Little Control, No Escape

(Note: Video comes from Youtube user XekeLand)

It’s looking like 2014 is going to explode with procedurally-generated games. Galak-Z: The Dimensional, This War of Mine, and No Man’s Sky (among others) promise to randomize and personalize player experience while maintaining slick presentation. Developers of more straightforwardly-designed games are even touting a greater degree of unpredictability (Alien: Isolation and its “sentient” xenomorph). Ben Croshaw’s beta for The Consuming Shadow is hardly slick, with a clumsy mouse/keyboard interface. The early version I played has the mouse used for aiming, item management and movement, frustrating when trying to outrun unkillable servants of a cosmic horror. Microsoft Paint graphics represent the player’s character and the abominations he encounters as barely-animated silhouettes. With a Dead Rising-style 72 “hour” time limit before the world is engulfed by some ancient god, limited supplies, and a good chance any quest or random event will result in broken limbs or bleeding wounds–to say nothing of loss to sanity, which creates gameplay-screwing hallucinations and an increased likelihood the avatar will blow his brains out–it’s also punishing. A level up system which carries from one life to the next the single act of (existentially horrific) pity by an otherwise apathetic multiverse, trapping the character. While functionally frustrating, this forced helplessness is compelling. Like Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor, one must weigh the risks of any approach: waste bullets on minions and hope nothing worse is behind the next door; melee attack and probably suffer damage; run away or use magic at the cost of one’s mind. While Byrne encouraged patience and hoarding goods, Croshaw often forces players’ hands. Help a civilian? Investigate a blighted town? Deliver potentially useful packages? Maybe you’ll find clues to stop this evil, maybe you’ll waste your last precious moments. Even the best intention could be the wrong one. Everything is chance and desperation.

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