When I made my gamescom appointment with 1C Publishing, I was told to “bring some time”. And for good reason, as the Russian company’s portfolio of upcoming adventure games (or at least “adventure-like” in some cases) is enormous. During a short briefing, PR manager Jan Olejník told me that 1C extensively searched for promising independent projects, and met with developers from all over the world to sign their games. After asking me which titles I’d like to learn more about, Jan showed me several trailers and gameplay videos, quickly summarizing each project. Afterwards I left for the demo area to find out which of the discussed games were playable. I also had the opportunity to chat with two of the development teams. The following round-up includes the many games I researched at the booth of 1C Publishing.
Through the Woods
Developed by Norwegian studio Antagonist, Through the Woods is heavily inspired by Norse mythology and the legends of Ragnarök in particular. The game is a third-person horror adventure set in an eerie forest in Norway, telling the story of a mother searching for her son who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious elder man called “Old Erik”. From the beginning we know that the heroine is re-telling these events to someone, but at this point we don’t know who that person is.
I had the chance for a quick chat with writer, sound designer, and composer Dan Wakefield. Afterwards, I was able to get my hands on the demo for several minutes. Citing gameplay similarities to Amnesia, the Norwegian developer also brought up a connection with Gone Home. During the exploration of the woods, searching for clues to the missing son, there are lots of documents to be found that reveal the history of Old Erik and the game’s island setting. Before the demo started, Dan told me that Through the Woods does not focus on jump scares, but rather that “the haunting atmosphere is the key to the experience. We have captured the feeling of the forest as we saw it as children, with all the fear and mystery that comes from roaming through it alone.”
As I put on headphones and started playing, I realized that Dan’s words were a spot-on introduction. Walking through the nocturnal forest, a variety of details made this dark place come to life. Sounds of a thunderstorm, fluttering leaves on huge trees, bushes blowing in the wind, ominous shadows (that vanished as suddenly as they appeared) and unidentifiable noises culminated in an oppressive feeling of impending doom. I had no doubt that something was out there to get me, and whatever it was, I was entirely alone with it.
Armed only with a flashlight, I first entered a few wood cabins to read documents, and I encountered some Norse rune stones that served as save points. As I arrived at an old abandoned village, I ventured into one of the buildings. My anxiety reached a new level when the door shut behind me suddenly. Hearing menacing noises once more, I couldn’t see anyone except for the playable character. Yet I felt an enormous urge to get out of there and just run as far as I could. Once I managed to escape, I started running indeed. It didn’t take long before I spotted a huge troll that slowly started moving into my direction. Being chased by the very unpleasant creature I just ran, ran, ran, and was kind of relieved that I had to leave for my next appointment before I ended up as the troll’s dinner.
“Holy crap – that was intense!” were the first words I said to Dan after stripping off the headphones. “The game is not about combat,” he told me when I asked him about action elements, adding that with several horrific creatures present, “sneaking and avoiding being spotted is the way to go.” I can’t comment much about the gameplay or judge the overall quality of the main story, but I was gripped by the demo’s atmosphere and excellent sound design. The last time a forest made me feel this uneasy was when I watched Lars von Trier’s notorious horror drama Antichrist.
Through the Woods is currently aiming for a Windows release in October, so if you like the idea of a moody, psychological adventure centered on Norse mythology, you might not want to miss this one.
The side-scrolling puzzle adventure Haimrik was another playable title at 1C’s demo area. Developed by Colombian studio Below the Game, this unusual project stars a young scribe named Haimrik, who lives in a medieval world with sorcerers and dragons. When Haimrik discovers a magic book, he learns how to bring words to life and uses his new power to fight an evil king and his henchmen. After briefly playing the game for myself, I also got the opportunity to meet with two members of the development team and dig a little deeper.
Haimrik presents a 2D sepia-toned world, giving the game a unique look. As I soon found out, though, the puzzle design is every bit as distinctive. The floor beneath Haimrik consists of words, and whenever you stand still on top of a particular word, you cause its associated action. A very simple example is stepping on top of the word “door”, which results in the appearance of a door. As the door is closed, you’ll need to find a way of opening it. So in this example you’ll have to step on the word “key” to materialize the word. Another example is stepping on the word “fire”. You’ll get burned, and somehow need to put out the fire. The easiest choice seemed to be stepping on the word “rain”. However, as Carlos Rocha (CEO/game design) told me, there are other options, too. Comparable to traditional inventory puzzles, he explained that it is just as possible to combine two words that create an object to suffocate the fire.
The demo used rather straightforward examples of the game’s mechanics to introduce the overall concept, but Carlos told me that “the game is challenging. Not in a way that it’s unplayable for most people. However, it challenges your brain to think about how to solve the puzzles in a very creative way.” This also means the protagonist might die several times before you learn how to overcome a tricky obstacle. Later in the game, Haimrik will be joined by a sidekick named Masamba. While I did not see the lioness myself, I was told that “Masamba will protect Haimrik from harm... when she’s not trying to eat him.” In fact, Masamba will have a crucial impact on gameplay at various points, as “basically you hop on top of her and are able to fight other guardian animals from the other Word Warriors, like the dragon or a polar bear made of ice.”
Haimrik does involve some combat, but this too is at least partially related to the power of words. If a soldier tries to kill you, for instance, you can activate words such as “sword” or “spear” to grab the particular weapon. You can’t rely totally on words for protection, however. Carlos underlined this in saying that “the player actually has to fight; we give him options like an attack button, a dash forward and backwards to increase movement and options, and throwing your weapon at your enemies, with enemies being stronger as the game progresses."
The black-humored game contains several elements of over-the-top violence. As blood is portrayed in its actual color, the sepia backgrounds repeatedly get splattered in red. “The gory part and dark humor comes from influences like (The Simpsons’) Itchy & Scratchy, for instance, or Happy Tree Friends,” Below the Game’s Diana Garcia (legal and human resources) told me that “the dark humor is a very significant signature in our work.” Asked for other influences, Diana pointed out a strong interest in European history and literature, including George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the latter “particularly because of the violence and sudden twists in the story that engage the player.”
While it certainly isn’t a traditional adventure by any means, Haimrik is one of the titles I saw at gamescom that stood out for its unique and clever approach to gameplay. Though I only played the demo for a short time, it was more than enough to leave an excellent impression on me. Let’s hope the final product does justice to its potential when the game releases for PC and PS4 sometime in 2017.Continued on the next page...