Hands On: Aer

I can only imagine the sighs that must have emanated from all working on Aer [official site] when Ubisoft’s Grow Home was released last month. Not because the two games play alike – the similarities are only slight. But wow, do they look the same. The polygonal design of both renders gorgeous green foliage against cerulean skies, growing on floating islands. Aer, of course, has been around since late 2013, while Grow Home was announced then released within the same few weeks. Were Aer due to release soon, its thunder could have been considerably stolen. So it’s perhaps oddly fortunate that the flying/exploring adventure isn’t out until 2016.

Also rather fortunate is it’s already rather lovely to play. You play as a girl who can transform into a bird, on a pilgrimage in the Land Of Gods. This girl is a Whisperer, a term given to a chosen few who can talk to animals, and indeed turn into another one. Exploring a collection of thirteen island clusters, she is tasked with waking the ancient tech of a long-lost civilisation, while appeasing the old gods.

Which is to say, flying around incredibly pretty landscapes, and sneaking about in puzzle-filled old temples.

In such games, the most important thing is the flying. If it feels stilted or weird, then the whole game falls apart around that single mechanic. So I bring good news when I report that when I played, I found it to be very pleasing. Swift, natural, and satisfyingly swoopy. And, importantly, not over-easy. You’ll need to remember to flap wings, but as well as that, time your glides, so you don’t fly smack into the sides of rocks and buildings. Do so and you’ll just change back and fall, to no great harm, but it dents your pride.

This early demonstration build had a single island to flit about, and one enormous temple to explore. The transition between the two elements of the game is quite striking. Outside is about freedom, exploring at your own leisure, looking for secrets and hidden areas, and generally shooting the breeze. Inside is on-foot, filled with danger, and requires your brain. Reminiscent of any number of third-person tomb adventures, you must align objects, find switches, bounce beams of light around chambers, and so on, while tiptoeing past threats and avoiding traps. The demo temple was surprisingly large and sprawling, which bodes well for the final game – large, elaborate confined puzzling will be just the counter to the open nature of the outside islands.

Each temple will be themed, I’m told, to the god it represents, which should also offer variety as you progress. And another element will be the main character’s lantern – a magical item not only used to magic darkness away, but also reveal ghostly memories from the past, through which the game’s story will be told.

It’s hard to get a better impression of things at this early stage, but from a brief hands on, it’s certainly already very charming. How much fun it is to explore, how much there is to do in each island cluster, and how satisfying those temples are to complete, will very much decide how well it all comes together.

Developer Forgotten Key has teamed up with Daedalic, more usually associated with developing and publishing adventure games. It’ll be great if this extra investment, and the time it buys, can ensure the game be fleshed out enough to make best use of its elements. We’ve over a year to wait to find out. And to hopefully shake off the unfortunate uncanny similarity to Grow Home.

12 Comments

  1. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Well that looks lovely, and mysterious, and words like that. It reminded me more of Worlds Adrift than Grow Home, but that’s probably just the flying islands (Incidentally, if 2016 ends up the Year Of Flying Islands In Games I would be one seriously happy bunny.)

  2. raiders5000 says:

    Airigami gaming. I just can’t…

  3. Urthman says:

    Seems silly to knock this game for having a gorgeous distinctive art style that looks somewhat like one other game when Steam is full of identical-looking manshoots, identical-looking retro-platformers, identical-looking RPGs, identical-looking racing games.

    You could get screenshots from 6 different zombie-survival games that look more like they’re all from the same game than any of these look like Grow Home.

  4. Luke says:

    Kind of reminds me of Little Big Adventure. Lovely calm, cheerful music.

  5. Eleven says:

    It’s interesting to compare this kind of polygonal art to the more familiar genre of pixel art. Both use the base graphics primitives of computers, and tend to inspire a distinctive, quirky style that’s instantly recognisable.

    The difference in popularity between the two is immense, and proportional to the length of time video games were forced to use them. Pixel art was the continuous default for over a decade, and is consequently so often used that it’s almost passé, but the use of that untextured style of low-poly count graphics had only brief appearances when the hardware could support it. Games of a certain age, like Virtua Fighter, Star Fox, and maybe Super Mario 64?

    The contemporary release of games like Aer and Grow Home show just how “retro” is a transient and continuously evolving thing. Low-poly count art has entire communities devoted to it, and seems to be getting more popular as N64-Era games age to the point that engenders nostalgia.

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      yhancik says:

      I think you might enjoy this article link to killscreendaily.com

      • Josh W says:

        I do, and I agree with Eleven too, I’ve always had a love of well done polygonal stuff with good lighting, and I love the things we seem to be learning about how to do it well. There seems to be so much potential to experiment and improve, producing simple shapes that are nonetheless extremely expressive, if not more so than more complex models.

  6. MegaAndy says:

    Reminds me more of Zelda Skyward sword and Wind Waker

    • Zmobie says:

      This looks like what I imagined (hoped) skyward sword would be like.

  7. Jackablade says:

    That music sounds really familiar. Does anyone recognise it? I’m thinking Aphex Twin or Cylob or someone else in that IDM spectrum, though I might be way off.

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    This looks, and sounds, all kinds of lovely.

  9. bobbobob says:

    Cerulean blue.