The Analog Gamer: Passing Judgment
Chocolate and Peanut butter might have sounded insane when first proposed but I think most of us would agree that it worked out alright in practice. Combining the Playstation 3 and a Collectible Card Game however.. well the jury’s still out on that one.
I can still remember sitting at the Sony E3 2006 Press Conference at Sony Studios when Phil Harrison walked onstage and introduced the Eye of Judgment and the upgraded Playstation 3 Eye camera accessory. I was a bit shocked to be honest that Sony wanted to get into the Pokemon game with the market in a decline but the concept of marrying a card game with the PS3 sounded interesting enough.
November of last year I finally got a chance to play Eye of Judgment. After years of CCG gaming I was hardly impressed by the simple mechanics, very limited tactics and dearth of expansion packs at retail for me to explore. I came into my playing looking for a sort of virtual Magic the Gathering – a game that was basically simple to teach but with a good deal of hidden depth for those who choose to master it. Judgment failed to deliver that.
Before I get into the reasons I was disappointed with the gameplay let me first start on the obstacles I perceive to Eye of Judgment ever becoming a popular PS3 pastime. Firstly there is the nature of the game’s interface. The Playstation Eye is an interesting piece of hardware but it suffers from a basic problem if people are expected to use it as an interface for this purpose. It is a corded device.
The cord is not an automatic failure of design considering what the device has to do – namely pass video signals to the PS3 – but it is a barrier for many players who do not have their systems sitting out open on a table somewhere next to their entertainment system. Requiring me to tether my table to my PS3 to set up Eye of Judgment means I’m likely to try it once or twice and never again.
I have a nice entertainment setup. A large HDTV and neatly organized entertainment cabinet that holds all my consoles along with my surround sound system. This keeps the consoles neatly ensconced among the other black boxes and doesn’t clutter my room with ugly, disjointed equipment. I purchased the PS3, like many people, to serve as a gaming system and Blu-Ray player. Thanks to the wireless controllers I don’t need to clutter up the room with cables to enjoy my games – in fact none of my current consoles require this mess which is how I planned my entertainment rigging.
Connecting the video cable out the front of the cabinet and erecting a folding card table was necessary to even get Eye of Judgment set up. This left me in the odd position of sitting in front of my large HDTV with the Playstation Eye hoisted in the special stand provided by the game in front of the top ¼ of my large HDTV set. Not real conducive to seeing the fancy graphics and effects that result when playing the card game on that same table.
Once you connect the Eye and your playing surface I found the system also was hard to perfectly align with the playing mat that comes with the game. The angled camera can match the square grid fairly closely but slight bumps and anyone knocking the table ( as I discovered was quite common when playing the card game) caused some frustration as I had to realign the camera to ensure it read the cards correctly.
Moving onto the gameplay, Eye of Judgment is a very simple game played with a single deck of 30 cards. These cards cover the traditional concepts of Spells and Armies. Players fight over a three-by-three playing surface to try and conquer the board and control the most spaces. Each card also has certain traits that players of CCG’s will be familiar with. Placing a unit on the board is simple provided your Eye is adjusted well. Players can simply lay down an army and the unit will appear in impressive 3D on the screen’s replica board. Aside from placing armies players can also execute special gestures using the “function” cards to tell the PS3 their intent. These actions are generic and included with a starter deck but include things like casting a spell, etc.
Playing Eye of Judgment is simple and players draw a basic hand of cards from the 30 card deck, placing and working to control 5 spaces on the map. Monsters have elemental affinities that are key to some abilities and these change from game to game so watching the screen is very important when choosing which armies to place on the battlefield. Spells are executed using the mana concept – which is a renewable resource gained every round and through the death of creatures and some magic or special abilities.
The strategy of Eye of Judgment is to simply control as many spaces as possible keeping an eye toward elemental affinity – which increases creature strength. Attacking foes is done based on the “facing” of your units and their allowed directions of attack. Units also often have weak spots from which opponents can do bonus damage if they are attacked. Attack animations are impressive at first, watching as units execute their signature attacks or spells execute but the repetitive nature of the animations really made the game less interesting over multiple playthrus.
My disappointment in the gameplay comes from its simplicity. I’m used to interesting games like the World of Warcraft CCG and Magic the Gathering so this almost Yu-Gi-Oh like game system was definitely not my cup of tea. Add to that the fact that the game only includes one starter deck so you’re limited to computer opponents and online play if, like me, you are unable to easily find more expansion packs or starter decks available at retail stores.
Online play requires you to “register” your deck. In order to keep players from cheating the card draw, the game records all the cards in your deck and only allows you to play from those cards. This is actually a nice feature but futile since scans of the cards and the fact that the security features of the Eye of Judgment were overcome within a week of its release. Effectively anyone with the interest can find a copy of any card in the current set online and print it out for registration and custom deck building without actually needing to purchase it.
I had more than one online game where either my opponent was very lucky, had spent a lot of money getting the full set or had simply downloaded the set and registered all the best cards in their deck. I’ve come to learn people are less likely to overtly cheat you if you’re sitting right in front of them and so I now shy away from playing online completely. Besides as with traditional card games there is an extra element of strategy when you can face down an opponent that I’ve yet to find replicated online.
Eye of Judgment is actually a very interesting concept held back by some basic logistical issues. There is an expansion card set on the way so the variety of units and cards will expand a bit but its still somewhat difficult to find the packs anywhere. None of my local Gamestop stores had the cards – though ironically they had plenty of the WoW card game boosters – and the only place I found them in short supply was a local mega-grocery store buried behind the baseball cards. The need to have a table set up to play means you either need a very open entertainment setup or a desire to move your PS3 to play this game and for me that is a big obstacle. The game is simple but maybe a bit too simple for experienced card gamers.