A mysterious spaceship crash lands in the wilderness, and a squad of elite soldiers is sent to investigate. Sounds like the setup to a squad-based shooter or RPG, doesn't it? Not to Serbian developer Eipix Interactive, whose upcoming Lightstep Chronicles instead presents a stunningly-realised world but eschews action in favour of thoughtful conversations and light puzzling.
Playing as Captain Cain Phoenix, it's your job to investigate the downed alien ship and learn all you can about it. Its defences have other ideas, however, and before long you and your teammates have been captured. That you've merely been caught and not killed appears to be because of Aleph, an AI whose physical form resembles nothing so much as a giant floating mechanical eye. Aleph needs your help, and cautions you against its rogue counterpart. But is this machine as benevolent as it seems, or could the fact that you wake up strapped to a command chair hint at a darker intent? Trapped and surrounded by vastly superior technology, you'll not only have to find a way out, but also get to the bottom of why the ship crashed and what, exactly, is up with its increasingly erratic and conflicted AIs.
Lightstep Chronicles is a curious game to describe, one that even the developers admit they struggled to characterise. Based on Dark Horse Comics' Lightstep series, it mixes a jaw-dropping, hi-tech Art Deco ship and stirring music with text-based multiple-choice conversations involving Aleph and the ship's other AI denizens. Thanks to your chair, you also gain some limited control over the ship's systems, after first identifying them via scanner drones, but that appears to be the limit of your options, at least in the playable demo unveiled.
Though Eipix is best known for its prolific hidden object casual titles, this game looks set to be a dramatic departure, starting with a cinematic intro that feels like the beginning of an epic blockbuster. This makes the switch to a cerebral, puzzle-based experience immediately afterwards something of a surprise, but a welcome one. Even in the short demo (the first half hour of what's planned as a five-hour game), there are hints of a carefully-realised backstory and choices with real consequences. We're also promised a variety of off-world locations still to come in a universe where the passage of time is relative, and a story that focuses on the thin line between humanity and artificial intelligence and the nature of transcendence.
Lightstep Chronicles is being developed for Windows, and is currently on track to launch on Steam sometime this spring. That leaves you time to explore further, which you can do by checking out the demo for yourself on itch.io or Game Jolt.