By Adam Smith on September 4th, 2012 at 8:00 pm.
Arabian Nights meets Metal Gear in Qasir al-Wasat, a stealth adventure about summoning, spirits and secrets. Rather than being a soldier in a set of buttock-gripping trousers so tight that they render you impossible to spot from a distance of more than five metres, Qasir al-Wasat allows you to be an invisible creature capable of absorbing poisons and secreting them from your claws. Filled with mystery, puzzles and sneakery, it’s a thoughtful slice of eastern esoterica and I highly recommend taking a look. There’s a demo, for both PC and Mac, so you can decide whether it’s worth the $9.95 you’d otherwise spend on food/frivolity.
The video below might help, although the graphics somehow look much less lovely here than they do in the game itself. There’s a mixture of the classical and the cartoonish, which is best summed up by the developers.
In Qasir, we test an approach for representing his perception of our world through the graphics and sounds. Everything that he considers weaker than him are represented in a less realistic way.
The differences aren’t quite as extreme as that might suggest but the palace and its people are definitely seen through the lens of magical realism, and not simply in terms of their appearance.
The game begins in a forest that is not quite of this Earth. A between places sort of a place, like a Travel Lodge or a motorway service station. There’s no time to buy an overpriced egg sandwich though because a sorcerer binds you to his will and orders you to kill and steal. Sounds easy for an invisible poison-fiend, right? Unfortunately one blow from a guard can end your existence in the physical realm, so sneaking, hiding and backstabbing is the way forward.
Sidling up to humans and laughing at their fleshy faces while listening to their conversations reveals that there are all sorts of weird mystical goings-on in the mysterious palace that you are looting. Poison-spewing traps have been replaced with pressure-triggered clouds of pigmented dust, specifically designed to unveil the invisible. SOMEONE KNEW YOU WERE COMING AND ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS. Being covered in dust reveals your form and the only way to cleanse yourself and slip into unseeing again is to dive in a pool of water. Even the blood of slain enemies can spatter across you, revealing an outline of claw and tail as you run through the corridors.
There’s plenty to discover and the unspooling of the story through overheard dialogue and the discovery of diaries and letters works extremely well, mostly due to the strong writing. I’m surprised that there’s been no fanfare around this game. It’s an accomplished and individual piece of work, with a well-conjured setting and aesthetic, and it tackles the problems and promises of stealth as well as anything I’ve played in a good while. So, that’s my tiny fanfare. At least try the demo.