Karmaflow – Review (In Progress)

To say that Karmaflow’s launch has been a mess would be putting it lightly.

Having missed its original release date by a few days, over which it was announced the game had been unexpectedly split into two parts (the second of which is coming sometime in April), it arrived in a technical state that would make most early access games blush. Game breaking glitches, audio desynchronization, video corruption, horrendous performance, and persistent crashes (once shutting my PC down entirely) caused the game to be unplayable for months after release.

karmaflow pic 1

Even now, it’s hard to say the game is in a playable state. Even though I was able to complete the first act I ran into numerous errors which ranged from absent audio to breaking certain mechanics. Having spent a generous amount of time on the Steam forums it would appear my issues are by no means unique (outside of being one of Karmaflow’s many unique flavors of glitch), and each new patch only seems to open new holes needing to be filled in.

With all that being said it almost seems pointless to even discuss what the game underneath the bugs is like, given it’s impossible for me to recommend something so crippled by malfunctioning programming. But maybe that’s in part because I don’t want to accept that Karmaflow isn’t worth the trouble it’s given me. That it’s an ambitious but incapable experience, that even when working as intended fails to capture the brilliance of its concept as an interactive rock opera.

It at once tries to do too much while expanding on little, being mechanically shallow and unpolished even as it continues to add on new ideas throughout the game. The act of infusing and draining karma (basically the life source of Karmaflow’s world) at first appears a key feature, but in practice is used sparingly and with no room for user expirementation. The rest of the time you’re pushed through tedious platforming sections, playing as a character with poor control over their body movement in an environment they’re constantly slipping off of. Karmaflow is also likely owner of the worst camera of any game I’ve played in the last decade, commonly drifting off into random directions to focus on anything but your character and clipping on invisible walls that erupt from every corner.

Karmaflow seems obsessed with making sure you never do anything it hasn’t expressly planned for you to do. It wants to be in control so its levels are designed like small cages, letting you roam around in so far as you never try to stray out of the immediate area. Sure, you can look all you want at the world off in the distance, but should you try to actually visit it a metaphorical and sometimes physical hand will descend from the heavens to pick you up and put you back where you belong. As an advocate for focused game design, Karmaflow was agonizingly restrictive and made me long for even a small amount of freedom to escape it’s uninspired linearity.

karmaflow pic 2

Finally, and most saddening, Karmaflow’s soundtrack is so bad as to be almost painful. Though tastes may vary, there was something intensely unpleasant to me about every single track Karmaflow managed to play properly (which to be fair was likely only half, the rest having self destructed in a glitchy fit). The compositions are bizarre in ways that feel uncertain about themselves, as if the composer is holding back for fear of becoming to esoteric but ending up sounding exceptionally dull in the process. Lyrics feel forced and equally strange, never deciding between attempting to flow melodically, or forego any musical sensibility for the sake of telling an uninteresting narrative that I found impossible to follow.

At this point I don’t think there’s any hope in saving Karmaflow’s first act. I feel safe in saying it’s become a self-perpetuating train wreck that is beyond the ability of the developer to rectify. I can only pray that the second act will manage to not fall prey to the same disastrous problems, but I’d be lying if I said I’m actually confident it’s not going to.

Final word omitted until the second act of Karmaflow is released, at which point this review will be updated accordingly.

Karmaflow was developed by Basecamp Games and is available on PC via Steam for $19.99. It was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer.

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