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Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: oddbreeze
Release Date: April 8, 2020


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PC Review - 'Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 21, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Delve into a psychological and atmospheric cinematic mystery as you solve puzzles in this block-pushing adventure.

No matter how often it gets used as a backdrop for video games, space remains an interesting place. Journeys to the unknown are often fascinating, and that remains true as space travel becomes normalized. Aside from the adventure of seeing something new or the perils of encountering hostile lifeforms, there's the question of keeping one's sanity when you know that traveling back home may be a long shot at best. Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey tries to go for something wildly different as it attempts to tell a meaningful story in an unexpected genre, and the results are mixed.

The story is quite normal when you consider the direction that sci-fi has taken in the past few decades. You play the role of an astronaut oddly named Crew 167. With his only companion being the ship's AI system, Crew sets forth on an important mission to save his home planet of Source. With the world on the brink of collapse due to intense environmental destruction and overpopulation, several astronauts similar to Crew have been sent to discover if potential planets in the solar system are suitable for life; Crew has been assigned to check out the planet of Hope 9. The weight of the responsibility and his loneliness have caused Crew to hallucinate, but he must keep things together long enough to see his mission through.

The presence of a more human-like AI system stops the story from being comparable to the movie "Moon," but it starts off with some intrigue since you have no idea why Crew is the only person undertaking a mission in a rather large ship. The slow mental breakdown of Crew and the AI is fascinating to watch, at least to the point where you want to see how far it goes. The story delves a bit into depression and self-blame at the state of Source and Crew wondering whether taking this job was a good idea. While the story starts off as a mystery, you'll be able to guess the result by the end due to clues dropped along the way, and that lessens the impact of the ending.

Based on the plot, you'd think that you were playing a walking simulator or a standard point-and-click adventure game. Instead, Crew 167 has the narrative revolve around the classic puzzle game of Sokoban. Set up as manifestations of your increasingly fractured mind, you enter each room with the goal of moving the block in the room toward destination points. Since the blocks have no friction, they'll keep moving in the direction they were kicked until they either hit a wall or another block. If you find yourself in a predicament where you can't move a block anymore or get stuck on a puzzle, you can reset the room to try again, but it would've been ideal to be able to reset individual steps. Each room has no time or reset limit, so you can retry however many times you need to solve the puzzle and reach the next room to either solve another puzzle or progress to the next story beat.

The blocks start off simply enough, but the game wastes little time in introducing more block variations. Some blocks can only be moved a limited number of times before they become immobile, and blocks only count if they reach their destination in an immobile state. Some blocks start up a timer that causes them to disappear when the timer reaches zero. To name a few, you have blocks of different colors, blocks that stick to others when they pass by, and blocks that are linked but move in opposite directions. There are roughly 75 levels in the campaign.

As expected, the introduction of new puzzle mechanics is responsible for the increased difficulty, especially once the game starts to mix different puzzle mechanics. There's even a point where the game asks you to solve a puzzle from a first-person perspective, which is both an awesome experience and harrowing one, since your view of the puzzle is more limited. Thankfully, the game throws you a bone in that the challenge at the end of a stage only asks you to solve two of the given puzzles instead of all of them, so your progress isn't hampered. Also, the game does a very good job at accessibility by lowering the glitch effect so players aren't disoriented, compensating for colorblindness, and slowing down the timer on some of the blocks.

The one disappointing part of the gameplay comes from the inability to change the camera angles. The not-quite-top-down viewpoint makes for a nice-looking game, but it also hides certain objective spots and obscures some of the pathways. Encounter a few of them, and you'll realize why these games typically come with a purely top-down view, since it's easier for the player to quickly read the screen. Even the ability to rotate the viewpoint would've helped, but as it stands, you'll reset some puzzles a few times because you couldn't see a target square behind a rock or computer terminal.

The presentation varies wildly. The music provides a good amount of ambient noise but doesn't sway the mood. You're aware of its presence, but it isn't stirring enough to be more than incidental background music. The voice work for the AI is very good, while Crew is more monotonous but not to the point of conveying boredom.

The graphics are where the game falters in hilarious ways. Kicking blocks, for example, is done rather lazily, while seeing Crew drink coffee by holding the cup far away from his face shows that this sort of thing didn't receive much attention. The environments are somewhat drab, but a few of them sport some nice particle effects, and the frame rate is very solid. One annoying thing is the lack of graphical options, so while you can change the resolution and it doesn't take very powerful hardware to run this game at 4K 60 fps, you will loathe the lack of V-Sync since screen-tearing occurs during every cut scene.

Your view of Crew 167: The Grand Block Odyssey is going to depend on what you value from the game. If you're in it for the story, then it starts off strong but ends up being predictable. As for the presentation, some parts look good once you know the context, and other scenes look rather low-rent. If you're in it for the puzzles, then you'll find a nice balance between ingenious and frustrating thanks to the constant mechanical variety on tap. It may not be a perfect game, but those looking for a brainteaser will be satisfied with what they find in Crew 167.

Score: 7.0/10

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