I’m not going to lie – I had high expectations for The Ball. The marketing team behind the game has done a great job at showing us the game in an interesting and unique manner. However, with a group like Teotl Studios, who’ve not got a game under their belt yet, it’s not hard to be skeptical as to whether or not the game will live up to your expectations. There’s no track record telling us that everything they produce is of high quality. In the case of The Ball, things aren’t helped by the fact very few games are able to take the first person perspective and effectively incorporate puzzles.
Having the right frame of mind before entering any game is important, but especially so with The Ball. You don’t want to be caught out putting the game down early. Though the first portion of the game is slow-paced, the game doesn’t take long to rise up to and beyond expectations.
While excavating on a volcano in Mexico, the main character falls in a hole and gets stuck in a cavern. While he waits for his rescue, he decides to explore. The story doesn’t really advance much, but what’s there is enough to set the scene for an enthralling adventure.
In your exploring, you come across a strange, glowing artifact in the shape of a ball, sitting neatly beside some sort of weapon. It turns out this ‘weapon’ is in fact a method for controlling the ball. One function of the gun hits the ball around the place – the other attracts the ball and brings it right to you. It’s a very simple system, but one which becomes so fundamental in all that you do. There’s also quite a number of ways this can be used to solve problems – it’s astounding that such a degree of variety can be achieved with such a basic concept.
Perhaps this is why there are so many early comparisons between this game and Portal. Though I don’t think this could really de-throne the king, or its (yet to be released) sequel, there’s no denying it can come close. They are both quite similar titles both in presentation and in content.
Anyway. As you advance through the game you realise that this is not just a volcano, but home to beautiful ancient ruins. Then, a new discovery – these ruins are still inhabited. You’ll come across anything from monkeys to mummies, and anything in between – and you’re not welcome. The Ball comes into play once again here, as your main method of crushing enemies. Other than that, there are plenty of ways to kill these creatures, most of which would be best to discover yourself. That said, two that spring to mind are running over them with a train/mine-cart, and attracting them into a pool of water, which they can’t seem to stand – both of which show the variety which can be achieved with the simple system employed.
My one major gripe with The Ball is that the Ball itself takes up an incredibly large amount of the screen. To be precise in your movement of the Ball, you need to be right up close.. This causes some bad graphical clashes, despite the developers’ best efforts at making the ball go transparent. You’ll never quite be 100% sure what’s in front of you if you’re manipulating the ball up close.
As such, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the spinning of the Ball at such close range induced headaches or nausea. It’s certainly not the most friendly game in that regard.
Other than that, the game itself is beautifully presented in visuals unmatched in any other indie crew of any size. The graphics are simply beautiful and go hand-in-hand with the fluent Unreal 3 engine which this game runs on. The breathtaking views will have you wondering how such a small team could provide such crisp, vibrant visuals, but the evidence is right in front of you.
In addition to the campaign, from which you can get between six and nine hours of play, is the survival mode. It basically plots you in one of the in-game locations and has you battle it out against wave after wave of enemies. The difference between the survival mode in The Ball and that of, say, Left 4 Dead, is that these maps have a definite goal, so you feel like you’ve achieved something if you can get to the end.
The game doesn’t really go beyond that – though one could argue there’s not a whole lot it could do. There’s limited replay value, but regardless of this, you’ll finish up the game feeling satisfied with the experience.