It's not uncommon for video games to feature gameplay dependent upon gimmicks and peripherals, from early 8-bit examples like Gyromite to more modern releases such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, each of which changed the gaming experience by altering how we interact with the games we play.
In this way, Sony and SCE Studios Japan's The Eye of Judgment is one of the most ambitious experiments with game design to date, and in leveraging off of the considerable card game experience of Hasbro and its Wizards of the Coast subsidiary, best known for the Magic: The Gathering and Star Wars collectible card games, The Eye of Judgment's pedigree is certainly not one to be taken lightly. Marrying a tabletop card game with the PlayStation 3 has created an experience that is if nothing else unique; unfortunately the lynchpin in this union, the newly launched PlayStation Eye camera, is also the game's Achilles' heel, oftentimes bringing an unwelcome sense of frustration to players gaming in anything but the most ideal settings, something which we covered in much greater detail previously.
In The Eye of Judgment, players take turns summoning creatures and casting spells as they vie for dominance over nine elementally aligned fields arranged into a 3x3 grid. Drawing from a deck of 30 cards, the game itself is won once a player ends his or her turn controlling five different fields, and while this can sometimes mean that games can go by very quickly, this isn't always the case. For skilled players the first few turns can simply be setup for the hard fought, arduous struggle for that fifth and final field.
As cards are played on the mat, they are read by the PlayStation Eye camera, and their affects are then recreated in 3D on the screen, sometimes overcoming the fourth wall in fantastic fashion, while other times manging only to slam a player's face into the bricks as a stern reminder of imperfect design.
Everything here hinges on the Eye's successful recognition of cards as they are played, though in our experience it was not uncommon to have to adjust settings or ambient lighting in order to get the camera to read the cards on the table. One card that we found the camera to have a particularly difficult time with was the ritual Parmetic Holy Feast, which lets you discard a creature in order to add 2 extra mana to your available pool; unfortunately most times the camera would fail to read the discarded creature card, in effect wasting both the spell card and our turn together as we spent the entirety of our alloted time limit fighting with the camera and pulling at our hair while trying to get the thing to do its job. This is just one example, but it wasn't alone in driving up our blood pressure, though it speaks volumes to The Eye of Judgment's charms that we were able and willing to come back to the game time and again for just one more battle.
Success in The Eye of Judgment either against the computer or another player often requires equal parts cleverness, strategy, and luck; the game's surprising amount of depth will no doubt be daunting for some, especially those unaccustomed to more traditional CCGs. Thankfully, however, Sony has included a collection of very helpful tutorial videos on the disc that go over everything from simple game setup and card types to more advanced gameplay techniques. These videos won't make anyone an expert, but they'll go a long way towards easing players into the tumultuous waters of card-based warfare.
Also impressive are the lengths to which the game goes to prevent cheating. For instance, no more than three copies of any one card are permitted in a given deck, while some cards, such as the mighty Sciondar Fire God, can only be included in a deck once; the game keeps track of what has been played and will not allow cards that are not valid to be used. In addition, decks must be throughly scanned and registered using the Eye prior to playing online, and cards are randomly drawn by the computer during play as well. While this does open the door for players to theoretically scan in cards they might not have in reality, this is a welcome concession to the alternative of wondering if the player on the other end of the connection is secretly drawing from the bottom of the deck.
Beyond this, the game also includes helpful tools for deck building, as well a completely useless Judgment rock-paper-scissors mini-game that feels more like a hold over from the game's tech demo debut at E3 whereby creatures can be prodded and manipulated on camera, but even here it lacks some features from that demonstration – touching creatures no longer makes them attack or react in any way. Really, this mode serves no convincing point other than to fill out another option on the main menu.
Altogether, The Eye of Judgment is certainly an interesting curiosity designed to appeal to a niche audience, but it is not without its flaws, though admittedly most of our frustrations stemmed not from the game itself, but rather from the camera. However, when The Eye of Judgment worked, many of us here had a great deal of fun battling for the title of resident overlord. What remains to be seen now is how the game will be embraced by those players willing to stick with the game for the long term, trading cards, buying booster packs, and keeping interest alive for the months following the game's release. The crux of any CCG are the cards, and with a varied collection of creatures and spells offered in this initial set, and promises of other sets to follow in the months following the game's debut, it seems as if Sony is banking on The Eye of Judgment to keep players coming back for more.