When I previewed Concrete Genie a couple of months ago, I said that it was a great blend of what Sony do really well, third person action-adventure games and artsy experimental titles. After playing through the full game, my opinion hasn’t changed. Concrete Genie delivers a short but fulfilling experience with a focus on journey and redemption and it certainly possesses that signature PlayStation flavour and charm we expect from a Sony first party title.
Upon booting up the game, Concrete Genie is quick to show you your place in the world. After a short hand drawn storybook style opening cutscene, you’re introduced to Ash the main protagonist of the game, the bullies that make his life hell and the town of Denska. This set of bullies are quickly established to be the enemies Ash needs to be weary of after they approach him, steal his sketchbook filled with drawings, tear out the pages, then letting the winds of Denska scatter them throughout the town.
Right off the bat, Concrete Genie teaches you how to use the DualShock 4 controller to paint, instructing how it should be positioned and moved to apply paint to pages and objects. This is a mechanic that is featured very prominently throughout your adventure and once understood, Concrete Genie reveals what your core objective of the game is.
Denska has become a mostly abandoned and polluted town and it’s up to Ash and his magical paint brush to return the town to it’s former glory and restore it’s beauty. Ridding the encroaching darkness, befriending Genies and regaining your lost sketchbook pages along the way.
I loved that the core objective was set up within the first 10-15 minutes of the game and you spend the next 6 or so hours working towards getting it done. Progressively learning more about Denska, Ash and even the backstory of the bullies along the way. I really liked having a visible goal that I was working towards and felt like there was always something I could be doing to get closer to completing it. For such an isolated experience I didn’t expect them to develop the world and characters like they did but I’m certainly glad they did so and it made me care for the people in this world in a way I didn’t expect to when first booting it up to play the full game.
That’s not to say there weren’t twists along the way, even though the premise is established early and maintained throughout, there were still plenty of things that took me by surprise in Concrete Genie. Some of these were just stumbled upon, such as the ability to re-paint over existing billboards in Denska with your collected templates to create beautiful living pieces of art. And others were introduced naturally as the story progressed, like the previously mentioned backstories for the bullies that allows you to see their side of the world and empathise with them and the combat sequences introduced in the later half of the game. Up until that point, all of the ‘confrontations’ played out similarly to what you’d experience in a stealth-style game, where you’re powerless if caught and your only options were to run, hide or not be spotted in the first place.
You won’t have to play the game long to realise Concrete Genie is gorgeous to look at. It’s certainly not pushing the limits of the PS4 with it’s character models, which I would describe to others as a blend between the visual style of Coraline mixed with DoubleFine’s game Broken Age, Concrete Genie gets it’s beauty from the presentation of it’s living paintings you’re able to splash across the surfaces of Denska. These paintings turn the town from a decrepit old fishing village to a lively glowing place and you can see your progress working wonders as you progress through the zones, eliminating the darkness.
While completing your quest, you’ll continuously locate and collect the scattered pages from Ash’s sketchbook. Each one granting you a new item/template that can be used when painting on the walls, solving puzzles or crafting a new genie. Keeping an eye out for these pages is crucial at times so you have the right components available to keep your genies happy, granting super paint, solving the game’s puzzles and creating genies of new types, who’s abilities are needed to remove blockages within Denska and progress to new zones.
A story mode playthrough of Concrete Genie took around 6 hours to complete. While some may argue it’s not long enough, or it’s shorter than they expect a Sony first party title to be, I thought that the length of the game was spot on. It told the story it needed to tell in that period of time, it had an appropriate amount of collectibles for the size of the world and although the whole experience was short, I still attached to the world and it’s characters. I’m glad this wasn’t stretched out and padded to be a 15 hour experience because I felt that the pacing of story delivery, finding new areas and overall progression to be perfect.
Although the progression in Concrete Genie was perfect, that doesn’t mean I didn’t some across some issues with the game. There were a few times throughout the story where the objective was difficult to locate. The point is marked on your map but there were times where if the objective was above, below, inside another room or on the other side of a gate, it wouldn’t accurately display that, causing me to have to go searching, even though I knew I was roughly in the right place. This didn’t happen often enough to make me want to ever stop playing but it was certainly an annoyance I had to deal with multiple times.
I also ran into an issue where genies occasionally wouldn’t come to my location when called, and not because they were blocked by something in their path. If I went closer towards them and progressively guided them back to where I wanted them to appear they would get there fine. As with the last issue mentioned, it wasn’t by any means game breaking but did cause some minor frustration.
Players that also possess a PSVR headset and a couple of Move controllers will get even more enjoyment out of Concrete Genie as the game features 2 VR modes that you can jump into.
The VR portions are supplemental modes to the game and it sits separate to the main campaign. One mode allows you to visit one of the numerous areas of Denska and free paint on walls, while the other VR portion is a first person creative space that allows you to freely paint in 3D space using collected brushes that easily lay down things like tress, grass, flowers, fire pits and lights. Allowing you to create some really impressive and visually appealing art pieces and environments even if you don’t have an artistic bone in your body.
In one hand you hold Ash’s sketch book which contains all of your unlocked ‘brushes’ that act like customisable templates. It is essentially what the paint palette would be to a traditional painter. The other hand controls Ash’s magic brush. Using the brush and pressing it against the book will change the selected brush preset and allow you to pop down a new type of creation in the environment.
I had a really fun time standing in a field, gradually populating it with grass and flowers of various colours before adding a moon, stars and a few fire pits, turning it into a living night-time scene. Even though it has no impact on the main game, I can see myself getting lost in the VR mode on occasion just to escape for a while and flex my creative side.
I had a great time with Concrete Genie, while it’s scale and length isn’t as large as other Sony titles, it offers a well paced story, enjoyable characters and ways to flex your creative side even if you have no real-world artistic skill. Those with PSVR headsets will also enjoy it’s first person painting modes that offer a place to peacefully create art. It has a few issues that can likely be fixed up in future patches but for the most part Concrete Genie is a really enjoyable ride and has me hoping to see more titles of this size and scale from Sony in the future.
A PS4 review code was provided by PlayStation for the purpose of this review.
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