So I’m currently playing this:
It’s called The Void (or possibly Tension, depending on who you ask) and it’s the next game from the developers of Pathologic. They’re called Ice-Pick Lodge, they make games for the PC and are notable for being Russian, ambitious and mad. My spittle-flecked three part analysis of Pathologic was the best thing I wrote last year, and my subsequent interview with Ice-Pick made for great reading too. Choice quote:
“Catharsis always assumes a vivid death experience. Always. And if you remember Aristotle, the meaning of catharsis is in metamorphosis, in this case the metamorphosis of the gamer. The metamorphose is a “ritual” event that assumes a “small death” of the person that went through it. For a new, enlightened man to be born, the old one has to “die”.”
In The Void you play a lost soul arriving in an afterlife that’s almost beyond description; it’s a vision that takes no cues from any existing mythology. The world is cold and twisted, and your goal unclear. Returning to the realm of the living would be desirable, but you have no idea how to make that happen and a greater concern is ensuring you don’t slip deeper into death. You see, there’s a terrible hunger inside all beings of the Void, and succumbing to it will cause the erasure of your very existence.
Which is to say, game-over.
At least at the stage I’m at, The Void is about wrestling the game for colour. The scratches and spurts of colour that you can find and absorb are what sustain you, and exist as your health, currency, weaponry, food and much more besides. It’s really a game about resource management, but more cramped, tense and agonising than that implies. Say you infuse some trees with colour, like this:
Return to them later and the colour you invested in them will have thrived. You’ll be able to pull even more of it back out. But even in this pastoral task the game’s asking you all these horrid questions, and it’s doing it silently, breathing them over your shoulder. It’s saying: How many trees have you got left? What colours do you grow? Is there a monster nearby? Are you going to blow even more colour to set up protection for your garden? And most importantly: How much are you willing to drain yourself in this place? Because you need to walk away from this with enough colour to keep moving, keep fighting, keep finding more colour.
I should point out that this is a game where, like Pathologic, repeated fuck-ups or a tactically unsound long-term plan might wedge you into a position where survival is impossible and you have to reload a save from hours back. I haven’t had to do this yet, but the knowledge that it might happen is enough to make the game very, very engaging. This evening I walked away from a three-hour play session with the coldest, most tired nerves a game’s given me in a long time.
I’ll be writing my review of The Void over the weekend, so it should be up on Rock Paper Shotgun early next week. I don’t send my blog readers home empty-handed though! Here’s a capsule review, just for you.
(Yes, that means you should buy it. The English-language version I’m playing is out next month.)
UPDATE: You can pre-order it from the UK publisher here. Americans! Order before October 1st and you’ll get free shipping to your despicable continent.