Claybook (PS4) Review

When I was much younger, I used to love getting out the Play-Doh and becoming lost in my own imagination as I created multi-coloured figures and items which could devour each other as you slammed them together and squeezed them tight. Back then it was simpler times and children were easily amused – these days it’s all about Fortnite and “The Poopsie Unicorn Surprise“. So, seeing Claybook pop-up in my inbox was a nice blast to the past combined with modern and rather advanced technology.

Don’t be put off by the simple imagery though. Claybook, from developer Second Order, is one of the most advanced physics sandbox puzzle games I’ve ever seen on modern consoles – Battlefield and Just cause’ destruction is nothing compared to this game. So let’s see what I have to clay about the title as I play(-doh) it…

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Some of the pre-built puzzles look daunting at first…

At the core of Claybook is a rather fun and intuitive puzzle-platformer which has a very strong emphasis on letting you do whatever you want in order to achieve the goals and come up with your own solutions. Not only do you have access to twenty levels which are spread out as four levels in each of the five categories (which are unlocked as you obtain stars via the ‘stars to unlock’ method I’m not a fan of), but you also have access to a fully-featured level editor. So, when your adventure has taken you through each of the pre-made levels, which took me about five-six hours, then you can get to grips with the creator and make your own or simply download any which have been uploaded to the built-in content sharing system.

In terms of story – I imagine you’ve most likely gathered by now that there isn’t one. Well… after looking around in the game and reading the description of it, I see there is a vague story. You’re the giant child who is creepily sat at the end of the table in-game, a child who is grasping an Atari Competition Pro joystick. As you move, you’ll notice this gigantic man-child also mirroring your actions with his freakishly large hands and fingers! As such, you appear to be the child who is controlling these various shapes as you stroll around their wonderous creations hoping to solve each of the puzzles thrown at you.

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‘Water’ is clay, sloppy, gooey, chunky clay!

Gameplay:
Claybook is unlike anything you’ve ever seen or played before, it feels like a glorified tech-demo, one which Nvidia or AMD would put out to showcase how their new GPU handles tonnes of particles and physics. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay comes first, but the whole concept and implementation blew me away when I first started playing as I couldn’t comprehend how something this advanced could look so simple and also run so smoothly on current consoles. Let’s ignore the puzzles at the moment and talk about the star of Claybook – balls…

Okay, maybe not a ball as such, but a lump/ball of clay – you. As the default manifestation of our morphing protagonist, you can switch shapes at the push of the D-pad. The default options are a sphere, a cube, a cylinder, or a wheel/coin. Each variation has it’s own strengths and weaknesses as you work your way through the various puzzles set before you. Use the sphere to roll around fast, the cube to move slower in a more precise fashion, the cylinder is the God of climbing stairs and the wheel is much faster and able to fit into small holes – like Anakin Skywalker when he rotates his Pod-Racer 90 degrees. 

However, each of these ‘default’ shapes hides a dark and evil secret – again, just like young Anakin…

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As you rub against things, you get coloured accordingly!

Absorb those around you!
The first thing you’ll notice about Claybook is the fact that your manifestation, whatever it may be, is a fatty and is much heavier than the environment you’re in. As such, as you roll, waddle or flop around, you’ll see you leave tracks in the ground and dents in the wall. That’s right, movements literally leave tracks and gashes in everything you bump into! This not only looks awesome but you also act as a ‘Katamari’ style object which gradually gets a little bigger as the surrounding clay becomes a part of your core structure. These core models also have the ability to manually ‘absorb’ the clay around them.

That’s right, walk over to a wall, or even sit there on a patch of ground you don’t like, and hold R2 – you’ll begin to literally suck the clay around you and absorb it within your plumping body. This means you can create paths through walls, fall through ceilings, destroy anything that gets in your way and even cos-play as the Langoliers as you eat everything in the timeless dimension…

This isn’t a side-effect of an ability either, it’s a core mechanic which you must use in order to solve the various puzzles given to you. One of the missions is to destroy 100% of all ‘chocolate’ items (brown objects), another may be to fill up various pots with water that you have to free from a walled reservoir. But, if you think that this doesn’t sound varied enough, there’s more…

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The magnet attracts the ‘water’ like… erm, a magnet.

What can your colleagues do?
Scattered around each level, you’ll find other shapes you can take control of by pressing Square. Some of these are just bigger versions of the cube and sphere who can eat through things much faster and easier due to their enlarged size, but you’ll also encounter some other strange shapes you can possess as well. First, we have the rubber/clay duck which can ‘swim’ when you press R2 instead of carving their way through the environments. Then we have the rocket which splurts out ‘water’ as you try furiously to control it through the air – this is by far the hardest thing to control ever! Other such creations include a magnet which absorbs all nearby ‘water’ and then flies (for some reason) and a magical orb which can repel all ‘water’ particles at the push of a button. All these shapes come in hand when trying to accomplish whatever task you have been given.

You’ll notice I keep talking about ‘water’ – well, it’s not water. You see, just like with LEGO, everything in Claybook is made out of clay, thus the ‘water’ is actually thick McDonald’s Milkshake style clay which has water physics yet feels like sludge as you slap your shapes around it in and watch it splash. Kinda like how taking a bath in rice pudding or porridge would feel like, I imagine! I have a video below which shows you various aspects of the game – at one point I’m a flying magnet (again, I’m not sure why I fly) and I fall right into the sludge with a satisfying ‘plop’.

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Clone yourself and make a sad, crying penguin statue…

Seeing double:
Another core mechanic, which you may have seen in the images if you have really good eyesight, is the option to press L2 and ‘rewind’ time. This mechanic actually works ala Braid style rather than your generic racing game rewind process. When you hold down rewind, your shape will go through the motion of reversing its actions, but you’ll also dump a clone before you do so. This process can be used in many ways to benefit you in your adventure. First of all – if you see a tube which has ‘water’ pouring out if it, yet it’s going to the wrong place and needs to go elsewhere, simply roll up to the opening, or just inside it, then hold L2 and reverse time. You’ll plop out a clone which will remain there and block the passage whilst you appear somewhere else in your previous movements as a free clay blob once again!

You can also use this method in order to reach distant platforms. Rember how I said it’s a puzzle-platformer? Well, it is, but you can’t jump. Clay can’t jump – don’t be silly! However, you can roll off high up platforms quite fast. How does that help you though? Well, roll off and reverse as you fall – this will leave a platform for you to roll onto – keep doing this and BOOM, improvised bridge or bounce platform! True, if you use the sphere then you can end up with something along the lines of the big Red Balls out of Wipeout, but still – it works!

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There are multiple objectives on some levels, this one has about four

Puzzling clay contraptions:
Okay, so Claybook took me around five to six hours to experience everything the base game had to offer – everyone’s mileage will vary here as each of the twenty levels took be between three and twenty minutes each to complete. I did replay a few of the ones I had previously beaten in order to better my time and overall rating as well. As I previously mentioned, Claybook uses the terrible three-star grading process. Now, before anyone takes offence at that or argues that I’m just not good enough, let me explain. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like it when games lock their content behind a “you must get X amount of Y before you can access Z” when it comes to progressing through the levels/story – bonuses fine, but not the story. However, Claybook is so easy to get three stars, you’ll never have this issue!

All of the levels, bar a few, aren’t timed – so you can take as long as you want in order to complete the task at hand. Obviously, the fastest times appear on the built-in World-Wide leaderboards, but that’s just for bragging rights. Take your time and achieve 100% in each level and you’ll get all three stars. I’ve mentioned above what the puzzles are like, there are timed checkpoint ones where each checkpoint increases your remaining time, timed A-B races, logical puzzles where you have to find shapes to place in outlines then either dump a clone or move into another shapes body, filling the tanks with ‘water’, etc… 

I will warn those out there looking at getting this game for a child – some of the later levels, especially the one where you’re a rocket and have to hit all nine checkpoints, do get rather annoyingly difficult. Again though, that one doesn’t have a time limit as such, the timer counts upwards – so it’s grading you on how fast you do it. So you could just take your time and forget it ever existed once you finish it!

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DIY level creation…

Playing and sharing with your friends:
As I touched on above, Claybook comes with its own built-in level creator. Well, calling it a ‘level creator’ isn’t right as you can create your own ‘Book’ with its own ‘stories’ inside – so technically, you can create Chapters and level compilations for you to share in-game so that everyone can download and play them. The developer missed a trick here as I don’t see any trophies around this process which may have encouraged more people to get involved and share their creations. I’ve taken a look at the level creator and I’ve not got to grips with it yet – it does seem quite advanced though as you can set objectives, scoring triggers, spawn points, create your own environments etc… So for those out there who like to create their own things – this is great for you!

The developers have also stated that the game boasts Cross-platform Content sharing! Who says Sony doesn’t allow cross-platform progression and items? This, to me, sounds like any level created on the PC or Xbox versions are shared online and then I can download them on the PS4. When I tried this, the server wasn’t live, so I can’t comment on how this works yet!

Claybook also lets up to four people play on the same console in four player split screen on all aspects of the game. So, if you have a young one who likes the look of the game but they are having an issue with one of the levels, instead of taking their controller off them, simply join in via co-op and work together as you both overcome the obstacles. I love games which still support local co-op as it’s one of those things which started to die out a few years back with the advent of online gaming, yet some developers are keeping it alive.

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I’ve made a rights pig’s ear of that path!

Technical:
As I’ve said a few times, I really don’t know how the developer has managed to get a game this destructive to work so smoothly on current consoles. I’m playing on the PS4 Pro, so maybe that’s helping it, I’m not sure – but either way, I had no framerate issues or any sign of slowdown, even when I took control of a cannon and was spraying ‘water’ everywhere! One of the things I was super impressed with was the reaction to the various colours on your controlled shape. For example, you begin grey but if you bump into a tree then you’ll have a gash of brown now on your blob as you roll around – start to roll on the green ‘grass’ and green clay will begin to get absorbed and create a skid-mark of green delight on your balls! You can see what I mean in my video below, but the way the world actually acts like it’s made of clay is so impressive and quite astonishing.

The music in Claybook is very calm and relaxing with very little sound effects except for the odd ‘splash’ and ‘slap’. It’s very calming though and a great game to just wind down with, just don’t expect and massive orchestrated sympathies or AAA voice acting with talking balls and cubes… Although, why would you expect that?

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That kid (us) is so creepy! His stare is worse than Luigi’s death stare!

Overall:
So, what did I think of Claybook? As previously advised, this game came out of nowhere for me. It’s supposedly been in Early Access on PC and Xbox for a while, but I’ve never even heard of it until I saw an image of it the other day and requested access to take a look at the final product. I had a blast playing through the main game and I’m sure my parents will enjoy it when I give them access to the game on Sunday as well. Just the fact you can literally destroy everything as if it was a real creation made out of clay is so amusing and ingenious – it’s like Minecraft if Minecraft was realistic and made out of clay (and also without enemies and mining tools but with puzzles and absorbing powers). 

Once the level editor begins to fill up with user-submitted levels, I’ll be all over this game as I play through them and explore the challenges the community put out there. I may even try and get my head around the editor and create something for myself at some point. But for now, I’m off to try and figure out how to unlock the rather cryptic trophies which lie within Claybook!

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Claybook is, in my opinion, a one of a kind experience which both looks and plays great. As a morphing blob of clay, you can change your shape and swap between various objects in order to overcome the problems and obstacles placed before you. The built-in levels will give you around 5+ hours of entertainment as you work through them either solo or with up to three other players locally in a four-player co-op session. The added cross-platform level editor and community built levels will add a whole tonne of new content but as of launch day, this feature isn’t active just yet – you can make levels but not share or download them. 

Claybook is lots of fun to play, albeit some levels are a bit frustrating but that’s part of the charm! If you like puzzle games, quirky platformers, supporting indie developers, or you just like the overall look of this unique game, then I would say pick it up today and see where your imagination takes you!

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Claybook

£11.99
8.5

Final Score

8.5/10

The Good:

  • Amazing tech in play here, it runs so smooth even though you literlaly dissolve the playing area at times!
  • Pleasant music to keep you relaxed whilst playing
  • The pre-built levels offer a mixture of challenge and fun
  • Included level editor with cross-platform sharing for the community
  • Four-player split screen local co-op for the trickier levels

The Bad:

  • Only 20 built-in levels, I would have liked a few more
  • The level editor can be a bit tricky to pick up as there aren't really any tips or tutorials on what to do
  • The rocket level is a pain because it controls like it's made out of clay shooting water out it's backside... oh wait...
  • Even though the music is pleasant, it does loop after a short period

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