The autumnal quasi-summer has abandoned me and more than ever I am in need of indoor entertainment, preferably without spending a single penny as I’ve squandered all my money on garish Bermuda shorts. Enter Nous, a free game which claims to be a computer program seeking its purpose and identity. In order to learn it offers to teach the player, a quid pro quo in which both discover something about themselves. I should stress, that’s what the program does, not the game itself. It’s a top-down shoot ’em up with a weirdly compelling narrative and there isn’t a fourth wall in sight.
It’s almost obligatory for any game with an apparently emotionless or friendly computer guide to contain a thoroughly expected twist in which nerve toxins are released, promises are broken and it turns out benevolence was not an available subroutine. Nous knows this and it knows that you know this, so it plays with the idea. That’s what it does the whole way through its brief existence – plays with ideas.
Did you try a pacifist run on Human Revolution, or any other game that allowed it? Nous knows all about that. Want to try it in a top-down shooter? It will tell you how. It will also tell you to use an Xbox controller and I did, but then I went through again using the keyboard and managed just fine. Definitely don’t be dissuaded if you don’t have a controller connected.
I’m intentionally not saying too much about what you’ll actually be doing in the game beyond moving and shooting because the narrative is really a deconstruction of tutorials. Nous asks, at first, “what am I?”, but the way it approaches the question is to tell you and to see how you react to different types of instruction and output.
It’s amusing, it’s thoughtful and it’s fun. Best of all, it gives the strong impression that Awesome Shark Volcano, based at DigiPen, are thinking hard about self-referential design without ignoring the apparently simple things, like combos, dodging and destruction. Get it here.