The words “Kick! Punch! It’s all in the mind!” from Parappa have never rang so true for a game.
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC codefor review
Absolver is a game by former Ubisoft developers that places you in the role of a Prospect, on a mission to prove yourself and join an elite group known as Absolvers. There aren’t really any more story elements to the game besides that opening cinematic but that’s fine; you’re here for the punching and damn is the punching good. At the start, you’ll pick from three combat styles that each have their own special skill such as a four-directional dodge maneuver or hyper armor and you’re then thrust out into a decently sized open-world filled with fighters who want to kick your teeth in.
Combat is fast, fluid, and strategic as you must patiently observe your opponent’s movements to get a read on what sort of combat style they have and how to properly counter it. As a big fan of games that do hand-to-hand combat right, Absolver really scratches that itch I’ve been having for a game like this. Each punch and kick hits hard and getting a good combo going feels immensely satisfying. It feels even better when you do things like duck under a punch or jump over an incoming leg sweep and punish your opponent for leaving themselves wide open. Everything about the combat in this game feels fantastic and is a good mix between a brawler and fighting game.
Now as much as I love the combat I have to admit that, like other melee focused games, it doesn’t really work well once three or more enemies appear on-screen. The AI likes to bunch up together which makes dodging and attacking quite difficult. You always have the option to run from an encounter, but it’s not a good feeling when you have to. There is one forced moment though where the game has you fight six enemies at once during one of its boss fights; halfway through the fight the boss summons five minions to aid him and they infinitely respawn until you damage the boss enough to reach the next phase. As you can assume, it’s not a fun moment.
As you fight your way through Adal you’ll learn new moves by fighting other combatants; defend yourself against the same technique enough times and you’ll learn it and be able to add it to your combat deck. While in combat you’re able to switch between four different fighting stances, and each stance contains its own combo string which is customizable in the combat deck. When editing your deck you can scroll through the list of attacks you’ve learned and place them in whichever order you want. Want a kick-heavy character? Go for it. Absolver’s combat deck really lets you make your character feel personal since you’re choosing exactly how they fight and likely won’t find another character like yours. If you progress far enough in the game you can even take your combat deck and start your own fighting school that you can then teach to other players you encounter in the world.
Speaking of other players, Absolver features seamless drop-in multiplayer. You’ll see other players exploring the world alongside you and you can opt to join them or fight it out. Combat takes an even more strategic turn when you factor in a friendly player since you can harm your buddy with carelessly aimed punches. Working with a stranger to take down groups of enemies is something I never got tired of and the game features some spectacular environments that really help sell the experience. An odd restriction to co-op is that you can’t fight the game’s three main bosses with another player. It’s weird that they go to the effort to have all these co-op elements in the game but then forces your friend to stand around waiting while you fight a boss.
Absolver also features some light RPG elements. Defeating enemies will earn you XP which will give you coins you can use to increase your stats like health or increasing the amount of energy you get for your special abilities. I never felt any stronger towards the end of the game’s 6-8 hour playtime than I did at the beginning though which makes me question why it’s even there to begin with. Even stranger is the game’s loot system. You’re able to equip a multitude of new clothing items, each with their own stat changes, but they feel more superfluous than anything. From what I gathered with trying on different combinations of items, you’ll either have armor that bumps up your attack or your defense but the amount that you’re losing out on if you go either way is so insignificant that it’s not worth worrying about. I just ended up equipping whatever made me look cool and saw no drastic change. You’ll also acquire duplicate items with no way of removing them from your inventory. These elements just seem like they’re there either because the developers needed to add some extra substance to the game, or because they had grander ideas than what they could deliver on.
Besides all that, there are a few additional issues that hold Absolver back a bit. First and foremost is the pathfinding issue the AI tends to have. You’ll regularly see enemy combatants get stuck on geometry or sometimes run into each other indefinitely. It’s easy enough to fix by getting close enough to them to force them out of their running animation and into their fighting animation, but the moment can still ruin your immersion. The other issue with the game involves its PvP element. When you encounter another player in the world you can initiate a fight with them by attacking and once a player is defeated the surviving fighter can revive that player in what’s supposed to be a “respectful” handshake moment. What some players like to do is revive you and then continue attacking and giving chase if you try to end the fight. Considering the players who did this tended to be much higher level than me it wasn’t much of a fight. Each time this happened to me I either had to quit the game or run until they got bored and hope they weren’t there when I returned. I encountered a few dozen players in my time playing and this happened to me maybe 3-5 times so it wasn’t a significant problem, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed somehow.
The Final Word
Absolver is the kind of game that is brilliant when you focus on its combat, but when you start to look at the overall product you start to notice the imperfections.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair