The Sinking City
Even though we already had extensive coverage of The Sinking City from both EGX Rezzed and E3, there was no way I was not going to take my own look at Frogwares' upcoming Lovecraft-themed, L.A. Noire-style game. It did not disappoint, as the Ukrainian studio has clearly made good use of their experience with Sherlock Holmes in the investigative gameplay and continues to outdo itself graphics-wise. And while real-time combat is not really my thing, it at least adds an appropriate sense of fear, and can in part be avoided by not rushing through your cases too much. Expect the release on PC and consoles on March 21, 2019.
MarsLit Games’s Unknown Fate is another game that my colleagues from Adventure Corner were able to see last year in my absence. Feeling that the potential VR has for adventure games has not quite been fully exploited yet, I was glad to have an opportunity to not only check out the game for myself, but to try out the HTC Vive version at 1C Company's booth. Unfortunately, the demo was a bit rough around the edges and I could not see as much as I had hoped, so perhaps I’d have been better off with the standard PC version instead.
The experience was certainly an immersive one, making me spend some time admiring the rain and other effects before deciding to move on from the opening scene, and giving a great sense of scale and wonder in the dream-like landscapes that followed. The design of the creatures I met inspired both fear and fascination, and the ambient sound was also great, though it could only do so much against the noises coming from the show floor around us.
I cannot say I was as satisfied with the controls at this point, though. When using the Vive controllers, movement is handled using a standard teleportation method: you aim where you want to go with an arc that resembles a ballistic trajectory, then push a button to go there. That's all well and good, but I often had to aim at platforms so far above me that I couldn't quite see where I would be moving, plus the arcs tended to taper off too soon, making my movement range feel arbitrarily restricted. There were also issues with the game letting me teleport to places too narrow to actually stand, leading to brief darkness before being relocated to a better spot nearby. And with the indicators and graphics for the motion controllers being generic placeholders during much of my playthrough, there were times when I had no idea if I should be using my left hand for something or my right.
The gameplay also remained more of a mystery than I expected: the only puzzle I saw was picking up an object to insert into a device a couple of teleport-hops away, and I did not experience any of the occasional combat the game is also set to have. Perhaps I might have seen more if I had gotten a bit further, but the demo got cut short ahead of schedule when I seemed to run into a bug and nobody could help me get past it.
I don't want to give up on Unknown Fate just yet, but for now much of it remains, well, unknown. By the time you read this both the Vive and non-VR version for PC will already be released, with Oculus Rift support to be added later. Hopefully the traditional free-roaming, FPS-style presentation is more fluid than what I saw on display here, and the motion controls have been given at least some tweaks to polish the virtual reality experience.
We. The Revolution
Since I wasn't at gamescom when we looked at Polyslash’s We. The Revolution last year, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the genre-bending adventure in which players control a judge presiding over a tribunal during the French Revolution. Without retreading old ground too much, let's just say that the first thing to go overboard was the prospect that this game is anything like Ace Attorney. The standards of evidence are low, the truth doesn't necessarily matter, and you have to deal with political factions that have their own idea of the correct verdict before the trial even starts. Instead, the comparison the game’s publisher, Klabater, likes to push is with Papers, Please: duty is pitted against sympathy and the need to protect yourself and your family, and not everything that passes by your desk is very relevant to the story.
The most notable change in mechanics since last year comes in the form of a new “intrigue” screen. During the court phase, you can swap to the new screen to check on plots between important figures in the revolution. The outcome of these will affect the story, and picking a side and winning gives you rewards like faction influence and reputation. This does require a significant investment of influence points, especially if you want to help weaker characters against stronger ones. The same characters can also show up in court, with the demo showing the commander of the National Guard put on trial for using excessive force against a riot after showing Robespierre plotting to replace him.
Another addition is the “execution” screen. If you sentence someone to death, you will now have to activate the guillotine yourself, after crafting and giving a quick speech that will hopefully calm down those who disagree. It's a grim reminder of the consequences of your decisions, for the defendant as well as your own safety.
While it all looked to be coming together nicely, we did hear that the official third-quarter 2018 release date is starting to seem a little unrealistic. For a more likely estimate, expect the Windows and Mac versions to come out late this year, with the Switch version following in early 2019.
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout remake
Daedalic did not do their usual presentations in the business area this year, but did show State of Mind, Witch It (a hide & seek game), and the 10th Anniversary remake of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout in the Indie Arena booth. The remake updates the controls for consoles and sharpens the graphics and makes them more consistent with Harvey's New Eyes through design tweaks, added details, and especially much better shading. It will come out for Windows, Mac and Linux, PS4, Xbox One and Switch in 2019.
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love
Polish developer Artifex Mundi is best known for the many hidden object casual games it has made in the past, but their upcoming game Irony Curtain was the most traditional adventure I saw this year, and certainly a promising one. With communist rule being fairly recent history for Poland, the developers made the game to give an impression of communist life to those who might underestimate or even long for it. The adventure genre came naturally to them when they decided to approach it as a satirical game putting players through Kafka-esque bureaucratic ordeals.
The game follows a naïve western journalist who sneaks into Matryoshka, a fictional communist country he idolizes. After an opening cutscene showing him getting into the country with the help of a stereotypical female spy, the demo was all about getting checked into his hotel. Since the hotel is understaffed and over-regulated, this requires filling out tricky forms, combining some inventory items, and a lot of running back and forth between desks in situations that are only slightly exaggerated from real life.
Throughout this ordeal, the game not only makes the gameplay feel right but also keeps the humor coming, partly from laughing at the main character and partly from specific jokes and the absurdity of it all. The graphics are also excellent, using a cartoony art style with great hand-drawn backgrounds at 4K resolution. And though I couldn't catch much of the music or voice acting, what I did hear fit nicely.
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Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love will come out in 2019 for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch.