IGN Review of Lock's Quest
Shortly after 5th Cell's first DS project Drawn to Life was finished, the promising upstart developer announced its second game with publisher THQ, yet another seemingly original, inspired DS project with Lock's Quest. Set in a different world from Drawn to Life, yet strikingly similar in style and attitude, Lock's Quest has been described as "a gamer's game" by 5th Cell, and a project that takes the innovative philosophy that the company prides itself on, and delivers a more mature experience around it. If Drawn to Life is your little sibling's game, Lock's Quest is yours.
The project has had a pretty short development cycle when compared to Drawn to Life (under a year, in fact), and the style of the game itself is still generally younger in appearance - we assume this is part of THQ's brand strategy, since DTL sold like crazy last year - but the simple fact remains that on a system filled with cut and paste strategy games, licensed products, and impressive - but still repeat design - DS remakes from some of the top players in the portable RPG world, Lock's Quest is a breath of fresh air, and a serious step in the right direction for 5th Cell.
We've hit on a lot of what Lock's Quest has to offer in our previous hands-on (so read them if you want more info), but now that we've taken the game through its paces, completed the 100 day single player campaign, and played numerous rounds of one-on-one local multiplayer, we've come to grips with exactly what Lock's Quest offers, and who the title will appeal to. Lock's Quest fits between genres, but it can best be described as an action strategy game that blends a few real-time strategy elements and role-playing games together. Players follow young archineer (architect and engineer, the pride of the era's defensive force) Lock as he rises the ranks of the Kingdom Force, battles against a mysterious group of living machinery known as the Clockworks, and ultimately hopes to face off against their evil leader Lord Agony.
Of course the story can never be that simple, as you'll be treated to some rather unexpected twists and turns (and some fake-outs as well, so good luck predicting where it heads), as Lock's Quest ends up feeling like a mix between classic RTS games like Warcraft 2, blended together with as much story as you'd get in a lighter SquareEnix game or Atlus title. It's mission to mission throughout, but the story really pushes you to keep going.
The game is made up of a few distinct chunks, as Lock goes from a well-to-do kid living on the outskirts of the world, finally learning the true way of the archineer, and then eventually pushing along the front lines of Kingdom Force. Without going too in detail about the story, we'll say that in the first 30% of the game or so, the missions will have to drive players to keep going, as there really isn't much to the plot. Fortunately, the game continues (right up until day 100, actually) giving you new special skills, enemies to fight, variants on existing enemies, turret types, helper bots, traps, and allies to keep things fresh, so when the story isn't at the forefront of the game, it's still a pretty driving experience.
All in all Lock's Quest runs about 20 hours, and does a nice job mixing up the missions. The worry here - we've thought it, and we've seen people online voice their concern - was that in a game that feels like a Defend Your Castle or classic Tower Defense formula, you wonder if it can really carry its own full-fledged, quest-style experience. It does, and it does wonderfully. Within the 100 days you'll go on offense with Lock, of course lock down and fight wave after wave of enemies in classic defense missions, but also deal with multi-front battles, guarding up to three areas at once while working on an offensive mission, and protecting key players in the battle. One mission might have you defending a source well (basically the currency and "mana" of the world) until reinforcements arrive, while the next has you rushing right up the gut of enemy waves at an attempt to take out an opposing general. It gets pretty intense.
As we've broken down time and time again, the game's major hook is its two-stage combat system, which alternates between a build mode (in the vein of something like Rampart), and a battle mode. Build mode is innovative and easy to use for the most part, but does have a few quirks when all is said and done, most of them revolving around the fact that there's no camera rotation, so 5th Cell worked around the DS tech limitations by using a lot of 2D objects and transparency so you can plop down object after object in close proximity. There are also some random moments where you try to get the piece exactly where you want it, only to fiddle with it for a second or two to get it just right, but after a few missions you'll forget all about the initial quirks and dive right on in.
And once you do, you'll find a wealth of options and customization. By the time the game is finished, you'll have four different material types for building (the better the material, the more it costs, but the stronger it is), half a dozen cannons, an equal amount of helper bots that add status effects to nearby turrets, six traps that also add status effects to small areas around the map, and dozens upon dozens of strategies. We'd like to see Lock himself power up a bit more, be able to add different equipment, or up his attributes specifically in a future sequel (provided the game kicks ass at retailers, as it should), since he doesn't evolve much beyond four main attacks, and four supers, but when you consider all the options and strategies that come from the build mode and Lock's free-form battling together, it's pretty impressive to say the least.
On a technical side, Lock's Quest is an impressive package, as we've played missions with 40 or so traps set all around the world, over 30 walls and turrets in play, battling upwards of 30 enemies at a time, all while having special attacks activated and the battle animating around us beautifully. One time we had noticeable slowdown for a couple seconds (once out of 20 hours), but at the time we'd estimate a total of over 300 on-screen animations, sprites, placed objects, 30 AI characters in action, and us running around attacking and repairing everything in sight. It's a different type of "push" on the hardware, but Lock's Quest is as impressive as Treasure's Bangai-O on DS. Once you see the chaos unfolding on screen, you'll be just as shocked as we are that the game runs this smooth; it's hectic.
On the audio/visual side, Lock's Quest is again a pretty impressive package overall, though we could see it take off even further in future iterations. The music is well made, oftentimes rivaling the symphonic feel of some of SquareEnix's best works on DS, and at its very least hanging toe to toe with the more simplistic ones. Even general presentation, including an awesome animated intro cinematic style that is brought back periodically during the story, is extremely impressive, and the blend of epic music, beautiful art, and inspired music makes for a great overall package. The battle music and build music is often the same throughout (build music stays the same for the duration of the game, while battle music is based on area) , so more variation would be nice there, but all in all it's a very complete, cinematic experience both on and off the battlefield. We hesitate to call out one specific person on a team, but huge props need to go to Paul Robertson, as the guy is hands-down one of the best pixel animators out there. The amount of life that's crammed into some of the characters and enemies (Emi, for example, who is only half the size of a standard character) noticeably affects the product in a big, big way, and credit should be given where due.
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