The E3 games convention in Los Angeles may be in the books for another year, but Adventure Gamers didn't sit idly and let it pass right by. This year, between fighting my way through the crowds I got lost between the pages of a young girl's diary, visited Mars and ghost ships, uncovered the secrets behind seasons and suicides, and helped out a time-traveling astronaut. All in a day's work (or rather, three days' work) for a firsthand glimpse at the promising new games heading our way in the coming months.
Moons of Madness
The term “cosmic horror” was long ago coined by H.P. Lovecraft to refer to otherworldly terror beyond time, space, or sanity. The developers at Rock Pocket have taken the term to a whole new level and created something truly special for horror fans in Moons of Madness – “Cthulhu in Space”, if you will. When I asked Eirik Leganger Nergård, PR manager for publisher Funcom, to assure me that this game wasn’t just going to tease the scares without delivering, he smiled knowingly and told me he didn’t think I would be disappointed. How right he was.
The Invictus space station is home during your stay on Mars. Although you’re not the only soul on board, don’t expect to get much in the way of personal interaction or back-up from other crew members. In other words, any feeling of “safety” in numbers is a luxury you rarely have as the game progresses.
Trouble doesn’t take long to get going, either. As the protagonist Shane, something awakens you in your bunk, but nobody else seems to be around. Upon leaving the station’s crew quarters, you can just barely make out what seems to be a humanoid shape disappearing from view across the room. The game’s opening sequence immediately puts you in an uncomfortable state of mind: it’s dark, things aren’t working the way they should, and odd and disturbing visions occur all too often.
After playing through this opening equivalent of jumping headfirst into the freezing-cold deep end of the pool, Shane finally wakes up for real; perhaps it was all just a dream. The rest of the demo had a more nerve-tingling, slow-burn feel to it. Players are able to explore the Invictus at their own pace, with no penalty for playing slowly and exploring every nook and cranny. The designers have taken their time to incorporate plenty of environmental storytelling into the surroundings, from learning about Shane’s romantic conquests the night before, to perusing the crew’s personal emails from various computer terminals around the station. Eirik estimates at least eight hours of gameplay, and even more for leisurely explorers like myself.
The sense of loneliness continues, despite the radio communication with Shane’s friend and crewmate Orson. Orson gives Shane his first few travel destinations, as the game guides you along under the guise of malfunctioning door systems that only get unlocked little by little. In this way, you are introduced to the living quarters and kitchen, the gym and some picturesque views of Mars. Eventually you’ll retrieve your biogage, an arm-mounted personal scanner that also doubles as an inventory screen and objective display. There are various types of puzzles to solve, including searching the environment for computer access passwords and using inventory items to reset the biogage or force open a door that’s gotten stuck. Everything plays out from a first-person viewpoint.
Ah, but as fascinating a setting as a Mars station can be, Moons of Madness isn’t a game purely about exploration. Sooner or later the creepy factor settles back in, and I was thrilled when entering the greenhouse area as a foreboding mist began spreading and I was tasked with jumping into a darkened vent shaft in order to bypass some locked security doors. Sadly, there wasn’t much of the demo left at that point, but before my time was up I was treated to a menacing cliffhanger that dispelled any expectation of this being a tame walk in the park. I was told there won’t be any outright action sections in the final game, but there will be moments of having to defend yourself or run for your life – the dangers are very real and very angry.
Moons of Madness showed me some glimpses of everything I want in a game: a fascinating setting that tells its hidden story for those willing to look deeply into it, mixed with the unsettling tension and horrifying reveals that Lovecraftian fiction is well known for. Best of all, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players should only have to wait until Halloween to play the finished product.
For a change of pace, I sat down with Tom and Alex from UK-based developer Polygon Treehouse to take a look at their lovely fairy tale-esque homage to point-and-click adventures. Röki is a game intended to work for seasoned genre veterans as well as younger players, so really it is aimed at the whole family. It’s heavily inspired by Scandinavian folklore, which is immediately evident in its namesake antagonist, the large furry behemoth Röki. I didn’t get to see any of the lumbering giant, unfortunately, as my gameplay demo focused more on the everyday heroine, Tove.
The older sister of Lars is described as a bookworm and reluctant adventurer. The children’s family has gone through some hard times, and Tove has taken it upon herself to watch out for her younger brother. It’s all the more shocking then when Lars is taken by Röki, for reasons unknown. Tove now sets out on a fantastical quest to track down the giant monster and return her sibling home.
Polygon Treehouse chose to create Tove as a protector yet still a child herself because of the innate power to see the world without prejudices and preconceived notions that children are capable of. As such, Tom and Alex were hesitant to call Röki a villain, but rather hinted at the possibility that sometimes creatures’ motives can be misunderstood, and that Tove’s journey would shed further light on the story than is at first apparent.
Armed with this knowledge, I set out on my quest through a quiet stretch of woods. Players handle Tove’s movement directly with the controller, while an on-screen cursor can be moved to drag objects from the inventory pane to interact with others in the environment. Puzzles in the game come in several varieties, some inventory-based but also others that require careful exploration and manipulation of your surroundings.
Picking up my first couple of objects, I came across two possible roadblocks to overcome. A locked gate barred the way to a large church beyond, while elsewhere a bridge troll begged my assistance with a pesky dagger stuck in his back that was bothering him. I was starting to draw parallels to other games: the bridge troll, the fairy tale forest – the classic King’s Quest vibes became hard to ignore.
Then a third interesting location, a house buried up to its eaves in snow, beckoned me to explore it via a hole in its exposed roof to collect another useful item. I now had enough objects to make some headway in solving a puzzle or two, and a click of the left control stick to highlight all hotspots on the screen confirmed that I hadn’t missed any of them. Although the puzzles I saw had some fairly straightforward solutions rather than requiring multiple convoluted steps, they weren’t easy to the point of being immediately evident, and fooling around with objects in various ways was a joy in and of itself.
The team expressed their pleasure at letting players figure out what works and what doesn’t, and the serene hand-drawn forest setting combined with a relaxing, atmospheric ambiance honestly put me in no rush whatsoever to get there. In fact, for those who want to delve a bit deeper and spend a bit longer within the game’s world, collectible items are scattered throughout and Wilderness Scout Badges can be earned by performing certain non-vital tasks, while an in-game journal fills with some colorful lore as you discover new things.
While all of that sounded like music to my ears (in addition to the game’s literal music soothing my senses), when both the bridge troll and the church gate had been bypassed, the way forward opened, my time with Röki was coming to an end. The full estimated eight-hour experience still isn’t quite ready, and the team isn’t yet prepared to announce final release dates and platform availability, but if my short time with this bit of Scandinavian folk tale is anything to go by, this is one to keep an eye out for.
Bear with Me: The Lost Robots
Developer Exordium Games is heading back to the well with Bear With Me: The Lost Robots, a prequel episode to the already-completed three-parter that released in 2017. Fans of the established series will feel right at home, as the new installment features the same black-and-white 1940s noir approach and the same wise-cracking stuffed animal protagonist.
Yes, Ted E. Bear is back and still the diminutive hard-boiled detective type he always was (or rather, will go on to become). Rather than his normal partner Amber, this prequel sees Ted team up with Amber’s younger brother Flint to take on the case of the city’s mysterious robot disappearances.
The game is still very much a classic point-and-click detective story, complete with alcohol, fedora and comic book panel narration scenes to move the story forward. In the short time available for the show floor demo, I started off the investigation by getting locked in a theater projectionist’s booth, using the items available to make a daring escape and head down to street level where I discovered that the robotic ticket seller had been abducted. The only clue left: a handful of nuts and bolts left at the scene of the crime, precious little to provide any leads. But we know that grizzled gumshoes like Ted have come through with less to go on.
Where the story will go from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s already evident that it possesses a similar type of cheeky humor as its predecessors. For those who haven’t already solved Ted and Amber’s case, all four episodes will be available in one collection when The Lost Robots releases on July 31st, but for those who have, the episode will also be available for purchase individually as a standalone game.
One could easily make the mistake, as I did at first, of thinking that Mosaic is a dull gaming experience. Except it’s not really a mistake at all, or not entirely. The new title from the creators of Among the Sleep is designed in such a way as to drive home the point that its protagonist, Inge Nilsen, is a slave to the system of work-eat-sleep-work, living an unfulfilling life devoid of all color and variety. Understandably, the game looks suitably gray and drab. Krillbite Studio even produced a real-life companion app called BlipBlop for iOS and Android devices – the same mindless game Inge plays, spent just tapping the screen – as well as grayscale business cards of Inge’s to hand out during the E3 demo sessions. Nothing around Inge inspires any sort of true happiness…
That is, until leaving Inge’s apartment for work one day, you decide to turn left down the hallway instead of right toward the elevator. There a window, never before noticed, offers a view of the outside world in which glorious colors suddenly fill Inge’s field of view. One can practically feel the sigh of peaceful relief going through Inge, the wheels of imagination beginning to turn, a horizon of boundless possibilities.
But then reality crashes back down: work is calling, so it’s back down the gray hallway to the gray elevator to take Inge to another gray day as Assistant Resource Technician at Mosaic. There will surely be more to Inge’s life than this later on, so those interested in seeing whether he is able to break free of the drone life can do so when the game releases this fall on PC and all major consoles.Continued on the next page...