The Ball is a first person action-adventure game featuring a full single-player experience built on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 technology. As a swashbuckling archaeologist working on the slopes of a dormant volcano somewhere in Mexico, you get stuck in a cavern. It doesn’t take long before you realize this is more than just a cave. You reveal ancient ruins that have been hidden from outsiders for centuries and discover a mysterious artifact, a gold and metal shelled Ball. As you progress towards solving the mystery of this amazing place you must unlock the secrets of The Ball and learn to control this ancient artifact.
You will also start to encounter not just puzzles and traps, but also various strange creatures – the guardians of this mystery. These creatures also have to be overcome, using only The Ball to defend you. Venturing deeper into the volcano, you reveal some of mankind’s greatest secrets.
What we think
One of the most highly touted mods for UT3, The Ball has just become a full fledged game in it’s own right. After winning multiple honors in the Make Something Unreal competition, Teotl Studios has fleshed out the project into one of the best first person puzzle games I’ve played in a long while.
There are two comparisons that quickly come to mind when playing The Ball:
The Gameplay comparison
Obviously this title is going to spend a lot of time being measured against Portal. They both take first person shooter technology and turn it into a puzzle game. They both have physics based problem solving. They both even use the name of the device as the title of the game. So how does The Ball measure up?
Quite well, actually. Rolling a ball around is made an interesting game mechanic. You’ll find yourself using it to power devices, cover the floor with flaming oils, smash through walls, and crush zombie aliens, among other things. Figuring out how to get your ball through a level can be quite entertaining. While Portal relied on numerous short levels where you needed to carefully think about how to proceed, The Ball decides to have less complex puzzles over much more grand levels with the added danger of numerous enemies.
If there is one place The Ball is perhaps lacking, it’s a nemesis. A large part of what made Portal satisfying was the constant, and often humorous, mocking of GLaDOS. You wanted to finish a level, if only to hear her reaction. The Ball relies on the ominous narration of warnings against returning the ball to the heart of the mountain and glimpses of an alien sorcerer of some sorts. Opposition is great motivation and I think an opportunity was lost here.
The Thematic comparison
The Ball makes it’s homage to the Indiana Jones franchise very obvious from the opening scene of silhouetted excavation to the fedora and bull whip on the ground in the starting area. It maintains that sense of adventure throughout the game, riding mining cars, driving ancient monster-truck-like machinery, finding secret passages, etc.
While The Ball really uses it’s story as a pretense for visuals and gameplay it would have been nice to see it come to a better conclusion. When you make your inevitable escape, that’s it. No dramatic turn of events. No cataclysmic conclusion. You just leave. It was more than a little disappointing.
There isn’t a single complaint to be made about the content of The Ball. It’s fun, it’s visually interesting, it has great atmosphere. There are a few complaints to be made about what it doesn’t contain though. There’s no personality; No hero to identify with, or villain to revile. That said a lot of care and creative effort went into this. For the 5-7 hours of gameplay you get out of The Ball, I’d say it’s well worth the $20 you’re likely to pay for it. Add to that the replayability of the Survival modes and you’ve got a solid title.