Fu­ture Un­fold­ing

A jour­ney into na­ture be­comes a be­guil­ing, By­ronic enigma

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4

Alion in a cave is quot­ing By­ron at us. Then again, it’s not long since we used some blue flow­ers to change the rest of its pride into rab­bits. Or, for that mat­ter, since we man­aged to get a sheep to tele­port us to a new area. Though we’re still not re­ally sure what the birds do. Our notes af­ter play­ing Fu­ture Un­fold­ing’s pre­view build might read like a par­tic­u­larly fever­ish hal­lu­ci­na­tion, but then this in­tox­i­cat­ingly strange game feels a lot like a vividly re­mem­bered dream. The top-down view prob­a­bly has some­thing to do with it, but it has a sim­i­lar woozy, heady qual­ity to Hot­line Mi­ami – if, per­haps, Den­na­ton’s trou­bled an­ti­hero had swapped guns for a mod­er­ate amount of pey­ote and headed off into the coun­try­side to find him­self.

We are, quite thrillingly, lost. Fu­ture Un­fold­ing thrusts you into a world with­out a hint of rea­son or a pur­pose. There are no con­trol prompts or ob­jec­tive mark­ers. There’s a map, but it’s one whose land­marks are only filled in af­ter you’ve dis­cov­ered them. It all looks both fa­mil­iar and oth­er­worldly: the rocks, the veg­e­ta­tion, the an­i­mals give it a ground­ing in na­ture, and yet the colours are a lit­tle off. And our avatar is prob­a­bly the strangest in­gre­di­ent of all, a bright-blue fig­ure who leaves a thick trail be­hind him as he runs. That lack of in­struc­tion, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing feel­ing of di­rec­tion­less­ness, will be daunt­ing to some and em­pow­er­ing to oth­ers. We’ve grown ac­cus­tomed to be­ing cod­dled by modern games, to be­ing shown ex­actly where to go at all times. Icon-stud­ded maps and man­ual way­points have be­come the norm. Fu­ture Un­fold­ing isn’t the first game to re­act to that, but it takes it a step fur­ther than

Fu­ture Un­fold­ing thrusts you into a world with­out a hint of rea­son or a pur­pose

many. Which isn’t to say you won’t find the odd bit of gen­tle guid­ance, but these come in un­likely forms: a strange green sub­stance in a sus­pi­ciously ge­o­met­ri­cal ar­range­ment on the ground, or a pink rab­bit that darts off as you ap­proach. Each of these cu­ri­ous oc­cur­rences prods at your nat­u­ral in­quis­i­tive­ness.

We fol­low the rab­bit and even­tu­ally it slows down long enough for us to tame it by press­ing the all-pur­pose con­text-sen­si­tive in­ter­ac­tion but­ton. The only other com­mand is a tem­po­rary sprint, which can be ex­tended by gath­er­ing fruit. While most of your ex­plo­ration will be at walk­ing pace, you’ll oc­ca­sion­ally bump into more dan­ger­ous crea­tures. Snakes launch a ven­omous spray in sev­eral di­rec­tions and must be avoided, while lions prowl ag­gres­sively be­fore tele­graph­ing a rush at­tack that means an in­stant kill if it con­nects. Die, and a hole quickly opens up in the ground and then con­tracts to noth­ing, leav­ing a tree in your wake. Within sec­onds, you’ll be re­turned to the world, al­beit in a safer place within the same area.

There are por­tals to lo­cate and nodes to ac­ti­vate, but these are no or­di­nary locks and keys. There’ll some­times be sin­gle so­lu­tions to in­di­vid­ual prob­lems – at one stage we tame a long-horned steer in or­der to leap across to a dis­tant cliff – but en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zles feel more like an or­ganic part of the world than a con­spic­u­ous form of gat­ing. You’ll rarely find your­self look­ing for any­thing spe­cific as much as dis­cov­er­ing things by stum­bling across them and steadily fig­ur­ing out their place in the world – and, to a point, your own. As you play, the ti­tle feels ever more fit­ting: this is a place that spreads out and de­vel­ops over time, steadily re­veal­ing more of it­self un­til it achieves a cer­tain fa­mil­iar­ity. Parts of it are still dan­ger­ous, oth­ers opaque, but it’s no longer un­know­able.

For some, Fu­ture Un­fold­ing will be a world to be pleas­antly per­plexed by. Oth­ers will view it as a gi­ant puz­zle to be slowly de­ci­phered. This isn’t a place gov­erned by real-world logic, but there’s a con­sis­tent set of rules to learn. The ab­sence of as­sis­tance means mi­nor dis­cov­er­ies be­come more sig­nif­i­cant epipha­nies: clam­ber­ing aboard a four-legged beast is one thing, but it’s not much use un­til you learn how to con­trol it. With just two but­tons it’s not dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out the se­cret, but the so­lu­tion is all the more sat­is­fy­ing for be­ing un­prompted.

That in­scrutabil­ity will, un­doubt­edly, be a turn-off for some. Like­wise, its stub­born re­fusal to of­fer any easy an­swers as to what it might all mean. And it does lack the in­nate warmth of some­thing like Pro­teus; hav­ing its crea­tures quote By­ron and Robert Frost may be a high­fa­lutin af­fec­ta­tion too far. And yet, much as its el­lip­ti­cal na­ture per­haps cre­ates a cer­tain emo­tional dis­tance be­tween player and game, this is a fas­ci­nat­ing world to ex­pe­ri­ence. We may never un­der­stand the wider sig­nif­i­cance of the birds. Maybe there isn’t one. But for us, the lion’s right. There is plea­sure in these path­less woods. There is rap­ture in the lonely shore.

Ev­ery ob­ject is com­posed of dy­namic par­ti­cles. You can push your way through trees in the for­est, and dash through veg­e­ta­tion to de­stroy it

ABOVE CEN­TRE At one stage, we man­age to get a sheep to blink out of ex­is­tence. That rules out ‘shep­herd’ as a pos­si­ble ca­reer move.

ABOVE Patches of flow­ers in a pat­tern usu­ally mean some­thing. Some­times they’ll give you a tem­po­rary boost; else­where, they might morph into a bar­rier, or cause some other en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fect

LEFT You can climb down slopes, but you won’t be able to go back up the same way. You’ll usu­ally find a cir­cuitous route to higher ground; oth­er­wise, com­mand a steed to leap the gaps.

BE­LOW Any deeper mean­ing to Fu­ture Un­fold­ing’s strange pat­terns may be hard to di­vine, but we sense that it’s con­sciously de­signed to be open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion

One lion is eas­ily avoided, but usu­ally you’ll find more ar­riv­ing on the scene quickly. They pause briefly be­fore pounc­ing, giv­ing you just enough of a win­dow to be able to dash clear

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