Impressions: Corpse Of Discovery

A new phenomenon of modern games criticism is playing a game for a bit, then stopping to double-check if you missed its being in early access. That’s certainly something I did when playing Corpse Of Discovery [official site]. (The punning title rendered even more clumsy when a character pronounces its near-homograph with a hard ‘ps’.) But no, despite a growing certainty as I started playing, this is entirely released. That might not be for the best.

Things start really nicely. A good FMV performance of an Australian politician explaining to a press conference that contact has been lost with an astronaut on arrival at a distant planet. They do not know the status of his mission. You, then, wake up inside a small lab on the planet’s surface, no idea how you got there, nor what’s going on.

Things are then immediately problematic: the options don’t work properly in game, and guess what happens if you quit out?! It doesn’t save progress between early objectives, and doesn’t have a manual save, so you’re forced to start again. And it runs like a dog, which meant after a certain point I had to quit and relaunch and… yes, start again! Get past that, and actually play the game, and what should/could be a calm, interesting tale about a stranded astronaut in mysterious circumstances is a handheld slog guided by obtrusive, obnoxious objective markers that needlessly float over your view.

Once I’d accounted for the clumsy implementation of the Unity engine, and put it on medium settings, movement became less horrible. Right up until I donned my spacesuit for an entirely unceremonious EVA, to discover the suit was apparently on wheels. Gliding is not quite the sensation I associate with explorations of low-gravity non-Earth planets. Anyway, the point is, apparently, to follow the overly familiar instructions of a floating orb called AVA, who is far-too-obviously deceiving you about the nature of your mission, and the potential of returning to your family. On this Mars-like planet you’re told you need to plant a series of beacons, by following yet more obnoxious objective markers, while being distracted by fuzzy obnoxious objective markers that take you to oddities and visual discrepancies. All the way AVA natters at you in a flat, dreary voice, while you get rather bored just jumping around on the dull planet.

Then blip – you’re back in your base, and it seems to be starting over. Except this time things have changed, plants have grown, and so on, and when you leave you’re on an entirely different planet, this time charged with finding new lifeforms. And repeat.

The result is something that wants to be part The Martian, and part Moon, but really doesn’t seem to understand the finesse of either. In creating the feeling of futility in your actions, well, playing the game feels really very futile. And while the mystery of what’s going on might be just enough to keep pulling me through it all, sadly the graphical issues present a mighty huge barrier.

For some reason, background effects like fog and clouds can be seen through all scenery. This means, when approach a cliff side, my vision became dominated by a skybox. It’s annoying but ignorable on the first two planets. By the third, involving lots of cliffs and gaps, it’s on the brink of unplayable. By the fifth planet, I called it. I can’t see the ground any more, making it impossible. This may be an issue to do with my specific system, but there’s nothing exotic or unusual in my PC. So I’ll never know the twist at the end of all this. But perhaps more significantly, I’m not sure that I care. Were this early alpha, as it feels, I’d have suggested that with a lot more work, a great deal more thought about how to make wandering the planets more interesting, and the ability to save since the game doesn’t threaten your life at any point, then it could maybe go somewhere interesting. But as a finished game, even without the graphical obstacles meaning I can’t play, then no – this is hollow and hackneyed.

21 Comments

  1. Senethro says:

    I find myself suddenly uncertain over how to pronounced “corpse”.

    • Kefren says:

      I didn’t get that either. Corpse _is_ pronounced with a hard ps. Of course, the word “corps” has a silent ps, but that isn’t the title of the game.

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      John Walker says:

      This is entirely my fault – I worded it badly. Fixed now.

      • Kefren says:

        Makes sense now. :-)

      • sandineyes says:

        Wait, just so I’m clear, the ‘near-homograph’ is ‘copse’, right? In which case I’m not sure how that works with the title.

        • Flash7713 says:

          Pretty sure Jim means “corps”, which they should obviously pronounce closer to “core”, but apparently they don’t!

  2. Eight Rooks says:

    Poor old Phosphor. I don’t think they’ve ever quite managed to make something that really “clicks” – The Dark Meadow was a pretty good story with an intriguing, likeable villain mashed up with a half-assed Infinity Blade clone, Horn was a solid children’s fantasy which seemed to lose interest in telling a decent story in the hope I’d come to like its boring puzzles and terrible enemy designs, no-one seemed to think much of The Nether, the superhero thing they were Kickstarting tanked and now this? They’ve continually shown a lot of promise, IMO, but I don’t feel they’ve ever realised it and unless they’ve got a lot of licensed work or outsourcing contracts or whatever keeping them afloat I wonder how much longer they can carry on. Shame. :(

  3. Kefren says:

    The trailer really made me think of this: link to rockpapershotgun.com

  4. shrieki says:

    i was almost buying it just now – but after reading this… probably
    Rooks – phosphor games made some successful ios-android games that keep them afloat.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      I know. I mentioned Dark Meadow and Horn in my comment as I own both of them on iOS. They’re both pretty old by now, though, certainly in mobile terms. I guess it’s hardly impossible but I’d be surprised if those two were keeping them in the black.

  5. The_invalid says:

    Ah, that’s a real shame. It seemed like only a few weeks ago that I first got wind of the game, and it seemed like a really intriguing premise. I’m always up for games involving being isolated in space.

    As it is, it sounds like if they kept the game in development longer to iron out things that weren’t quite right, and build up a lot more pre-release hype, it could have been pretty good. What a darned shame.

    • kennbmondo says:

      I played the entire day from start to finish and I loved it. I know that it is not a game for most folks, and most of us are not most folks. I say check it out and pass on this review. I am not even certain the guy finished it. The last 3 chapters with the teddy bear/unicorn and death quests just rock!

  6. ShaunOfTheFuzz says:

    The corpse of the problem was not having a corpse of crack pun writers checking that corpse of a title.

  7. phosphor_chip says:

    Hey – a dev from phosphor

    we read rps all the time, and are very happy you have even covered the game

    sorry your experience has been so bad. We haven’t noticed the perf or graphics issues on our studio PCs, which are mid spec machines. The perf issue seems to be happening with other players as well, and we are trying to figure out why this is happening to some and not us.

    We debated a lot if the game should be Early Access, and it is a big regret we didn’t to at least anticipate some issues players might experience that we weren’t… A big regret … we are doing a couple of sets of patches in the next week, so we are hoping people can at least have the same experience we do.

    We knew we were making a strange niche game. We are trying to tackle some complex themes that have been unexplored in games, and you are never sure how your approach will resonate until you get it in some other’s hands.

    Again we are fans of your site, so we hope you will still cover us in the future.

    • kennbmondo says:

      Phosphor… loved it! Played it all day from start to finish… it just got better and better. Not everybody’s cup of tea I am sure, but I LOVED IT! Draft a few pints for the team.. they earned it!

  8. neofit says:

    “doesn’t have a manual save”. I stopped reading right there.

  9. shrieki says:

    phosphor-chip you say you regret it wasnt launched early access- and on the steam forums i read a comment from a phosphor dev that says that you are open to suggestions for the game – it sounds almost like you are planning to continue to work on Corpse of discovery. that would be awesome!

  10. kennbmondo says:

    Gotta say folks… I was a bit skeptical as I started the game based on the mixed reviews.. but as I stuck with it, I was prawned – yes prawn on the barbe. I got it for my birthday and it was an awesome 8-10 hours of really really enjoyable gameplay. I got a kick just jet packing around and experimenting with the physics. The quirky, off-beat storyline and game mechanics were enough to offset a few minor shortcomings in the design and execution. For a core team of about 10 people… I honestly honestly enjoyed my time with the game. Love the hunting around at the end in the void.. found a kitty.. love little touches like that. Cheers!