What's it like to watch the place you've called home slowly erode, through years of neglect and petty vandalism? Is there anything that can be done when the place you've called home has been abandoned, left to the bottom rungs of society? For Ash, his journey is about more than what he can create, it's about what he can help restore. This is the premise behind Concrete Genie, the next first-party effort from PlayStation and internal studio Pixelopus.
Concrete Genie was first revealed back at the 2017 Paris Games Week event. It was initially set to release within a year, but that date was pushed back with developer Pixelopus aiming to add some additional polish. As the gaming world settles into the second half of 2019, Concrete Genie is just about ready to release. Shacknews recently had an opportunity to go hands-on.
Prior to this hands-on, there wasn't too much known about lead character Ash, other than his affinity for doodling. This latest preview build offered a greater backstory. Ash lives in a seaside town called Denska, once a tourist's haven for its gorgeous ocean views. In a nice touch, Ash recollects Denska's old days through hand-drawn flashbacks, a stark contrast to the rest of the game's art style. Denska has since been consumed by darkness, polluted and abandoned, with vandals and bullies stepping in to take over.
Ash encounters the bullies frequently and the story gets started when they tear the pages out of his art book and shove him into a cable car. The cable car takes Ash to an abandoned lighthouse, thought to be haunted. It's here that he finds more of the purple tendrils of darkness that are also consuming Denska. But he also finds a magical brush that brings drawings to life. Players are given a menu with nine different patterns to select from, which can be mixed and matched to create a vibrant canvas. Your painting options will increase as Ash recovers more of the pages that the bullies ripped out, which are scattered throughout Denska. As Ash paints through the lighthouse, he sees that the darkness is slowly washed away and life gradually returns, restoring the lighthouse and offering a path to bring light back to his old home.
You don't need to be a particularly good artist to create genies, as evidenced by my own chicken scratch drawings. You just need to know that the genies are your path to helping restore various sectors of the town. Painting underneath inactive light bulbs will attract your genie, who will turn them on and dispel the nearby darkness. Your genie will occasionally request a specific pattern choice or will stop because it wants Ash to play around with something in the world. Interacting with your genie and making it happy will result in a pickup of Super Paint. Super Paint gets through tougher darkness buildups that normal paint cannot.
There are some heavy puzzle elements involved when it comes to working with the genies. Ash will occasionally encounter a more impenetrable area, requiring specific genie abilities. Certain genies can wield the power of certain elements, like fire, wind, and electricity. Using these specific genies can help clear obstacles. Of course, the biggest puzzle element is making sure you can get through all of this without attracting the attention of certain ne'er-do-wells. The bullies will frequently roam around the world and will harrass Ash or try to steal his brush if they're too close. Players can try and attract their attention by calling out to them from remote corners. Keeping the bullies occupied will prove to be essential, especially if they frequently patrol an area that needs to be illuminated.
As the game's themes might imply, Concrete Genie is a gorgeous piece of work. While the genies themselves utilize traditional animation styles, Ash and the port town of Denska utilize Claymation techniques to create a different-looking 3D model that stands out when juxtaposed with the genies. If this is all that Concrete Genie has to offer, it stands to be an incredible effort.
However, the preview ended with something noticeably different. Remember that story trailer that debuted during March's State of Play presentation? It ended with Ash facing down what looked like a feral genie. These dark genies are very much a part of this game, as I later previewed a later part of the game. This is where the game takes a decidedly different turn, as the idea becomes to pursue the dark genies on skates. The goal is to hit the dark genie with paint, while avoiding its attacks. The dark genie will occasionally hide, so the idea is to find it and hit it with enough paint to dispel its inner darkness. It's a very different kind of game than what's established early on and it'll be interesting to see how Pixelopus handles this transition.
This is just a taste of what Concrete Genie has to offer and it's almost here. Look for Concrete Genie to release on PlayStation 4 on October 8 with a budget price of $29.99.