The Eye of Judgment (PS3)
Okay, okay. It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. Back when I first saw Sony's card game and camera combo in action, I thought the game was going to be PlayStation 3's equivalent of Pinocchio: little more than a wooden tech demo trying desperately to pass itself off as a real game. Sure, it seemed like a neat trick, pulling living 3-D creatures out of these flimsy 2-D cards, but it's nothing any 10-year-old hasn't seen on a Saturday morning episode of 'Yu-Gi-Oh!.' Even with the backing of Wizards of the Coast, the group responsible for the hit Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, it just didn't seem like there was enough substance to Eye of Judgment to strike a chord with gamers. Then I sat down and actually played it. Now, I'm not only hooked on the game, but it looks like I'll be acquiring a taste for crow, as well.
We'll skip the bells and whistles for the moment and talk about the core gameplay of Eye of Judgment. The game is a sort of love child between Magic: The Gathering and chess. By taking some of the basic elements from each, Eye of Judgment's card/board game hybrid style creates a strategic element all its own. Players first put together a deck of 30 cards, consisting of spells and monsters fueled by one of the game's five elements: water, fire, earth, wood and biomech. Then they hit the 3 x 3 battlefield, taking turns placing and positioning monsters, casting spells, and attacking opponents. Card placement and positioning is the key to winning in Eye of Judgment. Each of the nine sections corresponds to one of the elements in the game. Place a creature on a like element, and that creature gets a bonus to its hit points. End up on an opposing element, and the creature loses life. As far as positioning goes, different creatures attack in different ways, some skipping over sections of the battlefield with long-range attacks and others even foregoing a frontal assault to attack the sides. Most creatures also have a blind spot that can be hit to cause extra damage during attacks. It's these subtle nuances that will have players tweaking out their decks and planning out their strategies long before their next battle.
Now, about those bells and whistles I mentioned. While the core mechanics in Eye of Judgment are strong enough to carry the experience as a game, it's the title's use of the PlayStation Eye that literally brings the game to life. Once the camera is set up and aligned to the field of play, gamers take their decks into battle, placing cards like one would normally expect in a basic game. After a second or two though, the magic starts to happen. The camera reads a special code embedded on each card and feeds the data and positioning to the game. The game then generates a 3-D image of the creature or card effect on the game board. Battles, spells, special effects and the like then take place with huge fanfare and hoopla. As an old-school gamer, it brought me back to my days of playing Battle Chess, only this time instead of watching a knight get hacked to bits in classic '80s pixilated graphics, I had huge metal bombers laying waste to a horde of frogmen with spears in full next-gen style. This level of interaction sucks the player in, grabbing hold and never letting go. You genuinely feel like you're wielding some higher power lording over great armies. You stop "playing" the game and you become a real tangible part of it.
The artificial intelligence in Eye of Judgment will be more than a match for most players, but for those of you looking for the human element, the game's got you covered with support for two-player matches, both online and off. Offline matches are played just how you would expect, with each player sitting across a table from each other in straight-up duels. Online play is a little different, though. In order to keep players from unfairly stacking their deck when out of the view of their opponents, the game requires players to register the decks they plan to use online. Then, instead of trusting the players to shuffle and draw their own cards, the game shuffles the cards and deals to the player. Now, players still need to have the physical deck in front of them so they can place the cards on the field, but by handling the rest internally, it prevents a lot of the potential for cheating online.
Eye of Judgment is one of those games that you either get or you don't. Sure, it takes a little extra setup, you'll need to sink a little extra dough into it for new cards, and its big hook seems on the surface like little more than a novelty. Fire it up once though, and you can't help but get pulled in, and you'll soon find yourself wanting to get in just one more round. Hopefully, Sony and Wizards of the Coast will play their cards right and continue to support the game with future card sets. If so, Eye of Judgment could be dealing PS3 owners a winning hand for a long time to come.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by Crispy Gamer.