Pyre PC, PS4

The flame of in­ven­tion burns bright in Su­per­giant’s genre-strad­dling ad­ven­ture

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Su­per­giant Games PC, PS4 US 2017

Su­per­giant’s artists might have done rather too good a job with Pyre. It is, af­ter all, set in a pur­ga­tory from which we’re sup­posed to want to es­cape. Yet this vi­brantly colour­ful world, with its ex­otic sights and strange crea­tures, keeps giv­ing us rea­sons to want to stay. And so nat­u­rally we’re dis­ap­pointed when our time here comes to an end. Hap­pily, we’re not at an event with a queue of im­pa­tient pun­ters wait­ing for us to hand over the con­troller; we can just start the pre­view build over again, and so we do.

“That’s a good sign!” laughs writer and de­signer Greg Kasavin, as we dis­cuss his stu­dio’s third game, which seems to mark an ap­pre­cia­ble change in di­rec­tion. Both Bas­tion and Tran­sis­tor were ac­tion-RPGs viewed from an iso­met­ric per­spec­tive; though Pyre also has role­play­ing el­e­ments, it’s more akin to The

Ban­ner Saga in the de­liv­ery of its story, which is in­ter­spersed with a mys­ti­cal com­pe­ti­tion whose clos­est real-world ana­logue is prob­a­bly three-on-three bas­ket­ball.

It’s quite the de­par­ture, we sug­gest, though Kasavin doesn’t en­tirely agree. “For us, each of the games we’ve made has felt like a de­par­ture,” he says. “In the case of Tran­sis­tor, even though it was a game in the same genre as Bas­tion, that game re­ally took us out of our comfort zone in a va­ri­ety of ways. Some of the de­ci­sions we made, like mak­ing it an iso­met­ric game, were by no means fore­gone con­clu­sions. We’re al­ways try­ing to push our­selves to come up with some­thing that feels fresh to us.”

He ac­knowl­edges that Su­per­giant is priv­i­leged to be in a po­si­tion to do that. “I don’t think there are a lot of stu­dios who are even able to go that route, be­cause it’s very dif­fi­cult in gen­eral just for [them] to do well enough to stick to­gether as a team,” he ex­plains. “And then if they’re for­tu­nate enough to be suc­cess­ful, they’re of­ten bound by their suc­cesses, right?” Pyre is the prod­uct of a team that knows it can af­ford to take a bit of a cre­ative risk, with the con­fi­dence that ex­pe­ri­ence and to­geth­er­ness brings: 11 of the 12 staff cred­ited on Tran­sis­tor are still at Su­per­giant work­ing on Pyre, in­clud­ing all seven peo­ple that brought us Bas­tion.

It’s clearly a close-knit group, then, and the ad­van­tages of that are ob­vi­ous. “It does re­duce a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion over­head,” Kasavin says. “We don’t even have a de­sign doc­u­ment at any point. When it’s time to make a big de­ci­sion, we get every­one in a room and talk through it and that makes things ef­fi­cient in terms of how much time we get to spend on ac­tual de­vel­op­ment ver­sus just com­mu­ni­cat­ing.” Kasavin also be­lieves it gives each in­di­vid­ual a sense of

own­er­ship of and re­spon­si­bil­ity for a sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of the game. “They know the buck stops with them, and that can be quite em­pow­er­ing and mo­ti­vat­ing.”

Pyre, too, cen­tres on a group of char­ac­ters thrust into an un­fa­mil­iar sit­u­a­tion, forced to rely upon one another’s in­di­vid­ual spe­cial­i­ties to func­tion ef­fec­tively as a team and achieve a shared goal. In this in­stance, it means trav­el­ling across a pur­ga­to­rial world with three other ex­iles who take you in as the game opens and, upon learn­ing that you have the abil­ity to read (an act pro­hib­ited in this world), ask you to trans­late a tome that guides you to­wards a Rite, an ar­cane sport­ing event that might well be every­one’s sal­va­tion. Along the way, you’ll have a choice of des­ti­na­tions at which to rest, and at night you’ll have a choice to make: you can for­age for sup­plies and fuel for the car­a­van, men­tor your fel­low ex­iles and im­prove their skills ahead of the next match, or study the book fur­ther and learn more about the lore of the land.

The Rites them­selves are fas­ci­nat­ing. This is a slow dance of a sport with dis­arm­ingly sim­ple con­trols, and yet even with just a hand­ful of matches un­der our belts and a great many abil­i­ties locked out, there are signs of sig­nif­i­cant sys­temic depth. The idea is to carry a glow­ing orb into your op­po­nent’s pyre, steadily de­plet­ing its en­ergy un­til it’s even­tu­ally de­stroyed. You’re at your most vul­ner­a­ble while in pos­ses­sion: any­one who doesn’t have the orb is sur­rounded by a cir­cu­lar aura, which not only causes the car­rier to drop the orb on con­tact, but briefly re­moves them from play. This aura can also be fired out­wards in a wave to re­gain pos­ses­sion from a dis­tance – the equiv­a­lent of a slid­ing tackle – though it can also be leapt over. That’s straight­for­ward enough for Rukey, a scrawny ca­nine col­league, who can scam­per around the field at speed. But if he’s hard to hit, he only takes one hit point from the op­pos­ing pyre. The horned gi­ant Jo­dariel, mean­while, moves with a lan­guid gait, but she’ll do three times the dam­age if she gets there, and her jumps can cre­ate space by shunt­ing op­po­nents back­wards – as­sum­ing she doesn’t touch down within their aura, that is. And there’s more: once a char­ac­ter has scored, so to speak, they’re tem­po­rar­ily ban­ished from the Rite, leav­ing the teams un­even for a time.

Char­ac­ters will gain fur­ther abil­i­ties as they level up af­ter com­pleted matches, and you’ll re­cruit more on your jour­ney, thus giv­ing you plenty of ways to tinker with the lineup of your com­pet­i­tive squad. But there are no more rules to learn: Su­per­giant wants to keep the con­trols sim­ple and the ac­tion read­able. “Our games in some ways are an ex­ten­sion of the val­ues of ’90s-era con­sole games where you didn’t have as many but­tons on your con­troller as you do to­day,” Kasavin ex­plains. “We try to have the fewest num­ber of mean­ing­ful in­puts. [But] depth is also im­por­tant to us, be­cause we want peo­ple to be able to play our games in a per­for­ma­tive or an ex­pres­sive fash­ion. I’m a big fan of fight­ing games, for ex­am­ple. In a great fight­ing game, ten dif­fer­ent play­ers can have ten dis­tinct playstyles just as one of the char­ac­ters on the ros­ter. That’s my own anal­ogy for it, but for sure we want play­ers to keep find­ing new ways to en­gage with the me­chan­ics.”

That could yet in­clude a com­pet­i­tive mode. The story may be the fo­cus at the mo­ment, but Kasavin says that Su­per­giant is keen to ex­plore the ev­i­dent mul­ti­player po­ten­tial of the Rites. “We’ll pur­sue it if we can find a way to do it that doesn’t come at the ex­pense of the sin­gle­player,” he says. “We’re still in the process of fig­ur­ing out if it’s some­thing that we can do as well as it would de­serve to be done.”

Whether or not that comes off, Pyre al­ready shows ex­cep­tional prom­ise. It’s sharply writ­ten and in­tel­li­gently de­signed, and for all Kasavin’s talk of evok­ing the spirit of clas­sic games, what makes it so ex­cit­ing is how dis­tinc­tive and new it feels. “First and fore­most, we want to make worlds that are set apart and have a trans­portive qual­ity,” he says. On this early ev­i­dence, it’s mis­sion ac­com­plished for a third time.

“We try to have the fewest num­ber of mean­ing­ful in­puts. But depth is also im­por­tant”

Writer and de­signer Greg Kasavin

You can’t miss a Rite, even if you run out of fuel. Should your sup­ply be fully de­pleted, you’ll have to waste a night deal­ing with it rather than read­ing, for­ag­ing or men­tor­ing

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