Review: Venetica (PC)
Venetica revolves around actively practicing Necromancy, because in this world, Death is God. There is an instance where players are required to visit a brothel and an abortion clinic to complete the main quest. Finally, there is an optional quest where the player can save a man who is another man’s partner.
Venetica begins in San Pasquale, a small town located in the mountain peaks of 16th-century Italy. Players are introduced to Scarlett and Benedict, lovers who share their affections before the village is attacked by assassins looking for an “unknown outsider,” whom they both assume to be male and also believe will disrupt the grand design of their master, the Undead Archon. The village manages to survive this raid but not without heavy casualties, Benedict being one of them to the sorrow of Scarletts. In an ensuing dream, Death himself visits Scarlett and informs her that not only is she his daughter, but also that she must find the Moonblade, the only weapon capable of killing demons from the underworld, and use it to defeat the Undead Archon to restore balance between the worlds of the living and the dead. For the Undead Archon has found a way to use Death’s power so that he and five others could become immortal and rule the realm of the living; they seek to ensure that no person will ever rise against them. Death grants Scarlett the ability to travel between the realm of the living and the dead, along with other powers which she must strengthen and develop throughout her journey.
See The Witcher. Do The Witcher. (Try to) be The Witcher. Atari, Inc eleased The Witcher in 2007, and dtp entertainment released Venetica in 2009. To say that latter was inspired by the former would be quite the conservative observation, because the gameplay between the two is nearly symmetrical.
Venetica offers players multiple options for combat, divided into two trees of “melee” and “mental” skills. Under the melee tree, Scarlett can become an expert in swordplay, the Moonblade, a “heavy” class weapon such as a polearm or mace, and a spear and shield combo. The latter of these can only be acquired in the final act of the game, though by the time I found them, I was quite disinterested in anything but the Moonblade and sword trees while occasionally using a halberd for enemies weak against blunt attacks.
Under the mental tree, things are a slightly more complex. Some spells can be learned as the player gains levels and finds a trainer just as the melee skills are learned, but certain “trees,” referred to as “Twilight Circles,” are only unlocked after the player advances to a certain point in the game and must acquire these skills as built-in steps for completing the main quest. I did not make much use of these skills besides two vampiric spells (for healing) and a couple of AOE damage spells for common airborne enemies.
In terms of actual combat and not just the options, things become quite repetitive as is an inherit problem with action-oriented RPGs, though unlike a Batman Arkham game or even The Wicher from which Venetica is inspired, the combat options lack a genuine cool factor. Of course, it is inherently entertaining to play as Batman, but just as Geralt is powered by his mutation as a Witcher, Scarlett feels like an average chick who just-so-happens to be immortal because her father in Death. While the last two hits of the Moonblade are flashy (a launch followed by a spike, sometimes shown via cutscene), as is the last strike of the polearm chain, I find almost all other strikes to be…boring. I mean, if Deck13 wanted to make a Witcher clone, I would have loved for enemies to be vulnerable to speed, heavy, and group strikes while introducing enemies that are vulnerable to each. Venetia only seems to introduce enemies of the speed and heavy variety, but in hordes with little options for crowd control.
If you are going to throw a horde of enemies at me, at least design combat so that I will actually want to fight them rather than just run away. But should I have turned and fought here, it would have been unlikely that I would have died. In fact, I never (permanently) died in this game. Perhaps this was intentional and Deck13 took a queue from Prey by substituting twilight energy and the netherworld for a Game Over screen, but I never once feared “losing” and rarely felt it compelled to use few the hundred healing items that I had accumulated throughout my quest. If I “died,” I would be sent to the netherworld, where I could just start attacking again with my Moonblade again to recharge my Twilight Energy to maintain my invulnerability. However, the credit of the developers, a certain scripted event tested my confidence in my abilities as I scoffed at the idea of my throat being slit because I knew I would just come back to life and wreck face.
Since Venetica is an RPG, players are given points to allocate toward stats like Constitution, Wisdom, Strength, and Mental Power. I never did figure out what Strength or Mental Power did, but health and “magic points” were discernible.
Also like The Witcher, alchemy is possible in this game, but I never used any. The game never prompted me to, nor did I know how.
To transition from combat elements to the lore, Venetica offers a wide variety of characters to interact with, though most of them are uninspiring. I cannot think of a single notable character that I liked (such as a Dandelion or Zoltan in The Witcher) but I sure did find Leon, Scarlett’s stepbrother, annoying. What a moron. I suppose the closest likable character that I can think of is Aeris, leader of the Net of the Mask Guild, who has a penchant for dismembering, quartering, and boiling people who earn her ire. Among some of these characters are Don and Nesto above, two opportunist who meet their demise early in the game, but function for the rest of its duration as agents who assist in lockpicking minigames.
There were a handful of times during my playthrough when Venetica impressed me with its art direction, especially considering that it was published in 2009 with assets from 2005. These instances include my first entry into Venice as well as the Palace during the endgame.That said, the animations and textures in Venetica provide me with a stronger impression of a PS2 game than a PC game. Granted, the details of Scarlett herself are done with craft, as the developers knew that players would be looking at her for the majority of the game. But standing next to practically everyone else in the game, the difference appears stark.
Venetica is obviously not a PS2 game, and I was reminded of this when it crashed on me five separate times. The first was the most frustrating, because it was during the second phase of the first boss fight. The others were simply frustrating because I had to spend that much more time with the game. The crashes are an obvious indicator that Venetica is not throughly optimized, and even with a GTX 970, I struggled to maintain 50 FPS in most instances while on max settings. Crysis came out in 2007, and I can get better performance (on high settings), and it of course, it looks better. There were also two specific glitches with locations that made me go to the internet to discover where I was actually supposed to go.
As far as music, I cannot even remember the title screen let alone any other tune.
I say YOOOOOOO!
I am all for representation (diversity) in video games. It is no small secret that the video game industry is lacking in that area, so whenever it is possible to do something different than the status quo, I am all for it…in most instances. I personally do not find Scarlett an interesting character, but perhaps someone else would. In the least, Venetica is a victory for those keeping the score for female protagonists. Most RPGs give players the choice in gender, but racial representation has been a struggle. Venetica is no exception.
I’m mad at that! Not mad in the Hulk-smash sort of way, but in a head-shaking, how-does-this-happen-in-the-21st-century kind of way. I did not think Resident Evil 5 was problematic in its portrayal of Africa and Africans (ironically, published in 2009 like the game in this review). On second thought, all of Sheeva’s outfits are as problematic as Princess Chiamaka’s lack thereof here. The exoticism here is very strong, and that’s not good. I wish I could give Deck13 the benefit of doubt and confirm that the Juma Warriors are a play on the positive spin of Africa like Marvel’s Wakanda, but that place is high-tech while the Juma Warriors show up running around barefooted in literally the slimiest areas of Venice. Gross.
I hope and pray that there were no people of color involved in the production of the fourth act of this game when the Juma arrive, because Deck13 piles on the stereotypes. Not the least of these is the large-breasted, heavy-set, “unattractive” mammy figure:
Or the contrast between the “civil” and “savage” worlds of 19th century, Eurocentric ideology:
And of course, the “make it okay because we’re everyone is doing it too” technique, also known as “thanks white folks for helping us see the error in our ways; here is a token of our appreciation as you are now one of us despite getting on a ship and leaving us to our struggles”:
I mean, the reason for going to Africa is already contrived—Princess Chiamaka poisons Scarlett with a poison that can only be cured if Chiamaka dies. The ridiculousness of all of this would be comical if it were not so audaciously ignorant. Deck13 tried (a little too hard), though. The Juma are Venetica‘s most formidable enemies despite their lack of visible armor. Why not give them armor and modern infrastructure too?
Again, there is nothing wrong with wanting to insert some diversity, but if you are going to do 16th century Africa, do Algeria or Lybia or Tunisia or Egypt—countries readily accessible from Italy where people were fully clothes and stone structures just like in Europe. For some unholy reason, Deck13 went with sub-Saharan “culture” rather than the Maghreb.
I have to admit that while it is a relief that Venetica avoids explicit content, It was weird and…unrealistic…to interact in a world full of men as a female avatar and not once have been subjected to some element of sexism, from unwanted advances to some guy suggesting that Scarlett’s gender is a limitation in her quest. I think my apathy toward her as a character is due to her asexuality. She is the protagonist who just-so-happens to be female, and that is just uninteresting to me. I do not know what the solution to this paradox is, but if Scarlett were a man, little of consequence would have changed in the game’s plot. Yeah, players can tell Death that their motivation is their love for Benedict, but one can just as easily seek revenge, balance, or obedience to Death.
If you have made it this far, then you are certainly well-informed of many the issues in Venetica. I do not believe that being a budget title released in 2009 is an adequate excuse for its issues with pacing or stability, especially considering its source material. I would only endorse this game if you are a fan of the genre and cannot wait for (or afford, or condone the content of) games like The Witcher 3. Others might want to spend their $10 elsewhere.
+ Lacks explicit content
- Not properly optimized for PC
- Polygon tearing, breakup, and blinking
- Crashes and glitches are a legitimate concern
- Mandatory fetch quests to progress in game
- Stereotypical PoC represetation