A (too) comforting Shelter

Survival- and horror-games have exploded in popularity the past few years, creating an exciting cascade of games mixing and matching various themes and multiple genres as a result; indie- and AAA-titles alike. Though, where most seem to be infected by zombies, few have attempted to portrait the true origin of survival found within the animal kingdom.

Welcomed by bright and very minimalistic graphics, Shelter 2, by developer Might & Delight, seeks to introduce the player to a world in which their every move and action remains absolutely vital to their continued survival. Players of the original Shelter will immediately feel at home, and anyone new to the Shelter-series is about to start a truly unique experience.

The beauty of nature is unmatched - just like the unforgiving rawness and dangers lurking around every corner.

The beauty of nature is unmatched – just like the unforgiving rawness and dangers lurking around every corner.

Taking the engaging role as a pregnant lynx mother, the player finds themselves in a peculiar and surprisingly vulnerable situation in the middle of the food chain – being neither the strongest nor weakest animal. This means that despite being both healthy, agile and relatively fast, dangers remain both eminent and inevitable. The vulnerable position and rumored wolf packs undeniably invites to action; unfortunately the only true taste of raw action throughout the entire game is strictly experienced during the prologue.

As the prologue finishes, the player is required to find a safe shelter. Once this is achieved, the main objective changes significantly. It is no longer about actual survival, but rather hunting helpless, wild rabbits within safe distance from your newly established base. Rinse and repeat until your kittens eventually reach adulthood and start their own endeavors. At first glance this feels rather vague, without real substance and somewhat underwhelming – which is both the truth, and a huge shame.

Taking the responsibility of fostering and raising four kittens should prove a challenge, but in reality it feels too laid-back.

Taking the responsibility of fostering and raising four kittens should prove a challenge, but in reality it feels rather relaxing.

Now, it is important to stress that Shelter 2 features several positive elements which undeniably is a direct result of the dedication and passion shared among the developers. There is absolutely no doubt that Shelter 2 is the product of a carefully nursed idea. Period. However, success is never guaranteed with just a good idea. In fact, and more often than not, a good idea is merely the key to get the real work started. A good game demands proper, responsive gameplay, solid graphics and preferably an enjoyable soundtrack. Shelter 2 is a good idea, and does feature the above as well. Surprisingly, however, the game can’t help but feel incomplete regardless – leaving the feeling that the massive potential simply has been left untouched somewhere behind the snow-covered mountains.

There are several reasons at to why the untouched potential can be compared to the mountains as they, too, are left unused in the game. A major downside to Shelter’s gameplay is the severe lack of replayability. The greatest incentive to play a second time appears to be for achievement hunters only; not because players are encouraged to explore more of the world. The fact that the player is given no reason to explore the – and let’s be honest, beautiful – world beyond the first competition is strange. There’s no lack of food nor any eminent dangers forcing the player to move – I certainly didn’t encounter any through almost four hours of gameplay. Shelter 2 ultimately leaves you begging for more content; which isn’t necessarily a good thing in this case.

The potential is undoubtedly present, but whether it’s fully utilized is largely depending on interpretation.

It is evident that Shelter 2 is created with passion, and whilst it does manage to introduce a lightweight version of the Animal Kingdom, it lacks to present true survival and actual dangers. The first play-through will be rewarding and in many ways interesting. However, without any incentive to continue to play, explore or challenging survival, the three-four hours of gameplay hardly justifies the current price-tag.

Buy Shelter 2 on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/275100/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

 

Japanese pop-up book adventures (Tengami Review)

Wrapped in mysterious and immersive dreamlike surroundings, Tengami welcomes the player to a strangely vibrant point-and-click adventure presented as a traditional Japanese pop-up book. The game was released to respectively iOS-platforms and the Wii U through 2014, but has just been released for PC through Steam this month. It is evident that Tengami is the labour of love and dedication to a great and unique idea through years, but whether or not this idea is sufficient for an enjoyable game remains (mostly) in the unknown.

Tengami is.. beautiful. The graphics are undeniably Tengami's biggest strength and offers several superb and extremely atmospheric environments; all of which is greatly accompanied with the otherwise minimalistic audio.

Tengami is.. beautiful. The graphics are undeniably Tengami’s biggest strength and offers several superb and extremely atmospheric environments; all of which are greatly accompanied by the otherwise minimalistic audio.

As the player hits start, their journey begins and more or less continues without any interruptions till the game has been completed a few hours later. There are no actual dialogues or narrative – merely some rather cryptic words as well as titles for the different chapters. Fortunately, Tengami does not require any instructions or similar as the controls remain extremely simple in accordance with the point-and-click genre. The actual mouse-movements are slightly different due to the pop-up book aspect however. All areas of interest are moreover highlighted with a small luminous circle.

The above ultimately means that it’s very hard to miss something on your journey. Similar, most puzzles are fairly easy but delightfully different and intriguing.  A good example is the first actual puzzle which requires the player to make four wolves howl simultaneously. As there are no instructions or obvious approaches, the player must attempt to find the correct order by listening to the different sounds and associated results.

Ignoring the major puzzles, the best puzzles requires the player to flip different slices of scenery to create a pathway.

Ignoring the major puzzles, the best puzzles requires the player to flip different slices of scenery to create a pathway.

However, whilst simplicity is welcome, Tengami does lack some density in its puzzles – it is a puzzle game after all. It is not because the game lacks opportunities to create innovative and intriguing puzzles; in fact the concept of playing through a pop-up book allows mechanics similar to those experienced in Portal, and though the player may get glimpses of familiarity, the opportunities remain unused. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, and perhaps Tengami is meant to be a peaceful experience, rather than a gaming experience. There is a fascinating parallel to Dear Esther without the narrative and first-person perspective, but with the atmospheric environment and minimalistic interaction.

As previously mentioned, Tengami’s greatest strength remains the sublime artwork. The game is simply beautiful. The obvious inspiration from Japanese architecture, nature and landscapes is striking and ultimately creates a very appealing atmosphere. This is crucial for any point-and-click game with minimal player interaction and control, but Tengami does a stellar job.

The game remains a peaceful experience, rather than an actual gaming experience.

Tengami remains a peaceful experience, rather than an actual gaming experience.

Tengami is a very unique and innovative game inspired by Japanese nature and traditional pop-up books, and whilst the entire setting is highly appealing, the game lacks density in its puzzle. Players looking for challenging and lengthy gameplay should thus look elsewhere, but those who appreciates a peaceful and beautiful journey in an environment like this with minimum interaction will very much enjoy Tengami. 

Buy Tengami on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/299680/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this review is reviewing the PC version exclusive to Steam. 

Papers, Please. Review, Please.

Papers, Please, which celebrated its 1-year anniversary last week, is described as “a dystopian document thriller” – quite an intriguing mouthful for a game description, but nonetheless a very fitting description for a truly unique game. Heavily influenced by the border systems present during World War II, Papers, Please introduces the player to the communist state of Arstotzka, which recently ended a 6-year war with its neighbors and otherwise reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Winning the lottery would be a nice thing – everywhere but in Arstotzka and in Shirley Jackson’s novel. Unlike Jackson’s novel however, the player gets to live after winning the lottery, but they are forced to take the job as an immigration inspector. And without further ado or formal introduction, day one starts and the player has to face foreigners wanting to immigrate and citizens wishing to return – all with both poor and good attempts to cross the border and (re-)enter Arstotzka.

Papers, Please requires an eye for detail. All papers must be checked properly and the regulations, which are updated daily, must be upheld accordingly.

Papers, Please requires an eye for detail. All papers must be checked properly and the regulations, which are updated daily, must be upheld accordingly.

The gameplay appears extremely simple, but as the game progresses and more regulations are added to the border-security and immigration processes, the harder and more complex the game becomes. The player has to ensure details ranging from name, day-of-birth, sex and passport number to appearance, height and work pass’ are in correct order. Should the player fail to do so, more than three times per shift, a penalty is applied which ultimately hits the player hard as they are under a massive pressure to support a wife, mother-in-law, son and uncle with food, heat, medicine and shelter.

This ultimately introduces a great range of moral choices – should the player bend the rules after hearing some visitor’s heartbreaking stories and let them enter; knowing the consequences? A few achievements are in fact challenging the player’s moral stance – for instance, should an aging woman be allowed to visit her son despite having discrepancy in her papers? Similar, as the entry requirements tightens – following the significant increase in terrorist attacks inside Arstotzka against the oppressive government – more people may be detained. The choice, however, ultimately is the player’s – but as the nearby guard continues to declare his willingness to share his payment, which happens to be based on the amount of detains, the more tempted the player becomes. It becomes a simple matter of survival and thus prioritization.

The player faces several moral choices which directly affects their economy and thus the lives of their family.

The player faces several moral choices which directly affects their economy and thus the lives of their family.

An interesting aspect to Papers, Please is the sound effects, audio and graphics. There are no identifiable voices (in any language), but rather extremely robotic and inhumane voices – something which follows the unidentifiable, gender less and anonymous queue outside the inspector booth. Both elements together with the Kafkaesque, colourless and overall dystopian environment greatly amplifies the alienation between the state and the people.

The lack of human compassion is stunning, but perhaps very fitting for a totalitarian bureaucracy which values the state above everything and everyone. This, once again, introduces the player’s role – no action is inconsequential, and with every coin having two sides nothing is just black and white. Yet the player is ultimately the only one who can question the procedures and do the unexpected and unwanted; show compassion and empathy. The choices will ultimately impact the player’s family directly as illnesses, hunger and cold all follows rapidly though.

No action is inconsequential.

No action is inconsequential.

At first glance the game appears to be completed in just a few hours, and whilst that may be accomplished, then Papers, Please offers twenty different endings – some with very different happenings. The player may find themselves stealing passports for an upcoming escape with their family, disarming a bomb or handing out job-offers for Engineers. It is safe to say that it takes a fair amount of hours to get through all endings, but the game does face some issues when it comes to replayability.

Upon having completed the main endings, the remaining endings appear most attractive for achievement hunters and players who wishes to complete everything. Though it does seem as if developer Lucas Pope (@dukope) made a calculated move in this regard. After completing the game, players are able to re-play the game from any day they wish. Similar, an endless-mode may be unlocked. Both elements help make the game interesting post-completion. This encourages most players to go through all the various endings – something which is very much recommendable.

Not everyone is pleased with the government - but everyone needs to cross the border, one way or another...

Not everyone is pleased with the government – but everyone needs to cross the border, one way or another…

Papers, Please is in truth an unique game which pokes to the player’s moral and human compassion. It introduces the player to a very special and dystopian environment which, if allowed, greatly influences the player. It is not a game for everyone, but those who wishes to find a raw pearl within the ocean of indie-games and for those who treasures great narrative and design, this is the game.

Glory to Arstotzka.

Buy Papers, Please on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/239030

Buy Papers, Please on GOG.com here:
http://www.gog.com/gamecard/papers_please

Buy Papers, Please on the Humble Store here:
https://www.humblebundle.com/store/p/papersplease_storefront

Buy Papers, Please from the developer’s website here:
http://papersplea.se/

Kairo – where am I?

If the words minimalistic abstraction ever had to be used to describe a game, then Kairo, developed by British Richard Perrin, would be the most appropriate game. I originally purchased and installed the game without quite knowing what to expect – or what not to expect for that matter. Kairo starts in medias res; something which naturally leaves the player with a fair amount of uncertainty and second-guesses as to what they are meant to do. Unlike most other games however, the uncertainty gradually increases as you progress through the first few stages of the game – a very unusual, yet intriguing, experience. Unfortunately this also represents the barrier where players either decide to delve into this unique and captivating piece of content, or quit. It is important to stress that Kairo is not like any other game – and it may even be discussed whether labelling as it as puzzle exploration rather than game is more appropriate.

Kairo is in truth an atmospheric-puzzle game.

Kairo is in truth an atmospheric-puzzle game.

The fact that Kairo manages to distance itself from most other games within the first few minutes of gameplay is an accomplishment alone though, and perhaps the word distinct is a keyword when it comes to describing the game as a whole. There is no tutorial, no introduction to the story and no explanation to why you find yourself on top of an ancient stone construction. Alone.

The exploration begins psychedelically as you wander into thin air in an adventurous attempt to make it to the next construction. It is evident that exploration indeed is a big part of Kairo – both to complete the individual rooms, but also to locate the correct path(s). It moreover turns out that mastering scrutinizing for close to every sub-dimensional room is crucial and highly rewarding as players will find hidden runes and unlock achievements for collecting these.

Each new room has its own story and sacred mysteries.

Each new room has its own story and sacred mysteries.

In good accordance with the first few minutes of gameplay, the following puzzles presented to the player drastically increases in difficulty – to the point where taking breaks might become necessary. There are a few, fairly straightforward puzzles, but a majority of brainteasing and frustrating puzzles which, without a guide, can take a very long time to solve and requires a very good eye for details – solving these on your own does yield a certain sense of accomplishment and ignites motivation to continue though. This ultimately means that players looking for a casual puzzler will have to look elsewhere – Kairo is hardcore and does not reveal much, if anything at all. This, on the other hand, is a very positive thing when addressing the elite of puzzle-gamers.

As more rooms are unlocked and more puzzles are solved, the player starts to wonder what the purpose of Kairo is, not to mention what Kairo itself is –  if anything at all. It is evident that the player is reactivating – and sometimes literally fixing – ancient mechanisms within the ruins. At times short glimpses of modern- and present-times are shown, which yet again questions the story. Is Kairo a new beginning, or is it a desperate attempt to fix what has been lost and destroyed – or something completely else?

Most rooms have their own unique colour - but all rooms are installed with the same noise-layer.

All rooms have their own unique colour – but all rooms are installed with the same noise(/blurry)-layer.

All rooms are different – and those which requires a re-visit will change to a new colour every time. This empathizes how each room serves its own purpose, has its own (secret) story and function – it moreover means that each room is unique despite being a fully integrated part of every other room. However, while being in one room it is impossible to see any other room – or anything outside that specific room at all. The rooms are thus representing shattered memories, and the player is meant to collect these accordingly in order to figure out what really happened and why – something which greatly depends on the player’s own interpretation.

Every room has its own, unique function and story, but connecting them all seems to be the greatest puzzle.

Kairo is not a game for everyone, and it is a game which requires determination and a genuine interest in solving brainteasing puzzles. The environment and story (or, rather, lack of story given your point of view) can be very appealing, but that alone is not a reason to purchase and enjoy the game. A strong interest in puzzles is essential, but if a genuine interest is present then Kairo does offer some extremely complex, unique and intriguing puzzles which, without a guide, easily can take longer than eight hours to complete. Kairo is thus strongly recommendable for those seeking a unique and brainteasing puzzler with an interesting plot, but should be avoided by those who prefer more traditional puzzle-games.

Buy Kairo on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/233230/

Buy Kairo from the developer’s website here:
http://kairo.lockeddoorpuzzle.com/