Malicious was developed by Alvion Inc. and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.
When many games unlock a “Boss Rush” mode after completion, it’s not generally considered all that exciting a feature. So when we tell you that Malicious is essentially a Boss Rush game it might seem like a negative. However there’s much more to it than that and you might be surprised.
In Malicious you take control of a “Spirit Vessel” who in turn is given control of the “Mantle of Cinders”. The Mantle appears as a black cape which can transform into different forms to be used as a weapon to defeat the evil “Malicious”. The Malicious are a dark force which come to be and grow because of the malice humans show toward one another. That many seem like one too many strangely titled things to get your head around but thankfully that’s pretty much the extent of the story. High-speed, abstract action on a large scale is the draw here.
A group of great prophets have brought you forth to destroy the Malicious. To do so you must face off against boss characters, and as you do this more powers are unlocked for the Mantle. You access these bosses through a central hub world (they are all open from the start) allowing you to tackle them in any order you wish. A free mode is unlocked after all bosses are defeated, allowing you to take them on indefinitely.
Here’s what we liked:
Beautiful art – Malicious is often striking to look at, with a painted look to the art. The title screen shows a beautiful piece of concept art, and when the actual game loads it’s shocking to see how close it comes to that piece. It becomes even more impressive when Malicious transitions from its main hub world, the “White Room”. As the level loads, the camera spins around the Vessel and when it stops the level fills in around you. It’s like a painting appearing on the canvas at once.
Epic atmosphere – The bosses may lack the massive scale of the Colossi in something like Shadow of the Colossus but most of the bosses are large and unique. They are all also fought on different battlefields which are filled with various smaller minions. You’ll float around the large arena-esque fields, with battalions of troops marching towards you, large insect-like creatures swooping down at you and various war machines roaring across the BATTLFIELD. It feels like you’re taking part in a huge fantasy conflict that wouldn’t be out of place in a movie.
Complex combat – For the Mantle, you’ll have four by the end of your first run through the game. I say first run because Malicious is a game that’s very much designed to be replayed. Challenge isn’t from how to defeat bosses but rather discovering how to defeat them quickly and efficiently to get that all-important S-Rank. To do that you will have to master the chain system, which will power up the Vessel and allow them to activate Aura Release. This in turn will make taking down those bosses much easier. Since powers can be switched on the fly and mid-combo it’s a combat system that will take time to master. When you do, it’s an immensely satisfying experience as the Vessel pulls off multi-power combos, taking out dozens of enemies at once.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Technical troubles – When the main conceit of the game is large arenas with lots of enemies to battle and large bosses roaming around, it’s within reason to expect the game’s engine to handle the action. Unfortunately, there are times when Malicious‘ game engine will buckle under the pressure, reducing the framerate substantially. It doesn’t happen often, but the fact it happens at all is disappointing and has a negative effect on your ability to react to enemies.
Stay on target – Camera systems have always been a make or break issue with 3D action games, and it’s especially important here with the frantic action against dozens of enemies. After some adjustment, the camera controls are easy enough to master, but the targeting system is a different story. One tap of the R1 button will lock on to a regular enemy, another tap will cycle to another nearby regular enemy. A quick double tap will lock-on to the level’s boss, which can be helpful during some of the later, more hectic battles. Lock-on works well enough but the way it snaps between targets can often be disorientating, which isn’t particularly helpful in the midst of a fight. Disengaging from the lock-on also feels very cumbersome and usually leaves one feeling vulnerable while you get your bearings.
Terrible final boss – Once you have defeated the main five stages/bosses it’s onto the fairly mammoth task of the final boss. Challenge in the previous levels will come mostly from finding the best method to tackle them in order to achieve the elusive S Rank. With the final boss however the challenge is putting up with the incredible tedium. All stages of this particular battle require lots of jumping between platforms. Not too much of an issue generally except that you also have to avoid attack from just about everything on screen. When that includes a screen filling boss, projectiles and various flying enemies the task becomes a lesson in frustration. As you might expect this makes the fight drag on far longer than it should, so by the time you do finally beat the boss what should feel like an accomplishment is just draining.
Malicious has a lot of elements that should be, and often are, enjoyable. Whether it’s the absolutely gorgeous art or the fast-paced combat with surprising depth. Sadly the sum of its parts don’t add up to a particularly great experience. It is certainly unique but it cannot survive on that alone, for the score-attack junkie there’s plenty here to enjoy. For most however what’s on offer may be just a little too thin on the ground.
Score: Try it