Adventure Gamers Awards
There are many more adventures to be found at a convention like E3 than can be handled in a single day. While Daedalic Entertainment was my first destination when I arrived, I spent the next two days combing both the general show floor and the private areas in back for other hidden and not-so-hidden gems. I found plenty for all sorts of platforms, including VR – some in plain sight, while others were tucked away off the beaten path but are sure to garner a healthy buzz in the coming months.
The two-man development team of Pixel Spill, with the assistance of publisher Devolver Digital, has designs on taking players to two places: into space, floating just beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, and back several decades into the Cold War, Space Race era of the 1980s with their atmospheric thriller Outreach. Developer James Booth and voice actor Adam Harrington, known for his roles as Bigby Wolf, Groot, and many others in Telltale’s episodic games, sat me on a couch, put a controller in my hand, and gave me the rundown.
The game takes its cue from recent titles like Gone Home, in that it aims to tell an atmospheric story through, primarily, environmental exploration. The environment in question is the fictional Soviet space station Outreach, which has been modeled after the actual space station Mir. Players take on the role of the lone astronaut who’s been sent into orbit to investigate after communications between ground control and Outreach came to an unexplained halt. What follows is an eerie thriller to expose the fate of those on board.
Arriving in his one-man shuttle, our protagonist’s first order of business is to reboot a computer system to complete the docking procedure with the Outreach. Through his own radio connection to Earth, ground control is able to talk him through these processes as a sort of tutorial. (It was pretty entertaining to have Harrington talk to me about the game I was playing even as his voice, modified with a heavy Russian accent, coached the astronaut on screen.) Once safely attached, I was able to open a hatch and move into the space station proper, where I was greeted not by a welcome comrade but by eerie silence and objects, like a highlighter and a photograph, floating aimlessly in the dark room. Turning on my flashlight, I set about restoring power to the lights.
Realism is key to Pixel Spill’s design dogma; not only has the space station Outreach been meticulously modeled on research, but in orbit, the only means of movement is by pushing off walls and propelling slowly across rooms, tunnels, and even along the outside of the station itself, where one wrong push or missed handhold will spell bitter doom. The lack of gravity, which has caused Harrington to jokingly refer to the game as a “first-person floater,” means players will have to take some time getting used to the unique controls, which for the demo involved using an Xbox gamepad. There is the usual camera control to adjust the first-person view, though terms like “up” and “down” quickly go out the window. A separate control lets you adjust rotation, which proved tricky for a few minutes, though it started to become natural before long.
But twitch reflexes and a tight grip on the deliberately floaty controls won’t mean the difference between success and failure; Outreach’s pacing is purposely placed in the hands of players. As I explored the crew quarters, I discovered more artifacts of daily life. Pictures, computer logs, and audio tapes started telling a story of the original crew and what happened to them. It’s up to you how much time to spend on soaking in all the atmosphere Outreach has to offer; Booth estimates a full playthrough to take around two to three hours.
As I moved into hydroponics, another gameplay element was introduced. To get a visual, ground control will ask you to take photos of certain objects and send them back to them. This is all part of the “gently nudging” storytelling approach the team is taking, directing the player’s attention via other means. Eventually, I found myself unable to advance, as the handle of a hatch broke off in my hand as I attempted to open it. The only way to proceed beyond was to exit the station and make my way around the outside of it to another entrance. As the outer door opened, a glorious vista of Earth spread out before me. With this reveal, and more questions raised than answered, the demo came to an end.
Players will not have long to wait to discover the fate of the station’s crew for themselves. Outreach is releasing in the fall of 2017, and will be available for Windows and Mac via Steam.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Spike Chunsoft is ready to take fans of their Danganronpa series of visual novel thrillers back to school with the American and European releases of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. Stopping by NIS America’s booth at E3, I was able to talk shop and check out the playable demo, which exists as a sort of standalone precursor to the game proper.
This third entry marks the first time that a Danganronpa title has been specifically designed for home consoles, rather than a mobile device prior to being ported to other platforms. As such, it is specifically built to take advantage of the horsepower of the PlayStation Pro and 4K TVs. However, the demo, while certainly showing off better graphics than its predecessors, didn’t include any visuals or performance beyond what can be achieved on a normal next-gen setup.
Though it is an original story with a new cast of sixteen characters, series veterans will instantly recognize the basic premise as well as the majority of gameplay elements. A group of “Ultimate” students are locked in a school and forced to play a killing game, with the intention of leaving only one of them left standing at the end – the graduate, if you will. The murderous robot teddy Monokuma is back for this installment, and he’s brought with him five even more pint-sized pals: the Monokubs. These are smaller versions of Monokuma, each with a distinct personality and a distinct design based around a particular color (red Monokub, blue Monokub, etc.).
It’s difficult to go into any details on the game’s narrative, because I don’t know any. The demo available on the show floor was a custom-built mini-story, a passing of the guard from previous cast members to the new victims. There are, however, some new gameplay features that have made their way into DV3. Players will now be able to have the new protagonist, Kaede Akamatsu, react to her fellow students in different ways, for example.
Class trials feature some major new elements. There is now a segment called the Mass Panic Debate, in which multiple students are all talking over top of each other, and players will need to pay closer attention than ever to catch the contradictions. New minigames include Mind Mine, a Minesweeper-like game that reveals the murder weapon, and Psyche Taxi, a stylized racing simulation that sees players actually drive their car over the correct answer to a question.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, lying is now a major aspect of class trial gameplay. If Kaede wants to prove something, such as to protect someone she knows is innocent, even though she doesn’t have physical proof, she can use a Reversible Truth Bullet – essentially a lie – and put her word against somebody else’s. Of course, one lie begets another, and pretty soon it’s possible to have built a veritable House of Lies that’ll be impossible to escape from.
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We’re close to the localized game releasing. American audiences will get Danganronpa V3 on September 26th, while European markets follow on September 29th, available on both PS4 and Vita. In the meantime, the E3 demo will be available for download on the PlayStation Network soon.