Another look at A Blind Legend

I wrote a review a few months ago of the recently-released “A Blind Legend” audio-only game for mobile devices. When I wrote the review, I had only played the game for half an hour or so, and already I was impressed with the quality of the 3D audio and the gameplay looked promising, but I wanted to come back after I’d played the game and take a more in-depth look at the gameplay itself. That review has received a lot of views on my blog, so here’s the follow-up.

Gameplay style

The game’s description on Google Play describes it as “hack and slash”, but this is very misleading. While fighting is a major aspect of the gameplay, I’d describe it more as a medieval-fantasy adventure game. The game is divided into “scenes”, each beginning with a short non-interactive introduction, sometimes consisting of just a description of the surroundings from Louise and sometimes a dialogue between multiple characters, and then one or more interactive sections, possibly with non-interactive fillers between them, and ending with a non-interactive conclusion, usually consisting of a dialog between Louise and Edward about what will happen in the next scene. Some scenes are longer than others, and usually consist of a navigational portion (where the player has to navigate through environments of varying complexity, usually with the guidance of Louise or another sighted character) ending with a confrontation by an enemy (Thork’s soldiers, wild beasts, robbers, etc.) which has to be fought and killed to end the scene. Longer scenes may contain multiple navigation and fighting portions, however, and a few scenes take a different format completely. Earlier scenes also contain helpful tutorial instructions, saving the player from having to read or listen to separate instructions beforehand, although there is no way to skip these or turn them off.

There is a pleasant amount of variety in the scenes, both in the content and in the environment. Many of the navigational sections contain additional puzzles or challenges (some where failure can lead to the player being killed), and likewise the fighting scenes are varied in terms of the enemies and the way that they fight back. Along with this variety, however, comes a degree of unpredictability which makes some scenes difficult to complete the first time, as the player may need to experiment to figure out what is required; this is unlikely to be an issue to most players and solving the puzzle and completing the scene after multiple attempts brings a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

One thing which I did find a little offputting was the fixed nature of the storyline. The player’s actions have no effect on the outcome of a scene beyond life or death (although this does get interesting in many scenes), and the player is never presented with decisions about how to handle situations. I prefer to have some influence on the outcome of a game, but many players enjoy and seek games of this nature and as such the game has a lot to offer.

In general the game has an enjoyable amount of variety to keep the player’s interest right to the end, presented in an easily-understandable format.

Storyline

The storyline is medieval-themed with aspects of fantasy in places. It is nicely varied and has a few interesting twists here and there. The story moves at a nice pace, and doesn’t drag but doesn’t omit any important details. It is in a way divided into chapters – generally, consecutive scenes will focus on consecutive events in the same part of the story, and once that part has concluded the next scene will “jump forward” to the next part of the story, possibly skipping a considerable period of time.

The storyline is fairly typical for games of this nature and doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. Personally I would have preferred fewer fantasy elements as these make the story feel a little bit unbelievable and spoil the immersive nature of the game, but otherwise there’s nothing really to fault here either. Simply, there isn’t really anything to say about the storyline itself.

Binaural audio

As I had hoped when I wrote my previous review, the soundscapes do become quite detailed in many later scenes. Some scenes are in crowded busy environments and these don’t sound flat at all but have a lifelike depth to them with many different distinguishable sounds coming from and moving in different directions, and other scenes are in open spaces of different kinds and the audio environment really opens up in these scenes and you can feel the size of the space. Varying weather conditions are conveyed nicely as well. What isn’t conveyed much, and I found that this added an appreciable touch of realism to playing as a blind character, is the time of day, and many times I assumed that a scene was taking place at night, and picturing it in my mind as such, only for someone to say e.g. “it’s getting dark now and we should find shelter”, or vice versa.

The immersive audio continues throughout the non-interactive parts of the scenes, and the player remains in the first person throughout. The player’s character, Edward, does speak at times during the non-interactive sections, and this was confusing at first but once I’d figured out what was going on I found that the sound of Edward’s voice was positioned convincingly such that the player can feel that it is his own character speaking.

If there’s one thing that isn’t right with the audio, and which could easily have been done better, it’s that when the player dies they can hear Louise’s voice in despair, but no matter where Louise is at the time the voice always comes from directly in front of the player. It would have been very easy to position this sound in the same place as all of Louise’s other sounds, but for some reason it isn’t positioned at all and this sounds terrible straight after hearing yourself fall off a steep cliff. I seriously hope that this is fixed in a future update.

Overall the 3D audio is very realistic, but I want to stress that the game is excellent in many other ways as well – something which is easy to lose sight of in the face of such an impressive emerging technology.

Game interface

I touched on the interface and controls for the game in my previous review, and I would like to repeat that the controls are simple and intuitive and allow for easy navigation without sight. The menus for the game (before the game begins) are all audio-only as well, which makes sense from an accessibility point of view but I imagine that sighted players might find it offputting that there is no visual display of the menus to supplement the audio (apparently there is some visual animation during the game to show the player’s swipe gestures or something but I never tried this out as playing the game with your eyes open is frankly a pretty stupid way to play). Instructions for navigating the menus are given when the game is started, though, and the (prerecorded) speech is clear so sighted users should have no difficulty with getting around.

Within the actual game there are two main control modes used – one to navigate with joystick-like controls and another to attack and shield yourself when fighting – although other modes are used for a few of the scenes. All of the controls are explained the first time that they are used and are intuitive and easy to use without sight. My one complaint in this area is that I kept hitting the device’s “home” button during one of the fight scenes and while the game paused itself promptly it was confusing and disruptive to the game; I imagine that this is a limitation in Android itself and that there is nothing that the game developers can do about this. The game also doesn’t work with a screenreader running so it is necessary to disable services such as Talckback before playing; again this is a limitation with the way that the screenreader is designed but it would have been nice if the game pointed this out when opened.

Conclusion

The game is as impressive as I had hoped when I first heard about this project last year, and it kept the same high standard right to the end. Despite the somewhat typical storyline and rigid style of gameplay, there is a lot to enjoy here and I look forward to playing it again. The 3D audio is very impressive and of comparable quality to the graphics in many games, and the intuitive controls make the game enjoyable to play. The game is not too challenging to be frustrating, but not too easy that you’ll get through it in a weekend. The game is an impressive first-of-its-kind for a new generation of 3D audio games, and I am eager to see this concept explored further.

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