Thursday, May 16, 2019
Capsule reviews are short critiques of games that I've been playing. In this post, I discuss Heaven's Vault, Virginia, Islanders, and Two Point Hospital. There's no specific story spoilers, but I do talk about how I think the games work.
Heaven's Vault. The dynamic branching and language system is great and impressive, and the Muslim-inflected sci-fi art direction feels fresh. It's basically a must-play for anyone interested in narrative design. (Maybe the main weakness is the less-than-relatable characters, who basically feel like vehicles to bring about plot beats. Which is probably how the narrative system works! Hmm.)
The game pacing feels awkward for much of the game. You get to do one fun archaeological linguistics detective scene every hour, but to get there, you have to sit through an uncomfortable water slide mini-game. It's meant to give a sense of journey and a bit of rest (as well as pad out the game length) but it's a bad sign when even the fast travel options here feel inconsistent and confusing; sometimes the game lets you go back to your ship cabin to ask for fast travel, and sometimes not.
But also just on a core minute-to-minute basis, the movement and camera never felt comfortable for me, and The Last Express styled character animation never stopped feeling like a crutch for scoping down production costs. It's interesting how this project made so much (very impressive) progress on "hard" game design problems like dynamic narrative or language simulation, but then tripped on what's considered relatively "easy" solved design problems like 3D character movement, game feel, or encounter pacing.
Again, though, I still think this is a must-play for anyone working in narrative. Just soldier through the less fluent parts.