This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Babylon's Fall.
So far, this quarter's been dropping out heavy hitters like a trapdoor in a domestic violence shelter, but we find ourselves in an in-betweeny sort of week, so let's look at something that might've fallen through the cracks, or indeed, something that fell out of a crack, and then proceeded to do a lot of crack. I tried out Babylon's Fall, Platinum's new live service hack and slash-a-thon on PS5; or had a crack at it, if you will.
Not that it made it easy; first, it wouldn't even start without a PS Plus subscription, even though I only wanted to play single-player because, you know, humanity. It's like a highway bypass: I understand why it needs to exist, but I'd rather not have one in my house. Got past that, and Babylon's Fall still wouldn't unbutton its top until I also signed into a Square Enix account. What the fuck possible benefit do you imagine I'd extract from signing up for another fucking account, Square Enix, other than one more excuse to never check my email? Christ, this is like trying to get through airport security with an inflatable novelty suitcase nuke!
But eventually, I got through it all, and when I was on the other side of the metal detector, putting my shoes back on and admiring the new tag they'd punched through my ear, I cast a look around and thought to myself, "Ooh! This looks like shit!" As in, it literally resembles fecal matter, decked out mostly in glistening browns, except for a streak of vibrant blue from an accidentally-swallowed whiteboard marker. It looks like a PS3 game, all brown and flatly lit, with characters textured and animated like a papier-mâché diorama about kitchen utensils; it even has a classic case of cheaping out on the cutscenes by just panning over still images with increasingly agonizing slowness. I thought the download size was suspiciously small.
But I figured, "Hey, have some faith, Yahtzee! This is PlatinumGames; they have Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, and that Anarchy Reigns thing they probably hope no one will ever bring up again! There's nothing wrong with eschewing the ridiculous graphical standards of today in favor of a deliberately retro look; they might be a few years too early for the PS3 nostalgia wave, when brown and bloom will come back into fashion, and we must resignedly headbutt the nearest wrought-iron fence spike, but someone's got to be the pioneer." So I gave it a chance, and swiftly determined that Babylon's Fall hasn't so much gotten ahead of time as gotten its head on a subway track.
Once you're through the nine levels of DRM Hell, the game opens with the protagonist getting conscripted into some kind of militia and told that their job is to work their way through all the levels of the Tower of Babylon in order to finally defeat the Blue Meanies and presumably in some way profit. The tutorial section walks us through the first, last, and only gameplay thread of Babylon's Fall: "Go to the next room and murder whatever baddies show up." To achieve this, we have the ability to equip four different weapons at a time: one in the light attack hand, one in the heavy attack hand, and two ghost ones that hover awkwardly behind you like two Comic-Con attendees who've just noticed an attractive woman.
So with four "Attack" buttons and a jump and a dodge, we defeat each serving of generic baddies, and then, in the grand PlatinumGames tradition, get an award for our performance; and in the grand "Yahtzee playing Platinum games" tradition, I invariably got "Stone" every fucking time. But in my defense, PlatinumGames, you've thrown an awful lot at me in one go to get my head around, and also, it's difficult to time my dodges well when your visuals keep making my eyelids reflexively slam shut. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but I always feel personally attacked by this "performance award" bullshit. Who are you to judge me, Babylon's Fall? Maybe I'll give you an award after every combat section! Hmmm... that was another five of the same dudes I've been fighting for the last hour, and the targeting system continues to be as reliable as a roller skate on the roof of a moving Volkswagen Beetle. I hereby award you the bit of shiny foil that was still stuck to my Creme Egg after I thought I'd unwrapped it and put it in my mouth.
Anyway, after a tutorial boss fight against a tortured fallen knight - which kind of cemented the vibe I was getting of "a typical PlatinumGames combat system being pushed through a filter of original PS3 Demon's Souls in all its unrefined, potato-y glory"- the actual game starts, and here, we encounter the central challenge aspect of Babylon's Fall: figuring out where the actual game is. I suppose it must be buried under all these menus somewhere. What with this being unashamedly a live service game, your first port of call after every mission is the hub town area, full of NPC merchants and service providers with icons of unclear meaning over their heads, resembling belt buckles purchased at a renaissance fair, none of whom do anything so mundane as sell you new equipment for in-game money; no, it's all checking how far you are on the daily bonuses track and getting upsold armor packs, so you can theme yourself to your preferred brand of cast-iron cookware.
Also, this is the place where you take all the indistinct prizes you found in the last mission, shake off all the blood and cum, and figure out if you're supposed to swing them, shoot them, or wear them on your balls. Now, since the combat system involves having four distinct weapon slots, and each weapon has different attacks depending on where you equip it, this obviously creates a lot of variance, especially since you basically have to switch everything out for your newest shit after every mission to keep up with the difficulty curve. And that being the case, you'll want to try out your current weapon layout before you go on a mission with it; you’ll want to, but you can't. You can't attack outside missions, so if you've, say, equipped one of those magic staffs where, after every use, your character has to stand there picking sultanas out of their teeth for three seconds before they can dodge the encroaching giant sword the size of a beached whale, then there's no way to know that until you're locked into a mission and fucking stuck with it, as I was in the first boss fight with... Go on, have a guess. "A tortured fallen knight?" Ayyy! Petty Officer Pattern Recognition's on the bridge!
Now, I've known my share of damage sponges, but this motherfucker was a damage three-tier wedding cake with edible floral arrangement; hitting his health bar with a fully-charged hit from my multi-bow was like licking the end of a gigantic stick of rock with the word "cunt" written down the side. But he wasn't the least bit hard; I could easily dodge everything he threw out, so I just hopped around outside his attack range, firing arrows, picking at his health like it was the wall of a prison cell and I had twenty years to kill. Would probably have won after about an hour or so, but I got killed after 45 minutes because the target-lock system mysteriously stopped working, and the auto-targeter thought it more important that my arrows be aimed at the nearest box ottoman instead.
But I felt like I'd seen enough of Babylon's Fall; I was so bored and sick of it already, and both my middle fingers had reflexively extended so far, they started to mess with the ceiling fan. Fuck you, Babylon's Fall! I only reviewed you 'cos the alternative was Shadow Warrior 3, and that was too short to say much about. "How short is it, Yahtz?" Well, put it like this: it was--
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