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Sony taps into the trading card market with the launch of EyeToy's successor...
Marking the first appearance of the PS3's successor to Sony's demographic-busting EyeToy peripheral, Eye of Judgment is a faithful adaptation of the hardcore and ever so slightly anorak'ish hobby of trading card games - two words that could never be labelled at any of EyeToy's "games".
Developed in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, Eye of Judgment provides the type of experience you'd expect from the people behind Magic: The Gathering. Containing the PlayStation Eye, Eye of Judgment's considerable package of bits and bobs includes the gubbins you'll need to set it all up, a 3x3 board to play the game, and a Starter Deck comprising of 30 cards to get you going.
Like many card games, it's easier to jump straight into Eye of Judgment than suffer through the rules described in an arduous series of video tutorials. Covering topics such as the towering PlayStation Eye installation and the finer subtleties of the Dual Phase, it's a shame the plodding sequences and repetitive rock riffs are a necessity to understanding the game when an interactive open-hand tutorial would have been much more appealing to newcomers.
Boasting a higher resolution and framerate than its PS2 predecessor, the PlayStation Eye performs faultlessly with Eye of Judgement, even under less then perfect conditions. In conjunction with the PlayStation Eye, the CyberCode matrix on each card has been under development for a number of years at Sony Computer Science Laboratories. The result on a technical level realises the initial concept with consummate ease; there's no need to be extremely precise when it comes to card placement, whilst we never encountered any issues with the wrong card being recognised.
Draw Five Cards & Let's Begin
Drawing five cards from the deck at the start of each game, Eye of Judgment challenges players to control five grids/fields on the board to win, taking it in turns to deal a card from the pack, earn mana, attack opponents, and summon new creatures or spells from your deck. Surprisingly easy to get the hang of, Eye of Judgment is nevertheless a game that hides a deceptively difficult challenge with various tactics and strategies to discover and master.
Tied to a mana cost, selecting which creatures or spells to use, when to attack, when to conserve mana, and which direction to face, are the decisions you'll have to make when trying to emerge victorious. Many of the creatures have varying attack and counter-attack abilities, all of which are handily displayed on the cards themselves. Each of the grids and the creatures themselves are tied to one of five elements (Water, Fire, Biolith, Wood, Earth), enabling various pros and cons in a scissors, paper, stone mentality. Further still, many of the cards will have various bonuses when positioned nearby to other creatures.
When an attack is unleashed, the creatures come to life on the battlefield in a similar manner to Interplay's iconic Battle Chess series or the futuristic bout of Holo-Chess between Threepio and Chewie in Star Wars. Like much of Eye of Judgment, it's a cosmetic touch that trading card purists would argue isn't really needed. However, like much of Eye of Judgment, it's a game that may rely on gimmicky innovations, but it's pretty entertaining nevertheless.
Alongside the Starter Deck, Eye of Judgment includes four function cards that allow you to perform important features such as specializing particular targets with the Action card, checking out the status of the board and summoned creatures with the Status card, signalling the end of a turn with the End Turn card, and aborting an action with the Cancel card.
Like numerous trading card games, there's a series of restrictions to ensure an even balance, such as a maximum of three of the same cards in a deck and others that are specifically handicapped. Thankfully, the Starter Deck comes already organised so it's not something you have to concern yourself about, although it's hard to say how the game handles attempts to cheat in this manner as Sony didn't send any Booster Packs to compliment what comes with the box. Equally, if you're not happy with your starting hand you can play a Mulligan once to change these, although presumably there's no way in which the computer or online opponent can tell you've only done this once - perhaps trading card fans are an honest bunch and it's their respect for the game that governs such greay areas.
Trading Card Fanatics Or Newcomers???
With my past experience of card games extending to the occasional bout of Top Trumps, I wasn't expecting too much from Eye of Judgment. So it came as something of a surprise when I found myself inextricably hooked by the game. A daunting difficulty level rarely provided a barrier, but instead, a satisfying challenge that keeps you coming back for more. Perhaps the only genuine criticism that can really be levelled at Eye of Judgment is the lack of any substantial content. Restricting the game to a series of one-off battles, the appeal of Eye of Judgment lies squarely with playing against friends - somehow the option of watching the computer play against itself just doesn't seem that enticing!. Thankfully there's a strong online aspect to the game with Ranked and Unranked matches, although some sort of on and offline tournament structure would have been appreciated because the game can feel a little trivial.
Featuring 110 cards to collect in total from Set 1, fans of collectable card games will probably find purchasing Booster Packs and creating personalised decks more appealing than I do. With the option of creating customised decks and registering them in the game, Eye of Judgment meets the level of fanaticism that fans will crave. Sony has made it clear that they intend to support Eye of Judgment with expansion packs available via the PlayStation Network throughout 2008. Beyond opening up the scope for new sets of cards, we're hoping they'll be able to add to the somewhat questionable depth of content and bring a little more variety to the game.
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