Pascal’s Wager Review: A Touch of Death
How do you make your Soulsborne clone stand out in a sea of clones? Give it the edgiest name you could possibly think of. Pascal’s Wager is a new Souls-inspired mobile game currently only available on iOS, and it’s a surprisingly full-featured experience. So why am I taking a pot-shot at the name? Because it has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
If you don’t know, Pascal’s Wager was a philosophy created by Blaise Pascal that basically justifies the belief in the existence of God. The theory being that you don’t know if God exists or not, so people bet their life on whether or not one exists. It’s an interesting subject, but this game is about missing Colossi and some dude named Terrance looking for his wife or something, so it’s a questionable name.
The story is janky and it’s barely cobbled together. There’s a guy who’s a courier, and he meets other people, and that’s about all I remember cause I started skipping the cutscenes due to the blandness of the story and how bad the voice acting is. Norwood isn’t so bad, but the worst offender is Viola, who sounds like they just grabbed some random lady to voice these lines with absolutely zero experience reading a script before.
That said, while Souls-like games often have a super convoluted story that requires exploring for lore and a ton of depth, Tipsworks did at least try to make something that’s somewhat interesting, so while I didn’t care for the tale itself, I’m a huge Souls fan and no one weaves these worlds better than From Software. I fully admit my bias, and I won’t hold that against them because they tried - but the voice acting is seriously bad.
Now that we’re past the worst part, this is a helluva good game for a mobile title. I’d argue that it’s a good game for any platform, but there’s some issues that keep it from being quite as good as it could be - but to Tipsworks’ credit, this game has already been patched numerous times since I was given access to it via TestFlight. In order to get the best experience, you’re going to want to pair an Xbox or a PlayStation controller via Bluetooth because trying to play with touch controls works, but controlling the camera with swipes is pretty much instant death in combat. The touch interface is pretty solid - there’s a dedicated block button, and if you’ve played Souls games before, the controls are mostly familiar right off the bat. The biggest change is having block on Square (X) which feels a little odd, but you get used to it fairly quickly.
Combat can be a little bit sluggish, but it’s mainly reliant on the rhythmic fluidity that you’ve seen in games like this in the past. You can’t spam attacks to burn things down like you can in Dark Souls, but it’s more like Sekiro, where you’re going to want to take strikes or press your attacks as they end in order to continue when a flurry opportunity works. Dodging works well, as the rolling feels solid, but counter attacks have a slightly weird timing so you’re going to want to practice a lot once you unlock the skill.
Perhaps the most unique thing that Pascal’s Wager does is the use of the Sanity system. As you fight, you become delirious and you’ll need to balance out your sanity by recovering it with potions or descend into madness. If you drop into Abnormal status, you’ll lose some health or take more damage from hits (each character has different ailments), and crossing over into Lunatic mode means a shadow version of yourself spawns which you’ll need to kill to regain your sanity. There’s also bonuses for being altered, so you can use this system to your advantage when you learn to master it. It’s a little confusing but adds a nice breath of fresh air to a tried and true formula.
If there’s anything Pascal’s Wager needs, it’s a little more explanation for what things are or do. There’s very little explanation for what a lot of things do. There are these little bug things that you can gift items to, and in return they give you items. It’s basically like the crystal lizards, but you don’t kill them, and I’d rather just kill them than waste items trying to hope to guess what they want and how much of it that they want. There’s also an egg you get from a statue very early on that prompts you to eat an egg, but there’s no mention of what it actually does. Turns out, it makes the game considerably easier. Nice idea, but it would be nice to know that’s what it actually does instead of taking it and guessing. You can return the egg if you don’t want it, but it’s a pain to go back and return it. It would have been far more simple to have allowed an equip or not while in the carriage.
The world plays out in a fashion similar to Demon’s Souls, where you have smaller sections to clear, and instead of a hub like the Nexus, you travel by carriage and this acts as a world connector. As you progress from place to place, you’ll encounter three other couriers (Norwood, Viola, and Benita) and you’re allowed to take a partner with you on missions. You can simply press up on the D-pad to swap characters. This is pretty cool because you don’t have to worry about builds and you can simply take a tank or range, depending on what you need from the encounter. If you die, you respawn as the other character and resting at the shrines will revive a fallen partner. A clever addition, but not having equippable builds for gear means you’ll likely keep characters on the bench if they don’t fit your playstyle (looking at you Benita.)
At the end of the day, Pascal’s Wager is plagued with some issues - it really needs a controller for the best possible experience, a dull story, awful voice acting, and a lack of some needed instructions. However, the good greatly outweighs the bad in this case, because the gameplay is extremely good for a mobile game, and the graphics look really nice on my iPhone 11 Pro Max. It also runs extremely smooth and I had absolutely no issue with graphical slowdown throughout my playthrough. If you’re looking for a full fledged Souls-like experience, Pascal’s Wager is proof that console quality titles can exist on your mobile devices.
- Great combat
- Unique ideas breathe new life into the Souls-like formula
- The graphics are smooth
- Touch controls work better than they should
- Dull story
- Terrible voice acting
- Lack of instructions make things confusing