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The Ball

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Teotl Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ Puzzle/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

The physics-based puzzler is a relatively unpopulated niche of a genre, but most of the titles I've played have been worthwhile experiences. I'm talking about titles like Portal and Penumbra, which are fantastic in every sense of the word. Every time a new physics-based puzzler comes along, I usually go out of my way to at least give it a try. I just finished Tripwire Interactive and Teotl Studios' The Ball, and it's worthy to stand among the few and the proud. It gets off to a very slow start and there are some notable design flaws, but in the end, it's a good game offered at a more-than-reasonable price.

Teotl Studios used Unreal Engine 3 for The Ball, and while I can't say it's the best-looking UE3 game, it isn't a slouch. Most UE3 games I've played are notorious for texture pop-in issues. The Ball manages to sidestep most of them, and even when it doesn't, the textures fade in smoothly without any hitches. The physics are also worthy of mention, since games like this hinge on the successful simulation of realistic physics. The Ball gets it right. So, technically, this is a reasonably impressive game. The art direction is a bit uninspired; sure, the game is a trek through the remnants of an ancient civilization, but after the first three hours, I started to feel like I wasn't getting anywhere. That's how rarely the environments change. Towards the end of the game, things get more interesting, but by that time, I felt it was a bit too late.

The Ball sounds thoroughly unremarkable. The music doesn't do much to envelop you in the game's universe, and the voice acting is sparse (and also unimpressive). The ancient mechanisms that power every part of the underground world sound decent -- especially the magnets and gravity distortion rooms. Best of all, the titular giant spheroid has a deep, thundering aural presence.


Your character is an archaeologist who has fallen into a chasm while on the job. He can't get back up, so he does what most video game characters do: he simply proceeds forward. It isn't long before he finds the dilapidated husk of an ancient civilization. What starts as a fascinating discovery turns to a fight for survival, as all sorts of wrong things have been going on underground. Gamers looking for an interesting story might want to look elsewhere; The Ball's story takes a backseat to what the game does best: puzzles.

Near the beginning of the game, the main character finds two interesting artifacts. One is a grisly-looking gun-like tool called the Hammer, and the other is the game's namesake: the Ball. The Ball itself can be manipulated by the Hammer to meet the needs of the main character. The grand majority of the game involves finding a way to progress to the next room. Each room is littered with switches, all of which can only be activated by either the player or by the Ball. It's usually clear what you need to do, even if it isn't always clear how you're supposed to do it. Some of the puzzle solutions will bore you, but several of them will thrill you. Especially the puzzles that have you using the Ball in interesting ways. For example, one requires that you dip the Ball in some sort of flammable substance and create a trail from an unlit fuse to an open flame. Some others require you to tether the Ball to heavy objects. It's a good thing the physics engine is superb.

Once you finish The Ball's single-player campaign, there's not much else to do. You can try some Horde-inspired Survival challenges, but they are combat-oriented, and thus not much fun. At least the maps are rife with traps just begging to be used against the giant ladybugs and other assorted beasts.


The Ball's earlier puzzles are a breeze. Few of them (if any) will make you second-guess your initial judgment. You'll know where to go and what to do once you get there. Once you get a little deeper into the game, you might get stumped every now and then. The solutions aren't always readily apparent, and that's the way a good puzzle game works. Sometimes, you might become confused with regards to where you can and can't go. Other times, you may find yourself wandering aimlessly around each environment. Frustration may set in after a while, but the game never lets you get too far from where you're supposed to be. Eventually, you'll catch something that you missed, and it's this sense of discovery that makes The Ball work.

Game Mechanics:

The Hammer is the only item you'll have in your hands throughout The Ball, and its uses are somewhat limited. It's probably for the best. You can click the (Left Mouse) when to hit something when you're close enough to it. You can also charge it for a powerful blow. When you're not hitting the Ball around, you'll be pushing special blocks. The Hammer's secondary use is an attraction functionality that pulls the Ball towards it, no matter where it happens to be at the time. Naturally, that function is mapped to the (Right Mouse). The Ball moves around the environment rather loosely, so pathfinding is only an issue when you're being just plain careless.

The Hammer can't hurt enemies on its own, which leaves the Ball as your best chance for survival. This sheds light on The Ball's weakest link: combat. Your archaeologist is not Indiana Jones; for starters, the ball chasing him is not an unwelcome presence. Also, he's not a gunslinger. The underground world is filled with monsters (and monkeys). If you want to survive, you'll have to rely on the Hammer and the Ball. If the Ball smashes into an enemy with enough velocity, the beast will gib into a mess of random body parts. Sometimes, the game takes the Ball away from you. In these situations, the proper course of action is to run for your life. Other times, you'll have to exploit environmental traps while using the Hammer's knockback ability. The combat is occasionally fun, and it reaches its high points when it resembles the sport of bowling. However, it's nowhere near as fun as the puzzles.

Despite its early pacing issues and weak combat, The Ball is more than worth checking out. The puzzles may be inconsistent, but the good heavily outweighs the mediocre. You can get The Ball from the Steam Store for $19.99, which is a total steal. Check the link below.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Minimum System Requirements:

3GHz single core CPU, 1024MB System memory, Geforce 6800 or similar, 1.5 GB Diskspace, Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7

Test System:

AMD Athlon 64X2 Dual-Core Processor 6400+, NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS, SoundMAX Integrated Digital HD Audio, Windows Vista, Sony DVD RW AW-G170A ATA Device, 2x 1GB DDR2 at 400MHz

Related Links:

Microsoft Xbox 360 Pinball FX2 Microsoft Xbox 360 Pro Evolution Soccer 2011

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated