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The Ball (PC) artwork

The Ball (PC) review


"I remember back when all you could really do with mods was a cosmetic altering of the foundations you built upon. Hell, you still couldnít even look up for a good number of years later. The Ball is clearly not of that age; itís less a reworking of old ground, but a brand new world built upon them. It has its own perks, its own flaws but it remains very much its own game."



I remember back when player-built mods for FPS games were called .wads, were exclusive for Doom and existed only to try and prove that your fellow gamers hated you almost as much as iD did. Much as I love that old shooter, it was clear that there was only so much you could build upon the foundations and, to varying degrees of success, everyone chose to try and kill you violently in a similar fashion that the original game did. But them times, they have a-changed; with more sophisticated game engines on the market, and the same open source attitude that allows players to tinker with their games, Epicís Unreal engine has become the staple world-builder for pro and fan alike.

Like a fair few games already out there, The Ball started life as one of these fan-made mods, but aims to be more Portal than Unreal Tournament. The bite-sized intro throws you right into the boots of your unnamed, faceless archaeologist who had the misfortune of falling down a hole during an excavation of a Mexican volcano in the 1940ís. Your colleagues seem pretty indifferent about this, telling you the craneís broken and that theyíre waiting for new parts to arrive so youíre stuck down there until they are, and suggest you explore the area. For want of anything else to do, you take stock of your surroundings, step over the Indiana Jones-like fedora hat and shovels that fell with you, and trudge onwards. You seem to be in a reasonably well lit area of intertwining cave chambers and corridors. Wooden beams stretch across sealed off-entrances and are employed as makeshift bridges across small chasms. In accordance to strict exploration rules, the first time you test such a bridge, it collapses under your weight.

This leads to the discovery of the two notable artefacts that define the game; the hammer is a Aztec version of Half Life 2Ďs gravity gun that allows you to control the second item, the Ball, drawing it to the gun like a magnet, then hurling it away like a hammer with clicks of the mouse. You use this to play out the opening segments like an insane game of billiards, aiming up your shots so the ball will roll across pressure points to open up doors or expand rotting beams to gain access to new areas. This continues on merrily for a spell until you come across a sealed door explicitly warning you of the great danger lurking beyond it. Take a second to reflect on the unfathomable evil lurking for a millennia behind the great stone doors, then shrug and open it anyway. As a faceless video game protagonist, itís the very reason you exist.

From here, the puzzles continue, but youíre also suddenly faced with hordes of undead mummies, fire-breathing bugs and the odd zombie gorilla I like to believe exists as a veiled shot at Super Monkey Ball. That you have only one means of attack and defence gives you a real sense of vulnerability, and trying to recall the ball after turning an undead solider into a gloriously old-school shower of giblets is tense. Itís nerve-racking trying to reload a one-shot weapon while foes shuffle towards you, trying to steamroller over as many as you can before you exhaust your shot and trying and find a pocket of safety while it rolls back to you. As such, itís a shame the ball doesnít feel like the huge boulder it should, and feels more like it's made of paper-m‚chť.

It mows through the undead and, when it needs to, it ploughs through some rotting wooden beams that block your path, but bounces off others in the exact same state without leaving a mark. Yes, itís obvious that these are graphical representations of invisible walls, but itís a shame that a clearer way to guide you along the correct path wasnít implemented. The Ball moves with a speed belaying its supposed mass, bouncing off walls and corners with a physics more in keeping with a beach ball than a solid globe of rock. This culminates in the combat feeling a little silly, as you strafe around like mad, recalling and firing off the ball into collected masses -- the ball starts to feel better suited to the puzzles where its ping-pong-esque nature is s boon rather than a burden.

Then it gets creative. Then it turns the ball into a large magnet that collects landmines and scatters them at the feet of chasing mummies, or fills it full of nails before exploding it like a frag grenade, or has it trail flammable oils you can light then snicker.

When the game focuses on the puzzles, it obtains its sporadic collections of high-points, letting you figure out ways to trigger numerous switches in one shot, having you hunt out hidden pressure pads or asking you to destroy your dank surroundings like a madman until an answer presents itself. Itís not Portal, that much is clear. It doesnít have any of the dark humour or as much as the intelligence, but it makes up its own stand-out moments. Like walking through a spider web, and having your vision obscured by silky stands and a small shower of bugs, or stealing inside a newly-opened cavern and discovering a long dormant piece of Aztec machinery or a long forgotten temple rising majestically out of the swirling dusts.

Inside the volcano, youíll find long dead cities built in the middle of a basin of waterfalls and, in the dusty, abandoned corners, youíll find the reason why everythingís long dead. To get there, youíll need to launch your ball around 90į corner to trample spikes flat, or drop it into geysers to increase the water level so as to float up to higher platforms. The lack of subtext and build up here make exploration the heart of the game; thereís no lengthy introspective into what youíre discovering; itís just there, untouched and mysterious. And then the giant armoured worms emerge from their burrowed holes and the huge zombie monkeys roar.

I remember back when all you could really do with mods was a cosmetic altering of the foundations you built upon. Hell, you still couldnít even look up for a good number of years later. The Ball is clearly not of that age; itís less a reworking of old ground, but a brand new world built upon them. It has its own perks, its own flaws but it remains very much its own game.

Rating: 7/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 06, 2011)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Feedback

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Halon posted February 04, 2011:

Good review, and thanks for writing it! I outlined a review for this game back around late November, never finished it and probably never will. Yours says pretty much what mine would say (though mine would probably be slightly more negative) so thanks for saving me a lot of work!
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Suskie posted February 06, 2011:

That's interesting. I tried leaving feedback for Joe's Hydlide review and it took me here, and I mistakenly left feedback for the wrong review. Is the server change to blame for this?
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honestgamer posted February 06, 2011:

Very probably.
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wolfqueen001 posted February 06, 2011:

Apparently, this review no longer exists.
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EmP posted February 06, 2011:

I try and write these reviews, just to have them deleted before my eyes.

EDIT: I've put back everything that was deleted, the screens, the game infi and the review, but for it to match with this feedback thread and the metalink from other sites, you'll need to swap over the review IDs between this and Joes.
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honestgamer posted February 06, 2011:

I'm sorry about that, EmP, truly. There wasn't much I could do about it, though. The site is monstrously huge and the transfer in this instance went much better than the transfer went the previous time I had to change servers.
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EmP posted February 06, 2011:

It's not the end of the world. I had most of the screens still saved, and I back up reviews religiously so no harm done. These things are going to happen.

Are you able to switch the IDs around? As of rivght now, Gamerankings has a The Ball link leading to Joe's Hydlide one. If not, we'll have to get hold of them and request an alteration.

Is anyone able to get hold of Fasty and let him know we didn't nuke his Sims review out of spite?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 06, 2011:

I was wondering why I was getting so many hits...
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wolfqueen001 posted February 06, 2011:

Perhaps this thread should be nuked so that the proper feedback channels will be righted again.
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EmP posted February 07, 2011:

No need. The ID seems fixed -- Thanks, Jason.

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