Developer: PixelOpus Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4 Review Platform: PlayStation 4
Concrete Genie follows the story of Ash, a young boy who is extremely talented with a paintbrush. Ash’s story begins as he travels to the town of Denska, which has become abandoned after an oil tanker spill in the nearby ocean caused the town to suffer from an economic recession. As businesses continued to abandon the town, residents were forced to leave their homes as there was no viable way to keep living within this ghost town; while the city itself became overrun with a substance Ash called as ‘the darkness’. Denska is now frequented by delinquents, who vandalise the town, and harass anyone that enters. Ash and the aforementioned bullies have an early encounter, which sets in motion the magical journey ahead.
After this encounter Ash meets Luna, one of the paintings Ash had created during the opening moments of the game. Luna has now come alive, and gifts Ash a magical paintbrush that will bring his creations to life. Ash sets out on the task of removing ‘the darkness’ from the city, while also trying to avoid the bullies who are aiming to harass him any chance they get.
Bullying is an issue every one of us has dealt with in our lives, and Concrete Genie tackles the issue head on. Throughout the experience Ash stays true to himself, avoiding the bullies and refusing to sink to their level. Ash also shows a great deal of compassion throughout the adventure, and due to some fantastic voice acting, becomes a character each and every one of us can relate too. Concrete Genie tackles the complexities of why this harassment occurs, while also showcasing the psyche of the bullies and explaining why they’ve taken this negative turn. Everyone will experience some horrible moments throughout their lives, but it’s our reaction to those moments that help us grow into the people we wish to be. Concrete Genie tackles these sensibilities extremely well, allowing you to see both sides of the coin, and feeling compassion for both Ash and the bullies.
Concrete Genie is the sort of adventure that could easily be showcased to children in classrooms, allowing them to see the ramifications, reactions, and resolutions of bullying/harassment. This is an important experience that tackles bullying/harassment with a mature mindset, making the adventure truly meaningful.
Concrete Genie offers an array of gameplay features, but the main aspect is painting. Players have the option to paint on almost every surface of Denska, and due to the drab and desolate streets, players will instinctively want to bring colour to this abandoned town. Players have a selection of features that can be painted, ranging from trees, grass, vines, snow and much more. But you are given the freedom to paint what you want, when you want, and create some gorgeously vibrant landscapes in the process.
Painting can be controlled in one of two ways; players can control the cursor using their analog stick, or by using motion controls within the DualShock 4. Now before you decide to avoid the motion controls, give them a shot, because in my opinion they are the perfect way to experience painting in Concrete Genie. Moving the DualShock 4 to create moving images feels natural and responsive. While the analog stick is still a serviceable option, I felt it detached me from the painting experience, while the motion controls allowed me to truly connect with the images I was creating on screen.
As a young kid Ash used to draw creatures known as genies around Denska, and with Ash’s new ability, he is now able to bring these genies to life so they can help him through his adventure. The fantastic part about bringing genies to life is that you have a hand in creating their appearance, from their ears, tails, and additional features; each genie is your own creation. There are several different types of genies you will encounter, some have the ability to harness fire to burn away objects in your path, others can electrify machinery, and others have the ability to use wind to move heavy objects. While genies are mostly used to help solve puzzles, each also has their own playful personality. Genies will ask Ash to play with them, try and scare Ash as he navigates the environment, and in some instances even interact with the landscape paintings you’ve created. Watching a genie pick up an apple you have just drawn and begin eating it, add personality to your creations, which never gets old.
The one minor downside of relying on the genies to help solve puzzles is the fact they may not always respond to your call as fast as you’d like. There were a small amount of times where I’d be waiting over 30 seconds for the genie to figure out where I was in the environment, and eventually help with my situation. These instances were few and far between throughout the 4 to 5 hour adventure, but it’s a minor issue that could be improved in a future update.
Aside from painting, Concrete Genie offers a few short stealth sequences where Ash must avoid the bullies. These are over extremely quickly and don’t offer much challenge, but when the bullies do see you a sense of dread quickly takes over, as you aim to outrun the pack of delinquents. Concrete Genie also offers some Uncharted-like climbing sequences, and once again these are used sparingly. The climbing is responsive and serviceable, but the climbing animations are very unnatural and rigid. While the animations don’t ruin Concrete Genie, they blatantly stand out amongst the other polished features.
Concrete Genie stands out visually due to the Coraline-esque visual style, as all characters have a stop-motion quality to their facial movements, which is showcased to great effect during cut scenes. The same beautiful style is found within the environment itself, as the town of Denska has a realistic tone, which is made to look even better due to some gorgeous lighting. When the sunlight from above peaks around a tall building, it offers a picturesque scene that left me in awe several times.
One of the greatest features of Concrete Genie is the deserted town of Denska, due to the bland nature of the city’s colour palette; players are encouraged to paint to their hearts content. Because of this, no town of Denska will look the same. The vibrant colours that can be applied by your magical paintbrush, allow each player to create their own uniquely colourful town. Watching Denska slowly turn from an ugly mix of browns and greys, to a cornucopia of colours is a visual delight. It truly made me feel like I was bringing this town back to life, a goal I was motivated to accomplish without the narrative telling me to do so. Walking through the town of Denska after finishing the story, I found myself seeing a visual journey of every brushstroke I took along the way. This experience left me with a memorable visual that I will soon not forget.
The entire main experience of Concrete Genie can be enjoyed with a DualShock 4, and there is no PlayStation VR requirement. However, if you do happen to own a PSVR and two Move controllers, you are in for a fantastic additional mode in virtual reality.
The mode itself can be beaten in about 30 minutes, as you are tasked with painting items that your sprite companion requests. With a paintbrush in one hand and Ash’s sketchbook in another, you can summon items to the world within the 3D environment. There were honestly times during this short experience that I felt like Harry Potter, summoning butterflies from my paintbrush, bringing forth stars into the night sky, and shooting fireworks at the moon. While I left the mode wishing there was more, you can replay this experience, and even revisit the 3D space in a Free Painting version. I cannot recommend PSVR owners to purchase Concrete Genie simply for this mode, but it’s a great additional experience for those fortunate enough to own a PSVR.
Concrete Genie offers a strong and positive message about humanity, while also offering unique and creative gameplay; both of these aspects of Concrete Genie work in tandem to create a memorable and charming adventure.
Concrete Genie steps up to embrace a unique idea and deliver on that idea almost flawlessly. Because of the vibrant visuals, this is a fantastic game to play with others watching, and due to the lack of difficulty, it’s a great experience for even the most casual gamer to pick up and appreciate.