Tag Archives: indie games

Sara is Missing & I’m in a Creepypasta

With the craziness of my schedule over the holidays on top of interviewing for a potential new job, I’ve had neither the time nor attention span to focus on new games this month.  However, I recently saw a short indie horror game popping up in my video feed from various Youtubers, & after seeing the premise I knew I had to check it out for myself.

Sara is Missing (or S.I.M.) was created by Monsoon Lab for the 2016 Halloween Game Jam, which are essentially challenges to create games on a fixed time limit.  In it, you play as yourself, having found a random cellphone.  The only immediate clue as to the identity of the broken phone’s owner is the image of a woman and her cat on the wallpaper.  Upon trying to recover the phone’s memory, the phone’s supposedly helpful AI/personal assistant program IRIS (which a clever gamer would recognize as SIRI backwards) enlists your help in tracking down the missing Sara.  To this end, you find yourself on a voyeuristic journey through a stranger’s text messages, emails & gallery to uncover potentially the last moments of her life.

What drew me to this title was the almost augmented reality aspect of it.  Although it’s still just a program on your phone, it acts as if you’re using your own phone.  I love the rise in incorporating the modes of entertainment into the experience rather than just being vehicles.  My initial impression upon seeing S.I.M. was that it reminded me a lot of the recent horror movie Unfriended, which I adored.  It works similar to that movie, actually, with the player as the protagonist flipping through various software & files, trying to connect the disparate pieces of Sara’s life together to find her.

The game also has more than a passing vibe of the Creepypasta variety.  Finding a random phone presumably in the middle of the woods… cursed videos… Red Rooms & the deep web… In fact, I recognized some of the video clips spliced together specifically from Creepypastas, including Marble Hornets & Tomino’s Hell.

The game’s fairly short, depending on how in-depth you search through Sara’s phone, so it’s hard to give a full review.  Rather, I wanted to touch briefly on the positives & negatives.  On the positive side, the technology is well-integrated into the app.  Although I believe it’s also available for play on a PC, I played it on my Android, which I recommend for the most immersive experience.  It felt like I was really using someone else’s phone, to the point it startled me when my own phone got email notifications.  The IRIS seemed a bit weird, but I’m assuming it’s based on how SIRI works, & as I just mentioned I use Android so I can’t speak to how it imitates that.  Maybe SIRI is creepily self-aware.

Monsoon Lab did a good job of really establishing Sara’s character through just what we see on her phone.  Although most of what’s available isn’t related directly to solving the mystery, it helps flesh out the character, adding to the eerie blurring between the app & reality.  It made me think about what’s on my own phone & what that would say to someone who found it.  The overarching narrative is interesting, if a bit cliché to anyone familiar with Creepypastas, & they did a good job ramping up the tension toward the end when you have to decide whether or not to pass on the cursed video to save these strangers all the while someone keeps sending you pictures of them bound.  It does an excellent job of eliciting your own natural reactions.

But for all those good points, I was left feeling a little disappointed.  Not because the game is bad, but because it could’ve been better.  Granted, this was made on limited time, & I don’t even know if it’s considered finished at this point.  There are a lot of ways I can see S.I.M. improving.  I’d like to see more of a build-up for the mystery.  It only really takes reading one text message to figure out what happened & kicking off the climax.  I’d love to see a slower reveal, where you have to really piece different messages, pictures & emails together.  I’d also like the different “endings” to actually feel different.

But as I said before, I don’t know if the devs plan to flesh this out more.  I hope they do.  The very end definitely hints that there’s more to come.  Hopefully with all this positive press, they’ll be able to expand & make something truly remarkable.

I’m holding off on giving an actual score, so consider this a very strong recommendation to try this game.  It’s fun, short & free (or pay as you want on PC).  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future updates.

– GamerDame

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Game Review: Antichamber

Making a good puzzle game can be tricky.  To me, the most frustrating part of a puzzle game comes when I know the solution to the puzzle but have difficulty executing it.  At least in my mind, the challenge in a puzzle game ought to be in figuring out the developer’s logic & finding a solution.  It’s a question of intellect, not of skill.  I’m reminded of my time in Limbo where the “puzzles” grew tedious because I kept dying.  I truly believe we, as gamers, should make a distinction between puzzle & skill-based games.  So which category does Antichamber fall in?

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The End

Antichamber is a indie puzzle game that puts the player in an M.C. Escher-style series of test chambers.  The ultimate goal is to reach the exit, but in order to do so the player must solve various puzzles to bypass obstacles to find the resources that enables them to leave.  As you play, you’ll find the world changing & warping around you.  Indeed, one of the greatest tools at your disposal — and obstacles — is your own perception.  But along the way, you’ll also acquire a gun that will allow you to move specific blocks around to help you reach your goal.  Initially this gun only allows you to pick up & place blocks, but as you progress you’ll find upgrades that allow you to further bend the reality of the world around you.

 

At A Glance

Untitled

Narrative: Anyone familiar with my formatting for these reviews may notice I skipped a section above where I normally give a summary of the plot.  The reason for this is because… um… there isn’t really one.  Or at the very least it’s heavily open to interpretation.  Even after reaching the ending, I honestly don’t have any more idea what the story behind the game is, if there even is one.  My general feeling after playing Antichamber was similar to being in a testing chamber, & finally escaping in the end.  Though whether this was just some VR test or alien abduction, I can’t say.  But I honestly don’t feel that the game’s too bad off for not having a rigid narrative.  The stark, nonlinear feel of the “story” fits the overall atmosphere of the game very well.  It’s all very hands-off.  I think the point is to emphasize your experience with the game rather than following along some plot the developer intended.  And in the end, that experience, & wanting to see what’s next & overcome the next obstacle, is enough to drive the player through the game til the end.  Score: 3

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Developer Notes

Mechanics: One of the areas where Antichamber mechanically excels is in teaching the player its world-logic.  You learn by doing.  Very rarely does it flat-out tell you when you can do something.  The only exceptions to that being when you first get the gun upgrades it will immediately present you with a practice obstacle & how you how to use the new upgrade.  But other than that, you learn as you go.  Even falling into a “trap” is a learning experience.  And you’ll remember these skills.  It’s very gratifying to come across a room you can’t solve, only to have a Eureka moment once you’ve learned a new bit of logic later in the game that you can apply.  What may seem impassable may simply be a matter of not having the proper tool.  For example, I mentioned in my First Impression having an idea while writing the post about a solution to a later room.  In the room, there was a crate on one side of the room that would slide forward without something blocking it, raising a platform on the other side of a barricade that I needed to ride to exit the room.  The obvious solution was to stand on the platform & remove the block from a distance, allowing the crate to slide & ride up.  But the barrier prevented this.  Once I acquired the yellow gun upgrade, allowing me to set blocks to move on their own (& drag any attached blocks with it), I thought to create a “fuse”, a long chain along the crate to set the string to move while giving me enough time to run to the platform before it rose without me.  I was rather proud of myself for coming up with that.  I also found that there may be multiple ways to overcome an obstacle.  There isn’t really a right or wrong, but maybe just an easy and more convoluted way.  Yeah, I could painstakingly move all these blocks around to trip the lasers.  Or I could get the red gun upgrade & multiply the blocks to fill the entire area, reaching the same solution.  There were more than a few times I realized I was thinking too hard about the solution.  But I consider that a positive aspect of the game.  Nothing ever felt impossible.  Another much-appreciated mechanic was the ability to go back to the map room at any time & warp to any room you’ve uncovered.  It makes it very easy to see where you haven’t gone & makes navigation painless.  The only complaint I have as far as mechanics goes was with the jumping.  I mentioned it before, but the jumping felt very floaty.  And while there weren’t a lot of jumping puzzles, the ones that were there required more precision than the controls really allowed for.  That was my only real frustration with the gameplay.  Score: 5

 

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You Are Where?

Aesthetics: The level layout & design are simplistic & yet very mind-bending.  The chambers themselves are pretty stark, punctuated by very intense bursts of color.  Rooms change behind you or when you’re not looking, or sometimes when you’re looking at it just right.  Chambers bend in & around each other, surprising you when you exit one chamber only to enter a chamber you’ve previously visited & know that wasn’t how you got to before.  It all makes for a very surreal experience.  The kind that makes you stop & go, “How did I get here?”.  There’s no dialogue, but the omnipresent music has this ethereal quality that fits the atmosphere.  The sound effects are pretty interesting, as well.  Fall down a pit, & you hear the wind rushing past you.  At one point, near what I assume is the bottom of facility, I heard crickets.  However, at times  the music would become this loud, continuous ringing noise that drove me crazy, even if I wasn’t wearing headphones.  I don’t know if it was intentional or a bug, but I had to turn the sound off a few times.  Sadly, there’s no separate option for music & sound effects, so I’d have to turn both off, which created a disconnected with my actions in the game.  This was easily remedied by going back to the map room after I completed the level & turning the music back on, but it was enough of a nuisance that I felt the need to mention it.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Low to Moderate.  While I don’t feel the need to play it again, Antichamber definitely stands up to multiple attempts.  For one, I didn’t find all the chambers, & there are apparently secret rooms to discover for those who enjoy it.  Also, some people may enjoy the challenge of starting a new game & seeing how quickly they can reach the end, cutting out as many rooms as possible.  Score: 3

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Antichamber is a unique & engaging experience is mind-bending level design & puzzle solving.

Recommended for: fans of puzzle games, those who want to be challenged or are interested in unique level design

Not recommended for: gamers without patience

-GamerDame

Title: Antichamber
Consoles: PC
Rating: E
Developer: Alexander Bruce
Publisher: Demruth
Release Date: January 31, 2013

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Filed under 4, Indie, PC, Puzzle, Reviews, Uncategorized