Any game that reminds me of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is welcome to take up a little of my time. I only wish there were more of them. Like Jim, who once wrote of such matters in this parish but now toils in the development mines, I’m sometimes baffled and dismayed when I realise how rare it is to see traces of GSC’s influence in modern design. Beyond Despair [official site] is a multiplayer horror game and that description led me to expect something along the lines of asymmetrical slasher sim Dead by Daylight, but it all looks very S.T.A.L.K.E.R like, from the anomalies to the behaviour of creatures, as well as the gloomy mood and aesthetic. It’s coming to Early Access this month and you can see it in action below.
Do I wish this were a singleplayer game, or that it had a clearly defined singleplayer mode? Yes I do. I’d always like the option to play alone and that might indeed by possible. Servers support up to 14 players but given that there are plenty of NPCs and mysteries to solve, it doesn’t sound like the thrust of the game is competitive multiplayer. In fact, given how terrible the world looks, I’d imagine players will be sticking together and trying to look out for one another.
Beyond Despair is primarily a living world that has had and still has its own history. Through notes, diaries and audio the player can learn the plot and useful skills that can help you to better understand the events of the game.
What I find exciting is that this is a game clearly interested in making players feel as if they are intruding in a place already inhabited. The creatures that live there look like they belong, like they have their own little patches of shadow to protect and to live in. For me, the true S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience is about observation as much as interaction: can I watch creatures interacting with one another from a distance? Can I be convinced that the place continues to exist when I’m not looking directly at it?
Beyond Despair looks like a place I’d very much like to explore, tentatively, and if it’s even half as convincing as I hope it might be, I’ll be glad to visit.
If you fancy watching a whole lot of wandering with occasional encounters, here’s a big ol’ stream of a recent alpha build.