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Concrete Genie Review (PS4): Paint Denska Back To Life

All the imperfections and sorrows of the world... They fill human hearts with Darkness and seem to become an integral part of our selves. If only we could take a magic brush and cleanse it once and for all, make the world around us a better place to live. Well, Concrete Genie allows you to do just that. The game takes you on an emotional journey across abondoned town of Denska and your goal is to paint it back to life.

Cocrete Genie cover art

Concrete Genie is a 3D action game, developed by Pixelopus and released exclusively for Playstation 4 on October 8, 2019. The title was released at a budget price and became the second game in the portfolio of this young studio. Concrete Genie is not ground breaking and by no means flawless. It did not take the world by storm and it did not mean to, but having a game centered around drawing just feels so refreshing and suitable as we are heading towards the finish line of the current console generation. It is always satisfying to see game developers taking risks and messing around various technics to achieve their vision of a good product.

Playing Concrete Genie is, first and foremost, a visual treat, an experience that plays with your senses and emotions. It is not a “walking simulator” and less experienced gamers may be off put by the variety of gameplay mechanics and sudden shift in the game’s tone towards the second half of the walkthrough. However, for the open minded and curious, there is a lot of enjoyment to be found here.

Concrete Genie is available now on PSN at $39.95.

Story

The story of the game follows a young artistic protagonist Ash in a fictional port town of Denska, where he used to spend many a lovely day back in his childhood. As a result of oil spill disaster and consequent collapse of the fishing industry, the town was abandoned by its dwellers. Now it’s overrun by the gang of juvenile misfits and what’s worse, the Darkness threatens to devour the lonely skeletons of neglected buildings.

Despite his parents prohibit him to visit Denska, Ash keeps coming here because it “still smells like home” to him. After the local bullies steal his sketchbook, tear it apart and scatter the pages, our hero is forced into a tram that takes him to a local landmark – a beautiful old lighthouse. This is where the journey begins.  Ash learns the true power of his imagination and creativity, as he witnesses his favorite drawing come to life. As you continue to explore the world, you will learn about the history of the town as well some hearbreaking stories of its citizens. You will discover what is hiding behind the Darkness and how to fight it.

On emotional level, the story of Concrete Genie is impactful, touching and endlessly optimistic. Whether It makes you laugh, cry, smile or occasionally cringe – it will not leave you indifferent. The story is well paced, well delivered and complete – no DLC or sequel required, something we got to to appreciate in this day and age.

Concrete Genie | Release Date Reveal Trailer | PS4

Paint Denska back to life. The PS4 exclusive Concrete Genie is coming October 9 🎨

Posted by PlayStation Australia on Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gameplay

Your mission is to paint the abandoned town back to life, using your magic paint brush. But you won’t succeed on your own. Some of the game’s puzzles will require the assistance of genies – the creatures you bring to life by drawing them in designated spots. Different genies have different abilities and if you want their help, you better be ready to make them happy by playing with them, tickling them with your brush or drawing their fussy requests.

Controls

By default, the drawing mechanics utilize the motion sensors in Dualshock 4 controller. It definitely takes time to get used, and after 1,5 or 2 hours of forcing myself to master the gimmicky controls, it never became the second nature. The output was not quite satisfactory  and imprecise, motion detection forced me to change my position every few minutes as many of the movements were not registered. Luckily, the developers included an option to control your brush movements with a right thumb stick and I switched to this control setup once I finally gave up on mastering the motion controls. While your experience may be different, I preferred this method and could enjoy the game more.

Motion controls may take time to get used to.

Motion controls may take time to get used to.

Mechanics

You will be running over the rooftops, indulge in rudimentary stealth to hide from the bullies, collecting your lost sketchbook sheets, meanwhile solving environmental puzzles to unlock the new areas and ultimately rid the town of all consuming Darkness. Collecting lost pages provides you with the new brushes as well as the new details and body parts for your genies. It is worth mentioning that while the genies are yours to be drawn, you cannot go completely wild in your imagination and create something otherworldly or overly bizarre. They will mostly follow similar body shape, have 2 legs, 2 arms, eyes and mouth that are not customizable. In my opinion, the game could benefit from some more possibilities for creative freedom.

Concrete Genie brings the element of open world into gameplay:  the areas will have diversions and multiple paths which you will need to navigate by utilizing very Uncharted-like platforming mechanics. The big question that I found occasionally asking myself was who exactly the target audience of this game are. Being a rather short, hard-to-fail experience with no combat or real challenge for the majority of the gameplay, it will hardly appeal to hardcore action game enthusiasts. On the other hand, if you are a gaming newbie looking to get into this game as some sort of guided artistic experience, you may find an unwanted level of challenge in tricky platforming, navigating the open-ended areas, controls issues as well as forced combat sections that require a good level familiarity with how 3D action games work to be enjoyable.

However, if you enjoy games of all genres and are open-minded enough to take the game for what it is without setting some major expectations, you may find this a very satisfactory experience, even when the game is shifting the focus and throwing a bunch of new mechanics into play late into the walkthrough. One may argue though, that a more linear streamlined experience, with a higher focus on cinematic and more complicated puzzles to solve, could be a better design choice: make it more accessible and deliver a stronger emotional impact.

One of the many platforming sections of the game.

One of the many platforming sections of the game.

Post-game content

While the main story mode does not provide much replay-ability, the Free Painting mode is a desirable inclusion. Choose your canvas and create another masterpiece using all the amazing brushes that you unlocked or boot your latest save and repaint the town, living no stone unturned. The inclusion of in-game photo mode seems not only reasonable but almost mandatory. For those of you with VR headsets, there are two modes specifically designed for VR and those can potentially add an extra layer to overall enjoyment of the product.

Audio and graphics

While not groundbreaking in terms of visuals, the game impresses at times with some gorgeous environments, carefully crafted models and superb art style. In some early areas, the graphics rely heavily on infamous brownish “next gen” filter, which was so popular among the game developers of the seventh console generation. It gives that greedy, depressingly dark and perhaps more realistic look to the environments. However, the gorgeous vibrant colors of your paintings create a positive contrast to otherwise uninviting desolate streets of Denska.

The developers took an interesting art direction, especially in terms of facial animations. For those of you who are familiar with Evil Twin: Cyprien’s Chronicles – an obscure 3D platformer/ hidden gem from Dreamcast era- those animations can feel like an homage. They have that somewhat disconnected, cartoonish and hand-drawn feeling to it. Occasional camera control issues and frequent frame rate drops on the base PS4 have negative effect on the presentation, but do not necessary hamper the experience.

Vibrant colors and gorgeous art direction make for a visual treat.

Vibrant colors and gorgeous art direction make for a visual treat.

The music, while not particularly memorable, gets the job done. Pleasant instrumental scores are very subtle, they never get in the way of experience and help to create ambience for such a chicken-soup-for-your-soul game industry creation. The voice acting is decent and believable. The real standout in terms of audio presentation are the environmental sounds. Those are designed to match what you are currently drawing: if you apply a rain brush – you will hear the sound of raindrops, birds are chirping and trees sound like they are growing in real time as you decorate the brick walls of a local cannery.

Summary
How much you will enjoy Concrete Genie depends on your expectations. If you want to get most out of it – do not set any. Just go with the flow and let the magic brush paint your way across the game’s 5-7 hours story mode. While some of the game’s mechanics are hit-and-miss, the art style and emotional impact of the storyline make up for it.
Good
  • Gorgeous art direction and vibrant colors
  • Impactful and cozy story
  • Dynamic gameplay with lots going on
Bad
  • The game is quite short
  • The puzzles are way too simple
  • Motion controls can feel unresponsive and imprecise
  • Some of the late game mechanics are hit-and -miss
7
Good

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