ArtFormer: Ancient Stories – Review of a wonderful Czech disappointment


Some time ago, when Pavel Skoták shared his impressions of playing the stylish Czech platformer ArtFormer, he realized that it was a beautiful but ungrateful game, the form of which one cannot enjoy at the expense of playability. At that time, however, it was still a relatively early access, so there was no reason to despair.

But year after year has come together, and I am just happy about the unenviable position I am in when I have to criticize a promising game from a developer duo of likeable locals, because nothing has changed in Paul’s conclusions in eighteen months.

Art four times

In its short chapters, the visual of ArtFormer will let you taste four important artistic styles, which could be said to have in one way or another helped to shape the artistic expression of humanity throughout history to the present. These include cave paintings, papyri from Egypt, orange-black Greek amphorae and ancient Roman mosaics.

In addition, an interesting and fresh idea was met with skillful processing and it is a pleasure to look at the result. When you walk along the stone walls like simple figures, in a strange way, it really looks like a trip into prehistory. The rapid open-air museum of the Trojan Wars on cracked pottery black has the same sharp smirk, and in my opinion the most beautiful Roman passage shows off the magnificent antique “pixel art” as the eyes cross. ArtFormer simply deserves a glimpse and the deepest compliment for its pictorial appearance.

But what the hell didn’t want, graphics (hence the whole audiovisual, because a simple but stylish musical background also doesn’t sound bad at all) is the only thing that can be praised throughout the game without reservation.

One hundred concussions

The game is plagued by two quite prosaic problems: the board controls and the not very ideal design of the game challenge.

Right during the first few minutes of playing, it is clear that the creators were inspired by old platformers, especially the first Persian prince from 1989, and that movement divided into either big fast jumps or small slow steps is intentionally here. But even if something is on purpose, it does not automatically mean that it is good.

The slightest tinkling of the analog lever sends the character on an unstoppable two-meter lunge, which makes trying to precisely lead the hero virtually impossible, but the game will also require you to punish you and punish you if it fails.

And it won’t work, take the poison. When a person is desperately trying to jump over something, run through a trap, and the character does what he wants, he constantly hits the walls, which is practically unavoidable, it takes him half an hour to turn, because every movement locks into animation, it works as a result playing Artformer as an attempt to catch the slaughtering sheep with all its might.

The control scheme itself does not help at all. The game is paradoxically better controlled on the keyboard compared to genre habits, because if you take a gamepad in your hand, you will find that the jump is also assigned to moving the analog lever upwards in addition to its dedicated button. This means that it is enough not to push the control in a exactly horizontal direction and the figure jumps unintentionally instead of running.

Perhaps I don’t have to describe in detail how, in a game in which inaccurate movement is punishable by death in the vast majority of cases and returning calmly for a few minutes, a similar fact can bring blood to a fierce boil.

There are also situations from a similar barrel when it is necessary to climb a ladder. Again, for an incomprehensible reason, this is done with the same button as the jump, which means that it is enough to stand an inch outside the (unimpressed) interactive climbing area and the hero throws himself into the abyss instead of catching the ladder. Why can’t I instead climb with the interaction button that the game otherwise uses to enter doors and the like? This would avoid a good dose of frustration. But unfortunately.

And if you think to ask: The controls can be set, but this can only be done in the menu before turning on the game itself, the individual functions are not named and moreover, they appear in duplicate in the control schedule, so you have no idea what to do. the button actually sets. And even if it works out in the end – I’m sorry, but I simply expect any game to be handled well from the factory.

So as not to offend: Yes, a person gradually gets used to it when he has nothing else left. In the second half of the game, I resigned myself to trying to overcome any dynamic and smooth locations, and I preferred to step down in disgrace to make sure that the character really does what I want her to do. I guess that’s what the creators really meant playing. But you can’t really say that the hero’s similarly set leadership would somehow grow to my heart, or perhaps even entertain me. And I didn’t get rid of the aforementioned constant and properly annoying crashing into the walls from beginning to end.

Lurking death

As historical epochs progress, new elements are added to the game: In Greece, for example, inventory is made available that allows you to pick up a more powerful weapon or increase your life at once by putting on a helmet or chest plate. In Rome, you will work with money again and you will have the opportunity to buy the better equipment on the market. Simple but nice.

However, the core of the gameplay does not change – the game alternates passages with overcoming terrain and traps, duels and driving on a vehicle. The trio then occasionally mixes running here and there between the characters and having simple dialogues. That’s all.

But none of the three pillars is completely firm. The fights are probably the best – conceptually primitive, in depth again comparable to the aforementioned Prince of Persia 1, but they work as they should. Well, at least mostly, because sometimes the hitboxes get a little angry, but not in such a way that it would definitely spoil the fighting.

Unfortunately, climbing and jumping passages are worse, because the creators decided to increase the difficulty by adding pitfalls that cannot be expected. In other words – you will come across scenes that you will have to learn by heart, because boulders will fall on them or the ground will start to fall under your feet, without it being possible to assume it in any way.

That’s right, again, you can recognize the inspiration in oldschool titles, but it was this design procedure that was no longer used simply because it was overcome. In the event of a failure, you very rarely feel that you could have blamed yourself for it, so it simply should not be.

The remaining element, ie traveling on a boat or horseback, is again in a sharp contrast to everything else completely trivial and you can overcome it with a little exaggeration, usually by holding one key. This then creeps into the mind of the unflattering question of why he is here at all.

Bottom line: The feeling that I had to compete more with game design than content all the time unfortunately leaves a gaping scar on the overall impression.

Broken art

Honestly, if it were possible to cut off the review at this point, crown it with some uplifting conclusion, once again praise the handsome visual and tick off the text as suitable for publication, I would rate it a little higher. Maybe even the six could be defended, given the supportive mood.

If you accept the fact that you simply do not come up with Ori’s ode to the poetics of movement from ArtFormer and accept the game as it is, you can finally find bright moments. And pictorial beauty and fresh style simply help indulgence, not that they don’t.

Unfortunately, the experience gets the loader from a number of other mistakes and it is not a cadence over which it would be possible to close your eyes. And due to the poor technical condition, I always lower the rating, it would not be fair not to do it suddenly against other titles.

For example, I would easily forgive the poor level of English translation, although it would certainly be nice if a localized speaker read the localized texts at least once. With the knowledge of a greater gnashing of teeth, I would wave my hand over the mistakes in Czech, although such a “diary” clearly tears behind my eyes.

Even small things could be ignored, such as when you sometimes notice that the layers of sprites are incorrectly set and the soldier in the background, for example, disappears behind a pillar, but his helmet, obviously in another layer, remains hanging in the air in front of him. It freezes, especially when it takes about two and a half seconds to change the layer in Unity, but damn it.

However, ArtFormer also has problems that can break even the gameplay itself, and you can no longer ignore them, especially when it comes to very short (it took about five hours to complete) and linear play.

Several times I argued about objects in the environment and had to restart the game from the clue, which will please like a sprained ankle, especially if you have to overcome a long sequence of traps again because of it. I also managed to jump strangely up the stairs, after which the character began to tragicomically climb into the air and get stuck on a random collider somewhere in the background. Another restart.

There is a passage in Egypt where you must first speak to the left with a group of slaves, pick up the sarcophagus and take it to the right. But if you don’t know that and you go straight to the right without companions, the game freezes at the place where the cutscene with the slaves is to start. Every time. Did anyone really notice this during testing and early access?

Artformer is beautiful to look at, but he suffers from too many problems to make playing fun.

Once ArtFormer broke down completely, he began to display bad texts from a completely different place in the story, and the subject needed to move on was not interactive. He did it until the whole chapter was restarted nicely from the beginning. And I’ve seen it in red.

The end of the game was further spiced up by a very poetic dot – a fall to the desktop just before the final headlines and a jam after restart, because the game placed the hero in an inappropriate phase of progress. In other words, the “quest” was completed, but the diary kept reporting that I had to complete it. It was not possible to continue. The restart of the chapter would probably do it again, but I didn’t find enough mental strength for that at that moment.

Once again, we are talking about a short canapole in which problems of a similar nature and intensity simply have nothing to do. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend ArtFormer as a result. He may be beautiful to look at, but he has too much trouble to make playing fun.


Source: Games by games.tiscali.cz.

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