Every now and then I play a game that just feels... different. It's hard to explain, but for better or worse, Venetica is one of those games - a quirky title that feels a little out of place. This is far from a knock on the game; if anything, it is a fairly solid action rpg affair. However - like it's euro-rpg cousin Divinity II, there's just something strange that I can't quite describe about the game.
Venetica tells the tale of Scarlett, who unfortunately happens to be the daughter of Death. Spoilers be damned, you find this out in the first 15 minutes. Anyways - Scarlett is set off on a mildly epic quest to overthrow some evildoers in various exotic locations such as Venice, Africa and.... Venice. The euro-renaissance setting of Venetica is a relatively fresh one, being 2 parts fantasy and 1 part steampunk. This mix is certainly nothing new to gamers, but is a preferrable approach to a generic fantasy one.
Plot-wise, the game offers plenty of interesting characters, but gives them very little to actually do. Many of the best characters are restricted to one or two missions, leaving the rest of the narrative to rest solely on the shoulders of Scarlett - who is a servicable, if a little stereotypical, upbeat heroine. The game is not a long-winded affair, offering approx 20-30 hours of content including a secondary playthrough for achievements sake, so the paper-thin plot rarely outstays its welcome.
As an Action-RPG, one would expect the game design to be a nutshell filled with a crunchy hack/slash/loot/stat centre, and that would be mostly correct. Controlling Scarlett is a relatively simple and smooth affair, and the combat is fairly intuitive. Before playing the game, I had heard about the difficulty of facing multiple enemies at a time, which I can thankfully say was unfounded; this is nothing any competant gamer couldn't handle. The skill system is surprisingly in-depth, although like most modern RPGs, half the skills are never actually used simply due to the gamer's individual play style. Game progression certainly has its issues, although I will discuss that more towards the end of the review....
From a graphical standpoint, the game has a pleasant art style that is vaguely reminiscent of the Fable titles - meaning exagerrated facial features to evoke character traits, as opposed to striving for photo-realism. This is accompanied by decent texturing and particle effects; all held together by a consistent framerate. Enemy designs tend to range from generic evil soldier A to giant enemy crab B, so don't expect too many exciting things to hack/slash and loot. Sound design can either make or break a title like this, and Venetica passes with flying colours. At no point was I tempted to lower to background music level, and the effects, especially in combat, are more than servicable. If I had to dock any points for sound design, then I'd point out that the voice acting is a little mediocre. However, seeing as though Venetica was developed by a small european developer, comparing the VA to titles like Mass Effect or Dragon Age is redundant and ultimately pointless.
Now - if up to this point, you're thinking "Hey, this sounds like a decent action RPG! By golly, I might just pay money to play this!".... then hold your fucking horses. Whilst that statement may be true - there is something ANYBODY wanting to play this game has to know.
------ Venetica is the buggiest, glitchiest title I have ever played on a home console.
A lot of games over the years have been labelled as extremely glitchy - Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Fable 2, Saints Row, etc - but I have played all of those games extensively, and have experienced many of their 'glitches'. None of them compare whatsoever to the traumatic experience of playing Venetica.
When doing my traditional achievement-related 'research' on Venetica, I stumbled upon the 360achievements.org thread regarding the glitchy nature of this game. It talked about there being certain 'safe zones' for saving your game, out of fear for game-breaking glitches. Being confident in my gaming abilities, I trusted my intuition and careful nature, and decided to just play the game and roll with the punches. This mistake cost me 8 hours of catch up gaming, when Venetica decided to completely disable a NPC that was meant to give me the next quest in the main storyline.
The fact that you cannot ever save your game in an area with important NPCs, for fear that they may glitch on you, is an unforgivable design flaw - not just a glitch.
In my time with the game, once I had learnt of this, I decided to log onto Xbox Live and download the latest patch for the game (I had started the game and played up to that point offline). To my utter dismay, there had NEVER been any updates or patches released for Venetica. The fact that these GAME-BREAKING design flaws were very well known and notorious, yet had never been addressed by the Developer or Publisher, is an oversight that almost negates all the positive elements previously raised in this review.
To get to the point - there is no way in hell I would recommend Venetica to anybody but the most ardent gamer; simply because of these flaws.
Lastly - Achievements.
Assuming no glitches hit your save game, the list is fairly easy, simple and painless to obtain. There are thankfully no major collectable achievements, and only a handful of missables that any self-respecting achievement whore would scout out well in advance. As briefly noted before, a second playthrough is required due to evil/good tendencies, but breezes past once you know how to quickly get through the main quest line.
So overall - as a game, Venetica offers more than enough to those wanting a solid action rpg in the vein of Fable - but as a complete package, the unpatched glitches and game-breaking design flaws means that any purchase should be very carefully considered.