Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: Playstation Vita Only
Some games are exactly as exciting as their product description suggests. Take Sony’s Vita app Ecolibrium for example, a “real-time ecosystem simulator”. I mean, come on: if that doesn’t have you beating down the virtual doors of their online store front, I don’t know what will.
As you may have gleaned from the product summary above, Ecolibrium casts you as some kind of faceless science god given complete control over the ecosystems of an entire planet. You’re solely responsible for placing all the flora and fauna (handily cloned in a rather groovy lab), and maintaining a state of ecological balance.
So, beginning with a featureless stretch of wilderness and a small watering hole, your first task is to introduce vegetation. Tapping the icon in the upper right of the Vita’s shiny, shiny screen will open the lab, from which you can procure various cloned species of animal and vegetable.
Deploying (and I use the word “deploying” in a transparent attempt to make Ecolibrium sound more thrilling) a particular tree will generate more vegetation, which then means you’ll need to add a different plant to introduce more moisture to the air, which will then require an increase in mineral production, and so on. It’s a tit-for-tat system that sounds more complicated than it really is; until you add animals into the mix, at which point it becomes a little more complicated than it needs to be.
Animals not only need the right balance of minerals and moisture, but food too, and Ecolibrium obeys a very basic food chain wherein animals are categorized by tier. Predators will eat animals tiered directly below them until they’re extinct, and then move onto the next species until they’ve eaten everything in sight. Then they’ll starve to death. So you add more lower creatures, which demand more plants, which demand more minerals, etc, etc…
There are several ecosystems to play with, as well as on and offline challenges such as earning a certain amount of eco-points or achieving a state of “Perfect” (well, 98%) Ecolibrium. The game will also, occasionally, throw a natural disaster at you, just to keep you on your toes.
If you have 3G on your Vita, you can use the GPS function to find new species, but anyone who can get online can use Near in the same way. There’s also an online auction house for buying and selling creatures and plants, or artefacts that increase the production of certain elements.
Ecolibrium’s biggest drawback, believe it or not, is that it’s free-to-play. It’s a drawback because what this actually means is that it’s free to download and play for so long, but if you want to do well or invest a decent amount of time in one sitting, it’s going to cost you. New species can either be unlocked by completing challenges or by spending tokens, and the tokens can either be earned or bought – though the former is a lot of hard work.
Likewise, cloning flora and fauna costs energy and you don’t get much for free; after you’ve created around ten organisms you’ll be running on empty, and it’ll take a whopping 100 minutes to fully refill. Obviously you can spend real money to speed up the process, but even with the relatively low prices it can easily get expensive fast. However, if you’re not willing to spend, you can expect to enjoy no more than half an hour of play at a time. It’s frustrating to say the least and actively hamstrings casual players.
Graphically, it’s fit for purpose but makes little use of the Vita’s gorgeously crisp display. The environments don’t vary a great deal, and while the animals and plants are unique and creative in an Avatar kind of way, they don’t really do an awful lot. On the other hand, the lab interface is well-designed, uncluttered and simple to understand.
VERDICT: Ultimately, Ecolibrium isn’t much more than an interesting diversion, offering little in the way of excitement or real variation. To begin with it’s hard to get your head around, and when it later clicks and becomes simple, it gets boring quickly. If you’re not willing to part with your money then progress will be slow-going, and it’s genuinely hard to know who to recommend it to. That being said, a little originality goes a long way, and Ecolibrium certainly has its fair share of that.