With the release of the card game-video game hybrid "The Eye of Judgment" for the PlayStation 3, Sony is dipping its foot into the very lucrative waters of two of the world's largest entertainment markets: video games and collectible card games.
Teaming with Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast, a company well established in the collectible card market, the game's success might be considered a slam-dunk.
But there's not much here to turn card game lovers into video gamers, or to turn video game lovers ... well, you get the idea.
Though the integration of the new PlayStation Eye, a kind of webcam for the PlayStation 3, into the game is relatively seamless, and I did find myself in a few heated battles, the game falls short of re-creating the depth of the more popular and time-tested card games like "Magic: The Gathering," and instead aims for quick games and fast game play.
It also fails to create a compelling reason for card game players to give up the luxury of playing anywhere at anytime, instead of setting themselves up in front of the TV, with enough space -- and light -- for the PlayStation Eye to function properly, all while whipping their heads back and forth as they play cards to see what's happening onscreen.
Still, as Sony expands on the 110 cards available at the game's launch, and as the ever-improving PlayStation online services make it easier for players to hook up and compete, "The Eye of Judgment," which I'll call "TEOJ," represents a great game for solo players looking for a little card-slinging action when no friends are about -- or if you have no friends at all. You know who you are.
Fun Is in the Eye of the Beholder
In "TEOJ," players take on the role of wizard, dueling against one another through the use of spells, represented in reality by playing cards, to take over five of the game board's nine "fields," or boxes.
Using a cloth game board included with "TEOJ," players cast spells in an effort to take over fields and to thwart their enemies' efforts to do the same. The PlayStation 3 re-creates the board onscreen, each field graphically representing one of five elements: fire, water, earth and wood, and the mechanical Biolith.
Starting with five cards from a deck that must be exactly 30 cards deep, players draw one card at the beginning of their turns and can then cast spells. Most of the spells conjure some kind of creature to a chosen field.
Players place their creature card of choice on one of the nine boxes on the game board with the watchful PlayStation Eye looking on from its perch atop the included stand. Like the board itself, each creature has an associated element, and while placing a creature on a field with the same element imbues it with some extra defense, placing one on a field representing the creature's opposite element makes the character weaker. Place a fire creature on a water field and he'll be hurting.
Once the creature is placed, it's time to watch as the game comes to life onscreen.
With a "poof," the creature magically appears on the virtual game board and, if it's able, automatically attacks an enemy within its attack range. Different creatures can attack and defend in different ways. You can turn it off, but the short animations of your creature taking a swing at the enemy once it attacks, and the occasional counterattack from an opponent's creature, are about as graphically thrilling as "TEOJ" gets.
The other spells in the game generally change the element type of a chosen field or fields.
Like most card games, the fun in playing "TEOJ" is in who you're playing against. Because the game mechanics are not hard to learn, even for those unfamiliar with card games, it's not difficult to steamroll the computer with just the game's starter deck after a few games. You'll be looking for more challenging opponents soon after starting.
One of the big thrills in playing card games is in creating your own decks with a personal touch. The game's deck creator again uses the PlayStation Eye, which in this mode shows a live image of the game board. As players place cards on the board, the PS3 reads and records the card to store the deck as it's built.
The game's weakest link is something called "Judgment" mode, which lets players place creature cards on the same live game board as in the deck builder, click a button and then see who the victor is. Though the PS3 projects an animated image of the creature standing on the card, the creature will react to you if you get too close. It's nifty, but it's hardly enough to make this part of the game fun.
Because the attack and defend values on the card already tell you which card is more powerful and the creatures do not interact with one another, clicking the "Judgment" button to start the game does nothing more than start a countdown, at the end of which all but the most powerful creatures disappear.
Too Much Effort for Lazy Gamers
As someone who was once an avid "Magic: The Gathering" player, "TEOJ" represented the convergence of two of my favorite game formats.
Sadly, Sony Computer Entertainment failed to create a compelling card game or a compelling video game to pull me away from either more traditional video or card games that I've already invested in heavily.
One of the things that attracts card game players to the hobby is the fact that all you need is a pocketful of cards and, whether you're on vacation or in the car, you can play the same game and have the same experiences.
Video games require a TV, space and, of course, a gaming console. At $400 or more a pop, it's unlikely that any card players are going to run out and pick up a PS3 just to play "TEOJ."
One thing TEOJ does do well is whet the appetite. What could be is almost exciting enough to recommend the game, but aside from the included PlayStation Eye, there's little value in the game for true enthusiasts.
If you're a card game lover, stick to card games. If you're a video gamer and you've got a PS3, pick up "Warhawk" instead.
"The Eye of Judgment" is rated "T" for Teen and includes fantasy violence