Genre: Card Battle
Release Date: October 24, 2007
Sony's The Eye of Judgment , initially marketed as either an immediate, robust gaming use for the PlayStation 3's PS Eye still/video camera or merely an excuse to bump up the revenue on the first batches of PS Eyes, also happens to feature one of the most polished integrations of an optional console gaming peripheral I've ever seen. Console peripherals usually come along as cheaper, less-satisfying alternatives to first-party controllers, and strange or quirky alternatives to first-party controllers (fans in the grips for those with overactive sweat glands, backlit face buttons, oversized and oddly shaped analog sticks or other gimmicks that do little to enhance the gaming experience). In the next tier of optional peripherals are things like arcade-style sticks for fighting games and steering wheels for racers, the latter item some of which are outstanding and feature true, near-lifelike force feedback — yet with this high quality comes an exorbitant price tag, ergonomic inconvenience in the living room and limited, or entirely missing, compatibility with many racers on the market.
Sony has a history with PlayStation 2 of integrating cameras into gameplay of specific games — mostly variants on motion detection — and Microsoft's Xbox 360 camera set the bar for non-gaming, or purely optional in-game use of cameras. In this generation of consoles, a still/video camera will see some good uses and some pure dreck; still, third-party developers will often design their games considering the possibility that console owners may possess these optional peripherals. Sony and some third-party developers have integrated the newly designed PS Eye throughout the whole PS3 experience, but by continuing the PS2 Eye Toy tradition of in-game requirements for the cameras, Sony presents one of the most thorough "cam games" available today. It's delivered in the package of a trading-card game in the vein of several popular Japanese games of this type, and card-gaming phenomenon Magic: The Gathering. To get the absolute most out of The Eye of Judgment , you're not only going to have to want the PS Eye, sold in a bundle with the game or by itself, but you'll also need to be a casual fan of, or receptive to, the existing, real-world trading-card games.
The hook in Judgment is that the PS Eye does an admirable job of reading real trading cards played on a physical board, a mat, placed on a table or other suitable flat surface. In order to accomplish this, the PS Eye must be stationed overhead, facing down, and for this purpose, the bundle comes with a quickly assembled stand — plastic, but sturdy enough, and properly weighted so the PS Eye isn't constantly tipping over — and a software camera calibration utility. The requirement for setting up and breaking down the stand, inserting the PS Eye — tethered by USB cable to the PS3 — in its holder and calibrating the camera makes Judgment somewhat less than a quick sit-down-and-play title, but this minor inconvenience is the only acceptable solution to positioning the camera. You're already required to lay out a real game surface and use real cards, anyway.
When the game software recognizes trading cards via the PS Eye, the various capabilities of the different card characters played are then presented in fairly stunning graphics and animation, in the video game side of the Judgment looking glass. It is, whether you're a trading-card fanatic or not, an engrossing, novel experience, at least the first few times you see it in action. The animated characters pop up on top of their cards in PS Eye's on-screen image of your actual game board. It's a design element that works well, reminiscent of the holographic "chessmen" you may remember from a game briefly played aboard the Millennium Falcon in the original "Star Wars" film. The fact the PS Eye captured part of the on-screen image doesn't much scream "high resolution" almost serves to enhance the visual presentation, as this creates a sort of game-world flip-flop in which what's on screen is "real" while what's lying on your coffee table is, after all, just a game.
Where Judgment loses traction is in the unavoidable fact that, despite the wide-eyed experience of watching your played cards come to life in high-end, HD graphics, the gameplay is a very straightforward trading-card game. When you hit gameplay, if you're not into trading-card games or susceptible to them, the whole of Judgment isn't going to be more than a pretty presentation and a technology demo for the PS Eye. It's cute, but not something you'll latch onto as a game. Despite various notions associated with the game rules that lend Judgment some typical card-game strategy, the title's gameplay is rather simplistic, even for trading-card games: occupy five spaces on the mat's 3x3 grid, take the round. It's sort of like an expanded version of tic-tac-toe, with some traps and allowance for noncontiguous placement of your "marks." Ultimately, the overall simplicity of the game's objectives, with the optional ability to play deep into the game's strategy, likely best suits this sort of title, as it still remains the flagship title for PS Eye and therefore must at least attempt appeal for gamers outside the genre.
There are plenty of other good, if secondary or tertiary, uses for PS Eye in PS3 titles both from Sony and third-party publishers. Gamers might have hoped for a full-fledged Eye-centric title with broader appeal, some kind of party-oriented recreation, like a music or rhythm title, a dance game, or even some sort of competitive sports or exercise design. But these games, notwithstanding DLC in the form of song or dance tracks, are rather closed-ended. In establishing longevity for Eye of Judgment, Sony perhaps picked the best genre because trading-card games are inherently expandable with minimal software updates; Sony has been giving away the software expansions and selling the card packs required to take advantage of the video game updates. Successful, exclusively physical-world games of this type are constantly expanded with card packs nominally far lower in cost per pack than the expense of the original starter set. With numerous downloadable and physical card expansions of varying sizes and cost, Sony is carrying out the trading-card paradigm down the line. Eye of Judgment , just like Magic, or Monopoly for that matter, is not meant to be played, completed and then put on a shelf or traded away, but, rather, hauled out often or occasionally, depending on the avidity of the players, and expanded when the gamers wish, with available card packs and updates to the video game portion of the package. That kind of commitment to a good game with its own core fan base, although hardly a big juggernaut of a title that will sell left, right and upside down, is commendable.
In addition to the expected offline single- and multiplayer versions of the main game, a wholly lackluster mini-game that is really nothing more than a trainer for card valuation, Eye of Judgment features online play of the main game. Although the designers went miles to keep cheaters from finding a home with the title, the PS Eye camera unwittingly allows some dishonesty by failing to differentiate between actual physical cards and color printouts. Cheaters can download scans of all of the really powerful cards, print them out, and enter them into their decks, but that's a flaw with the PS Eye camera, not the game. The online play is smooth, but it's still a game best played face-to-face, around the real board, with the PS3 and an HDTV at a nearby but comfortable distance.
It's a struggle to put a score on a game like this, and Judgment is one of those titles that makes me pine for an alternative pass/fail scoring system. The game definitely passes, but it belongs to a niche favorable to genre-addict gamers. However, the captivating presentation and PS Eye interface may well make this the gateway game for individuals or families — and it is a great title for families — who never before thought they'd enjoy trading-card games. Therefore, with regular expansions and ongoing first-party support, a crafty and intriguing visual hook, and a solid, well-designed primary (and required) use for the PS Eye camera, Eye of Judgment nicely scores itself into the "good game" slot. It's absolutely worth a hard look for any gamers who want to step out from behind FPS action titles once in a while, if they'd like something extra on standby in addition to those ever-popular music games.