Pyre

Pyre

Producer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: August 15, 2017
Platform: PS4, PC
Rating: E10+
Genre: RPG

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Ye Olde NBA Jam
Written by Jesse Seilhan

There is a good chance that you will have no idea what Pyre actually is after reading this review. One part RPG, one part visual novel, all tied together with a 3-on-3 sporting event similar to basketball and a particularly rough event during American Gladiators. But if you’re familiar with its legacy, you should feel confident knowing that the team that made Pyre have yet to screw up and they are now three for three. Bastion proved that they could make a personal and charming twin stick shooter, Transistor proved that rewarding intelligent gamers can lead to unparalleled experiences, and Pyre continues the tradition by taking a simple mechanic and wrapping a whole universe and mythology around it. While Pyre is absolutely not for everyone, it is undoubtedly something special.

From the onset, Pyre shows exactly what it takes to draw you in. You’re alone in the desert, cast out from society for reasons unknown. Three masked figures approach, asking if you know how to read, an ancient and desired skill lost in this time. Depending on your answer, and you do have a choice right away and throughout the game, you can join this caravan, the first of many friends you’ll pick up along the way. Your new compatriots need you for their own selfish reasons, as they are also exiles forced to compete in the “rites,” a sporting event that allows the winners to get one step closer to rejoining society. It’s weird, it’s complex, and it’s fun.

Graphically, the art shines in nearly all ways. The character models are truly unique, from the dapper mustachioed dog to the brazen worm knight: everybody instantly pops off the screen. During the Rites themselves, the effects, flourishes, and smooth motion all lend itself to an engaging and competitive back-and-forth affair, showing an influence from both fighting and sports games. The majority of the game is spent in dialogue boxes, which would suck if they weren’t so well written and informative. A wonderful little touch Pyre has is the ability to highlight certain key phrases, characters, or concepts that pop up in conversation. An overlay goes a little further in detail about each term, establishing context and history with a flick of the stick. It’s subtle, but the ability to dive just a little deeper in such an easy way is awesome.

But what about this basketball thing? Between travels and conversations, you eventually find yourself face to face with a group of foes. You pick three of your best champions and put them in battle to extinguish your enemies’ pyre. You do so by claiming the ball in the middle of the field and slamming it into their flame, doing a little bit of damage each time. But each hero has unique powers, from double jumps to knockback attacks, all taking a different amount of points away from the target. Constructing your team is half the strategy, as big and slow characters fare poorly against the nimble ones, but your ability to cast out an aura and banish them might make them useful overall. Throw in a progression mechanic and skill tree that makes you faster, stronger, and more punishing, and you can get lost in the details for a long time in between matches.

The overworld is gorgeous and entertaining, as the various biomes all feel different, from the layout to the music. You don’t actually move your cart from spot to spot, you just pick a destination and watch the animation unfold, but you do feel a sense of wonder about who might step up to challenge you in each exotic locale you visit. Minor scavenging is done out there, with different paths allow for some items that can be equipped to one member or another, boosting a stat or two. You can also partake in challenge rites that pit only a single character up against a certain type of enemy, much like Bastion or Transistor. While there isn’t a ton to do beyond reading and rites-ing, the little breaks in the action are welcomed and well made.

Pyre isn’t for everyone and it’s very difficult to recommend casually. If reading dialogue 75% of your gaming time sounds appealing, this might work for you. Even if it doesn’t, the competitive aspect might make up for it. The music is also incredible, as Supergiant’s go-to musician Darren Korb has outdone himself once again. But even with those quantifiers, the weird charm and bold design decisions are just bound to rub even some of the most open-minded gamers the wrong way. Still, if you’re willing to go on a weird ride and trust some very talented folks down a winding path, you might just fall in love with what you find.

For more info go to:
supergiantgames.com

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