I love parkour style games. Mirror’s Edge is one of my favorite first person experiences I’ve played in a very long time. Having recently previewed the Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst beta, I was eager for more. When the opportunity to review Welkin Road, the described Mirror’s Edge-esque game from developer Gregor Panic, I knew I had to try it. After all, if it was even remotely close to the Mirror’s Edge experience, I figured I’d love it.
Let me preface the remainder of this review by saying this: I don’t want to pigeonhole Welkin Road as a Mirror’s Edge clone, even though it admittedly takes most of its inspiration from the DICE franchise. To further this, I believe Welkin Road was developed by a single person, making the accomplishment that much more intriguing.
Welkin Road is, essentially, a plotless parkour title. Granted, it is in the early access stages on Steam, so the experience has the chance to improve. From what I’ve played, however, you take the role of a nameless adventurer who must free run and grapple their way to each stage’s pillar of light. Through the course of each stage, the player must deduce parkour infused puzzles to proceed to the finish line. Sounds pretty cool, right?
And indeed, the concept of the game is pretty cool. Artistically, Welkin Road is a beautiful and simple blend of almost cell shaded visuals with the addition of shiny aesthetics. In order to clear a stage, the player must pass through a rigorous obstacle course that involves free running, parkour, grappling, and more to navigate. As you progress throughout the game’s many stages, you learn more tricks to pass the increasingly difficult courses.
Unfortunately, where Welkin Road soars conceptually, it fails in execution. The very first issue I noticed with Welkin Road was the hit detection. Visually, it’d appear that I cleared a jump or tucked my legs in when I should have – only to fall to my doom and respawn. Shortly after clearing that jump, I found myself having issues with the grappling. You have to be close enough to the orb you’re grappling to successfully attach yourself to it, but often my grapples wouldn’t stick. Sure, as I continued the game, I too often over shot my grapple orb or fell too short. When I started to have to swing around on the orbs or use the green orbs to adjust the stages, my world became more complex. I eventually deduced that I could add a few percentages of success by quickly flying through parts of the stages – especially the grappling area. It did appear that momentum influenced your swings – as it should.
And, honestly, I was okay with failing quite often if it was my own fault. Welkin Road is very much a game that relies on trial and error. Hints await you at many precipices during the early stages to assist you through your jumps. If you should fail, the game doesn’t punish you too severely. In fact, after dropping to your doom, you always spawn at the obstacle you failed instead of the beginning of the stage or at a random check point. While this is truly a good thing, the respawn points often left you without enough momentum to successfully or quickly make the jump you just failed.
At this point in Welkin Road’s early access, there isn’t much else to explore. The campaign mode and stage select are both the same thing – one just lets you compete against your prior times. For the size of the development team, Welkin Road is an ambitious title. Using the Unity Personal edition software, Gregor Panic was able to craft a beautiful world and intricate puzzles, and I give him much credit for that. The game, however, is currently filled with many frustrating parkour/grappling issues and, even with the inclusion of hints, too little direction on how to proceed. Paired with no plot to carry you on, Welkin Road puts all of its marbles into its gameplay bag. I love a good puzzle game, but trial and error scenarios coupled with game mechanics that aren’t tight make for one hell of a frustrating experience.