Supergiant Games (Transitor, Bastion) just released Pyre, an adventure game that mashes together sports and fantasy elements, for the PC and PS4. In the game, you take on the role of “The Reader” as you guide your trio throughout the Downside and partake in a magical twist on basketball to earn your characters freedom and passageway to the Commonwealth.
Reviewers most enjoyed its stunning visual design, excellent soundtrack and emotionally significant characters, but some found the gameplay repetitive. Here's what the critics are saying about the latest indie hit of the year.
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In his review for IGN, TJ Hafer gave Pyre a 9.7 out of 10 and an editor’s choice. He thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay elements, visual style and audio design, but was disappointed by the lack of online multiplayer.
“Branching storylines have become common in games, but it’s rare that one integrates momentous, gut-wrenching choices with the other elements of its gameplay as deftly as Pyre does.”
“Pyre delivers exactly the heartbreakingly beautiful instrumental and vocal backing tracks that Supergiant has become known for.”
“One of my only disappointments with Pyre was discovering that the head-to-head mode is local only, so you can’t challenge your Steam or PSN friends across the world to a match.”
In his review for Polygon, Philip Kollar gave the game a 9 out of 10. His favorite part of Pyre was the solid gameplay mechanics, though he wished there was a way to explore the Downside’s rich history and environment more fully.
“Beyond the strategic depth added from each small twist, Pyre’s moment-to-moment mechanics and gameplay click well.”
“Pyre crosses over from traditional multipath narrative game into truly brilliant with one major design element: You cannot lose the game.”
“If there’s one disappointment to Pyre — one I wrestled with throughout my time — it’s that the core of the gameplay mechanics is just the rites. Supergiant Games has built up a gorgeous world full of intriguing backstory and tons of locales, and at times I just wanted to … explore it.”
While reviewing Pyre for Kokaku, Gita Jackson found the premise of Pyre enjoyable and the characters well-developed. However, she thought the introductory stages were slow to develop and too easy to complete.
“It’s common to get into a tense stalemate or a stunning upset, and when you get good at this, it’s a thrill to play. Sometimes, after pulling off a tricky play, I found myself sighing with relief, or shaking out my tensed hands.”
“Not everyone will make it, and those sacrifices will sting. You’re not going to get a guidepost on how to feel about the people you leave behind, and I admire Pyre for making you decide for yourself what, if anything was worth it.”
“The first four or so hours of my playthrough were dedicated to the lengthy set up for the plot and characters, and I was only able to play rites after long exposition dumps.”
“The game is also overly easy, initially. I breezed through the first four hours with a 9-0 record, but I hit a losing streak I couldn’t shake until I started practicing how to counter certain types of characters and making sure my passing game was on point.”
In his review for GameSpot, Peter Brown rated the game at a 9 out of 10. He greatly enjoyed the artwork and musical direction as well as the strategy that Rites demanded. His only major complaint was with the local-only multiplayer options.
“When Pyre hits its stride, rites become fast-paced mind games that call upon your ability to turn on a dime and come up with new strategies under tense circumstances.”
“It's all held aloft by relentlessly beautiful artwork and a masterful soundtrack packed with a diverse selection of genres and instrumentation. Every inch of the lush Downside, and every second of your journey, is a delight for the senses.”
“Multiplayer is limited to offline matches.”
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Writing for VentureBeat, Stephanie Chan reviewed Pyre at an 85 out of 100. She was most impressed by the game’s atmosphere and visual design as well as the emotional connection she felt to the characters. Still, she thought that the battles were too easy and did not think the story was affected significantly enough by her choices.
“Supergiant’s outdone itself with Pyre’s atmosphere... As you travel with a band of fellow exiles fighting for their freedom in ancient battles called the Rites, you explore strange and weirdly beautiful places, all detailed in stunning color.”
“Losing also takes on a kind of emotional toll. Since you play as the Reader, your role in the game is to direct your teammates to victory. When you fail to do so, it can feel personal because you’ve spent so much time with these characters and learned their stories.”
“As I mentioned earlier, the battles aren’t difficult. I suspect this might be by design; in the main campaign, the developers likely want players to see as much of the story as possible. It follows that combat is forgiving. However, I would say that they’re too easy to the point where they become somewhat rote.”
“There are a lot of dialogue and choices, but not all of it is consequential.”
Reviewing Pyre for PC Gamer, Wes Fenlon gave it a 71 out of 100. He thought that the game never hit a consistent stride and that the controls could have been better. He did appreciate the narrative’s conclusion as well as its overall style.
“In the end I loved how their stories wrapped up, which made Pyre a strange contradiction for me: I preferred the destination to the journey.“
“Pyre is clearly made with great skill and great care, blending art and music and words with more confident style than most games can hope for.”
“After more than 15 hours, I never got fully comfortable managing my entire party in the Rites. You can only control one character at a time, pressing a key or a controller button to swap between them.”
“I enjoyed the Rites less and less as Pyre went on, mostly because its structure simply doesn't change from the beginning. “
“The lack of true exploration and side activities really hurts Pyre, as does the linearity of its story. The grind makes an already overlong campaign feel even longer.”
In her review for Destructoid, Caitlin Cooke rated the game an 8.5 out of 10. She found the fluidity of the gameplay and storytelling the most remarkable aspects, but encountered some performance issues during points of high-action.
“One of the most unique features in the dialogue is an in-game reference dictionary where you can mouse over a name, place, or significant item and it will highlight the definition and meaning for you so you don’t lose context.”
“The gameplay within the Rites is a fairly new concept to absorb, which took some time to get used to, but once I did I found that I really enjoyed it.”
“When there’s a lot of action happening at once, most notably when picking up the orb, there’s a momentary lag that occurs which can be detrimental (I lost a few rounds due to this).”
“Although I wasn’t quite as attached to the characters as I had hoped, I did appreciate the medley of personalities and felt the world and its customs were admirably orchestrated within everyone’s backstory.”
Image Credit: Supergiant Games