A cold winter morning, in the time before the light
Eye of Judgment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: SCE Studios Japan
Platform: PlayStation 3
A few days ago I had an experience of such intense geekiness that I felt like I was back in high school, in a garage somewhere, listening to a Led Zeppelin tape and playing Dungeon and Dragons. What caused this intense and oddly freeing embrace of the best parts of being a geek? I sat down with a good friend, set up Eye of Judgment, and played for hours upon hours. The cheap pot may have been traded in for a nice bourbon, but the overall feeling was the same.
Eye of Judgment is a game that doesn't just require you to be a geek, it demands that you give yourself over to the sheer insanity of the experience. You need a PlayStation 3, a nice television, the PlayStation Eye, a bunch of cards, a table near the PS3 so you can hook up the camera and lay down the mat, and, in an optimal situation, a friend sitting across from you.
When you're holding your deck of cards, staring into the eyes of your opponent before laying down that Biolith God that will lay waste to his entire force, you'll know that not only are you playing something that embraces many clichés of games you've played before while doing something completely new, you may have just reconfigured your entire room to do it.
What the players see on the left, what the television displays on the right
I lay my card down on the mat. The camera scans it, and on the television runes explode from the card's face before the deity emerges and destroys two of the four creatures my friend has laid down. He removes the "dead" cards from the mat, places them in his graveyard where the vanquished rot, and takes a sip of his drink. Only then do I realize I just blew all my mana, and he's been banking his for an equally impressive attack. He lays his card down, and our eyes turn to the screen to see what carnage his attacks will cause. Heavy metal music is playing is the background.
This is awesome. This is Eye of Judgment.
My Judgment. Let me show you it
Eye of Judgment is a little bit Magic: The Gathering and a little bit of the chess game from Star Wars. The new webcam from Sony looks down on the game mat, which features a 3×3 grid of squares. You lay down cards on the squares, summoning creatures to allow you possession of each slot. When you own five spots, you win. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
While you lay down cards on the mat, the actual play area may not look like much, but on your television you'll see a creature on top of each card, you'll see information on the hit points that each creature has left, as well as their attack strength and which direction they're facing. Each time you turn a creature, attack, or summon a new monster you use mana. You gain two mana points each round, and there are cards that allow you to gain more mana points by discarding creatures in your hand. Management of yourmana points is a major piece of strategy: do you summon a bunch of weak creatures early in the game or save your points to lay down the serious ordnance?
There is a spell card that costs no mana to cast and simply spins a character around. Since creatures can only attack in certain directions and spinning this particular creature cost six mana for every 90-degree turn, I effectively wiped out my opponent's mana pool in one swipe. The strategy is deep; you'll be learning new tricks and getting ideas for how to play your cards for a long time.
Give your living room to Eye of Judgment
Learning how to play and what the numbers and information on the cards mean takes a little bit of a time investment, although the printed manual and video-based tutorials make the process easier. Just a warning, the video tutorials aren't interactive, and they're incredibly boring. They actually explain to you that when someone brings cards over, they are the "owner" of those cards. I'm surprised they didn't explain that the cards were made of "paper" which is made from "pulped trees."
The game itself is not overly complicated. You can explain things and play a quick game in about an hour, and after that, players catch on rather quickly to the subtleties of strategy. Eye of Judgment could have been a complicated mess, but I'm happy to report the rules make sense and are easy to comprehend while not limiting play. Each battle is a series of questions. Doyou use mana now or later? Each square matches with an element, so ifyou play a water-based card on a water square you get a bump. Do you play a card now or wait for a better elemental slot to become available?
These are questions that will haunt you at night as you listen to Dragonforce and plan your next deck.
I've got a BA in mana management
How well the card game plays is a worthless thing to try to judge if the hardware doesn't work; if the camera has issues with the cards, then the whole set up is a waste. It can take a minute or two to calibrate the camera and to make sure the mat is lined up correctly, but the tools built into the game do a great job of making this painless. You'll also want to make sure the room you play in has plenty of light. After these two things are done, the camera does a fantastic job of seeing the cards and reacting quickly to your play.
This is made even more impressive by the fact that cards in play aren't the only things the camera has to keep track of. To attack or end your turn, you have to show the camera "action" cards to tell the game what you'd like to do, and this process is quick and easy. Sometimes the camera does lose track of the card, but when this happens you get a clear warning, and a slight adjustment is usually all that is necessary to make things right again.
We did bump into troubles once or twice with cards that the camera refused to recognize, but this was a very rare occurrence. Overall, the PlayStation Eye camera was more than up to the task of keeping play quick and fun.
My one complaint—and this will only become an issue in future games—is that even with good lighting the actual image the PlayStation Eye picks up is pretty muddy and indistinct. This won’t bother you in Eye of Judgment, where the screen is covered with overlays and you will only see your hand on the screen when you lay cards, but it doesn’t bode well for later games that will feature more video interaction. The picture is better than the last-generation Eye Toy, but the jump isn’t as large as I had been hoping for.
The camera stand breaks down quickly and easily for storage, and set up only takes a minute or so. You may want to flatten the mat when you first unpack it, as the little ridges from being packed are slightly annoying while laying down cards.