THE FIVE CORES

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:   Neebla Games

Released:  September 2012

PC Requirements:   see review below

 

 

 

by gremlin

  

What is it?

For this review, I'm back in indie-land. This is always a more difficult place to review because I'm even more aware than usual that the game under the microscope is the result of someone's personal passion and dedication. Hardly any games these days are built by just one person, but independent games like The Five Cores are much closer to that old model of 'back-room' or even 'bed-room' programmers than the latest triple-A games ever are. So, I'm going to try to strike that complex balance between unrealistic expectation and appropriate admiration for the efforts of a small team; in this case, Neebla Games.

Neebla Games are a French outfit, founded in 2012. This makes the release of The Five Cores quite remarkable: the developers have released a quite complex game within 12 months of the creation of the company. I've not seen many much larger organizations achieve anything even remotely like this so quickly.

Is there a plot?

The Five Cores opens with your arrival on a strange and rocky island, where you are the recipient of a cryptic note suggesting that only you can help the collapsing world around you that is somehow connected to a dreaming child in 'the temple'. As plots go, this is a pretty sketchy one, and I have to say that that's about all the plot you'll get. The rest of the story is about what you make of the environments in which you find yourself.

How do you play?

The mechanics of playing the Five Cores is very simple: you explore a series of deserted islands in a largely free-roaming manner from a mouse-driven, first-person perspective, with mechanical puzzles integrated into the environments in manners which could be said to be logical if only you understood the culture through which you are roaming. There is no inventory, and most of the puzzles boil down to a combination lock in some form or another. There are electrical switches, coloured plant combinations, several variations upon mechanical tumblers, and a music puzzle (which can be done by a process of elimination if you haven't the ear for it).

I initially wanted to avoid comparisons with Myst because that would have been too obvious from the early stages of the game, but now that I've completed The Five Cores, such comparisons are not only obvious but absolutely necessary because the gameplay is so similar to realMyst (the fully 3D version of the original Myst). The natures of the islands of The Five Cores even appear to be similar to that of the worlds of Myst, albeit with some of the elements mixed around between islands. The only things really missing are the characters Atrus, Sirrus and Achenar, and the extensive backstory that goes with them.

I've previously read descriptions of Myst that suggest that the puzzles are really obscure and difficult, but I have to say that the solutions to every puzzle in that game are given (or at the very least, strongly hinted at) somewhere in the appropriate world. There may be multiple steps to the solutions, but they are there. This is a serious shortcoming in the Five Cores; I really struggled to find hints to the puzzles in the game and had to resort to a walkthrough sufficiently often that my suspension of disbelief was seriously compromised.

Notable Features

Ok, enough whinging about how The Five Cores isn't Myst. We need to consider what it is. This game has a number of islands of a variety of styles - desert, crystalline, organic, architectural. The locations are often reasonably elaborate, although unpopulated. The game was developed using the Unreal Engine - a 3D engine originally used to build first-person shooters, but no less useful in an adventure game setting for all that. The big advantage for the developers of using a pre-built 3D engine is that they don't have to pre-render backgrounds, or spend time building their own engine from scratch, and all the time that is spent designing locations goes directly into the game - which I suppose goes some way to explaining the short timescale in which Neebla Games were able to go from formation to game completion.

There is only one 'person' in the game other than you, and that's the dreaming child in the temple. My personal feeling is that this makes for a very lonely experience - even more so than in other games of a similar nature. Perhaps the lack of domestic detail and backstory contributed to this feeling. The islands have clearly been inhabited but the signs of it are very sparse.

Oddities

My experience of playing The Five Cores was disappointingly bug-ridden. It's not only possible to get trapped between rocks in lots of places, it's very easy to do so. Later in the game I was able to fall off a cart track (repeatedly!) and end up deep under water, inescapably walking around the bottom of the sea. These glitches mean frequent saves are important. On a later island where you have a lot of suspended walkways, you can get caught up on the edges of walkways so easily that it becomes quite frustrating, although this wasn't a game-reloading issue.

And to top this all off, I managed to turn off the Escape key, so that beyond a certain point, I couldn't save my game, so had to complete it in a single session.

Conclusions

My view of The Five Cores is that it is an impressive work for a company less than 12 months old, but one that would have benefited from another twelve in fleshing out a backstory, refining the lives of the characters, and more work on the frequent sticking points in the physical environment.

On the positive side, I'd definitely say we need to watch out for Neebla Games, as they clearly have some talent that needs more opportunities to flower.

Grade: C+

What do you need to play it?

  • PC WINDOWS XP SP3 or higher
  • DirectX 9.0c
  • 2.0+ GHz dual-core processor
  • NVIDIA 8000 series (or equivalent) (GTX 460 recommended); Shader Model 3 compatible video card
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 600 MB disk space

(I I used a home-built 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium (Service Pack 1) PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+ processor, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card, with on-mother-board, built-in sound card)

 

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