Folklore has some grand ambitions. Not satisfied with delivering a mildly diverting plaything, the hope of most other games, it looks to ask questions about life after death. If you knew that there was life beyond the grave, how would that effect your day to day life here and now? These are the issues that Game Republic brings to the gamer, no mean feat. They are to be commended for at least attempting to walk the tightrope between engaging ethical dilemmas whilst maintaining the fun of the game proper.
Folklore deals with these issues and lets you get to grips with its world through a diverse array of characters. The action swings between current day Ireland and a spiritual Celtic-drenched afterlife. The here and now part of the equation takes the form of the village of Doolin, where we meet two characters that are trying to solve a series of murders. Ellen is a young woman who has recently received a letter from a mystery stranger claiming to be her long-lost mother, inviting her to come to the village. Keats is a reporter for an occult magazine who also received an invitation to come to the same locale. The later world is an eerie land of afterlives that play host to the memories of the dead.
Although the two worlds are separate, as you would expect one place has a profound effect on the other. A complex web of political intrigue in the netherworld is slowly revealed to intricately relate to the events in Doolin. As you can probably tell, the story itself wouldn't be out of place in a popular paperback, and it is testament to the writing in the game that before too long you are highly invested in the action. Although it does take a little while to get going, stick with it and like a good book the rewards are there to be enjoyed.
The story itself does at times feel a little overstretched, but this may well be down to the scale of what it is trying to achieve. This isn't helped by the often static images and dialog text that is used as the main vehicle in the story telling. This cut down approach is again an interesting design decision, but one that needed a little more finesse in the execution to be convincing. The full cut scenes that complement this dialog through the game are of a much higher quality and to some extent make up for the blander presentation of the main tale. These scenes do an excellent job of fleshing out the details of the story and add some substantial presence to the proceedings.
The game proper plays a lot like a conventional adventure game you may have played previously on the PC. You navigate Doolin as either Ellen or Keats and can engage in conversation with the various villagers. These interactions are often key to uncovering the clue to enable you to progress. The action is always directed so you are rarely at a loss for advice. The majority of the time you know what you need to do, you just need to figure out how to achieve it.
You can choose whether to play each of the first five chapters as either Keats or Ellen. You choice determines how the story unfolds as you are involved in the action from a certain perspective. If you have the energy you can then return to these chapters and play through them as the alternate character. Although this can make the experience a little long winded, it is the best way to get a full grasp of the story. This structure means the game is less linear (in contrast to the linear development of each character's tale) and gives a more open feel. It does jar at times when you switch between characters and end up playing through later events for one of them without the requisite background from the previous chapters, however.
As soon as you hit the afterworld things become much more luscious and populated with fantastic (literally) creatures. Time and effort has obviously been spent here and the rewards are obvious. The level of detail and subtle art style combine to bombard the senses. Amidst all this glorious fantasy you must battle and defeat a variety of monstrous creatures so you can absorb their souls. Again you play as either Ellen or Keats, either way you are without a weapon and must employ their sleuthing skills to collect the ids of the various folk so they can be summoned in battle. This develops as you play through the game so that you build up quite a horde upon which you can call in an hour of need, or just when you need to dispatch a particularly tricky creature.
The different folk you collect make use of different types of weapons. These include short-range, hand held swords, shards of ice and even flying machines that drop bombs. Their different abilities in battle make collecting the different people more appealing, as they represent not only another trophy but also new and exciting ways to develop the gameplay. Additionally, your tactics will benefit from the odd tip books that can be found. These books, although a little cryptic, do in fact give hints on the different monsters weak spots and advice on how to use these to your advantage.
The high point of the game's control scheme is the use of the Sixaxis to pull defeated foes souls out into your collection. You simply hold either shoulder button and give the controller a yank. Although not the most advanced of mechanisms it works well to give an added flourish to finishing off your enemies. Tougher creatures require a more rapid tug on the controller with the hardest making you furiously shake the thing until they finally give up their precious ids. We have seen a lot of different uses for the Sixaxis controls this sensible use of the feature really fits well within the context of the game.
So far we haven't had very much to say negatively about the game. However, a real low point is the frequency and duration of each loading screen. As mentioned above, the environments are impressive and gorgeous to look at; it seems we pay a price for this by load times that really make you wonder if something has gone wrong. It's a shame as the game has worked so hard to pull you into the story and the constant staccato progress though a level means this illusion is regularly shattered.
The whole experience lasts a good 20 hours, and can be extended by completing any number of the side quests you encounter along the way. You should note that this includes the repeated gameplay for Keats and Ellen. Whilst there are some differences between the characters you largely tackle the same levels and boss battles twice over.
Folklore is a game that has extremely high aspirations both in terms of storytelling and ethical engagement. Although it is certainly a valiant attempt, I felt it never quite hit the nail on the head. That said, this is a great little game that should bolster the slightly light PS3 release list. The visuals and story writing alone are worth shelling out the GBP 40 for. If however, you reserve your gaming funds for the cream of the crop you should probably wait until some of the other triple-A releases that are fast approach along with Christmas make it to shelves.