Xbox 360/PS3/PC; £39.99; cert 16+; Deck 13/dtp
A striking feature of 2010 has been the way in which action-role-playing games (action-RPG) have enjoyed a major renaissance – efforts such as Mass Effect 2, Fable III and Fallout: New Vegas have dragged what was once seen as a quaint old genre firmly into the 21st century. Venetica is another action-RPG, too, but it sits very much at the traditional end of the spectrum – certainly lacking the polish of its aforementioned peers, and conforming to RPG stereotypes such as an abundance of quests and side-quests and a medieval setting. However, that doesn’t make it a bad game.
In fact, it proves that initial appearances – some of the graphics, plus the character models and animations, are ropey in the extreme – can be deceptive, as it turns out to be fun to play and surprisingly compelling. You take on the role of Scarlett, a young female interloper in a small village which is attacked by assassins without warning. Scarlett survives, discovers she can fight, and experiences an odd visitation in which, summoned to a netherworld, she discovers she is the daughter of Death, who has stashed an undead-slaying sword called the Moonblade for her; she must find it, go to Venice and locate and destroy the Undead Archon, who plots to bring chaos to the world.
While building up her fighting and magic skills, she acquires the ability to find and travel through otherwise invisible portals, useful for discovering hidden rooms and bypassing otherwise insurmountable obstacles. Quests are pleasantly varied, peppered with occasional puzzles and, at the end of each chapter, a monumental boss-battle (which generally ends up in the netherworld). The fighting system is pretty basic, but at least it’s responsive and accurate. In classic RPG fashion, you have to choose which faction to join when you reach Venice, and you can take on a variety of jobs. The level design is strikingly good, and the depiction of a mediaeval Venice is redolent with ambience.
Given Venetica’s generally unassuming air – it has clearly been put together by a smallish team of enthusiasts, rather than having had money thrown at it – and its conformity to the conventions of RPGs, you wouldn’t say it’s an essential purchase. But fans of RPGs will discover that there’s something oddly endearing about it, and it provides a commendably long period of gameplay, which could be just the ticket as winter closes in and we seek indoor entertainment. Worth shopping around for, to see if you can pick it up on the cheap.