The Ball

released on Oct 26, 2010

The Ball is a first person action-adventure game featuring a full single-player experience. As a swashbuckling archaeologist working on the slopes of a dormant volcano somewhere in Mexico, you get stuck in a cavern. It doesn't take long before you realize this is more than just a cave.

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The Ball originally started out as a mod for Unreal Tournament 3, and went on to win “Best Single Player Mod for 2008” for ModDB, and came in second place in the 2008 “Make Something Unreal” competition held by Epic Games. Soon after that, it was ported over to the Unreal Development Kit, and eventually went onto be released as a stand alone game in 2010 for PC and the failed OnLive service, and in 2013, it was ported as a launch title for the failed Ouya console. Not exactly the best history for a game, but the fact that it’s still on sale on Steam and GOG is good.
But the “Make Something Unreal” competition is probably not the reason that you’ve heard of this game. The reason that you’ve heard of this game was that it was one of the 13 games contained in the Potato Sack Bundle, which was part of the Potato Sack Alternate Reality Game held by Valve leading up to the release of Portal 2, which helped in getting it released a whole 12 hours early. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately forgotten when Portal 2 eventually got released to great fan fare. But should it have been forgotten so quickly after Portal 2 came out. Let’s take a look at it shall we.
You play as an archaeologist working on the slopes of a dormant volcano in Pico del Miedo, Mexico, in 1940. While you and your team are digging, the floor gives out beneath you and you fall into an ancient cavern. After briefly exploring the cavern, you soon discover ancient ruins and a mysterious artifact, a gold and metal shelled Ball. With help from the Ball, you soon discover ancient secrets as you survive puzzles, traps, and ancient creatures that still lurk around in the darkness.
Probably the best way to describe The Ball is “It’s like Portal, but instead of Robots and Portals, it has a giant Ball, Aztec mummies, and an undead gorilla,” And when you have a description like that, it’s hard to not to perk your ears up at least a little bit.
Instead of the use of portals like Portal, The Ball has you have to control a giant artifact, the titular Ball, with another artifact, a gun like object that either attracts the Ball to you, or has you push it away with a forceful push.
Surprisingly, the puzzles of The Ball has some variety to it. Instead of just having you use the ball to hit buttons, the game has low gravity rooms, it lets you attach other objects to the ball so you can move them around, and has you destroying boarded up walls and support structures, along with the ball getting temporary powers. It gives the puzzles some much needed variety that makes it stand out.
But The Ball isn’t just puzzle solving, as you’ll have to take on enemies, such as undead Aztecs, which you kill by rolling them over with The Ball. There are even sections that I would call mini-Boss Battles, which include one with a giant gorilla, and multiple encounters with a giant worm and these giant lizard looking creatures in armor.
When you die, none of your progress is lost. If anything, dying is more of a road bump rather than a set back, since you’re respawned not too far from where you were and all of the progress that you’ve made is still there.
While the art style can be quite nice in areas, and other areas do have a sense of scale to them, unfortunately, the game does suffer from that brown tine that a lot of games had around that time. And while the rest of the game never looks bad, but it looks fine for a project done by a small team.
There a few parts where you use a minecart to go from one area, but you can’t control it, and the game doesn’t even use these sections to show off something impressive, just more caves. I know this levels were probably made to show off what the team could do, but in hindsight, they just feel pointless. But there is a large, ancient vehicle that you can drive, but unfortunately, it’s limited by the linearity of the levels.
Once you’ve completed the story campaign, the game features several Survival Levels that you can play with your newfound skills, where you have to survive multiple rounds from enemies, or solve a series of more advanced puzzles. There are two notable Survival Levels. The first is a piece of DLC that came out in 2012, made by some students from the FutureGames class of 2012.
The second piece of DLC is a series of Survival maps is a Steam exclusive set of maps set in the Aperture Labs from the Portal series, which were used in helping solve the Potato Sack ARG at the time. While it’s long passed the ARG, these levels are still incredibly fun to play, and mix the Portal and Ball gameplay sensibilities well.
Unfortunately, The Ball was quickly forgotten due to Portal 2 coming out not too long after this game, and ended up being a lot more impressive than The Ball. And when you’re dealing with something as polished as a Valve game, it’s pretty easy to see why The Ball ended up forgotten. Still, The Ball goes for USD$10 these days, and it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for some first person puzzling like the original Portal did.

It's been a few years since I actually played this, but from memory, it felt like something that got made purely because someone noticed how popular Portal and Half-Life were and wanted to copy them.
Unfortunately, the entire story is told through long paragraphs of text inscribed on hidden collectables, meaning it's effectively non-existent to anyone who isn't looking for the collectables specifically. Anyway, it turns out to be some ancient aliens shit that now seems a bit racist. Apparently the Aztecs needed UFO build aquaducts?
I will say that the Aztec aesthetic is pretty cool-looking, and the game's graphics pull it off really well. Additionally, the ball's physics work well, although the puzzles (and especially the constant pointless zombies) do start to get a bit stale by the end. The Portal bonus level was nice too, but it also adds to the overall Portal-clone vibe that the game suffers from.
On a funny note, the CD-box for this game reminds me of the random PC games you could always find in those cheap DVD-bins that supermarkets used to have. Ahh, memories.

A very interesting and unique puzzle game, yes, the setting is boring, yes, there is no plot, but still very cool, there is even a bunny hop) And an awesome crossover level with the Portal!

The awful platforming and combat sections greatly hurt what is otherwise a decent puzzle game.