Despite a decent showing, Spiral Episode 1 feels very “been there, done that before.”
Spiral Episode 1 is an interesting new title from Pixel Hero Games, which combines adventure gaming with some light action. It’s largely story-driven, set in a futuristic post-war city with a strong police presence enforcing curfews, controlling information, and getting on with all sorts of conspiracy-styled stuff.
It has a neat visual style, with the city backdrop of Solliel reminding us a little of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but with more color. The characters feel like a cross between anime-styled and some Dreamworks designs, or perhaps even early ReBoot, with animations to match. Overall, the visual presentation feels reminiscent of early PlayStation 2 games – not a bad thing, necessarily, particularly if you’re nostalgic for that period of game visuals the way some are about 8-bit pixel art.
Of course, whether there is much of a nostalgic target audience for that is another question, but there’s an almost pleasant sort of nineties/early-aughts vibe one gets from it. This carries over to the game’s persistent voice acting and lip-synching as well, which isn’t bad – better than some of what came from the original PlayStation era, to be sure – but isn’t quite on par with some higher-end performances, either. It’s serviceable, tolerable – decent, even – but the likes of David Hayter and Nolan North probably have little to worry about when it comes time for awards to be handed out.
In that regard, Spiral Episode 1 kind of has a “been there before” feel about it, but not in a bad way. The story features a bit of intrigue, albeit of a common sort: post-apocalyptic war future setting; hero with amnesia; government hiding something; etc. The way it handles it possesses a certain charm, however, though with limitations. The cityscape is nice and looks like a fun place to explore, but there isn’t a lot to do except talk to people and engage in occasional combat or climbing (don’t expect to be able to visit the “Kinema,” for instance).
Speaking of the combat, which only comes up occasionally, it’s… passable. Not exactly our favorite part of the experience, nor was it really enough to hinder. You basically tap your targets to perform attacks with and chain combos together, and don’t touch anything to block. Your character, Tempus, wields some neat energy-based weapons of both the melee and ranged variety, depending on the distance of the enemy, but the tap-based combat feels kind of clunky. Fortunately, you do gain experience points in battle for building up stats, and if you lose in combat, you’ll probably get it on the second or third try.
Part of what makes combat clunky is trying to dodge, and movement is just an overall problem of sorts in this game. During non-combat scenes, you can tap where you want Tempus to go, and that works some of the time, though it can misread where you’re trying to go easily (say, if you want to go to the top of some steps, but the side is between you and the target). There’s a secondary movement function which is a little more conventional, steering him as he walks, though getting that to work is slightly cumbersome as well. Thankfully, there are no pits to deal with or concerns of falling off a ledge.
Climbing around with an energy line is kind of fun, but extremely inflexible. During one portion, we thought we’d found the first grapple point in a sequence; unbeknownst to us, it was actually the last in the sequence, and the game at first seemed broken until we found the real beginning. From a design standpoint, we saw no reason we couldn’t have gone up that way, except that the developers simply wanted you to go the other way.
Overall, the feeling Spiral gives is of a decent, if unremarkable game from a bygone era. Nothing we experienced is enough to recommend against it, though the starting price tag of $4.99 might be a little off-putting to some for a work of this quality. It doesn’t really excel in any regard, but nor does it offend.