Review – Concrete Genie

I didn’t know what to expect from SIE and PixelOpus’ Concrete Genie, which debuted at Paris Games Week 2017. I knew it was going to be beautiful and unique, but was it going to be more of an action/adventure title or more of a walking simulator? The easy answer is, “yes”.

The opening parts of Concrete Genie set you with the grounded, and all too familiar for our world, backstory of bullying. But then grabs you with the imagination and wonder of it all. You play as Ash, an almost Delsin Rowe-like character in style. And like Delsin Rowe, you have a certain leaning towards art/graffiti which you use to help escape the troubles of your hometown of Denska, as well as the group of bullies that roam the streets and seem to have focused their attentions on you.

Unable to avoid an encounter with the bullies, the pages of your art book are ripped from their binding and tossed out and carried all over the small town (instant collectibles!!). You are also forced in a dark tram car and sent to the town’s lighthouse on a neighboring island. This is where the wonder of it all begins. This is where you meet Luna, one of your drawings come to life, that gifts you a magical brush that allows you to bring the rest of your art and graffiti to life as well.

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Young Delsin Rowe.

Concrete Genie’s main purpose is to bring “light” back to your town of Denska. This is equal parts metaphorical and literal. It is metaphorical by using your imagination and drawings to bring color and life to the streets and town. Then literal by using your abilities to actually light up the town by using your graffiti to power up strings of lightbulbs throughout the maps. This will require you to make use of Genies: drawings of creatures that then assist you through levels. Genies are your main form of graffiti and take on abilities like fire, electricity, and wind to help you get past obstacles. Once created, you will keep them happy by drawing beautiful murals on the walls of Denska, interacting with them, and even playing games with your living creations.

Drawing these murals is extremely easy and there is no real way to screw it up. But if you aren’t happy, you can always backtrack. Using your DS4, you open your inventory of art and, using the gyroscope, point and draw the overall shape and direction of the piece. A row of grass? Highlight the grass image, point your controller where to begin, hold down your button, swipe to where you want to end, release: instant grass field. This allows graffiti to be a major game mechanic rather than removing you from the game play. It also allows you to get creative and far outdrawing the minimum needed simply to move on. The more pages you collect from your art book, hidden amongst alley ways and roof tops, the more objects you can add to your living art pieces.

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The world is but a canvas.

The first three chapters play very much like a walking simulator with some minor action/adventure elements added to it. First, you walk down the streets of your town and find newspapers that help explain what happened and why Denska is so empty. Next, you find and retrieve torn pages from your artbook and create Genies to help you past obstacles. Then you use your inventory of collected art work to create murals on walls to make the Genie happy and light strings of lightbulbs throughout the town to clear a zone. You repeat this process for four zones per level.

Once you clear areas by lighting all the lights for their zones, you then draw a large masterpiece to open up the next level. You take the guidance of your Genies to create a living tapestry of tree’s, flowers, and any other pieces you were able to find throughout the town. Your biggest action/adventure gameplay bit is solving the rare occasional puzzle to move past an area. This involves climbing and swinging to get to locations, as well as drawing the attention of the bullies so you can sneak past them.

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This is bat country!

Fortunately, those three chapters don’t take very long to get through and it is the game’s fourth chapter that opens up the action of the game. Gone is the item collection, gone is the newspaper finding, and quite literally, gone is the walking. Drawing more comparisons to Infamous: Second Son, you use your abilities to chase darkness through your town, throwing fire, electric, and wind attacks as you evade and skate after them again. All of it leading you to the final confrontation to bring life and light back to your town. You wouldn’t be wrong to think of Concrete Genie as “baby’s first action/adventure”, but you would be wrong to think that this is the game’s focus. Concrete Genie gives you just enough of everything to make its main story and mechanic work beautifully.

The entirety of the campaign can be accomplished in about five hours, possibly even less. Once you’re done, there are still more ways to play Concrete Genie. There is a Free Paint mode which allows you to run through a completely unlocked and empty canvas area of the town to paint anything you wish. There is also a VR story mode which acts as an extremely small campaign add-on and tutorial for Free Paint in VR. You will be able to revisit the 3D canvas as well 2D locations in four different areas of the town. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to move around like you can in standard Free Paint. Instead, you are limited to the canvas around you. VR Free Paint also requires the use of the Move controllers.

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VR Free Paint is simplistic but oh so beautiful.

Concrete Genie is a cute and unique mashup of Infamous: Second Son and our favorite animated holiday cartoons from the 60’s and 70’s. It delivers a beautifully told lesson in bullying, as well as understanding, that is matched only by its gorgeous art and direction. The only thing missing is a Burl Ives genie singing “Silver and Gold”.

 

Graphics: 9.0

Beautifully gorgeous look and tone that effortlessly combines the stark contrasts of reality with vibrant fantastical artistry.

Gameplay: 8.5

Might be action/adventure-lite in the opening hours, but a beautiful story, a healthy change of pace to actions, along with a surprisingly easy and fulfilling painting mechanic give it enough oomph for its short campaign.

Sound: 8.5

Characterization, even the mute animated creatures, feels authentic. Effects of each painting adds to the 3D feel of every drawing.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Short campaign hurts the game a bit. The addition of a Free Paint mode, both in and out of VR, helps a bit, but most will never touch it.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Concrete Genie is available now on PS4.

Reviewed on PS4 Pro and PSVR.

A copy of Concrete Genie was provided by the publisher.

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