Recently, a new video game was released called Apotheon. It was developed and published by Alientrap. It is an action game set in ancient Greece, and its most distinguishing feature is its art style. Rather than go for a realistic or cartoonish style, the creators decided to simulate the look of ancient Greek black-figure pottery.

Although the basic technique of this style of vase-painting is much older, black-figure vase-painting, as it is commonly defined, first appeared in the late seventh century BC and remained popular until the early fifth century BC, when it was replaced by the red-figure technique that appeared around 520 BC.

Here’s an arming scene from an Attic black-figure pot of the later sixth century BC, currently on display in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam:

In black-figure vase-painting, the main figures are painted using a clay slip with a different consistency than the clay used for the pot itself, which becomes a dark colour when the pot is fired correctly. Details, such as eyes, nostrils, wrinkles, and so forth, are scratched into the slip. Red-figure technique is the reverse of black-figure: the backgrounds are painted in, with figures left free; detail is added using fine brushes.

In the game, it seems like vector graphics were used to simulate the black-figure style. White is used to highlight some of the female characters (in black-figure pottery, women always have a white skin). The figures are animated like shadow-puppets; limbs can be articulated, but there is no foreshortening, and when figures turn they are simply flipped over. It looks really great, especially when you see it in motion.

I haven’t played much of the game yet, but the story is derivative of God of War. The gods are angry and want to destroy mankind, so it’s up to our hero (Nikandros, i.e. ‘victory of man’) to save humanity by killing the gods instead. Such a struggle, in which gods are killed, is quite uncharacteristic of Greek mythology and something I would sooner associate with the various divinities of the Norse pantheon. I don’t quite understand why developers seem so keen to want to fight and kill the Olympians.

You’ll spend most of the game fighting. Unfortunately, the controls can feel a little floaty (imprecise), and there is not much of a sense of impact as you fight various monsters and human enemies. There is a multitude of weapons available, but it can be finicky to switch from, say, a hatchet to a long lance or a bow in the heat of battle. The designers did try to make the game more than a simple button masher: you have to wait for an opening and use your shield or dodge ability to avoid incoming attacks.

Despite the rather uninspired story and the clumsy controls, this is nevertheless a game that oozes charm and one where the sheer style of the game is enough to make you want to see it through to the end. It also benefits from not really railroading the player: there is a considerable amount of freedom to wander round and explore different nooks and crannies. There’s always something else to see and do.

Apotheon is available now as a digital download for Steam and is also available on GOG.com (DRM free). You can play Apotheon on any type of computer (Windows, Linux, or Mac), and it supports both keyboard and mouse as well as a controller.

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