Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saved by Creativity

More often than not bland presentation and mundane interaction spell doom for a new video game IP.  That said, there are a few titles which distinguish themselves without either of the twin pillars of beautiful graphics or engaging gameplay for support.  The ways these exceptional oddities stand out is through shear imagination.

Take for example Sunless Sea, an early access title available on Steam and sequel of sorts to the browser based game Fallen London.  This open ended adventure game cherry picks a few concepts from golden oldies like Sid Meier's Pirates, but otherwise oozes with originality.  Players are free to explore a vast subterranean lake, interact with a bizarre array of isle denizens, and encounter giant crustaceans (along with other underground/aquatic monstrosities).  Both navigation and combat are heavily tied to artificial illumination.  The former is necessary for maintaining crew sanity while the latter ensures the accuracy of gunfire.  Players can also become merchants, but rather than trading in normal goods like silk and spice, commodities in the sunken depths consist of things like spider thread and mushroom wine.  Yeah...and I thought shipping a cargo hull full of fluffy rodents in Wing Commander: Privateer was weird.

Moving to the opposite kind of environment, there's the bright open deserts in Legions of Ashworld.  In this turn-based game players find themselves trying to rally a divided land of individual city-states against the mutual threat of invasion by a powerful foreign empire.  Unlike most fantasy settings, the primary influence here is Mesopotamian rather than bog-standard northern European.  The artwork also has a classic style akin to what you might find printed on the pages of an ancient history book in the children's section of your local library.  It's refreshing to see a developer fully embrace an unusual concept for a make-believe world (difficult-to-pronounce names and all).

Lastly, there's the sci-fi puzzle platformer Lifeless Planet.  While a bit drab during the early sections, this game has a strangely enticing quality to it (like something StanisÅ‚aw Lem would write except here it's in video game form).  It starts out with an impossible situation and slowly over the course of the game provides logical clues and ration insights into prior events such that by the end of the game things have become disturbingly plausible.  Feelings of foreboding mystery, then creeping dread and finally increasing helplessness slowly permeate what on the surface appears to be just another generic indie title.  While I wouldn't go so far as to say the ideas in this game are unheard of (the concepts used for the most part are based on well understood science).  It's the way they are presented that feels unfamiliar in terms of presentation and pacing.  The result is a uniquely haunting experience that defies comparison.

So, there are three games that have neither impressive graphics, nor particularly compelling gameplay.  However, they make up for it with intriguing premises and a lot of creativity.  While I wouldn't necessarily call any of them great games, I do think they're worth a look-see even if that only entails a "Let's Play" on Youtube or some other equivalent video game footage hosting service.

No comments:

Post a Comment