Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly round-up of the most excellent hidden gems we dug up from the past week of new releases on Steam.
This week: endless runners remixed, spaceship life simulation and Dark Souls vs Ico.
A sort of noncom FTL, focused not on deadly escapades across a war-torn galaxy, but rather the day-to-day business of keeping your spaceship’s crew alive as they drift peaceably onwards. That means keeping the engine fuelled, keeping stomachs fed, keeping air clean, keeping machines well-maintained – and all of it taking a terrible toll on your ship’s power. So it’s a constant juggling act of what to turn on and what to turn off, each decision you make quite likely impacting some other vital system. Mini-stories also play out, with short but charming text and multiple outcomes. Mostly death.
All told, it’s an unashamedly challenging affair – you are always fighting fires, and the fires will not stop – but I like to think of it as what life was like for the crew of the Nostromo in the days, weeks and months before they went into stasis. Has a lovely echoey-space-doom soundtrack, too.
Mostly linear take on the walking simulator essence, set in a dark and meditative fantasy landscape. The voice acting is very amateurish, which harms the mood somewhat, and the writing ping-pongs between self-aware and going on and on and on and on and on about nothing much at all, but I simply cannot argue with some of the scenes it presents me with.
One moment, it’s Giger, another it’s like Morrowind, another it’s like Pathologic, or BioShock, or Doom, or – well, that’s the treat of it. All of it presented at extreme levels of quality and detail. The story stuff I can take or leave, but the sights and sounds have been an absolute delight.
Oh dear, you lot do it seem to hate it when we compare anything to Dark Souls, but I’m not sure how else to crack the nut of describing Fall Of Light. It looks like an isometricish ARPG and, sure, it involves combat and finding weapons, but it is not… straightforward. Establishing how to play – how to fight, how to use and protect the spectral figure which accompanies you from the off – is opaque, death arrives suddenly and frequently and involves running back to your corpse, and the mood is sombre, mysterious, purgatorial.
Quite a bit like Dark Souls then, but with a touch of Ico to it. Alas, the acting’s awful, the combat is a bit annoying – hitboxes are all over the place – and the more constrained level design makes retreading your steps after a death rather more grating than it is in Souls, but the moody atmosphere and unusual mechanics manage to survive this.
This week’s Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week in this, the week of 29 September, week 39 of 2017, is a maze-like affair in which you have to navigate from a start point to an end point within a certain number of steps – but you also cannot do it in less than that number of steps. Darting straight to your destination is fairly straightforward, but moving all the way around the grid of dots, arrows and, later, teleporters in exactly the right number of steps most certainly is not.
It’s one of those that begins insultingly easy but, after ten minutes, has evolved into all-encompassing head-scratching, as it’s thrown landmine after landmine under your feet.
A fairly obviously Canabalt-inspired (right down to disturbing flocks of resting rooftop birds) Endless Runner except – well, it’s doing a little more than that. It’s Endless Runner as an actual adventure, with different levels and spaceshippy bits and special powers and even boss encounters. There’s a lot going on here, in a low-key sort of way. I think it’s a little plainer than it deserves to be – despite doing more in other regards, it doesn’t match the simple elegance of Canabalt’s backdrops and animations. Its story, which by its own admission is “completely forgettable,” gets in the way to start with too.
But! This is full of surprises, while maintaining a throughline of endless runner timing challenges. The very definition of an Unknown Pleasure, say I.
This week’s pick of the week iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis: I reckon Destination Ares, for simulataneously being both a lower pressure and oh-my-god-so-much-higher pressure remix/inversion of FTL’s spaceshippy doom concept.