22 December 2018

Whither? Whither?

Cameron Kunzelman has an end-of-year article up on Waypoint forecasting a new paradigm that's being set for first-person gaming. 2018 has seen a crop of works from the indie sphere gain enough traction to seemingly herald a first-person New Wave, works which proceed from a genre premise informed by Blendo, Fullbright, Davey Wreden, Kitty Horrorshow. Expectations are shifting, not toward a singularity but a multiplicity; a heterodox attitude and general profile that values intimacy and obliqueness over kitchen sink bombast.

No game from 2018 better summarizes this movement, argues Kunzelman, than ArbitraryMetric's nowhere montage Paratopic. From the unsettling affine texture warping to the satisfying frob UX, Paratopic has a swagger that bounces nicely between current fashions on either end of the fidelity spectrum. I admire that swagger, and while Paratopic's specific Cronenbergian flavor ultimately wasn't quite to my taste, I certainly wouldn't accuse ArbitraryMetric of being hypebeasts. There was another game I played in 2018, though, that felt to me further ahead of the curve, more precisely poised on the knife edge of this post-Yeezus trend toward digital grit, emphasized space, jarring transitions. Something more genuinely startling yet eerily familiar, like it read my mind, crept out of my dreams...

0_abyssalSomewhere by Spanish enigma nonoise is the first entry in what looks to be a planned series called Tower of Many. To be brutal, it's Silent Hill by way of Demon's Souls. It's got poetically cryptic "examine" text, sparse but harsh sound effects, an emaciated knight clanking his way through a Blame!-like concrete underground. It's got blown out bloom lighting, stretched and filtered textures, that weird hi-def digital grain. And—and—it's got a third-person camera.

Most of the time this camera follows your suit of armor from a judicious offset somewhere between Souls and RE4, but takes the opportunity at certain moments to adopt a fixed vantage, including subjective shots when inspecting, say, a rusty gate. In terms of presentation, the modes and materials deployed, abyssal goes places you don't want me spoiling.

Suffice it to say that the total effect achieves an edgy coolness that I find rare even on itch.io. Despite the foreboding tone, I found myself laughing with delight and sympathy at many of the A/V decisions nonoise made with this debut. It mostly skips the PSX wave and washes up in some murky interzone between PS2, PS3, and—ah shit—Unity. With more style than most, 0_abyssalSomewhere takes advantage of this disjointed current moment in technology and spirit—this nowhere-like somewhere—and signals what's exciting about small-scale development today.

So watch out for third person as well, I guess. Here's to an unpredictable 2019.