By: Noah Baxter
I wouldn’t hesitate to call E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy a gem, but I must admit it’s a flawed one. Brimming with potential and ingenuity, E.Y.E. is an FPSRPG that sets itself up to be an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, for every impressive facet it has to admire, there is a lurking imperfection that is sure to reveal itself.
Set in a universe that feels primarily like a mash-up of Bladerunner, Alien and System Shock 2, E.Y.E. offers science fiction fans a real treat. It doesn’t quite live up to its lofty influences, but the elements of each it blends together create something elaborate and unique that is well worth a look.
Before we begin, let me tell you a story…
ot using the term lightly, E.Y.E. is what I would call a true epic. The story you play through is fantastic, a thriller that plunges you into the centre of a vast, conspiratorial power struggle. Beginning in medias res after a failed mission, the player knows only that they are a soldier with the E.Y.E. organisation, a group that reports to the commander of the Secreta Secretorum. You quickly learn that the Secreta, once acting as interplanetary peacekeepers, are now planning a coup against an overambitious human Federation. Your role as an agent of E.Y.E. is threefold: to help bring down the Federation, to keep the Secreta’s divided factions at peace, and to hold a hostile alien force at bay. As the story unfolds, you must balance your loyalty to the Secreta commander and your influential mentor, both of whom have conflicting ideals of prosperity. The player must eventually choose which of his superiors he will stand with, while betrayal and manipulation unravel around him.
This in itself is enough to have me frothing at the mouth. Antitrust, moral dilemma, political sabotage and aggressive aliens? It’s as if the developers wrote this just to get my bells ringing. But, as enjoyable as the main plot is, I must pay even greater respect to the back story; a dark, detailed account of a future yet to come.
The premise is this: During humanity’s early attempts at planetary colonisation, we provoked dangerous forces that would change the nature of our survival forever. Over a handful of centuries, our history became riddled with misery. Nuclear war, civil unrest and prevailing dystopian society became common themes, themes the Federation made little effort to mitigate. With the rise of mainstream cybernetics and a virtual reality matrix, the populace slipped under the control of mass media and propaganda, growing complacent with their decaying environment.
As the situation worsened, so did the threat of the Metastreumonic Will; the alien force I mentioned earlier. The Federation were forced to recruit the Secreta, who created the E.Y.E. to enforce peace and repel the Will. The Secreta then built “New Eden”, a stronghold against their aggressors that would also be policed by the E.Y.E. It is at this point that we reach the player’s story, and we start to discover how different this universe has become.
Hopefully, I haven’t given too much away. It is not my intention to relay the game’s entire plot, but for the purposes of criticism I felt some context was needed. As I mentioned, there is a balance for each of E.Y.E.’s successes, and sadly the story was not to be an exception.
My first gripe with the story was simply how it was first presented to me. Thrusting the player into the middle of a situation is a plot device generally used to throw them into action straight away, but in E.Y.E.’s case, it was a little different. Rather than being confronted with instant action, you are thrust into the story line. Now, I should stress, this in itself isn’t negative. But if you consider the grand scale and complexity of the game, you may get an idea of why this presents itself as a problem. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, I am meeting my superiors for the first time, and being asked to take sides. At the same time I am trying to get my bearings with both the game and my situation, so I end up feeling bombarded with options and decisions, having no real idea who anybody is or what any consequences may be. It is definitely an interesting way to start the game, and I must admit, it certainly made me feel like I was in the shoes of an amnesiac. However, the information overload, coupled with my character seeming to pick and choose who and what he would like to remember, made me feel really at odds with my place in the world.
My other major issue is with the back story, also largely due to the way it is presented. To be fair, I am completely lenient with this; a detailed back story can be tricky to integrate effectively in any game. The question with such a thing will always be, “how do we narrate this to the player?” In this case, the solution is a library archive, where the player can spend time to learn the history behind their situation. At times it felt arduous to read a lengthy archive rather than play the game, but I fell in love with the story despite this. The issue only arose when I took the rose tinted glasses off and started to pick out its flaws. Underneath the overall magnificence of the story, there was just enough wrong to leave me feeling unsatisfied. What nagged at me the most was the absence of Secreta history, in a Secreta archive. The entire readable section of the library contains a huge amount of information on the Federation and their exploits, but only really introduces the Secreta once they were hired as peacekeepers. As enthralling as I found the tale of humanity, I just couldn’t shake how ridiculous this felt. On top of that, what little information of the Secreta there was seemed convoluted, which meant my own character’s culture felt like a complete mystery. Even more interestingly, there was a section of the archive dedicated to telling me what my place in the story was. While it certainly helped orient me, it was another unlikely aspect that momentarily threw me out of the game world. It probably would have helped had this section been better optimised, but in its current iteration it read like a copy-pasted, poorly translated synopsis edit. I may just be nitpicking here, but after such an incredible build-up, this was a letdown I could not overlook.
Don’t worry; it’s all part of their grand design…
Ignoring the flaws in narration for a moment, I can say I was not at all let down by how the general game design reinforced the story I’d just read.
Every aspect of E.Y.E.’s level design was appropriate, showing me a dystopian future in a familiar cyberpunk setting. It is obvious that a lot of love and talent went into the game worlds. Not only are they aesthetically stunning, but are atmospheric and expressive in all the right ways. My pet favourite was definitely “New Eden”, which featured weapon advertisements and colonisation propaganda that wouldn’t have felt out of place in an issue of Transmetropolitan. Levels like this and the Bladerunner homage, “Electric Sheep”, hammered home a real feeling for the media influence the people were governed by. It never hurt that these levels were peppered with NPCs who would tell you their stories through missions and encounters, adding another level to the social context. Looters would share their remorse for wicked deeds, Federal agents would quip about their corruption, and addicted civilians would desperately ask me for a fix. While there were occasional moments where dialogue ended unexpectedly or felt a tad unnatural, I loved the way these stories were presented and always looked forward to finding a new NPC to learn about.
On the subject of discovery, I found the exploration side of E.Y.E. to be well realised. There were occasional points where I was begging for a map, but after some upgrades to speed and endurance I could wander to my heart’s content without frustration. After this, the (admittedly few) times I felt that the exploration wasn’t rewarding enough became much less frequent.
To add to the atmosphere, the score for E.Y.E. fits perfectly with the worlds you explore. Also taking inspiration from the likes of Bladerunner and Alien, it sets the right mood nearly every time it plays. Minimal, curious pieces encompass some of the lonelier levels, and in the more intense moments of the game the music did a brilliant job of lifting my heart rate. The one moment it felt out of place, a gentle, ambient piece for your first fire fight, can be overlooked by the fact that it just sounds so wonderful. After my first gameplay session, I was much obliged to fish the soundtrack out of the game folder and add it to my music library.
If I really had to stretch for a design aspect I wasn’t fond of, I could only mention the motion blur. It’s entirely personal preference, but for me it was unsightly and distracting, especially its effect on the HUD. Of course, E.Y.E. being a Source game, both aspects (as well as some frustrating key bindings) are customisable to suit the player.
But they won’t teach you well, lest you succeed…
The area that caused me the most frustration in E.Y.E. was the overall gameplay.
I suppose the appropriate place to start is with the tutorials, which I will euphemistically call lacking. At the beginning of the game, you are presented with a menu; a daunting list of 23 topics to learn about that slams your HUD with all the elegance of an 18-wheeler. As you may have guessed, I instantly met this with disdain. However, the worst was yet to come as I was treated to a series of outdated, poorly translated videos, each as roundabout and incomprehensive as the last. It wasn’t long before I decided I’d be better off just playing the game. Thankfully, most of the actual gameplay was intuitive enough that I could pick it up without instruction.
That being said, certain aspects suffered more than others from the lack of explanation. The biggest problem for me was with the hacking system, which felt arbitrary and clunky for almost the entire game. It had perhaps the least helpful tutorial of the lot, which left me to blunder through the process whenever it was called upon. I started to learn the ins and outs as time went by, but my brief experiments with some of the more interesting concepts (like possessing people and robots) were ditched quickly. As far as I’m concerned, these concepts fail due to terrible implementation. If it was just my lack of understanding, however, they fail by lack of instruction.
The research menu was also let down by the lack of a decent tutorial. Certain upgrades and items can be acquired by balancing a ratio of time to money spent on their study. To be fair, the tutorial did inform me how to use this menu. What it didn’t tell me though, is why I might want to do that, nor did it give me any indication of what a particular field of research might yield. Had I known, for instance, that I could add a medkit to my inventory from an earlier point, I most certainly would have.
I did enjoy the use of psychic and cybernetic abilities throughout the game, as one would hope. To be honest, I didn’t make much use of the psychic abilities, but when I did I was glad to see they were easily accessible. The more relevant skills I found were of the cybernetic persuasion, including a higher jumping ability, a much-used cloaking field and an eye that could track movement through walls. You can access them through a main action menu, assign them keys through the game options, or select a particular set (along with other actions) to create an easy-access command circle. Overall, this system proved quite useful, and seeing as it allowed for so much customisation it never felt a hassle to use.
Another system I had no trouble with was the Armoury. On every level there were a number of stations where you could change your armour and weapon loadout on the fly. Rather than carrying extra weapons and ammo, every weapon you have unlocked is available at every armoury you can get to. As each weapon available has its individual uses, this made equipping for strategy a simple and intuitive process.
I do get the feeling that the armoury’s ease of access has a negative effect on the difficulty of the game, despite its good points. The first half of the game feels monotonously easy, which I attribute in part to the availability of weapons and optimised equipment. You can make up for this by raising the difficulty, though when I upped it to “hardcore” I still didn’t feel challenged. On the plus side, the enemy spawn rate can be changed as well, and I found the “intense” setting to be very aptly named.
After making E.Y.E. harder, I started to become more familiar with death penalties. Had I not abandoned the tutorials near the start of the game, I might not have had to learn the system the hard way, but the revelatory moments where I started to get it were rewarding enough to overlook this flaw. Though death is not really obtrusive in E.Y.E., there is a chance that on every respawn you suffer from 1 of 5 debilitating “fatal wounds”, which each decrease particular stats. I do wish I had a more in depth analysis of this earlier in the game, before I treated my missions with a gung-ho, guns blazing attitude. It would certainly save me mourning for my lost stats, cursing the fool I was. As it stands though, I thought this consequence, coupled with a limit on resurrections per mission, was a novel incentive for the player to avoid death, rather than become apathetic towards it. There are some other quirks to the death system that I’d rather not spoil, but if you discover them I hope you’re as amused/frustrated as I was.
So, was it all worth it…?
For me, E.Y.E. is an interesting game to talk about. It treads a fine balance between polished and unpolished, immersive and off-putting, and as such I can’t whole heartedly recommend it. Objectively speaking, it could have been a lot better, but…
I could say many things about E.Y.E., but I couldn’t say that it was forgettable. There aren’t many games that have successfully hooked me in for 8 hour gameplay sessions, let alone those with staggering flaws. In that sense, I consider E.Y.E. to be a game that is well worth your time and money. For fans of open worlds, exploration and innovative sci-fi, E.Y.E. will provide you with some excellent and provocative entertainment. For those who love replayability, I think you’ve also found your game; my relatively laid back playthrough gave me 13 hours worth, and I’ve yet to burrow into the side-quests or reach for a good ending.
With a $20 price tag on Steam, I consider it a hard title to pass up. If at any point you have thought “This sounds like my kind of game!” I would give you a solid recommendation to give it a go.
If however you’re sitting on the fence, I could only give you a tentative thumbs-up. I loved the game and urge you to treat yourself, but I can’t deny that it just might not be your cup of tea. On the plus side, Streum On Studio has recently announced an upcoming demo release, as well as some free DLC. So by all means, if you can’t quite commit to E.Y.E., look forward to a chance to sample it.
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