Review: Wake

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I hate seeing a good concept go to waste. There’s no end of good concepts for games, and it’s not like they’ll ever go bad or get used up, but seeing someone attempt an uncommon one and fail really stings. Having to escape a sinking ship has plenty of gameplay potential but I honestly can’t think of a single game that’s done it well. Wake tries, it really does, but gets dragged down to the depths by some extremely questionable map design and controls.

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You start out in the soggy workboots of an engineer on a cruise ship that’s discovered an incompatibility with buoyancy. Starting in the very depths of the hull, you must find your way topside before the ship fills with water. Along the way you’ll find keys to open doors, fire axes to bash down less sturdy doors, flashlights and flares, and bits of meteor that apparently started this whole mess. Another survivor pesters you over the radio, but I have no idea what his deal is and he doesn’t really add anything to the game that I’m aware of.

It’s a good concept to be sure, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The rooms of the ship are huge and sprawling, with extremely contrived platforming challenges to overcome like floating platforms and crate mazes. There are tons of dead-ends, which wouldn’t be so bad if the map were clearer or if they didn’t come at the end of an arduous hallway spanning half the ship. You’re also bound to reach jumps you can’t make, even with the touchy climbing controls, which leaves you waiting for the water level to rise so you can swim up through the passage. The water rises at a glacial pace, though, so I actually resorted to killing myself which catches the water level up to you instantly.

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Wake really fails the first measure of a good platformer, having reliable control over your character. You sprint at inconsistent speeds, you sometimes have air control and sometimes don’t, and some jumps can be rendered impossible by the angles the ship lists at. Add some over-processed, blurry pixel graphics and a mysterious story that’s never resolved (or is resolved at higher difficulties, which you won’t play) and you have a real mess on your hands. I love the idea of escaping a sinking ship via skillful platforming, but I guess I’ll have to keep waiting for someone to do it well.

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