Review – Arrest of a Stone Buddha

When the first Bioshock was released thirteen years ago, it proved to the world that games could be more than just mere entertainment. They could also double as pieces of art that could make one think while having fun with an entertaining gameplay loop. We’ve then started to see a lot of games being released with philosophical themes or a bigger emphasis on storytelling as their main selling point, being a good or a bad thing, depending on the title. The curiously-named Arrest of a Stone Buddha is the latest game created with the intention of making you think while you play it.

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That’s gotta hurt.

Arrest of a Stone Buddha starts off in a very confusing, albeit intriguing way. Set in Paris in the 1970’s, you’re a hitman tasked with killing someone inside a church, without any initial reasoning behind it. After killing the fella, the church gets infested with a metric ton of bad guys wanting to kill you, and it’s up to you to get out there in one piece. You do that by basically shooting everyone in sight and stealing their weapons when you run out of bullets of your own. It sounds like the initial scene of a John Woo movie and it’s actually pretty impressive at first, as the enemies keep showing up in insane numbers, with your character killing them in very stylish ways. Sadly, once the first impressions wear off, you quickly notice how unpolished this game actually is.

The problem lies in the gameplay. It’s fun at first, since the act of aiming at many characters at once and shooting at them as if you were playing a noir version of My Friend Pedro is pretty cool, but then you notice all of its many issues. There is no way to keep track of how many bullets you current have, so you’ll keep shooting until you hear a click, which will most likely happen at the most unfortunate of times, when tons of enemies are surrounding you. You’ll then have to get close to an armed goon and attempt to disarm him.

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I feel sorry for whomever’s responsible for cleaning the streets.

You’ll probably get shot in the process, as your character moves at a snail’s pace and is as frail as a china vase. The simple act of reaching the end of a screen becomes a chore due to your character’s lethargic walking speed and the sheer amount of enemies that keep spawning ad nauseum. You will die often, even on easier difficulties, respawning at the beginning of the screen, being forced to endure an onslaught of enemies time and time again until you figure out how to deal with all of them.

And then comes the “philosophical part” of the game. Every now and then, you’ll be greeted with a slower level comprised of living your character’s mundane personal life, appreciating the environment and peace around you. It’s supposed to be a serene polar opposite to all the carnage you had just committed, a moment to make you realize what you have just done. It’s backed by the game’s bog-standard MIDI soundtrack and decent pixel art visuals, especially when your character is sitting at a bar, just trying to enjoy a drink.

Sadly, this just doesn’t work in Arrest of a Stone Buddha. The gameplay is so frustrating that, whenever you’re greeted with a non-violent section, you don’t use that time to elaborate an inner monologue. You’ll use that time to either save and quit or curse the previous unfair wave of enemies you just had to defeat, as well as whoever designed it. That’s what differed these moments from the same ones featured in Max Payne 3 or Katana Zero. They also featured slower scenes meant to showcase how much of a broken piece of crap your character is, but they had entertaining (and functional) gameplay to back their statements.

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“Rough day, huh?”

I think this is the perfect case of a game in which its themes and message were crafted with a higher degree of priority than its gameplay loop. Arrest of a Stone Buddha tries to provide players with moments of reflection in between bouts of ultraviolent gunplay, but its actual gameplay loop is so clunky and frustrating that the only thing you’ll want to think once a level is over is “who the hell designed that level”. It could have been a moderately more enjoyable title if the developers had spent more time on the gameplay department, but then again, there are other much better games out there with the same loop and message. You’d be better just playing them instead.

 

Graphics: 7.0

Although repetitive when it comes to the massive amounts of enemies thrown at you at any given point, there are some really pretty backgrounds in here, and the character animations are quite decent, especially when holding two pistols at once.

Gameplay: 5.0

Fun and stylish at first, even though it’s clearly slow-paced and clunky. Once the sense of style runs out, all you’re left with is the slow pace and the jank.

Sound: 6.0

There’s nothing inherently terrible with the soundtrack, even though it’s just a standard collection of MIDI tunes. The problem lies in the fact that they’re short and loop constantly.

Fun Factor: 4.0

It is amusing at first, as there’s no denying that killing lots of enemies with stylish shooting animations is super satisfying. Things go south pretty quickly, though, as the game is hindered by a lethargic pace, uneven difficulty curve, and repetitive gameplay loop.

Final Verdict: 5.0

Arrest of a Stone Buddha is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Arrest of a Stone Buddha was provided by the publisher.