It would've been interesting to be in the board room when the developers of The Eye of Judgment were giving their pitch to the Sony higher-ups. I can just imagine the crazed looks the developers got when they tried to explain their game was an augmented reality collectible card game using a peripheral that had previously been only used for party games. Everything about The Eye of Judgment's concept suggests that it shouldn't work -- it's way too esoteric, the barrier of entry is too high, and the technology behind it had never been tested before.
Luckily for us, Sony has much more forethought than I have, since The Eye of Judgment turns out to be one of the most innovative games in years. It's a darn good CCG as well. Utilizing the just-released PS Eye to turn your cards into actual 3D models on the screen, The Eye of Judgment offers the best example of augmented reality in videogames yet.
You place a card on the included cloth game mat and the camera identifies the card on the fly via a bar code type system, and a creature pops up on the screen. The game will keep track of all the gameplay elements for you, like how many cards you have in your library and your hand, what turn it is, and creature stats. The combination of holding real cards in your hands while also playing a video game is strangely thrilling, and not having to juggle all the rules and stats in your head is a nice change of pace from classic CCGs like Magic: The Gathering which have a rather ... complicated rule set.
At its core, The Eye of Judgment is a CCG fan's game (in fact it's more like a CCG fan's wet dream). You build 30 card decks and attempt to gain control over the majority of the game board's nine battlegrounds. The way you control a battleground is simply by summoning a creature to that square. On the first turn you can place the creature anywhere on the mat, but later turns you are limited to summoning creatures to squares that are touching other occupied battlegrounds. When you place a creature in front of a square occupied by an enemy creature, the two monsters will automatically attack each other (complete with nifty looking cutscenes). The goal is to occupy five battlegrounds at once, which means you will constantly attempt to kill off your enemy's creatures, while also trying to expand your own presence on the board.
Monopolizing the board is made harder by the fact that you only get two mana every turn. You can bank it for higher cost creatures and spells, but doing that has its own risk -- you're giving your enemy a chance to claim more of the valuable battlegrounds while you sit back and wait. You have to constantly analyze the risk of summoning cheap, weaker creatures, or save up for a big, powerful one. Unlike in games like Magic, a powerful monster isn't a game-breaker, largely due to the monsters' inability to move from the battleground they've been summoned to. Attacking after the turn they were summoned comes with additional mana costs. There are dozens of different strategies, and fortunes can change on the fly thanks to the excellent balancing and polish of the rules set.
The biggest disappointment of the game is the complete lack of a story mode in single player. There is a single-player aspect to The Eye of Judgment but it's merely challenging the CPU to individual matches. The CPU offers quite a challenge and you do get rewards for beating them but even a basic story mode would have made playing the game by yourself so much better (think Puzzle Quest). Although you can play online, or locally with friends, it's a shame Sony didn't put a little more effort into fleshing out the single-player experience.
You may not expect much in the way of graphics from a card game, but I was pleasantly surprised at how nice The Eye of Judgment looked. Running at 720p (sorry, no 1080i support), the gameboard displayed on the screen looks sharp and nicely detailed. The creatures themselves are full of personality and are nicely detailed, though the real eye-candy treats comes when the creatures attack each other. The game whips to a quick little cutscene where you get to watch the monsters tear into each other. The cutscenes are brief (around five seconds) and feature no load times. The one downside of the The Eye of Judgment's presentation is the horrible background music. It's generic guitar rock, ripped straight from Sonic Adventure, and it fails to match the tone and mood of the game itself.
The Eye of Judgment will appeal to some people very strongly, and will disagree with others just as strongly. Your enjoyment of The Eye of Judgment is largely dependent on whether or not you like CCGs. If you're somebody who's never understood all the fuss about Magic, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, you will unlikely be able to get into it. On the other hand, if you're a fan of those type of games, you will find The Eye of Judgment to be one of the most innovative titles of this generation. It is also one of the best CCGs to come along in ages. With the ability to play friends online, and regular expansion packs promised by Sony (every three months or so), you'll be playing The Eye of Judgment for a long, long time to come.
PS3 Fanboy score: 8.0