If you’ve participated in any game subject at university or similar institution, you will have seen a game like Drains. It’s the type of game a group of bearded and bespectacled young men are play testing in the corner of the computer labs, and they were there when you left yesterday. The game has a certain look, a certain feel to it. A feeling of being not quite there.
Truth be told, it would be unfair to deem Drains as little more than a student project. It may appear that way at times, but a fair amount of effort has gone into it. Unfortunately this effort only permeates a few areas of the game. On the surface it looks like a full, complete experience. It’s about fifteen hours in length. There is platforming and combat. There are boss fights and cool abilities. There’s even a story and a neat, original setting. But let’s be honest: you can’t just tick these boxes to make a game. You don’t play games if the play aspect is fundamentally ruined. That is the problem with Drains; it’s a beautiful game built on shoddy mechanics and a hopeless engine.
Drains is a linear platformer with 3D graphics viewed from a side-on camera. As you fight your way through the various stages, you gain experience and new abilities. Appropriately, the enemies get tougher according to your designated hit points. That’s about as far as it goes in terms of complexity for the games span, and given the nature of the combat, it’s not a very fun fifteen hours.
To me, Drains would have made a good picture book, because the game elements are horrendous. Jumping sucks. Fighting sucks. Using abilities is unbelievably frustrating. Just because it’s set underwater isn’t an excuse for sluggish controls.
The engine makes a mockery of tactics, as enemies will slide around you to attack from a different angle. It’s good when they try to surround you, but blocking is worthless and combat a spam-fest. You unlock so many ‘combos’ that it works just as well to hit the two attack buttons in any order. Special abilities would be cool if they, you know, hit their target. I don’t mind missing, but only as a result of a personal error, not a coding one. It feels floaty, and given that the game revolves around fighting, it’s a major disappointment. But this is just the start of the woes.
Drains also includes a drop system whereby defeated bad guys drop coloured orbs. In theory this should work with blue ones giving health, red ones acting as an energy bar for abilities, and yellow ones being used as currency. Here’s where the system fails: sometimes when you kill an oceanic enemy, you can’t reach the orbs. They will roll away, and the invisible walls mean that you can’t get to them despite being in desperate need of health. Even when you do manage to store up red balls, abilities decimate your stockpile. Even rolling, a mostly useless ability, takes up one orb. Most games don’t punish me for using the dodge function. At least yellow orbs can buy lives, which you’ll be needing a lot of. It defies logic that a game could be released with such glaringly obvious faults and imbalances.
Of course, all this is further compounded by the atrocious PC controls. Given that currently you can only buy it on PC, this is unacceptable. The default controls are confusing and too close together, without utilising the mouse at all. This is compounded by no customisation options, a grave error indeed. The game works better with a gamepad, but if you don’t have one you are at the mercy of carpal tunnel syndrome. Throw in an awkward camera, and it’s as if the developers didn’t want you to have any success at all against the AI.
Even when the fighting does work and you do pick up orbs, it just isn’t satisfying enough to be worth your time. The best parts of Drains are the 3D models and the artwork, but what’s the point in putting such lush environments in a game that’s simply not playable? You can’t just string together a series of ‘gamey’ ideas and hope that they come together, particularly if you aren’t going to play test for bugs and, more importantly, the elusive idea of Fun. Drains appears to be aimed at a younger crowd, but they would get more enjoyment and more satisfying interaction from a pop-up book.
- At least the art team got a good work-out.
- Buggy, repetitive and unintuitive gameplay;
- Voice-acting. I know there’s a budget, but it’s still horrendous;
- Shouldn’t have been made into a game.