There's nothing like a good puzzle challenge to lower stress levels around Christmas.
Perched on a sofa, Create allows you to agonise over the minute positioning of a rocket designed to shunt a car onto a ledge. Or the exact floating location of a spiked ball designed to burst a balloon and drop an anvil on a duck. This new IP from EA's Bright Light studio provides the freedom to engineer the most absurd solutions to over a hundred scenarios that progress from the simple, to the downright devious.
The concept is sound. Anyone who has devoted hours into Rube Goldberg simulators such as The Incredible Machine, Crayon Physics, or indeed even the rather excellent Scribblenauts will recognise the intent immediately. Take a sandbox world, a bunch of various static and animated objects, set an objective and see how long it takes the player to figure it all out. Bonus points, of course, if you complete it in the most elegant way.
Variety is the key. There are 14 worlds, each populated with ten challenges. The challenges are further divided into four categories; moving a key object to a goal, solve the objective by only using preset items, solve the challenge as well as picking up bonus points along the way, and build specialised machines to complete a particular task. Whilst these challenges technically all offer a different perspective on the puzzle at hand, they're all neatly taxing in their own right. The difficulty scales well between the levels, and items are routinely unlocked to reward your success.
Initially, you'll have access to around ten items that are regularly used to perform basic operations. A balloon can be attached to objects to raise them vertically, and a directional fan can be used to move the balloon. A magnet can be strategically positioned to attract steel items and alter their trajectory, and temporary glue can be used to hold items in place for a short period of time, allowing the rest of your madcap machine to operate harmoniously.
Eventually however, items become much more complicated; girders can be used between axles to make rolling vehicles. All manner of pivoting and hinged items can facilitate elaborate mechanisms to move objectives inches closer to the goal. There's an enormous number of ways to have fun positioning items in multiple chains, and as you're graded on your work, there's incentive to streamline your endeavours.
Unfortunately, the control system gives you little incentive to do anything. Item selection, placement, and manipulation is a confusing mish-mash of button taps, holds, and dealing with a radial menu that requires you to hold the stick in a certain position whilst you select an option. It wasn't until around two hours into the game that I could confidently remember exactly which button combination I needed to achieve the desired result, and even then, selecting and deselecting menu items was less than ideal.
There are other silly design choices too. The camera seems locked to the movement of whatever you're trying to get from one side of the screen to the other, so setting mechanisms up more than a short distance from the action means you'll be forced to manually scroll the screen to see their animation, otherwise you'll be unable to debug your mistakes. There's also no pause or slow-motion option to help with your object placement, which can frequently require millimetre-perfect precision. There's no excuse for these issues, there are plenty of puzzle titles out there that manage it so much better, and it's hard to imagine why these errors weren't picked up in testing.
Then again, Bright Light just shipped the latest Harry Potter game, which suffered from a range of problems that point towards a lack of focus on the testing phase, so perhaps we shouldn't be altogether surprised.
There's another layer to Create that attempts to prolong lifespan of the title past the challenge mode. The background of each level can be customised with a wide range of environmental objects, as well as decals, and your efforts here are further rewarded with more unlockable items. The inner child in me detested it as much as I did when forced to be "artistic" at school, however your results may vary. As you would expect, you'll be able to upload your creations (as well as solutions to challenges) to others online, or to a private account at EA.
If you're really keen, you can even design your own levels and challenges, although this process is limited in scope. For a title professing to allow you to "create", it's unusual that your challenge objective is limited to moving items from one side of the screen to the other.
Create provides an able experience for those who simply can't wait for Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet 2, currently due in January. It lacks the kind of personality you'd expect with titles like these, but does offer the occasional serious challenge to those able to overlook the clumsy controls, annoying camera issues, and fairly average graphics.