So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Create for Xbox 360, PC, PS3 and Nintendo Wii captures the experience of imagination and construction in digital form
- Consistent physics simulation, huge number of fun and varied objects reward experimentation, 140 solid (if unspectacular) puzzles to solve, leisurely low-pressure environment fosters creativity
- Surprisingly limited puzzle creation capabilities, stubborn camera, forced trial-and-error repetition, shallow community access, underdeveloped Free Create mode
With a concept that recalls The Incredible Machine, LittleBigPlanet and LEGO blocks, Create seemingly offers endless possibilities for the tinkerer in all of us. But while the puzzles are inventive and fun, they don't fully showcase the game's potential.
I was one of those kids who never met a pile of blocks he didn't like, but I never had enough LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, or Erector Set pieces to build the monstrosities I had in mind. So I'd mix and match pieces, scavenge additional parts from board games, and cobble together a Frankenstein's monster of a machine.
At its best, Create captures this liberating experience of imagination and construction in digital form. Mind you, the fourteen unlockable "worlds" are really just simple diorama stages that you decorate with textures, scenery, animals, and the like. Grandly named "Create Chains" reward you for the simple busywork of slapping animated stickers on the sky or dropping buildings onto background terraces, but each stage's inalterable 2D plane of slopes and floating platforms are where all the actual action takes place.
Each realm offers up ten preset challenges to complete, and rewards you with a new object for every Spark you earn, like flocks of birds for the background or graffiti for the walls. These challenges come in four flavours. Object Challenges ask you to coax one or more objects to a particular spot or into each other using a handful of predefined tools. Pickup Party puzzles complicate things a little by requiring you to also pick up the Spark rewards scattered on the course along the way.
Sound simple enough, but in practice, it's usually anything but. How do you send toast flying out of a toaster at just the right velocity to land on a precariously balanced china plate with soccer balls, rocking horses, and launch ramps, of all things? What permutation of glue, rockets, and ramps will influence a surreal chain of events in precisely the way you need? For these enigmas, Create taxes your intuition at least as much as your grasp of physics — a combination that the right players will undoubtedly find quite pleasurable. Each area also draws from one of ten attractive themes, from Family Home to Outer Space to a haunted Darkworld, so there's a sense of consistency to each collection, even if the trials are often whimsical to say the least.
Sensitive controls are crucial to the sort of delicate adjustments you'll need to make. Create supports the PlayStation Move, which makes manipulating on-screen objects a breeze. Don't fret if you haven't dropped the cash on the extra hardware, though, because the ordinary controller feels almost as natural, and is less likely to leave your arms feeling all rubbery after a marathon session. Placing, moving, flipping, and rotating the elements of these elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque cause-and-effect trails is easily managed.
Contraption-o-Matic and Scoretacular challenges are where the most elaborate — and satisfying — insanity takes place. In the former, you connect wheels, girders, platforms, and hinges into machines that exploit Create's mercifully consistent and well-simulated physics. In the latter, you send one or two objects on mad somersaulting journeys through obstacle-filled mazes of ever-increasing complexity in pursuit of bonuses and point multipliers, before depositing the tortured token at the goal.
These challenges deliver the lion's share of Create's most intricate and interesting puzzles, but they also bring a few problems into the spotlight. For one thing, most solutions require a truly taxing amount of repetitive trial and error. Place a new obstacle as best you can, watch the full sequence of events, adjust that object's placement a hair or two, watch the full sequence again, make another fine adjustment, and so forth. Because you can never fast-forward or rewind the action — restarting it from the very beginning is the only option — racking up the highest scores always demands that you watch precisely the same hectic show many, many times.
More troublingly, the camera is maddeningly insistent about focusing on the chaotic movements of the scene's key object. When you're trying to figure out how many millimetres to move a pinball bumper or see-saw or what-have-you to achieve the result you want, having to manually vibrate the view just so it isn't yanked across the playing field becomes a real pain in the neck. The ability to temporarily freeze the camera on a given area would've saved players a lot of aggravation.
Finally, though most of the puzzles are mildly entertaining, remarkably few rise to the level of inventiveness and challenge puzzle game fans are sure to expect. Create certainly has a tremendous quantity of content for the price — it took me over twenty-four hours of total play time to earn all 610 Sparks — but I was forever left waiting for the really fiendish brain-teasers to appear. Only the very last puzzle of the game felt like it was starting to push the boundaries of what's possible given Create's vast library of strange and wonderful objects.
But then, the game is called Create, right? Surely the most cunning conundrums will appear courtesy of the brightest minds the teeming masses have to offer? Perhaps, but there's simply no way to tell what masterpieces may or may not appear from the community at large. There's no denying that there's an incredible variety of outlandish and cool props with which to experiment, from laser blasters, teleporters, and zero-gravity generators to vehicles, balloons, and explosives. But there are a couple of reasons to think that any such accomplishments will be disappointingly limited in scope and appeal.
For one thing, the only place to post your own work — apart from a personal online gallery that's only accessible to others on the game's website - is in response to Community Challenges issued by Electronic Arts. These have simple guidelines, like "create a winter wonderland" or "make a puzzle using a sled." Free Create mode, meanwhile, offers a bafflingly half-baked collection of land masses that can't even be made to abut each other without gaping seams, and doesn't even let you define a place for Challenges to occupy.
The most pressing issue of all, however, is that user-created puzzles are required to focus on moving a key object from point A to point B. That's it. No attaching goal targets to moving objects, no demanding a complex machine to herd a handful of bouncy balls, no new Scoretacular or Pickup Party courses. Some industrious minds are bound to see such a limitation as a challenge in its own right, but I'd wager most will be disappointed that all those many dozens of toys can't be put to use in service to more elaborate and imaginative objectives.
Create is far from a bad game, as the score I've awarded it should attest. But it consistently relies too much on sheer quantity over true freedom and intellectual quality to be a top-drawer puzzler, and doesn't live up to the implied promises of its own title enough to join the top ranks of the burgeoning build-your-own gaming revolution.
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