Review: Child of Eden

Child of Eden Cover

People may have noticed the theme of AJ using Press Start screens for the first screenshot on AR articles

As tired as this opening gambit may be, I am going to start with a multiple choice question.

If I say Rez HD, which of the following is closest to your first reaction?

a) What’s Rez HD?
b) Is it that music game, a bit like Guitar Hero?
c) The Q? Games re-release of the Dreamcast/PS2 game?
d) I’m sorry. I just came a little.

If you answered b) or d) then you can stop reading now.

For those of you who answered d), you are one of the Rez fanatics, a small but vocal group who shudder at the thought of sounds turning into colours and ominous things called ‘trance vibrators’. Rez fanatics have already bought Child of Eden, love it and are busy boring everyone within earshot with descriptions about how beautiful it is and how transcendent the music in it can become after multiple playthroughs.

For those of you who answered b), you bothered to investigate Rez but simply baulked at the content, confused about what it was about. Was it a music game? Was it a shooter? Or was it something else? In the end, it didn’t matter, as the $50+ price tag on Child of Eden – a game which can be completed in a single day – was an instant turn-off and nothing would convince you otherwise.

Child of Eden, like its predecessor, is an on-rails shooter in which your main input comes in the form of an aiming reticule which allows you to create a string of lock-ons to various enemies and objects and then release the button to launch attacks. It also introduces a second mechanic: all enemy projectiles and some types of enemy are a purple colour, and these require the player to revert to a secondary fire in order to dispatch them.

What makes this game so very different from other on-rail shooters is that every action – from the appearance of an enemy to your targeting of it, to the gradual ‘purification’ of the enemy from your attacks – creates separate sounds which are woven into the game’s soundtrack. Play the game well, or at least rhythmically, and everything you do will be harmoniously interwoven into the level’s background music. The effect is subtle, but on revisiting levels you will notice that as you improve, so too does the the game’s audible feedback.

Child of Eden grid screens 02

The idiot in the top left of the screen is AJ

Child of Eden is an important addition to both the X360 and PS3 (released September 20 in North America) game library, not just because it broaches the subject of ‘what is game?’ with its often stunning visuals that blend perfectly with the music, but also because it has provided Xbox 360’s Kinect with its first legitimate game that isn’t aimed at the casual market; an act I suspect will be repeated for the PS3 Move peripheral.

Before I write a little more about why I think you should buy this game I’m going to briefly touch on one point of contention I have with Child of Eden: there is an unskippable FMV at the beginning which attempts to lend the game some kind of storyline, but falls flat on its face.

It seems to be about some girl called Lumi who has become the embodiment of the Space Internet, otherwise known as Eden. After becoming the first child to be born (and subsequently die) off-planet, the intro cinematic goes on to show Lumi becoming infected, and how it’s now down to the player to rescue her.

Child of Eden Lumi

Yeah, it's like this...

It is one of the most excruciatingly earnest attempts at pretentious film making I’ve seen in quite some time. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve had to watch it in full every time I’ve introduced someone new to the game and they’ve loaded it up while signed into their own gamer profile (its existence makes me wish I smoked, so I could go and take a break), I wouldn’t mention it. But, really: be warned. It is awful.

After enduring the painful opening sequence, though, Child of Eden becomes a visual spectacle. Each of the 5 levels is built around a different theme: the first is a tribute to Rez, with everything rendered in wire-frame; slick and sharp, it depicts many of the different areas from the first game in relatively short 15 minute sequence, culminating in a breathtaking encounter with a globe surrounded by thousands of incandescent cubes.

The second level places the player in a lush, organic forest, where they’re given the task of purifying flora and fauna. The third takes them across and underneath a digital ocean, with gigantic whales swimming past in need of the player’s help to shoot infected barnacles from their fins. The fourth level has a mechanical theme, with the player needing to zap rotating cogs in order to open gates and get further inside the machine. The fifth is pretty much an exhausting boss rush with ever bigger, more vivacious bosses coming at the player from all angles.

Child of Eden Cogs 03

The fourth level is definitely worth reaching

It’s hard to pin down why this game causes my heart to swell. I think it might be because of Child of Eden’s unrelenting positivity, both in its gameplay message – cure Eden, don’t destroy it – and its presentation. The visuals or music presented in any other medium would make me roll my eyes, but making the experience interactive means I can’t help but have a stupid grin on my face throughout it all.

Child of Eden is going to resonate with some people, those that ‘get it’ will find themselves in for a treat that they can safely say only two other games have come close to providing (Rez and Beat Hazard).

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Kinect experience. To put it simply, if you own a Kinect and consider yourself a gamer then Child of Eden should be in your collection. The tweaks done to give the aiming reticule the illusion of 1:1 latency, as well as the subtle changes to the game mechanics (you will automatically target anything that you sweep the reticule over) make this a worthwhile experience. It’s testament to how beneficial the inclusion of the Kinect mode is by it proving easier for me to get better scores using the Kinect than with a normal controller.

Child of Eden Phoenix 01AJ reckons he is ‘rad’ if he only uploads pictures of himself getting perfects

Standing in front of the sensor with nothing in your hands, it’s scary how tangible the combo system becomes when it seems you can almost feel the point at which you’ve reached your maximum limit for locking on before pushing forward with one hand to unleash a perfect strike, then pulling your other hand up to trigger a rapid fire attack and dismiss enemy retaliation. In some ways, it’s hard to go back to the controller afterwards.

Some will balk at the length of the game versus its price. I agree that it may seem steep, but there’s a solid 6-8 hours of gameplay if you’re aiming to unlock all of the extra content and finish the game with a decent score on each level.

As an art-house experience, Child of Eden is fantastic. As a rhythm shooter, it is easily as good as Rez. As an alternative to all the Kinect dancing games at a party, this is the only purchase necessary. Regardless of your choice of controller, though, Child of Eden is certainly something you should take the time to try.

Child of Eden Whale 01

Space Internet Whale commands it