In a post-apocalyptic world, devastated by global earthquakes and ongoing tremors, you walk alone.
Five hundred miles from home when the Event struck, you've spent a year walking back across a ruined United States. You've travelled roads littered with wrecked vehicles and split by ravines, you've climbed ruined buildings to stay above the poisonous fog hanging low over the devastated country. Food, medicine and ammunition are cripplingly scarce. Those few survivors you've met on the way are ready to kill to protect what scant supplies they have. Others are ready to kill to take yours from you.
Now you've reached Haventon, the city where you lived with your wife, Julia, and your daughter, Mary, before the Event . But, like everywhere else, this city is in ruins. To get to your old apartment, you have to pick your way through jumbled wreckage, avoid deep chasms and clamber over the towers of debris blocking your way. In addition, you also have to stay above the fog, which saps your stamina while you breathe it, and will kill you if you don't get clear in time.
You find your apartment empty with only a letter telling you your wife and daughter were evacuated, but not to where. Back outside you hear a young child crying. Thinking its your daughter, you go looking just in time to rescue Mai - not your daughter, but still a child in trouble - from thugs who no doubt have less than good intentions. There follows a series of missions, helping Mai, her mother, Linda, and their friend, Henry, to escape the city. During these missions there's opportunity to assist others in trouble, who in return provide retrys plus snippets of information about where your wife and daughter might have ended up.
As you wander, almost blind, through deadly fog, your stamina bar slowly drops and then starts pulsing. Tension rises as you fail to find anything to climb. You can't run, that uses more stamina, and when you find something to climb you know the bar will drop all the faster, since climbing burns more stamina again. Let it drop too far without finding a resting place, your fatigue also drops, meaning you only regain partial stamina when you do rest. If your fatigue drops to zero in the fog, you die. If it drops to zero while climbing, you fall. And die.
Luckily, fatigue (and stamina) can be replaced by resources if you have them. These appear as items - of which there are three main types: those which replace stamina, those which restore fatigue and those which restore health. When you find them, be careful how you use them. They're limited. Apocalypse. Hello?
Your health bar drops during combat, and drops fast. You can only take two or three hits - less if you're up against a firearm. In that respect, the game is realistic - frustratingly so, since you only have so many retrys and some NPCs have guns, while you have limited bullets. Run out of retrys and you have to load the game from the last save, which means replaying up to half an hour of game all over again before you reach the point where you died. You also use up those retrys on climbing missions, where you have to conserve energy, pick the quickest route and find a rest point as fast as possible. Before your fatigue runs out.
Combat is about strategy. There aren't enough bullets going around to waste, so it's not a case of spray and pray. Besides, a fair number of the people you meet, especially early on, are innocents and won't hurt you. Save your bullets for the more deserving. You can walk past some folk without any conflict, though they might warn you off and will retaliate if you attack them, and you have the option to help others with your resources (for which you earn a valuable retry). Some of more aggressive NPCs can be subdued just by pointing your gun at them, and you can force them back (into a fire or over a drop) by ordering them to back up. Some are more confident and will have a go, even if they only have a machete, especially if you're pointing an empty gun. Selecting which guy to shoot when faced with a group can make the difference between death and survival.
Given the often low visibility, your general vulnerability against attackers, the limited resources available and the constantly-dropping stamina bar, it's enough to get your heart thumping on a regular basis. Either that, or you'll find the game so limited in what your character can do you'll find it infuriating. The puzzle element involved in figuring out how to get from A to B, whilst not exactly taxing, was enough to keep me interested. Walking in haze, not knowing what or who might be up ahead got my heart pounding fairly regularly. The absence of zombies, mutants and aliens made this a refreshing change from the usual post-apocalypse video game.
On the whole I enjoyed the game and found it challenging, especially during the last few missions. The music was moody and the washed out colours gave everything a mean, dirty look. I can see why reviewers elsewhere have rated it low, though. The game's not perfect.
The visibility can be annoying when you're lost and looking for the next area. When climbing, you sometimes grab the wrong hand-hold or move in the wrong direction when the camera is positioned above instead of behind you. Not good when you're low on stamina. In combat the pistol sights will sometimes fix onto the wrong target, and when it's a case of shoot the right guy, and fast, you don't want to be messing around, and you definitely don't want to shoot the wrong guy with your only bullet.
The game concludes suddenly and at a point where you think another mission is about to start. The final shot is ambiguous and leaves scope for a prequel/sequel, or even for extending this one into a longer game.
For atmosphere, suspense, and replay value, I felt it was worth the money, even if the ending came way too soon.
This is a download-only title, not available (as yet) on disk.
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About the reviewer
Martine Ashe (Martine_Lillycrop)
May 25, 2011
Jul 25, 2012 08:52 PM UTC