EyePet PlayStation 3
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by: SCEE London Studio
With Microsoft's Project Natal for the 360 and Sony's motion-sensing wands set to be released during the next year or so, virtual reality gaming will become a step closer to reality. That said, there are moments when playing EyePet when it will seem as though virtual reality gaming has arrived. At times the game truly feels like an immersive experience but there's quite a lot of what you'll find in EyePet which is far from being impressive. In some respects you could say it's a missed opportunity but it's not hard to deny that the game shows glimpses of what the future of gaming has in store for us.
As the name suggests, EyePet is a game in which you'll look after a virtual pet. It's a game that will have you sitting on the floor rather a lot as you need to point the PlayStation Eye camera towards the floor. The game begins with a professor delivering a tutorial section that has you pushing an egg from side to side and tapping the egg in various places in an effort to coax your pet to hatch from its egg. When the egg finally hatches you'll probably be in for your first disappointment with the game. Your pet will look just the same as everybody else's pet. That is to say your pet will look like it is a kind of cat, monkey hybrid creature. Given the ambitious nature of the title, you would at least expect a generous choice of pets on offer.
If you're expecting EyePet to offer a rich and rewarding experience with your virtual pet essentially behaving like a real one would, then you might feel a little puzzled as to why the main focus of the game is to complete sixty challenges that are spread over fifteen game days. These challenges range from the trivial (making your pet bounce on a mini trampoline) to the plain awkward (having to sing at the correct pitch to break a wine glass). Some of these challenges fit into the context of looking after your pet whilst others are just plain silly. In addition to the challenges, which will earn you new toys and objects that you can use with your pet, you can also feed, wash and dress your pet in various items of apparel amongst other things.
Whilst you can interact with your pet directly, you'll be using what's known as a magic card. This rounded rectangular black card with a white square, white animal paw and red holding area (you can alternately use a handle on the back of the card) is held facing the camera. On the screen you'll see a variety of objects that appear in place of the magic card. Initially it will be small egg-warming heater but later it will be a cookie jar, a hair dryer, a feeding bottle, a trampoline and many other items with which you'll interact with your pet. You'll even get to use the magic card to scan your pet to make sure he's feeling fine. The use of the magic card is actually pretty impressive and one of the highlights of the game.
However, EyePet has some real problems that help to neutralise its impressive elements. It comes a little unstuck in its failure to create a true bond between the pet and the player. Knowing everyone has the same pet (at least in terms of appearance) is disappointing. There's no real penalty for not bothering with your pet for days which seems odd. There are times when the game seems oblivious to your movements which makes the challenges much more cumbersome than they need be and to top it all off there are some serious issues here for deaf gamers which we'll come to in a moment.
In regards to its visual quality, the game is about as good as you could hope for with a game of this nature. The pet looks quite good and its animations are quite impressive. Its emotions are relayed rather nicely thanks to its expressive features which does help to give the pet a certain cutesy charm. Most of the various items you'll use in the game look rather simple however, but in truth this isn't a problem and the general presentation of the game is actually quite good apart from several issues that prevent the game from being fully accessible for deaf gamers.
EyePet is problematic for deaf gamers. The opening movie, which explains how to set up your room, lighting and camera, is not subtitled. The game's tutorial messages aren't subtitled either. Some basic instructions are shown in text at the top of the screen and this informs you of what needs to be done. There is other speech in the game that isn't subtitled such as, being told to wait while a new toy is sent to you and there's no text to inform deaf gamers of this. Some useful hints are given out and it's disappointing that deaf gamers will be unaware of what's being said. The challenge instructions are shown in text so you'll be aware of what needs to be done. There are times when you'll need to clap whenever your pet calls to you and there are no captions for the sounds your pet makes. Thankfully you will see clapping icons appear so you'll know that you have to clap and how many times you have to do so. A rather more serious problem presents itself when one of the challenges asks you to sing a note that will break an on screen wine glass. This could be incredibly problematic for a deaf person, especially as the game is rather picky about the right note being hit. You'll have to sing to your pet and then listen to it sing back which essentially means that this is another part of EyePet that deaf gamers simply won't be able to appreciate. In short, EyePet is far from being ideal for deaf gamers.
It's not difficult to see that EyePet is a game that could have been so much better. When the interaction between you and your virtual pet is at its best it really feels as though virtual reality gaming has arrived and it can be really satisfying. It's a shame then that these moments aren't as frequent as you might have hoped for. The challenges, on the whole, are OK but you never feel as though you're forming a bond with your pet. Whilst you can put your pet into fancy togs and change the pattern of its fur, it's still the same pet that everyone else will have and this also takes a little away from the game's charm. Younger children will probably find the game appealing for a while as the pet has a certain cutesy charm. However, the game has no long term appeal and when the novelty value has gone it's unlikely you'll want to see your pet again. There are also several problems for deaf gamers and as such, it's tough to recommend.