Over the past five years the market of free-to-play games has expanded rapidly, and Sony has been at the forefront of bringing this new breed of games to home consoles with titles like DC Universe Online. However it seems odd that both Sony and Nintendo have been rather late to the party in terms of adopting the model to their handheld systems. It seems like a match made in heaven, I mean how often do you hear in the media that dedicated portable gaming systems are dated and that mobile is equally as viable. So when I got a gander at Ecolibrium, a free-to-play sim-style game for the Playstation Vita, I had to give it a try.
Before I jump into the more intricate portions of the review, let me first mention how shockingly beautiful Ecolibrium is for a F2P game. Immediately noticeable, the visuals are on par with many retail games for the Vita. Environments are lush, nature abundant, and creatures wander among the landscape naturally. There is no mistaking that this game is heads and shoulders above its respective peers in terms of graphical fidelity.
While many sim games have you filling the role of a god, managing resources and tiny digital minions, Ecolibrium does so from a decidedly scientific perspective. You are not merely creating life from the tip of your fingers, cloning it, developing it, and from then on nurturing it. Ecolibrium is a play on the word equilibrium which is exactly what you will be expected to maintain during the duration of the game. You are not an all power being, you are building a deck of cards; carefully harmonizing each and every one of the games four variable pillars. You will strive for a 100% balance of Minerals, Water, Meat, and Vegetation; but it is far more difficult than it initially appears.
Introducing new species of creatures or flora into your environment yields a diverse and often lopsided set of results, each one offsetting your resource balance. What this means for the player is a steady flow of crisis management, asking you to constantly tweak your ecosystem to maintain the peace. This is complicated further by the simulated food chain system. Creatures that reside in your ecosystem are assigned to three tiers of classification. At the highest level you have the carnivorous hunters, in the middle you have the neutral omnivores, and at the bottom you have the humble herbivores. You will need to provide sustenance for all three, as well as manage their reproductive rates if you plan on having any success. Be warned however, it is very easy to over-populate your system with creatures and you must strike a balance using vegetation to remain in control.
The temptation is to create more creatures, mainly because of the fact that with more creatures, come more Ecopoints. Ecopoints are the games main form of currency, used purchase species of plant life and critters that you will need to interject into your ecosystem. The best wait to lace your pockets with juicy Ecopoints is to jump into the games Challenge mode. Essentially the games campaign, Challenge mode sets you in pre-set situations with predetermined goals, each one introducing you to the nuances of the game.
Ecolibrium does come with a pretty standard tutorial that does teach you the basic principles; however Challenge mode is where you will be educated in the finer elements. Furthermore, finishing levels in the games Challenge mode will unlock different species of life to add to your personal biosphere. In addition to providing a healthy amount of knowledge and unlocking new species, as I hinted at earlier completing challenges successfully also nets you a large bulk of Ecopoints, and believe me you will need them.
Due to the F2P structure of the game you will be on a constant hunt for Ecopoints. Each of the games species unlocking booster packs will run you about 25 Ecopoints minimum and you will be forced to outwait timed creation restrictions that are applied by the game in order to constrain your ability to create new species. As a by-product you are then presented with a dilemma, do you “play” for three hours to enjoy fifteen minutes of fun, or do you bite the bullet and make a purchase with real money to speed things along? Whether or not you are comfortable with shilling out cash for in game purchases is a personal choice, but you should not feel as though you are being forced.
Ecolibrium is a game that falls victim to its design. Despite having a captivating premise, and surprisingly stunning visuals, the game is ultimately cheapened by its pricing model. A game that should captivate you with a plethora of urgent and personal choices gets hung up on stalling the user in order to milk their wallets. While it may be the nature of the games structure, one has to wonder what could have been for Ecolibrium had the game been built upon a more liberal F2P foundation. Many modern Free-To-Play games have grown to become enjoyable experiences with real world purchases only there for bonus content. For Ecolibrium to be worth your time and money, it needs to evolve as well.