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Vessel (PC) artwork

Vessel (PC) review

"It's refreshing to see a relationship between a protagonist and his opponents that isn't martial in nature."

Vessel (PC) image

Vessel is a terrific puzzle-platformer that I seldom felt the urge to play. I'd come home from work, crack open a cold one and view my Steam library. There, I'd find the game under my "Current Projects" category, begging to be launched. Instead, I'd glide my cursor over some soul-rotting title and let the bad times roll. Vessel sat neglected in my library until I finally forced myself to complete it.

What initially bugged me about Vessel was the enormity of its puzzles. Now and then, I'd come across a real titan of a challenge, complete with numerous hallways, ladders, levers, buttons and various other contraptions. Each collection of stimuli was enough to scare me off, even if solving such clever constructs was entertaining. Admittedly, watching my intricate plans succeed in the face of apparent adversity was fulfilling. I'd even say that each conquered riddle bolstered my ego enough to get me through further adventures.

Vessel (PC) image

Solving these puzzles isn't a matter of throwing a switch here and pushing a block there, either. Instead of merely fiddling with gadgets, you must make use of a collection of automatons called "fluros." These mechanisms start out as portable brain-like devices, but transform into aqueous robots when immersed in a liquid.

Each fluro type has its own routines. For instance, if you dunk a standard model in a fluid, it'll mosey on over to the nearest unpressed button and hop onto it. Drench a "drinker" fluro in blue fruit pulp and it'll sprint to the nearest puddle of juice and absorb it. Although these machines tend to be helpful, they can be dangerous under certain circumstances. Such is the case with "chasers", which gravitate towards you. They pose a potential threat when submerged in molten lava.

Through manipulation and careful placement, you can coax the fluros into tending to otherwise out of reach bits of puzzles on your behalf. For example, you might spy a lever in an inaccessible chamber with a narrow, vertical shaft connected to it. Odds are you won't be able to squeeze down the duct yourself, but a fluro and a fair helping of water--sprayed from your handy backpack and attached hose--should be small enough to fit. From there, your next order of business is to lure the worker in the direction of the lever. Doing so could be as easy as activating a bulb to attract a light fluro, or as tricky drawing a chaser towards you when there's limited room to do so. Hey, they don't call sections like this "puzzles" for nothing...

Vessel (PC) image

After venturing about halfway through Vessel's factory stage, my reluctance to play it lifted. The game's ability to juggle a multitude of genre devices had warmed me to its charms. For example, there's an orchard level that revolves around watering trees by activating pumps. Once watered, the trees produce drinker fluros that I had to shake loose. I then lured them to a specific area and crushed them to collect their juices into a container connected to a locked gate. Getting through all of these steps also required some platforming and clock racing. I needed to negotiate a handful of ledges standing at a variety of heights, whilst also making sure to destroy the drinkers before they consumed more juice than they can handle. Had that occurred, they would have exploded and their fluids would have disappeared before I could collect them.

There's also a hefty number of puzzles that require you to gather steam, which you create by inveigling a fiery fluro into colliding with a non-burning counterpart. Call me a child, but I get a kick out of watching the fluros evaporate. I think my favorite of these situations involved beguiling a lava chaser into slamming into a sedentary, glowing ally. Their "accident" created a luminescent cloud that frightened a darkness fluro into throwing a switch.

I have to say that I'm impressed with how well Vessel cooperates with the player. I didn't have much trouble influencing my minions, and they rarely had pathfinding issues. Sadly, though, not every fluro was brilliant. There were a couple of them who disintegrated because they tried to barrel through me, not to mention some who inexplicably burst.

Experimentation also plays a huge role in Vessel, as it should. You often have to tinker with the environment to determine a puzzle's order of operations. In a way, it's a bit like the scientific method. You make observations, form hypotheses, develop predictions and gather data by testing those hypotheses. Failure rears its head more often than not, but the game typically isn't so obtuse as to constantly leave you clueless. Your roadblocks become apparent once you put your plans to the test, and you'll discover that each impediment is nothing a little brain teasing can't lick.

Vessel (PC) image

If there's one regret I have after finishing Vessel, it's that I didn't take its narrative seriously enough at first. I originally saw it as an adequate storyline that was just there to fill a void. It's not deep by any means, but it is at least meaningful. The tale takes place in a fictional steampunk realm where the fluros' inventor has lost control of his creations. At first, he believes they will be a nuisance or possibly a threat to humanity, but revises his view of them after some startling discoveries...

The robots begin cooperating and transforming. They evolve from the standard shape he had given them into more complex bots that adapt to their environment. Others even reshape their home regions to suit their needs, such as the fluros dwelling in the mines. It's refreshing to see a relationship between a protagonist and his opponents that isn't martial in nature. The inventor clearly loves his creations, and perhaps even idolizes them in the end.

Although a sequel could ruin Vessel's outstanding conclusion, I find myself wanting to return to its world. Gamers only get to explore a smattering of the game's universe, and there appears to be a whole civilization and society in the background, just waiting to be explored. Perhaps one day developer Strange Loop will return to this steam-ridden realm, fluros and all. For now, there's a fantastic puzzle-platformer composed of clever challenges that serves as our window into that microcosm, and that's good enough...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 19, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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