Now Playing: E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy

Those costumes are ridiculous!(ly awesome)

Remember this?

I’m not here to talk about Zero Wing as an ancient and long-dead internet meme (although that original chip tune beat was pretty catchy). I’m asking if you have any memory of playing a game that was unintentionally, unselfconsciously hilarious, or hilariously broken. After all, A Winner Is You, but only if you have enough buckets for all the NPCs, otherwise you’ll probably fall through the bottom of the world and emerge upon some mythical plane where games work the way they’re damned well supposed to.

In some ways the singular comedic perfection that is “All your base are belong to us” sums up perfectly the appeal of E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy, which can sometimes itself feel like an homage to a time when games had more soul and tragic lack of design acumen.

Except E.Y.E. isn’t an homage. It actually is that broken. And I can’t stop playing it.

E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy is a first-person shooter-RPG hybrid modeled heavily after the original Deus Ex. Set in a far-future cyberpunk world, the game drops you into various maps and tasks you with completing objectives for your guild of secret assassins, the Culters, who are one of two factions of a larger sect called E.Y.E. All of these maps are connected by a temple-like hub world, where you’ll be able to upgrade your character in several different ways, including buying weapons, leveling character stats, and unlocking spells (psi powers).

That paragraph I just wrote was made possible only by hours of experimentation, because literally none of the game’s systems are explained to you in any comprehensible manner. See, E.Y.E. was developed by a French studio, Streum On, and these chaps don’t have the firmest grasp of the English language. Now take that tenuous understanding of English and filter it through a Neo-Japanese setting.

Yeah. It’s about as comprehensible as watching an alpha build of Google Translate try to recompose Finnegans Wake as an epic poem in Zulu.

…Wait what

The best part about all this is that the feature list is actually leagues deeper. There’s multiplayer, and a theoretically limitless server capacity (though in practice the game gets pretty shaky with more than about twenty people connected). There’s a deep, tense hacking system that combines strategy with twitch-based gameplay. There are multiple ways to complete each objective, and every map has tons of hidden pathways and easter eggs to discover. There’s a permanent injury system that affects character stats and, perhaps most uniquely, a “sanity” system that tracks your character’s mental stability, afflicting you with a number of different mental maladies the closer you slip to the psychological precipice.

It would be easy to take a cheap shot at E.Y.E. and declare it unplayable behind its hilarious, awful translation. What the hell are “Brouzoufs”? (In-game currency). My legs are broken, how do I fix them? (Press “v” for maintenance, thanks for not explaining that, series of oblique and grainy training videos). Why does all the dialogue read like cut lines from a gen-X sitcom or action movie? (I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself).

A bit of cut dialogue from the movie “Hackers”

To dock the game for this, though, would be missing out on a great depth of unintentional hilarity. E.Y.E. is solely responsible for about half of the in-jokes between my fiance and I. When you read the description for the “flashlight” button (“Switches on your flashlight attached to your powerful, magnificent and glorious armor”) you can almost hear Cats laughing in the background. And there’s one line in the third mission, which I’ll let you discover for yourself, that I’ve actually considered putting on a t-shirt, just for laughs. How this game hasn’t become responsible for at least a couple of stupid memes is beyond me.

Admittedly the game has deeper problems that can cause frustration no matter what light you shine on them. It’s incredibly complex, in that the feature list is huge, and goes against the accepted rules of “good design” on many occasions, but none of these systems or design decisions actually seem to fit together comprehensibly. You can use hotkeys for all of your skills, for example, but E.Y.E. doesn’t tell you that – it only shows you a clunky skill wheel that has a propensity for erasing your settings at random. There is no auto-reload for your weapons – you have to reload manually each time. And if you reload before the clip is empty, you lose all the bullets in that clip. There’s a huge number of upgrade options for your character, but they’re never collected in any centralized screen, or even given a universal interface – each seems like a separate game unto itself. These things are fine, but the game never tells you any of this. It’s all a matter of stumbling, fumbling experimentation.

Though let’s be clear – none of these things should stop you from playing, dissecting and loving every weird, wonderful second of E.Y.E. At its best it’s beautiful and alien, a far-future and barely recognizable world with art direction and music as unique as its unconventional mechanics. At times it reminded me of first experiencing the film “Ghost in the Shell” at the tender age of twelve: I had no fucking clue what was going on from moment to moment, but I was absolutely enthralled. This game is a singular experience, and it deserves a much wider audience than it has.

As we move forward and discover the rules for “good” and “accepted” game design, we move away from the sort of swaggering “shit-to-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” methodology of game-making that produced things like E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy. This is mostly a good thing, as bugs, wonky animation and terrible dialogue generally destroy the player’s sense of immersion. But along with them come homogenization and risk-aversion, things that are killing the AAA gaming industry. E.Y.E. is an antidote to that sterility, as well as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

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