement it does not require as much space as fully body tracking Kinect games, such as Dance Central or Kinect Sports, which is a welcome feature (not everyone has about 8ft of space between them and their televisions after all). Of course, should you choose to play with Kinect, its worth taking into account the fact that this can lead to some very tired arms after a lengthy playing session.

The game consists of five main chapters, each of which lasts about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your skill. There are no checkpoints in levels, so if you die you will have to start from the beginning. I did not find this to be an issue however, as I managed to easily survive when playing through the five main levels on the default difficulty.

Completing levels rewards you with numerous unlockables, consisting of videos, artwork, and filters that change the graphical style of the game, as well as awarding a star ranking out of five. These stars are used to gain access to new levels. Each level culminates in a battle against an epic boss, including my personal favourite, the giant space whale that turns in to a glorious phoenix. While it may appear that this is a very short game (well, ok, it is) there are dozens of items to unlock, including a new hard difficulty, which is incredibly tough, and a free roaming mode in which you cannot be hurt, that allows you to simply take in the beauty of Eden.

There are online leaderboards, which allow you to compare scores with friends and strangers over the internet, but these will only appeal to a small number of people. The real replay value comes in re-experiencing just how wonderful the game is.

In this picture we can see the corruption surrounding Lumi... I think.

Upon completing the game you unlock a Kinect only challenge mode, which is the closest thing we will likely ever get to a direct Rez 2. This challenge mode is a fairly lengthy score based attack mode, in which you work your way through level after level of Rez-inspired stages, and this does increase the game’s length somewhat.

Despite issues with the game’s length, there is one undeniable truth about Child of Eden: one of the best things about it is that, despite having very little in terms of narrative (beyond the short introductory video), the game is incredibly moving. Rarely have we ever seen a shooter that isn’t about destruction; in Child of Eden you are purifying the inhabitants of Eden, saving lives and restoring hope. These positive feelings are enhanced by the constant presence of Lumi, who provides the game’s soundtrack and can often be seen floating off in the distance. Rather than using a computer generated character, the developers opted to insert footage of a real person into the game. Doing this really helps you to relate to the character’s plight and acts as suitable encouragement to continue playing.

This uncommon level of empathy and euphoria is embellishedby a nice feature that is included in the final level. Upon purifying enemies you start to see that they are turning in to photographs of scenery, of people, and of animals. These pictures are the result of a request from the developers, where by they asked gamers to send in pictures of the things that make them happy. In a lot of ways this simple act is entirely representative of Child of Eden as a whole: full of happiness and beauty.

Review Round-Up

Graphics 5/5 – Simply put, one of the best looking games ever made. Pure beauty presented through the medium of a video game. If you do not have a HD TV make sure you get one to play this game on.

Sound 5/5 – The sheer act of making the player responsible for the music, through their choice of weapons, and by purifying the environment, not only engages, but really empowers players. The music may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is no denying the euphoric effect it has on players.

Gameplay 4/5 – It may be your typical on the rails shooter, but the implementation of Kinect makes this game a thing of true beauty.  The levels are expertly designed to be just challenging enough, without being frustrating.

Longevity 2/5 – The one area in which Child of Eden falls a little flat is in terms of longevity. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to replay the game over and over again (it’ll be one of those games you show to non-game-playing-folk to demonstrate how great games can be). After completing the game you could extend the experience by attempting to work your way up the online leaderboards, but I suspect that most players will be able to resist their charms.

Overall 4 out of 5

Child of Eden truly is an epic experience. There is no other way to put it. While it may lack a little in terms of length, the sheer beauty and immersive wonderment that comes from playing it makes it a must have title, not just for Kinect owners, but for everyone.

- Luke Mears

Tue, June 21 2011 » Reviews, Xbox 360

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