Never Alone

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher E-Line Me­dia De­vel­oper Up­per One Games For­mat PC, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Fit­tingly for a mod­ern retelling of a story about an odd cou­ple, Never Alone op­er­ates on two very dif­fer­ent lev­els. The first is as a ve­hi­cle for a lifeaf­firm­ing fable from a cul­ture that has sur­vived 4,000 years in one of the least hos­pitable en­vi­ron­ments on Earth: Arc­tic Alaska. This is a cul­tural arte­fact, and to en­gage with that is to be en­riched. The other level, how­ever, is as a rudi­men­tary plat­former with a num­ber of foibles. Much like bat­tling the sav­age winds that beat against the playable duo of Iñu­piaq hunter Nuna and her arc­tic fox com­pan­ion, the ef­fort go­ing in here feels like it de­serves to re­sult in far more progress than is made.

It does, how­ever, look the part. Framed by vignetting and jet-black Arc­tic wa­ters, th­ese wastes of hard-packed snow and treach­er­ous ice put other frozen videogame land­scapes to shame. A sec­tion on the floes cap­tures the grav­i­tas of sea ice per­fectly, tow­er­ing struc­tures of translu­cent pu­rity re­flect­ing light in mes­meris­ing ways. Ruddy-cheeked Nuna is no less of an achieve­ment, her coat’s furs liv­ing brush­strokes that flap in bliz­zards. Never Alone com­mu­ni­cates the harsh re­al­i­ties that shaped its mythic tale like few works be­fore it.

If only the game­play were as ac­com­plished. The pac­ing is a mess: light puz­zles that usu­ally in­volve The artistry goes a long way in help­ing the fable hit home, and in co-op the bond be­tween the fox and girl can be pow­er­ful. A late dif­fi­culty spike might stop the younger part of its au­di­ence mak­ing it to the end, how­ever find­ing and gen­tly ma­nip­u­lat­ing friendly spir­its to make new plat­forms en­cour­age a med­i­ta­tive ap­proach that’s punc­tured by scrab­bles through crush­ing ice struc­tures, in­el­e­gant leaps of faith, and no fewer than five chases. Nuna is slow and the col­li­sion de­tec­tion on her ledge clam­ber is clunky, fur­ther thwart­ing fluid progress.

Things gets worse when you play solo: the AI that takes con­trol of who­ever you aren’t con­trol­ling is in­con­sis­tent, some­times able to keep up and at oth­ers need­ing res­cu­ing, and all too prone to tak­ing ill-judged leaps to its doom. If ei­ther hero dies, it’s back to the check­point. Your third and fourth part­ner-driven restarts se­ri­ously un­der­mine the sense of at­tach­ment be­tween kin­dred spir­its on which the story is based.

And for a game so adept at com­mu­ni­cat­ing the feel of its home­land, it is poor at telling you what it wants of you as a player. For in­stance, spir­its are only re­vealed in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the fox, and more than a few seg­ments re­volve around po­si­tion­ing it to cre­ate a path for Nuna. But points where the in­vis­i­ble tether be­tween the pair can be stretched are never tele­graphed, lead­ing to spells of need­less baf­fle­ment.

All of which means Never Alone is a frag­ile con­tainer for a tale of such in­es­timable value, and what ought to be uni­ver­sally wel­com­ing in­stead must be ap­proached with cau­tion: come ex­pect­ing rev­e­la­tion on an emo­tional level, not a me­chan­i­cal one.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.