When you round out a list, there’s a strong desire to make sure that the ending of it is a good one. Heck, endings are hard (if Mass Effect 3‘s critical blowback is anything to go by), and this is the 52nd game in my first year of reviewing games. 52 games over a year translates to effectively, a game a year, and that should make this some sort of capstone for the year. Is Vessel then some wonderful, obscure title, clever and witty that has been my secret hidden gem for all this time, hoping to reveal it when the time was right…?
No. If there was any game of that ilk this year, it probably would be Hate Plus, which plunged me deeper into despair than I have been for all but the most resonant of videogames, or perhaps Mass Effect 2 for how it so surrounded me with love, encouragement, loneliness and happiness. There’s only one thing that makes Vessel particularly meaningful to this year: I first installed Vessel January 1st, 2013. I played it for a few hours, I stopped playing it. I wrote notes about it – then set those notes aside until I returned to the game. Well, hell if that didn’t take quite some time.
Vessel is itself a fairly competent game; a physics puzzler with jumping and movement, and its physics primarily derived from an engine capable of rendering not-terrible water, allowing for puzzles about pouring and moving water, but also giving that water some personality with the strange character of the Fluoros. The problem is, with that summary, I’ve said almost everything there is to say. It did not captivate; its puzzles are not especially clever; the game cannot be as vicious or difficult as something like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami, and most of its problems can be infinitely reset. There isn’t an especially clever plot, or particularly vibrant characters. Remembering that this year showed me Thomas Was Alone, where a game could project fantastic personality onto squares, and Vessel just sinks into the wide, grey morass of whatever.
I think what brings me back to Vessel after this year is the reminder that sometimes, there isn’t that much to say about a game. It’s not an expensive game – it’s not a big, flashy game. It makes no grand premises, it does not boast of itself overmuch, nor does it promise to revolutionise videogames as certain pretentious jerks do. Vessel isn’t even so expensive a production that it offends on that level. What Vessel is, essentially, is a nice little physics puzzler that is neither bad nor good. Normally when a game, a device designed to entertain and engage, is called neither bad nor good, it means that it’s boring, and therefore, even if it’s not a bad game, it’s still bad at being a game. Not quite so in the case of this game, nor in the case of many other games I’ve played this year.
There is no dreadful ill to Vessel. It’s not a sexist game, or a pointlessly violent game, it doesn’t waste a budget you could have spent on the infrastructure of Lesotho, and that’s all there is to say. The greatest thing I can say about Vessel is what it’s not.
Buy it if:
- You love steampunk and fluid physics puzzlers.
- Science going wrong does not bore or tire you.
Avoid it if:
- You prefer a perfect solution for puzzle games.