I must confess that, when I came to review Windfolk, I misread the title. “Windy Folk?” I pondered, “That certainly sounds like an alternative concept for a video game”. I initially conceived that this Windy Folk must be an interactive experience that offers some insightful hints and tips on how to avoid an intense bout of flatus. Then I reread that the title and deduced that it’s actually called Windfolk and is a third-person shooter all about strapping on a jetpack and battling in the sky. Now though, having played this lacklustre game, I can see that my first assumption was correct. Windfolk should be called Windyfolk – as it absolutely stinks.
There’s one thing that Windfolk almost gets right – flight. Protagonist Esen blasts around the handful of maps with smooth grace. Controls are clear and intuitive and the sense of speed palpable; Esen rockets into the horizon with satisfying velocity upon the squeeze of a trigger. The problem is that flight is pointless. The levels may be pretty but are devoid of fun; there’s no reason to explore them and the game’s design and structure discourages play.
Levels are closed off by ‘strong winds’ and the possibilities of a flying sandbox instead becomes nothing more than a long corridor. One in which you’ll spend most of your time blasting from one end to the other. Usually towards a waypoint and maybe, occasionally, diverting to go and pick up an obviously hidden journal entry. Other than that the maps are vacant and empty – the limitless joys of flight curtailed as a means of getting from A to B.
And just what do you do when you reach B? Predominantly you engage in an air battle. At this point hordes of enemies appear until Esen blasts them all from the sky. You might think that this could well be brilliant – after all, surely epic dog fights in which each jet packed sky warrior darts around the environment is a recipe for sheer awesomeness?
You’d think that, only developer Gammera Nest took the odd decision of immediately curtailing the player’s ‘Rocketeer’ fantasies by placing all combat in a giant energy bubble – one so small that it renders the whole flying thing pointless. Rather than taking part in energetic dog fights, the player simply strafes slowly whilst the overly generous auto-aim renders combat an uninspiring breeze.
Matters aren’t helped any by the limited range of weapons, each lacking any sense of punch or impact. Firing off a massive heat-seeking rocket launcher should be cathartic – instead it’s catatonic. There’s so little audio and visual response that weapon use is a flat experience offering little excitement. Special abilities fare no better. Most weapons have a second function that can be activated after firing off a series of shots but they don’t liven up the combat, they just add another ball of energy that can’t miss its target. Meanwhile, enemy AI is a bore, the evil minions of The Coalition hovering around like dozy flies in the summer, seemingly waiting for you to swat them from the sky.
If all that sounds rather dreary, then it’s only exacerbated by the developer’s odd predilection to immediately destroy any and all momentum or pace the player happens to be building up. Tedious and long conversations between Esen and her mentor, Batrax, cannot be skipped. The two drone on whilst the player literally does nothing – there’s no waypoint to fly to or enemy to blast. It’s not even as if Esen and Batrax are saying anything of interest – just further bland exposition and another example of Batrax’s bizarre fetish, one in which he insists on punishing Esen with a month of toilet cleaning every chance he gets. Oh, and the least threatening villain of all time, Russell (or is it Rusell? The game doesn’t know), will pop up for a chin wag from time to time.
If all that wasn’t enough to put anyone and everyone off Windfolk, how about these examples? One level demands that you repeatedly ‘grab the cargo’ from a transporter. Only, you can’t grab the cargo, instead, you’ve just got to follow the transporter around for a bit until you can damage it. My molars took quite the frustrated grinding whilst Esen repeatedly bounced off the cargo, the game failing to explain why I was going wrong.
Then there’s a random puzzle that blocks all progress and is so obscure that even after I solved it – I just had to try all the combinations until eventually finding the right one – I still have no idea what it was all about. How about the mission that sends you around a maze of identical cave tunnels to find a switch, only to then send you back through the maze – only this time with a countdown timer. Again and again, I tried to give Windfolk the benefit of the doubt, again and again it poked me in the eye for my naïve optimism.
If there’s one positive aspect to my time with Windfolk it’s that it was a short one. With only seven levels, and the same amount of arcade trials, the game can be easily completed in a matter of hours. But when the most positive aspect of a game is that it’s all over quickly, what type of positive is that?