As I sit here on a boat from Amsterdam to Newcastle, I can’t help but reflect on how crazy the last week has been. I got to visit Gamescom this year for the first time ever, and while I was there on business and didn’t get that much spare time, I made sure that I got to play some games. Below are my picks.
Unto the End
Unto the End is the first game I got to play under the Indie Garden banner published by Digital Uppercut, and it spoke to me a lot in a few ways. Firstly, the dev team are a Canadian couple, who packed up their jobs and travelled the world while making this game over the course of the last 2 years. This is somewhat reflective of my own life right now and may colour my view of the game as they were super lovely people and gave me lots of travel advice while I played. However, I think you can see the inspirations of Scandinavian Europe and other area of their travels come through strongly in the game. The title itself is about a man who has been stranded away from his wife and child and is trying to make his way home to them.
There’s a deeper narrative going on here, but in a 30-minute demo, I didn’t get to see much more into it than that. The dev team likened the game to Inside meets the movie The Revenant, and I can see those influences in an artistic and narrative sense coming through, but mechanically it’s a platforming title with fighting mechanics. There is a certain element of exploration involved, but the majority of the game is spent trying to ‘solve’ battles, not through brute strength, but puzzling out what combination of fighting techniques work for different enemies, in a somewhat Dark Souls-esque way, but not nearly as brutal in difficulty. I particularly enjoyed the art and music in this game as well, and for a 2 (sometimes 3) person team, I think this game shows a lot of promise.
Another game under the Indie Garden banner, this game originally started as a Global Game Jam game in 2015 which had the theme ‘Waves’. This game is a subtle puzzle-solving game that certainly fits the theme where you, as this light creature, must ride the light/sound waves to get to the next screen.
There is also a big emphasis on meditation and balance in this game, and it comes through strongly in the art, puzzle and sound design. Sometimes during the demo, there were times I was waiting for something to happen, but it never felt like dead time or space. The music, combined with the coming waves, left me feeling relaxed and reminded me of the bells in yoga, which instinctively made me think about my breathing.
I’m also very impressed by the game using the isolation principle in their tutorials. The game does a great job of introducing mechanics one by one as you progress as part of the puzzles, integrated in such a way that you can easily understand what’s happening, but never in your face so much that you are annoyed by it.
The devs anticipate the game to be roughly 3-4 hours, with a narrative element that focuses on peace and the acceptance of death, and you should look out for it on PC and Switch sometime next year. Find out more at oqogame.com or follow @oQogame.
A Fisherman’s Tale
This was one of the few VR games I found in the indie floor at Gamescom, but I can’t understate HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS GAME.
You play as a fisherman ‘puppet’ that lives in a light house with a storm on the way, and it’s your job to light the lighthouse to warn others. However, you find that each room is blocked and you must figure out a way to get through to get to the lighthouse.
I don’t want to give too much about this game away, but the best way I can find to describe it is it’s my first experience of a point-and-click adventure game evolved for modern technology. Each room involves encountering a companion or ‘sidekick’ for that room (in my room it was a crab terrified of the outside), and it’s your job to solve puzzles and help that character to continue.
For a game that’s only been in development for 8 months, I adored the art style and the voice acting in particular, but as a lover of point-and-click adventure games, I can almost see this game defining the genre in VR.
Frankenstein: Birth of a Myth
This is probably my least favourite title that I played during the convention, but I’m hesitant to say it’s a bad game because I don’t really feel like I played a game at all.
The idea behind the project is that it is the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley creating the Frankenstein novel, which I think is fantastic, but in practice it feels like a lot of sitting around in a room making dialogue choices you’ve no idea why you’re making, juxtaposed with another scene where you move around a white-robed creature for reasons I couldn’t quite discern.
All in all, it felt like a concept piece instead of a demo of an actual game, so I’m inclined to reserve final judgement on it until release. What I played is part of what is going to be a free prequel to the actual game which will be released on PC, console and mobile in 2019, to coincide with a documentary about the book and the author. It was explained to me that the actual game will feature a choice system, where your choices as Mary and as ‘the monster’, will change how the game plays out and there will be multiple endings. Despite my experience with the demo, I still like the concept and idea behind it all, so I’ll be waiting for the release for my final judgement.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics
Do you like X-COM style games? Do you like Cthulhu? Have you always dreamed of a combination of these two things? Well you’re in luck friend! Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is a game that combines (and builds on) the emerging genre of team battle strategy games with the lore of Lovecraft.
The game is set in World War II, where a team of ragtag mercenaries are wading through the battlegrounds fighting off hordes of Nazis. However, the twist here is the introduction of Lovecraft, and the game weighs heavily on the idea of good vs evil, light vs dark.
Firstly, you don’t have random characters in this game – your characters are static as this game plans to be narrative heavy. For example, we have Ariana, who is quick and has a desire to always be at the front of the battle. She also has a demon because of reasons, and that also grants her health leeching abilities. You can choose to use characters in the way that suits their narrative, or not, but having static characters creates a more intimate relationship where you care about their outcome more whilst you follow their journey, rather than the sometimes expendable characters of X-COM.
As a strategy game, it’s got enough twists on the genre to make it stand out from the crowd. First of all, is the fog. The fog is the darkness that shrouds the enemies. When they are in the fog, you can not see any details about them, and if they get deep enough in, you can’t see them or what they’re doing at all. They’re also stronger in the fog; when you’re close and looking at them, they are much weaker, and they know this. What this means, is that the enemy will constantly try to move into the darkness, and drag you with them, always keeping you on your toes.
While the game also has X-COM-like mechanics like health and move points, it also introduces the idea of insanity. Get hurt too much, see your friends hurt, see too much messed up shit, and you will end up losing sanity points. Lose too much, and you’ll start to lose control of your team, meaning they will take random actions like throw away a grenade, or move wherever they want, which adds another layer of complexity to the game.
All in all, I think the game could shape up to be a masterpiece right up there with X-COM, Invisible Inc, or Into The Breach, adding enough to help mature the genre further and potentially becoming a classic. There’s a lot more going on in this game then I’ve been able to sum up in a few paragraphs, but all I can say is you should trust me when I tell you it’s some Good Shit©. My admiration of it has absolutely nothing to do with being one of the 3 people at Gamescom who managed to complete it, no sir.
The Spectrum Retreat
Ohhh, this game is good, and you should play it if you haven’t already! The game involves you waking up in a hotel room, not quite sure how you got there, to a knock at the door. There stands a creepy mannequin butler, inviting you downstairs to breakfast that day. As you spend your time at breakfast, surrounded by more butlers, who are very interested in you, a little too interested, and then the next day, and then the next, you quickly realise that perhaps you are a prisoner in this majestic Pen Rose Hotel. Never fear, however, you meet a stranger via a radio who is willing to help you escape, through finding the changes in your day-to-day prison which lead the way to puzzle rooms.
A product of a very talented game designer, Dan Smith from the YGD BAFTA program, this game has a million and one influences. The puzzles might remind you of Portal, or Talos Principle, but the hotel will scream The Shining, and the creepy robots 2001: A Space Odyssey. I really enjoyed the narrative elements in this game as much as I enjoyed the puzzles, and although at times they felt a bit separated, they flowed well in their timing. This game is also another good example of the isolation principle tutorial, with well-designed puzzles introducing mechanics that developed in complexity over time.
You can buy The Spectrum Retreat on PC, Xbox and PS4 now if you haven’t already, and it will be out on Switch very soon. Find out more at ripstone.com/game/the-spectrum-retreat or follow @RipstoneGames.
This is a game made by Northern Irish developer Billygoat Entertainment, which also won best UK game of the show from the UKIE business stand. This is another game that came from the Global Game Jam year 2015 ‘Waves’, and involves two characters, a man and a goat, screaming their way through various supermarket obstacles in each level. The man screaming moves you one direction, and the goat, the other.
The game is best played with two players, and also best played with mics because, while you can play with controller, it takes on a whole new level when you use mics. There’s nothing quite as amusing as sitting there with your friend, screaming into the mic, to make your character scream and direct your shopping cart of victory, or in my usual case, certain doom.
If you’ve ever played Billygoat’s other major release, HMS Spiffing, you’ll notice the same off-the-wall humour, and in-jokes throughout the game that encapsulates the kind of humour the dev team is all about. Find out more at billygoat.tv or follow @OfficialGoat.
While I didn’t manage to make it to the main entertainment areas all that much, I got to see the cream of some of the great indie games being developed around the world right now. My main sadness is that I didn’t get to check out Mosiac by Krillbrite Studios (even though their booth was RIGHT BEHIND MINE, WHAT?!), but otherwise I think I got a pretty good snapshot of some games to watch out for in the next year or two.