Have You Played… Bernband?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Bernband [official site] has my favourite alien city in a video game. Stuff the Citadel, Bernband is where I want to go. Wandering its streets, corridors, and passageways at night you might see bands play in bars, visit nightclubs, stumble into school classes, wonder what high-tech devices even do, and find folks discreetly pissing in corners. It’s the best experience I’ve had of wandering in a strange city, and I will keep talking about it until everyone has visited.

We declared Bernband The Bestest Best Being Pleasantly Lost Of 2014 and I’ve since shown it at an event in a room with a cute diorama, but still, I haven’t said this enough: play Bernband. It’s free too!

Waking in an alien city, we wander through the night, pushing through crowds and interesting scenes. One minute you’re in a bar with a band blasting in a corner, then you’ll be in a greenhouse with tweeting birds, or on the metro station, or in a school, or a gallery, or watching a trumpet recital, or in a quiet back alley with a bar, or… it’s full of little scenes bustling and quiet. It’s a joy to explore. You can’t communicate with anyone, but sometimes they’ll yap at you – perhaps they’re greetings or warnings, and I know one person is very irate that you’re listening in on their phone conversation.

It’s the sparseness and suggestiveness that makes it come alive. Bernband has big blocky 3D graphics lots of bright neon lights calling out from the darkness. In the distance, you make out dozens of backlit skyscrapers like the ones you explore, far off in the darkness. One tunnel has a constant stream of hovercars blowing through. Its crowds of people may be blocky sprites, but there are a whole lot of them.

In contrast, Mass Effect’s Citadel is meant to be a bustling metropolis but is half-deserted and populated by the same handful of people because it wants to be realistic (I do really like the few shadowy sprite characters ME3, in particular, has to fill out numbers). Bernband’s city is alive. It’s a place – one I’m so happy to be lost in. There’s one quiet back-alley bar I’d love to return to more if only I could remember the way.

27 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    yhancik says:

    Yes! I keep thinking about Bernband, it really was a unique experience <3

  2. caff says:

    Somehow this was perfect for my hangover.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Oof, some games are fantastic for hangovers. Do a list RPS!

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      A game full of blaring noises and neon lights was good for your hangover? I think I’d go fetal.

  3. GWOP says:

    One of my favorite walk-em-ups. There’s just something about a strange city with indecipherable residents, winding passages, secret vents and mysterious devices making no attempts to make sense of anything. Will recommend getting lost into.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I played this when you wrote about it last year, and I remember having fun exploring the place. I think I got to see all of it, even the people hanging out in the little side-room in the garage(?).

  5. Frank says:

    This is one of the first “Have you played..?” that, not only have I not played, but I don’t even remember hearing of. More such games, please.

    • slerbal says:

      Yes, I completely agree! I downloaded it promptly as it sounds intriguing :)

      • slerbal says:

        Wow! that is awesome. I actually ducked when I crossed the bridge that threaded between several vertical lanes of flying traffic! lo-fi but interesting!

  6. Stellar Duck says:

    I have!

    And it’s a game I often think about even if it’s been close to a year since I played it.

    It was incredibly good at setting an atmospere. I still vividly remember walking into a public loo near a bar and suddenly the sounds were muffled and the neon light humming and one guy was doing his business at the wall. It was incredibly evocative.

    Same with the night club I stumbled into. The sound scape there and the lighting made it feel grindy and cheap, much like clubs are, and it mirrored my feelings of actually going to clubs.

    I’m sure that half of the stuff I felt during the game was just my own brain layering over my own experiences of walking about a strange city at night, but the game really was the perfect canvas for an emotional journey for me.

    I’ve always been fascinated with how the world changes at night. The texture of it all changes and the sounds becomes different. Everything is sharper. Bernband captured that for me so incredibly well.

  7. Eight Rooks says:

    I have! It was fun. Not my favourite videogame city, but surprisingly high up the list for a lo-fi indie walking simulator given away for free. I’d love to see it expanded upon, though I don’t doubt that if you actually knew what you were doing then a whole lot of the magic would be lost. :(

  8. icecoldbud says:

    Talked me into it, off to Bernband, be back in a bit….maybe….

  9. Kitsunin says:

    Mm, yes, and I adore walk-em-ups. Good ones are always in painfully short supply.

  10. HotSoapyBeard says:

    I found myself really appreciating this kind of game where the experience and style is held so highly vs photorealism since my graphics card blew up ha ha

  11. SupriseGiraffe says:

    The ‘roadbridge’ through the enourmous hovercar freeway is just awesome. Love the music too. It picks out the game’s atmosphere perfectly.

  12. Sarfrin says:

    I found it unsettling. But I find cities in general unsettling.

  13. takfar says:

    Your assessment of the citadel is one of my main gripes with dragon age 2 (well, there’s several others, but still, this is a big one). For a game that revolves around a single city, I’d have expected a huge amount of content, detail and life. And still… It’s pretty much a dead backdrop, same as, say, a jrpg town from the 8 bit days. Games that have much larger scope have managed to make cities much better (ie. Assassin’s Creed 2, The Witcher series, Elder Scrolls series, several mmos).

  14. dethtoll says:

    I love this thing.

  15. Risingson says:

    Fantastic tech demo.

  16. DevilishEggs says:

    This is my favorite example of low-fi working as damn great minimalism. Those big honking pixels literally sing.

  17. alms says:

    I tried.

  18. Shmian says:

    CLOPCLOPCLOPCLOPCLOPCLOP

    CLOPCLOPCLOPCLOPCLOPCLOP

    Even if my avatar’s unique alien physiology constantly produced that infernal walking noise, it would still kill my suspension of disbelief because no one in their right mind would want to hear it.

    I tried.

  19. snowgim says:

    I did play this back when it was first mentioned on here. I really like it because it reminds me of Nar Shaddaa from Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, which were my favourite levels.

    But I kind of got stuck in a loop in this game. I don’t know if I just hit the limits of the world, or if I was just missing another passage somewhere, but after a bit I just kept going around in circles and couldn’t find anywhere new to explore.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Anyone try this in a VR headset? How was your headache afterwards? ;)

  21. HerrHypocrite says:

    When I saw the description, I was amazed. Sounded like there was a whole, open city to explore and find secrets in, maybe I could find a small hole-in-a-wall to hang out in and listen to jazz. But when I played it, it was more of a series of corridors and rooms rather than a real city… not what I had hoped.

  22. Ben King says:

    I saw an alien thing staring at an aquarium, and the next thing I knew I was IN the aquarium. I will probably never revisit it again, but it made for a strange and interesting walk.

  23. phailhaus says:

    Yeah, I was hoping a lot more of this game. It definitely nails the feel of a city at first, but then it starts feeling like a series of disconnected corridors. There is a lack of a sense of occupying a real space that you can navigate, and it really threw off how I played the game. I couldn’t say “ooh I want to go there!” Instead, I found myself going “Okay let’s backtrack, where’s a new door?”

    There were definitely moments of awe, of letting myself fall into the scene, but then they would be followed by me distractedly searching for a new area.