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Jusant and Shadow Of The Colossus lovers should try Chasing The Unseen's expanded playtest

Squid Game

A little boy in abstract exploration game Chasing The Unseen riding a huge golden snake
Image credit: Strange Shift Studio

If you’ve been enjoying Jusant, Don’t Nod’s post-apocalyptic climbing sim, you might also like the alpha playtest for Chasing The Unseen, which has just been updated with a new level. It doesn’t have Jusant’s quietly innovative grip and abseiling mechanics – the climbing is closer to Shadow Of The Colossus, consisting of just one button you hold to cling on till your stamina runs out. Nor does it have the Don’t Nod game's beautifully nested chunks of backstory - no seashells you can press your ear to, alas. But it does have massive flying cephalopods, giant red mushrooms, and floating, fractured landscapes of rock and grass.

The gameworld drifts whimsically between categories, neither macroscopic nor microscopic, at times a kind of ocean reef, and at other times, a mysterious, alternate dimension we might summarise as “Cthulhu’s Zen Chillout Room”. The climbing aside, you can glide short distances by inflating what looks like a blowfish, and there are (regular-sized) capybara to chase down and collect. When you die, the game plays a didgeridoo at you in a faintly jocular way. The whole thing pongs of quantum physics.

I wrote about Chasing The Unseen for Eurogamer a few months back. Its creator, Matthieu Fiorilli, is a creature artist and animator for such films as Avatar: The Way of Water and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The game blends techniques from those projects with ideas from Buddhism and Fiorilli’s love of fractals. Its menagerie includes a peculiar mangrove-adjacent lifeform with electrical fixtures, and a winding golden snake. There’s no killing or earning, just vibes. No, you can't pet the megafauna, but you can climb on then, as in SOTC, and hitching a lift is an efficient way of reaching the summit of each level. Unless you fall off, which I generally do.

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Between Jusant, Chasing The Unseen, and the likes of Lorn's Lure, I'm fondly hoping that we're on the verge of a renaissance of climbing mechanics in games. I think these games offer useful resistance to the tendency of many blockbuster projects to manufacture worlds that are at once detailed and disposable.

Open world action games, especially, can be strangely self-defeating in that they give you lush landscapes while simultaneously being designed so that you travel through those landscapes as quickly and mindlessly as possible, because the whole point is to keep the player cycling between quests and encounters. Hence (in part) the social media uproar from a few weeks ago about the trend of splashing paint on everything interactive, so there's minimal ambiguity during exploration. Climbing sims, of course, force you to slow down and read the surfaces, and the result, for me, is a greater feeling of appreciation for the developer's craft. Until I fall off, anyway.

Here’s the Steam page for Chasing the Unseen. It doesn't have a release date yet. For a wholly different take on the octopus, check out this from thecatamites.

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