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Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Punk Notion
Developer: Punk Notion (EU), Cubeish Games (US)
Release Date: Dec. 13, 2019


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Xbox One Review - 'Weakless'

by Cody Medellin on March 25, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Weakless is a puzzle-adventure game with stunning organic environments, filled with curious life forms and a bio-luminescent glow.

The depiction of handicaps is something that's been touched on sparingly by big-budget titles over the last few console generations, but the indie community has really embraced the challenge of featuring characters who are differently abled. Sometimes, the inclusion isn't harped on, like your main character in Cardpocalypse being in a wheelchair. Other times, games like Perception incorporate blindness into the game design. Weakless revels in the latter but doesn't quite make it into a title that one must experience.

As the story goes, there is a forest known as Hermitage, which is home to a race of tree-like beings known as Weavelings. You take on the roles of two characters, Blind and Deaf, whose on-the-nose names tell you what ails them. While they both live a short distance from the village, they are still part of the community, as evidenced by their participation in a ceremony meant to birth and welcome new members of their species. Unfortunately, the latest ceremony goes terribly wrong, and the duo falls from a collapsed platform and wake up underground. Since everything has gone wrong, the duo sets forth to make everything right again.

Weakless is essentially a 3D puzzle platformer where you get to swap control between Blind and Deaf. Play as Blind, and you can create sound, usually by tapping your walking stick on metal plates to produce specific notes. As the taller of the duo, you can also push and pull objects around, but pushing is much faster than pulling since your movement with the latter action is glacial. Take control of Deaf, and you can use your agility to climb up and shimmy on specifically marked ledges. You can also use the bulb on your head to activate things, like expanding lily pads or clearing away thorny vines. Both characters can activate switches or stand in pools to trigger other natural elements, so the idea of switching back and forth between characters isn't taken to an extreme.

Aside from their abilities, taking control of either character also changes your perception of the world around you. Controlling Blind means that the world around you is in gray and white, with a rough sense of where everything is. The camera gets pulled back a good distance, but a specific area around you is visible at all times. While your vision is impaired, your hearing is excellent, and every single sound, no matter how far away it is, is pitch-perfect. As Deaf, your world is in color, and you can see everything. The camera is also zoomed in much closer, which becomes problematic since Blind has a habit of sticking very close to you, and his antlers tend to get in front of the camera. What Deaf gains in vision, he loses in sound, as the only sound you'll get is that of the soundtrack. It may have made more sense to have the music get muted when you control Deaf, but it isn't something that completely breaks immersion.

For the most part, Weakless does some things right, mostly because we've seen these things done in similar games. The title has loads of wonderfully different environments to go through, and it does this with no loading in sight. Checkpoints are generous, so while death only seems to occur if you touch the stray pools of black goo, you'll take comfort in knowing that you won't need to trudge through a litany of puzzles a second time. The game also offers up several areas to gain some of the world's lore; more than a few areas cater to each of the character's hobbies. For Deaf, this means plenty of areas where he can take in the vistas and create paintings, while Blind's interests aim for playing various musical instruments.

Then again, it also follows recent puzzle-platform games a little too closely, to the point where they've become negative ideas instead of positive ones. For starters, just about every puzzle is easily solvable. You automatically know the solution to the issue once you see it, and only a few of the sound-related puzzles could devolve into something that requires trial and error. It doesn't help that the game plays the same types of puzzles several times over, so any semblance of challenge is pretty much eliminated. About the only smart puzzle you'll see concerns switches and conveyor belts, but it doesn't last long enough to be a brain-teaser. On top of having some very simple puzzles for most of the journey, Weakless is also quite short. If you aren't looking for secrets and just aiming for the story, you're looking at a two-hour jaunt. Try going for every secret possible, and it becomes a three-hour affair. It's not bad, but it is worth noting that this can be completed in less than an afternoon.

The game doesn't make the player care about anything. Beyond their disabilities, the characters aren't memorable or sympathetic, mostly because the world lacks any real danger. There's symbolism in the quest, but there's nothing that explains or hints why these things are happening. The epilogue sort of betrays what the final moments would allude to. More importantly, there's no emotional attachment to anything. It feels so perfunctory, and even though we've saved the world millions of times in other games, it doesn't feel so special here.

The presentation is quite good. The environments contain a great deal of detail, and the characters look distinct, so they don't blend into the environment. The lighting and particle effects are used very well, but the game is impressive when you take control of Blind, since its view is distinct. Meanwhile, the music is nice enough to carry the sound, especially since you'll likely stick with Deaf for most of the journey, so you won't hear too many sound effects as a result.

Where it all falls apart is during the game's back half. Get deep into the forests, and you'll see some object pop-in. Start going into the final environments, and you'll see parts where the frame rate drops so drastically that you might think the game has frozen for a few seconds. This is also where the AI starts to misbehave, as they tend to stop following you for good stretches of time or simply walk where they aren't supposed to, so you'll have to constantly swap control so someone doesn't fall off during an elevator ride, for example. This is one advantage of the game being so short, as these moments of frustration and performance dips don't last as long compared to a title that edges toward double-digit hours.

Weakless is a good idea that hasn't been fully realized. The idea of different game perspectives is well thought-out, but everything else is content to be mediocre. From the puzzles to the stages to the story, everything feels familiar and disposable, with no one element to make up for another's shortcomings. It isn't a terrible title if you can overlook some of the bugs, but Weakless is certainly a title that would be better suited for a subscription service as opposed to full ownership.

Score: 6.0/10

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