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Venetica (Xbox 360) artwork

Venetica (Xbox 360) review

"One of the funniest games I've played in ages! Even if that wasn't the intent..."

If the MST3K guys decided to spoof hilariously bad video games instead of movies fitting the same description, they would love Venetica for making their jobs easier. Buried within the title's core is a decent western RPG, but the numerous blunders that gather around it are difficult to ignore.

Before playing Venetica, the bulk of my experience with western RPGs came from playing Bethesda and BioWare projects. Their games famously suffer from all sorts of minor glitches, some of which will never be patched for console owners, but they also boast massive worlds that are loaded with activities. The glitches rarely amount to more than a minor annoyance because the end product makes up for them, refusing to release players until they've lost a couple of hundred hours of precious time.

Venetica doesn't accomplish anything that grand. It offers the standard stuff, such as an ambitious main quest and lesser side jobs you can complete for the various townsfolk, but any illusion of vastness is just that - an illusion. The game's bulk plays out within a fictional take on the city of Venice. Nearly any NPC you talk to, however, will offer nothing but one of several versions of "Hello." The characters are often mere placeholders, and their main purpose is to paint the portrait of a vibrant, busy location. They're annoying, too, since houses are comprised of narrow corridors and stairways that you can't easily traverse with so many uninteresting people in your way. Oh, and did I mention they also walk painfully slowly?

The plot that unfolds within the streets of Venice is an intriguing one, and yet somehow the execution renders it dull and trite. You control Scarlett, a random woman who lives in a random village located quite some distance from Venice. She has a boyfriend named Benedict, and all is well within her world… at least until assassins come and start killing people and burning down houses. Then things aren't so good. Scarlett proves surprisingly adept with an improvised weapon and manages to drive the assassins away, but victory comes at a price: Benedict is killed during the scuffle. That's when Scarlett warps to a mystical world where a phantom explains that great forces are planning evil things and, for whatever reason, she is the one potential impediment to their plans.

Faced with that knowledge, Scarlett travels to Venice and works her way through the city's three major districts, heads to Africa to dispatch a villain, and finally returns to the city so she can infiltrate the palace and eliminate the final evildoers. Along the way, she runs errands for random strangers, joins one of three guilds and fights all manner of rogues and monsters.

It's fairly standard stuff, and pieced together reasonably well. Once you join a guild, an NPC teaches you a spell that lets you complete a side quest. Your reward is a key to the Inner City. There, the gates to the Arsenal district are blocked by a villain's lackeys, so you kill him in order to remove that contingent. Even your side trip to Africa is pertinent because another adversary, an African princess, has cursed you with poison and the only remedy requires you to defeat her.

That's what gives Venetica some value: it's not comically bad from start to finish, nor is it an ordeal to play. It's actually respectable on some levels, and yet it fails at so many little things. A proper list of the lot of them would turn this review into a novel, so let's limit ourselves to a few highlights (lowlights?), shall we?

First up is the plot's linear path, which isn't a flaw by itself but does serve as a harbinger of things to come. It commences as five people talk about a ritual they performed. They discuss how there is only one potential threat to their plan. One of the group, a woman who leads a local band of assassins, decides to find and eliminate that threat. Of course, the threat they're talking about is Scarlett. She eventually fights the entire bunch of assassins, including the woman who leads them, in order to enter Venice. Next you get to see the same group again--minus the one woman--as they decide upon your next adversary. Defeat him and a third villain will announce her intent to finish the job the others started. And, of course, then the final two villains make plans about what to do when you come after them. Call the approach "connect-the-dots" or "paint-by-numbers," if you like. I call it painfully predictable and unimaginative.

Another problem is the game's shifting difficulty. Perhaps the toughest part of it all is located at the very beginning. You're coming to terms with the game's combat system while facing off against assassins who rank among the nimblest foes you'll ever encounter. They block a lot of your attacks and roll out of the way before counterattacking. The elite among them also use a devastating power attack. Foes you meet later in the game don't block nearly as often, so you can hit them a few times and then back off to avoid their reprisals. Except for some trips to Venice's underground catacombs, which are populated by giant crabs vulnerable only to attacks from your slowest weapon, the game's latter portions are quite easy in comparison.

Your growing strength as the campaign progresses is partially to blame. Scarlett gains mastery over death and is able to revive once with half her life meter filled if she succumbs to enemies. She continues to gain power from there, until by the end of her adventure, she's capable of coming back six or seven times. This means that death is a bit of a joke, even if she's facing off against the aforementioned crabs. And you might not even need to rely on her revival abilities, particularly once you gain the ability to drain life from your foes whenever you start running low.

Such issues are also joined by overly simplistic combat, which simply requires you to lock onto an enemy, hit it a couple of times, back off while it retaliates, and then repeat the process as needed until it dies. If not for a wonky, disorienting camera, there'd be practically no challenge at all. Elsewhere, you'll notice big differences between the voiced dialogue and any accompanying subtitles. Or you'll enter a new area of the city and Scarlett is facing the wrong way, so that if you're not careful you'll immediately take a step and send her back in the direction from which she came. There are numerous issues along those lines.

In spite of flaws minor and otherwise, though, I can't bring myself to hate Venetica even though it pales in comparison to more complex and refined WRPGs. I cleared it in only around 30 hours or so, which didn't allow its flaws sufficient time to make the journey from mildly annoying to game-ruining. Perhaps only RPG addicts like me will find the fun in such an experience as a whole, but find it I did. Here is a game with a strong female protagonist, facing off against a villain aided by formidable women. That's just the sort of thing people on social media and other game sites are calling for these days. If only Venetica had been better, it might have been recognized for helping the industry take another step in that direction. Instead, it's destined to an existence as a forgotten footnote, relegated forever to discount bargain bins.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 14, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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