The struggle with high concept and experience games is that they’re hard to objectively evaluate. Either the concept allows it to transcend normal limitations or it falls short because the concept just does not deliver. Still, things like Concrete Genie are great, because they redefine what a game actually is. For a lot of people it’s shooting this or stabbing that, when the larger concept is actually just a medium to explore other more fascinating worlds. However, given the whimsical nature and weird concept, is Concrete Genie a must play experience or is it a reminder that a good idea will only get you so far? Here’s our Concrete Genie Review.
The story in Concrete Genie hits home and is largely reminiscent of my own past. As someone who was bullied and found a lot of peace in expressing myself through drawing, it didn’t take long to relate to Ash’s struggle. Much of the story is told through subtle background images, the overall tone and go to show the negative impact bullying can have on a person. Where things start to fall short is you need to realize the larger goal to really get what Concrete Genie is trying to say.
Most of the tasks, be it creating genies, obtaining pages of your destroyed book or simply adding life to an otherwise dull world is in service of the larger goal of finding your own light. The goal is to point out that there is so much more to the world and it’s really what you make of it. One can allow the negative statements or grim situation turn a town like Denska to a sad shell of its former glory or you can create so much that there is still a sense of hope and wonder in an otherwise unassuming location. But, before you can worry about finding your own light, you need to add some to the town.
There is an odd mix of puzzles and cues that players need to figure out to progress in Concrete Genie. Where the story is rather high concept and hinges on what you take away from it, gameplay is oddly linear in an open world setting. Ash needs to figure out how to progress, what to do and use his genies to navigate this place.
Puzzles are limited to finding pages and trying to do what the genies want. Often times you’ll outright see gestures that indicate specific designs or be told to use a certain image to progress. It takes away from the idea, as it can limit your creativity, though genies don’t judge if you add a moon to their sunny day or stars to a grassy field. Part of the fun is actually adding your own twist and discovering all the different ways you can build up the world. Simple tasks, such as using random paint to illuminate lights, quickly became a question of how I wanted the wall to look. Butterflies, moons, grass or possibly all the stars in the sky were options I debated between.
However, as nice as this can be, it doesn’t do much to make Concrete Genie stands out. There is a pretty clear sense of progression, with limited options beyond what you’re supposed to do. Maybe you can open a door, paint a wall, avoid some kids or transverse a roof, it’s a small area with nothing to really see besides a way to whatever is needed to progress.
It doesn’t take long before you look at a map, find the way forward and do everything in your power to find the sense of wonder in Concrete Genie. Naturally, my cynical slap some paint on it and move forward approach won’t match everyone and it’s important to understand that there is a good amount of variety. Just making your own genies are part of the fun, assuming you can get past the controls.
One issue with using things like motion controls is that it isn’t the most accurate experience. After a couple failed attempts I often let my genies look as goofy as they ended up, which is a real shame considering you have a good number of options and can make them tall, short, with or without accessories and so much more. That being said, you can swap it over, it just isn’t as engaging as motion.
Concrete Genie isn’t perfect, though it isn’t awful either. The short adventure is elevated by the charms and overall message. Adding things like VR is even sweeter, as are all the options you get to make this your own personal experience. I would’ve liked to see a little more in terms of exploration in each zone or possibly a less regimented experience but it’s still a charming game that goes to show you can do interesting things and say different things and still find some kind of success.
[Editor’s Note: Concrete Genie was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]