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Hands On: Gathering Sky

Flight Of Fancy

Gathering Sky (nee Apsis) [official site] is an extremely simple game to play. You guide at first a single bird, then two, then many, through a collection of levels. That's it. While there are things with which you can interact, there are no particular goals, no puzzles to solve, no targets to reach. And yet I sat compelled as I played almost the whole game in one sitting.

I should note, the version I played was on an iPad, although the game will be on PC at the same time as tablets, and its single finger interface will obviously be a single mouse. Drag your cursor or finger about the screen and your flock of birds will follow. It's upon accepting that this is the whole of it that Gathering Sky wins you over. Shed the need for goals, and embrace the pleasant.

As you flit about, wind currents drive you onward, sweeping you up, down and around, but subtly push you along the path of each level. You can deviate and explore, and if you're desperate for any goal, attempt to gather all the available birds into your flying squad by hunting down the fireflies and so on that cause new avian pals to turn up. Travel from the far left to the far right of any level and it loads the next, changing the mood.

A significant change to the game since we saw it last year, under the name Apsis, is a new soundtrack. A spectacular new soundtrack, an originally composed score, performed by the San Francisco Conservatory Of Music. Each level attempts to articulate an emotion through its skyscapes, and its score, moving from playful to melancholy, to darkly foreboding. One section was filled with thick white clouds, through which the birds cut thin streams, letting you dive and flit about to create lovely shapes. A later level features a dramatic thunderstorm, the wind currents now seeming to work against you, lightning arcing behind you, leaving you focused on keeping your flock together rather than seeing what pretty patterns you can form.

So it is very bare. But it's also meant to be. As I played and chatted with one of the developers, I was completely content. It's a soothing, calming experience. We happened to be sat at a table with former Edge magazine supremo, Margaret Robinson, so I handed her the iPad so she could have a go. She looked up from the game to ask a couple of questions, but then quickly looked down again, saying, "Hang on, sorry, I feel terribly responsible for these guys."

And that's exactly it. You're mystically in control of this flock, able to grow to an enormous 80 individually flying birds, and it starts to feel a bit important that they keep going.

The game is close to completion and should be out on PC in a couple of months.

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