By now, the fact that gamescom managed to attract 370,000 visitors this year can hardly be called surprising. With the rising importance of independent games and mid-tier publishers, perhaps I also shouldn't have been so stunned to see the Indie Arena booth grow to encompass more than 80 games and include even relatively big studios like Daedalic and Frogwares this time around. But even that was nothing compared to my shock at the amount of adventure games lined up for us specifically.
Between myself and our colleagues at Adventure Corner, we had almost 40 titles to see firsthand, demonstrating the steadily rising popularity not just of the convention but of adventure and adventure-adjacent games themselves. If things stay like this, we have nothing to complain about. So without further ado, let us begin.
The Japanese publisher Bandai Namco showed many games this year, and I think it's safe to say most of the people who attended their presentation did not do so for the same games we did. Still, one game that has managed to draw even mainstream attention is Twin Mirror, seeing as it's made by DONTNOD, the developer of Life Is Strange.
Twin Mirror has an older main character than the French studio's other games, following 35-year-old Samuel Higgs as he returns to his childhood hometown of Basswood, West Virginia. He doesn't exactly have fond memories of the place, but he needs to attend the funeral of an old friend. The demo started with Sam waking up in his hotel room, trying to go to the bathroom before being stopped by “The Double”.
The Double is a figment of Sam’s imagination, a representation of his subconscious that manifests itself similarly to him in appearance but more sharply dressed. He will occasionally pop up to offer advice based on things Sam doesn't fully realize himself, in this case urging him to not go into the bathroom but instead to flee the hotel as soon as possible. When Sam ignores the Double and pushes on, the reason for the warning becomes a bit clearer, as the bathroom has one of his t-shirts in it, soaked in blood. But he still doesn't remember what happened last night that lead to this.
This makes for the perfect opportunity to introduce one of the game's main mechanics: reconstructions using the “Mind Palace”. By sitting down and focusing, Sam can enter this mental space and create a copy of an actual room there. He can then use clues from the real world to change the contents of the copy and thereby jog his memory or learn new things. In the practical sense, you just push a button to smoothly swap between the mental room and the real one, looking at clues in the physical world to get new possible answers to questions in the other, until you answer all questions resolved and proceed. A nice added touch is that each time you answer correctly, the walls of the mental room fill up a bit more, making it look more and more finished as you get closer to the truth.
After finishing the reconstruction and preparing to leave, the last thing to do before the demo ended was to decide whether to take the bloody t-shirt with you or leave it in the hotel room. Practical and moral choices promise to be another important part of the game that will affect the story. These choices are meant to be based on your personal values, with no obvious wrong answers.
Twin Mirror will release episodically for PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with the first episode, Lost on Arrival, due in early 2019.
You may remember btf’s Trüberbrook from their Kickstarter campaign last year, which got funded rapidly even though the adventure game crowdfunding hype is already well past us. When we sat down with publisher Headup Games for a preview, it quickly became clear why it got people so excited.
The most distinctive feature of the game is easily its environment graphics. These are created using real miniature sets processed with photogrammetry, a technique usually reserved for photorealistic first-person games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Applied to an otherwise traditional game like this, the result is so unique that it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s like a combination of claymation, a dollhouse and photographs. Once you do adjust it's an amazing look, boosted further by how easily it allows the characters (which are still computer-generated) to blend in nicely, with special effects added on either the set piece or 3D engine side.
The demo started at the beginning of the story, as American physics student Hans Tannhauser arrives at the remote German town of Trüberbrook for a vacation in the year 1967, having won the trip in a way he doesn't quite understand himself. While I personally can't say much about the authenticity of this fictional place, the Germans at the table found it familiar enough that they started discussing in which part of the country it would most likely be found. As we guided Tannhauser to his hotel room, we got a sampling of the game's voice acting and humor, both of which are shaping up quite well from what I've seen.
The next scene was set at some later point in the game, where we first explore an important bunker. There is more gameplay here, involving moving some objects around and getting into a dialog puzzle with an AI (that got increasingly emotional further into the conversation) in order to progress. The gameplay is traditional and has inventory items, but they cannot be combined with each other directly and you can only attempt to use them on places where it makes at least some sense. The last scene we saw was an interrogation in a dark room using Rorschach pictures. This part was a bit hard to connect to the rest without context, but it was funny and struck a good tone.
Trüberbrook has been slightly delayed from its optimistic Kickstarter schedule, now targeting a first-quarter 2019 release for Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch. But from everything I've seen, it will be well worth the wait.
My curiosity was piqued by Shifting Tides' The Sojourn presenting itself as a “thought-provoking” first-person puzzle game about philosophical themes like “the nature of reality.” So it’s a shame that this aspect of the game was the one I experienced practically nothing of in my visit with its publisher, Iceberg Interactive. But the other parts are shaping up well.
The demo opened to some lighting effects so intense that they would make me question if my monitor was set up right if I were playing it alone. This was an intentional artistic choice though, underlining the game's theme of light and darkness. Indeed, the lighting and special effects continued to be great throughout the demo, vastly improving environments that would otherwise look a bit plain.
Gameplay-wise, The Sojourn takes the approach of building increasingly elaborate puzzle levels around a slowly growing set of core mechanics: standing on a special spot changes the time from day to night for a limited duration, which can make obstacles and bridges fade in and out of existence. You can swap places with special statues if they are in your line of sight at nighttime, and unlock some barriers by leaving them in particular spots. These basic elements already made for some good puzzles where you need to plan ahead carefully to be able to do everything you need before your timer runs out. Later levels added a harp statue with its own timer and effects on the environment that can continue after it becomes daytime again, gates that put you into nighttime indefinitely until you pass through them again, and other variations on the theme.
Unfortunately, I couldn't really get a sense of the story and philosophical themes. These will be told through voice-overs when passing by significant places, but they were not incorporated into the version I saw. I did learn there will not be any text or audio logs lying around, or interactive conversations with NPCs.
Knowing next to nothing about the story part, I can't exactly compare The Sojourn to the likes of The Talos Principle or the Portal series at this point. But I do think it's clear that the creative and well-designed challenges will offer much to enjoy if you like those kinds of environmental puzzle games. The Sojourn is set to come out in 2019 for PC, Xbox One and PS4.Continued on the next page...