I’ve been a longtime lover of fighting games, ever since I first played Street Fighter II: The World Warrior and its sequels back in the early to mid-90’s. I also got into my first 3D fighting series, Tekken, around that same period. Although both SF and Tekken were two of my favorite fighting game franchises (as well as SNK’s Samurai Showdown), it wasn’t until I played the original Bushido Blade game, which debuted in 1997, that I really saw what fighting games had the potential to become, if they could break away from the standard conventions of 2D and 3D games.
Bushido Blade offered a much more minimalistic UI then its contemporaries, bereft of health bars, gaudy fireballs or super-uppercuts, and time limits. Instead, it offered the ability to literally run around the game’s sprawling, multi-sectioned maps; one-hit kills; and a built-on mitigation system with regards to button mashing. You could either die five seconds into a match, or, a battle could last for twenty minutes (and beyond), depending on how patient each player was and how much they wanted to enjoy the faceoff. You could seriously relish each and every moment of a match. Ever since then, there has been nothing that came close to Bushido Blade’s unique approach to fighting games.
When I first saw footage of Sloclap’s new fighting game, Absolver, I was immediately interested in it because it reminded me of Bushido Blade in certain ways. I soon discovered that Absolver featured primarily hand-to-hand combat, with very a limited usage of weapons. But unlike the amazing Tobal fighting game series, there wasn’t any grappling at all—fighting in Absolver is strictly a punching and kicking affair.
I began my first game of Absolver with the game’s character creation system. It was pretty basic. I soon found that the more important thing is what style I chose for my character. First up you have the Forsaken style, which allows you to parry incoming attacks; the Kahlt style has players directly absorbing attacks with their toughened hides; and the Windfall style which is all about avoiding attacks altogether by dodging them. I chose the Windfall style, since I wanted my battles to resemble some of the classic Kung-Fu movies that I’ve fallen in love with over the years.
After spawning, I found myself in a barren pier area. One of the first things that I noticed was how lifeless the game’s world seemed. I didn’t see any animals scurrying around, no birds flying overhead, and no NPCs walking around performing their daily deeds or hawking their wares. I didn’t have too much time to take this in, however, because I was soon set upon by another player’s Absolver.
We engaged in some martial arts action, but I could tell that not only was my opponent better outfitted than me, he was also more experienced with the combat system. In short order, I was beaten into the dirt. It wasn’t that I lost the battle that left me slightly disappointed (it was my first battle so I expected to lose), it was that my character suddenly vaporized into a blue ball of energy, which was then consumed by my foe. Moments later, I suddenly respawned.
What I would have wanted to see is my body lying there, broken and battered—a remnant to my failure, and a reminder that combat is a real and very serious thing. Especially up-front-and-personal hand-to-hand combat. Not only does an Absolver’s body mysteriously disappear without a trace, there is zero blood or any sort of combat effects whatsoever. There are no bones to be broken, joints to be manipulated and snapped, nor any sort of indicator that you’ve damaged your enemy such as basic bruises or cuts.
Another suspension of disbelief was the fact that you have thinly built female Absolvers (who probably weight 95 lbs. in game terms) running around in the world and going up against, and routinely beating down, much larger male Absolvers. This is not only highly improbable, but smacks of gender issues. If you’re trying to realistically recreate real-world fighting styles, then how about extending that same sense of realism to everything else?
These issues aside, I found Absolver’s combat system, although rather limited, to be pretty decent. There are different stances that your digital fighter can choose from, as well as a good number of moves that you can pull off. You can also chain combos together to perform certain super-moves, if you’re lucky enough. I also liked that, similar to Ubisoft’s recent fighting game flop known as For Honor, you can take on multiple opponents at the same time. The developers found a way to avoid potentially game-breaking facing issues, and instead the one vs. two or one vs. three combat featured in the game is pretty fun and flows naturally.
Thankfully, most of Absolver’s community is also pretty welcoming and tolerant. For instance, in my second game I wandered around the listless lands (referred to as Adal in the game) until I encountered a fellow Absolver fighting it out with several AI-controlled foes. I quickly leapt into fray at his side and we smashed our enemies into the dirt together. After that, my new acquaintance bowed to me and I bowed to him in return. This marked the beginning of a solid alliance, and we began to adventure throughout the lands of Adal as a duo.
Visually, Absolver is sort of a mixed bag. On one hand, the minimalistic graphics look pretty neat and tidy. On the other, they seem to be just a little too bereft of detail. The environments and character models almost looked cell-shaded. I suppose this fits in more with its curious lack of realism in other departments, such as disappearing bodies and a total lack of bodily damage effects.
To me, Absolver represents a step in the right direction for fighting games. It moves away from the stagnant 2D and 3D fighting games that dominate the market right now, allowing for such novel things as full 3D movement within its various environs, as well as a semi-open world. However, I was disappointed with the game’s lack of damage effects and cartoonish lack of immersion. Absolver’s a good step in the right direction, but it also indicates that there are many more steps to be taken if we are to see another masterpiece such as Bushido Blade.
Absolver features great graphics that make its martial arts theme come alive. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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