Absolver (PlayStation 4) Review

By Sam Turner 22.09.2017

Review for Absolver on PlayStation 4

Whatever the lasting legacy of the Dark Souls series, the one thing that will forever be true is that it has fundamentally changed the understanding of what makes a game difficult. Far from a trite battle of attrition or a false wall just to slow the player down, Souls has made difficulty contextual rather than a way for players to add a veneer of challenge to their game. Absolver is a natural beneficiary of this shift in perception of video game difficulty. It's a title that would not have thrived several years ago, but under the shadow of Dark Souls, flowers have bloomed.

It's far too tempting to let simply let Dark Souls subsume all that Absolver achieves, but condensing the experience down to 'Absolver is the Dark Souls of martial arts games' would be stripping Absolver of all that it accomplishes. There are certain recognisable tropes, but the truth is that Absolver is a title that leans into the themes of FromSoftware's games rather than lifting mechanics direct from it.

There is the same pervasive feeling of isolation, the familiar creep of enemies, the unknowing interaction from invading players and the slow and steady affirmation that the central protagonist is utterly out of their depth. There is though also the same growth, pride and accomplishment that so often accompanies the layers of the unknown.

Screenshot for Absolver on PlayStation 4

In an eerily silent world, the unassuming lead of this adventure is picked from a line out of similarly drab character models and simply given a mask. With a pale and dreary colour palette there is nothing much to cling on to in these opening moments of Absolver. There is no revenge to seek; there is no great beast to slay and no arc of redemption for the man behind the mask to venture on. Instead, the player is stripped of almost any signifier of identity and thrust out into the world with the bare minimum of tutorials or guidance.

The only thing the player will understand is that with a move set based around the fundamentals of martial arts, you'll be expected to learn quickly how to turn a set of basic strong and weak attacks into a flurry of attacks. Despite resting on only using Square and Triangle to deal out damage, there is a surprising wealth of depth to be found within two small buttons. Much of this hinges around the four different stances that the character can adopt. Switching positions is simple and provides much flair and excitement, but learning how to combine attacks that weave between different stances is an art form and comes only after much attrition and abrasion.

Over the course of Absolver's unceremoniously short five-hour campaign, these are the only pathways that the player has to interact with the world, bar the standard wheel of emotes used for making short bursts of emotion to other players in the world. The game lives and dies around the promise of mastery. The central idea is not to complicate play with hundreds of ways of interacting with the world; instead players are encouraged to spend their brief time with the game to truly gain punching perfection.

Screenshot for Absolver on PlayStation 4

At times, Absolver is sheer simplicity in design. The environment is mistakenly barren at first glance, but just like the tepid shades of the lead character there is again a shine within the simple. Small details as you move from stage to stage have room to breathe when emerging from the smooth textures and brown palette. Waterfalls drip with vibrant blues and small flourishes of green squeeze amongst the cracks. The same small explosions of detail can also be found in the variety of equipment and clothes the player can customise over the course of the game. Even the thin veil of a story is little more than a list of combatants needing to be beaten in order to progress. All of this mirrors the simple but slow bind to the mechanics of fighting. The more the player is ready to absorb all the tiny details, the more there is to enjoy.

This devil in the detail approach to design, however, creates a variety of problematic symptoms, with the most glaring being that when any imbalances appear within this delicate playerscape, they rip and tear at any binds the player may have with the game. All of which sounds hyperbolic, but when such a fine line of detail is being drawn, any deviancy from that direction is utterly off putting.

Screenshot for Absolver on PlayStation 4

When it inevitably dawns on the player the ideal rhythm to use when moving from one stance to another or how to read the moves of a particular enemy to perfection, there always seems to be a stronger enemy or hoard of figures around the next corner ready to take the player down and loudly exclaim that the lessons are far from over. Add to this the constant invasion from players who are drawn from a mixture of experience, and progression means that early exploration with this delicate art form are punctuated with frustrating fights of humility.

All this, however, is minimal when shrouded with the general tone of the game, which is isolating and exposing, but largely kind and guiding. The player may get humiliated by those with experience, but upon meditation these are kindly lessons. The character might wander lonely in the game, only to meet another player in distress or be caught unawares, again to learn a valuable teaching to take forward.

This is a game about learning. Fights are often beautifully concentrated one-on-one battles where each figure has little to no time to learn their distinct patterns or range of attacks. Due to these high intensity battles, the player is often reduced to clumsy reactions and response, but that is exactly the behaviour Absolver slowly drums out of the player. Each defeat is a harsh tutorial in approach and direction. Every knockback is a part of the method to develop a truly martial arts attitude to fighting, one of artistry and thought rather than one that is angry and reactive.

Screenshot for Absolver on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Absolver is an experience shrouded in patience and unerring attention to detail. It ultimately rewards players who are happy to spend the time picking apart tiny parts of the title's deceptively simple combat and world building. It is atrociously difficult at times, but such is the framing of the game, Absolver's difficulty curve is designed to teach and inspire, rather than frustrate. Although rather short at around five to six hours, Absolver is still a delicate examination of martial arts and how game design can drastically impact the lessons the player should draw from the world.

Developer

Sloclap

Publisher

Devolver Digital

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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