The industrial revolution was a marvellous era to be alive. It was a time when a gentleman could get irreparably high from the liquid mercury on his top hat, then sell his own children to a workhouse for a tidy profit. The Victorians believed that children should be seen and not heard, even when their fingers were sliced off by a Spinning Jenny. Our industries were propped up by the cavalcade of child labour, with even Dickensian orphans finding gainful employment in the handkerchief-snatching industry.
Vessel tries to take this glorious history away from us. In Vessel you play as an inventor named Arkwright (of course), who invents a way to create mindless golems called fluros. These fluros are liquid-based workers who are promptly put to work in factories across the world. One day the fluros start behaving oddly, stopping machinery and locking people out of their factories. It’s up to you to get to the bottom of this mystery and restart the world’s industry.
Being a puzzle platformer, Vessel’s gameplay stresses trial and error through its challenging series of puzzles. The game starts off easily with a gentle learning curve to ease you in and to explain the basic mechanics. Most puzzles involve exploiting fluros into flipping unreachable switches so that you can move on to the next problem. Standard fluros are attracted to buttons and will jump on any unpressed switches they can find, with obvious applications. Other fluros will actively seek you out and attack you, which can be easily exploited by luring them into traps. Some fluros will seek out liquid and drink it until they explode. Out of context, these actions may seem unconnected, but within Vessel, this series of behaviour works together effectively to create some stimulating and complex puzzles.
This is further built upon by your ability to create fluros using different liquids. Water and lava are the main fluids you’ll deal with in the early game, but you’ll come across different colours with different properties as you progress. At certain points you will be given the facilities to create fluros whenever you want by using seeds. By squirting these seeds with different liquids, you’ll soon find various combinations to help you solve a wide variety of different puzzles.
The true joy of Vessel is the rewarding nature of solving these brain teasers. Interestingly, the game features a dynamic musical score that slowly builds as you play. The closer you get to cracking a puzzle, the louder the music becomes until a full track plays when it is finally completed. It’s subtle reward mechanisms such as this that make Vessel an addictive game; one that you’ll come back to on many occasions for that sweet dopamine hit that only a solved conundrum can provide.
For a puzzle game, Vessel is surprisingly dynamic. This is in part to the physics engine where water particles flow over each other and exert pressure, meaning that fluros sometimes look distorted if they don’t have enough water, and liquids can be used to flip certain switches. While this is to be commended, sometimes it can create frustrating circumstances where you take the correct steps to complete a puzzle, but it doesn’t always work 100% of the time because of the way liquid flows or the way fluros behave.
For example, one particular puzzle involved creating a fluro, getting it to chase you to one side of the screen until it drops off of a platform, then running to the other side of the screen so it follows you and flips a switch in the process. When I tried this, the fluro just jumped back up to the first platform. It wasn’t until half an hour of trying other solutions that I tried my original plan of action, only for it to work this time. I appreciate the efforts of the developers to create a dynamic puzzle game, but it sometimes leads to infuriating circumstances.
That frustration sometimes carries over to the fiddly platforming on offer. Switches have to be stood on perfectly and sometimes won’t depress correctly until you fiddle around trying to find the sweet spot in the centre. Sometimes springs that are supposed to lift you in the air don’t work correctly, making you repeat small sections when you miss your jumps. These are minor niggles, but in a game that generally doesn’t penalise you for not making precise jumps (you can fall 300ft through the air and land on your feet without a scratch), it seems odd that moments like these crop up from time to time.
These minor irritations are far outweighed by those rewarding moments when a puzzle just clicks into place. The game presents a decent challenge and is commendably long, opening up brand new areas just when you think the game is running out of steam. Luckily, Vessel’s distinct premise provides a variety of different puzzles and doesn’t repeat the same tricks too often.