11-11: Memories Retold
When you think of who might publish a sober story game about World War I to coincide with the 100th anniversary of its conclusion on November 11th this year, Bandai Namco is probably not very high on your list. Yet they emphasized that 11-11: Memories Retold is a significant game for them with an important story to tell, even adding that they believe their efforts here will “elevate the narrative genre.”
They certainly did not skimp on the presentation: voice actors include the likes of Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings) and Sebastian Koch (Das Leben der Anderen, many German TV shows), the soundtrack is done by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios, and Aardman was brought in to develop a new visual design based on impressionist paintings. Seeing the screen filled with miniature brush-strokes is a sight to behold, but I'm not sure I would call it a complete success. The way the art keeps getting redrawn and changing even standing still can feel a bit jittery, and the way it obscures details from faces and the environment was even bothersome a few times.
The story begins on the 11th of November in 1916. After taking a few pictures of his love interest with his new camera (introducing a photo-taking mechanic that will be reused later on), young Canadian photographer Harry has a chance meeting with one Major Barrett. Convinced that it might help win over his beloved, he signs up to join the war as a military photographer, not realizing at the time that this involves being right at the front lines. At the same time in an airplane factory in Germany, an employee named Kurt hears in a radio report that the unit his son was fighting in has gone missing. When his boss is not able to give him any more details than he hears through rumors, he signs up for a more active role in the hopes of being able to discover more.
Obviously, these storylines will not remain separate. In the next scene I saw, the two main characters were on opposite sides of the same battlefield, each frantically helping their own side without taking part in the combat directly. As Harry, you need to take pictures at a few select spots and try to keep up with Major Barrett and not die. As Kurt, you fetch important items and do small repairs to help hold the enemy off. As the battle goes on, the Canadians advance ever further and eventually Kurt is forced to withdraw into a tunnel system, where he ends up coming across Harry and having to make a moral choice. The game then switches to an altogether different perspective, where you play as a cat moving through the tunnels to chase down a bird. The demo ended with the cat getting to and interrupting the scene between Kurt and Harry.
Though the over-the-shoulder 3D perspective and general art style are quite different and there seems to be a bit less puzzle focus, there are obvious parallels between this game and Ubisoft's earlier Valiant Hearts: The Great War, including having diary entries and collectible items of historical significance that give more background information and context. Because of this, it sometimes felt to me like I had been through this before. Still, it is respectful and well-made, and there is certainly room for more stories about the horrors of the first World War.
11-11: Memories Retold is set to arrive a few days ahead of the anniversary it is commemorating, launching November 9th this year for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Not unlike the Indie Arena booth in the general public area, the UKIE booth in the business area stunned me with its ever-increasing size, bringing together 70 developers, publishers and game-related companies from throughout the United Kingdom and still managing to squeeze in a carnival theme with free cotton candy. We would end up visiting it several times this year, with the first time for me being an appointment with Outsider Games for a look at Jennifer Wilde.
Having covered it for the 2016 and 2017 gamescoms, along with an interview with designer Stephen Downey, we already knew a lot about this game in which a young artist investigates her father's death with the help of Oscar Wilde's ghost in 1920s Paris. But it was nice to see the beautiful black-and-white comic book style art for myself and confirm that things are still on track. With only a slight delay from the original release target of its successful Kickstarter, Jennifer Wilde should wrap up development this year and be released for PC in early 2019.
Another of our appointments at the UKIE booth was with E-Line Media, who previously published and co-developed Never Alone, a puzzle-platformer based heavily on native Alaskan culture. Their upcoming underwater exploration game Beyond Blue might not seem like it has much in common with that game, but they brought it up specifically to tell us that they took a similar approach in getting experts on board early and conferring with them regularly to keep things grounded in reality as much as possible. Furthermore, the game is being made in cooperation with the BBC, and will feature some unused material from their Blue Planet series.
The story has you searching the South China Sea, attempting to track down a rumored “superpod” (an unusually large group) of sperm whales. In the meantime, you'll have to take stock of the general state of the areas you traverse and document anything unusual you come across. The 3D perspective and controls for Beyond Blue are most obviously comparable with a game like ABZÛ, as are the fluid character animation and much of the atmosphere. The greater focus on realism does mean that colors are more muted and life is sadly not quite as plentiful as it could be, but there are still some gorgeous scenes to behold.
The mechanics are a bit more involved than in ABZÛ, however. Besides exploring the deep sea in person, you can also go back to your submarine and operate two underwater drones. Another option to is attach a tracking device to one of the larger creatures to get a camera feed. The way creatures respond to you varies based on which of these three approaches you choose, so you will need to mix things up at times.
Some creatures are dangerous enough to force you to withdraw (such as hitting you with an ink cloud), but never to the point of actually killing you. Instead, when the threat seems too high, you will not be able to get any closer yourself and have to rely on indirect methods instead. Another thing that can slow you down is darkness. Some areas are closer to the surface than others, with three general depth levels. In the deepest ones, you will be dependent on artificial light. Since ordinary light does not carry far underwater, you use deep blue and ultraviolet light instead, with the latter revealing beautiful otherwise-unseen patterns on the wildlife.
Beyond Blue will come out for PC and consoles in early 2019.