The soundscape exhibits a loving attention to detail. You’ll hear your footsteps as you walk, of course, plus the swoosh of opening doors, the rumble and ping of the elevator, and the clanking sound of your feet on metal ladders. Holographic images make a static-like noise as they power up, while letters and digits click as they scroll across the computer screen. There’s so much ambient sound in the environments that background music is comparatively rare. What’s there is appropriately evocative, like the lovely, dissonant choral melody in the main menu and the sassy elevator-like music as you enter the data archives. The latter resolves into a mellow fusion of electronic reverberations and sitar tones – the perfect backdrop for reading and pondering.
Prominence plays from a first-person perspective with continuous 360 degree panning. It’s been a while since I’ve played a new game with this feature, and I was surprised at how much I’d missed it. The combination of point-and-click interface with the ability – while slowly spinning around – to examine all aspects of the environment greatly adds to the feeling of intimate exploration. As in many of the classic adventures like this, transitions between nodes are slightly blurry but give a good sense of movement. I encountered one location in which the transitions seemed unusually slow, but this happened so rarely that it didn’t really affect the gameplay. (If you don’t wish to see the transitions, you can turn them off in the options menu.)
The smart cursor remains centered on the screen, the default circle changing shape over items you can interact with, objects that can be described, places that can be zoomed into, and directions you can move. It’s generally easy to find the navigational arrows and to walk about – I never found myself turned around in the wrong direction, or spent significant time searching for a directional indicator. Right-clicking brings up the inventory, which resides in the top portion of the screen. Pressing the “tab” key provides the current objective, with a location visual that is sometimes also a helpful hint. There is no autosave, but the game offers 100 manual save slots, about half of which I used, though not for any fear of dying. It took me ten hours to finish the game and reach the first ending. Going back to a previous save at the designated decision point and playing through the alternate ending added another hour of gameplay.
The challenges in Prominence are logical, varied and enjoyable, and most hit that “not too difficult but not too easy” optimal target. They are also well adapted to the story. Many involve the computer consoles scattered throughout the facility – for instance, using a pointer to adjust the power allocation or clicking on-screen arrows to move the antenna array. You carry gadgets, as well as handy bits and pieces like a metal shard and broken stun baton that can be pressed into use when real tools aren’t available. Items can be viewed and combined in inventory. In addition, you’ll come across wearable gear, necessary for donning when confronting radiation or other hazards, which adds some novelty. It’s generally easy to find the things you need, though it can be much more difficult to figure out how, or in what circumstances, to use them.
I particularly enjoyed the archive research puzzles, a console challenge where you arrange on-screen icons to program the construction of a space shuttle, and figuring out how to clear rubble from the cafeteria. The tensest sequence required navigating a series of stairs and walkways in almost complete darkness, with ANNIE’s voice as the sole guide. My least favorite involved finding and accessing every security camera – why is it that the one camera I don’t happen to click on the first time through is always the very last one I stumble across when I need it?
I played the game on Steam, and in an intriguing layer of extra puzzling, the achievements provide additional exotica to figure out in the form of icons with partial lettering. I garnered 19 out of 24 achievements, but I’m still working on what the icons mean to the game. Could this be the missing clue to the solution of the final mystery?
Prominence may be the work of a small indie team, but the many years dedicated to its development have resulted in a thoroughly professional production. Everything is well thought out and of consistently high quality, from the diverse, intelligent puzzles to the believable voice-overs and ultramodern locales. The story is gripping, with multiple unfolding mysteries: the enigma of your identity and your role in past events; why the once-flourishing facility had to be abandoned; and the question of whether a last-minute rescue can still be mounted. If there’s a downside, it’s that I wanted greater expansiveness – environments that would reveal the characters’ lives off-duty, a view of the action on surveillance videos, and an answer to that one last, nagging aspect of the mystery. Still, this game held me spellbound in places, surprised me, teased my brain in ways that are entirely fair, made me mourn, and showed me that anyone can be a hero. I was sorry when it came time to say goodbye, but I’m doing so with traditional Letarri cheer: Pel koloro, Prominence.