PEGBRJE: Quench and Spirits of Xanadu
Atmosphere is useful, isn’t it?
Quench is a naturalistic puzzle game made by Axon Interactive, an interactive media studio out of Toronto. Players are a nature spirit, born of the Elder Tree that only bore a singular fruit this season for the migration. The newly appointed Shaman of the Elephants, fearing for the journey, has asked the spirit for assistance to make the journey as clean as possible. They have enough to worry about.
True to their word, the spirit assists the elephants on their journey by utilizing four distinct elements. The most common is Water, which rejuvenates and returns the life to dying grasslands. Wind is used to brush away the sand that comes in to suffocate the grass, slowing the elephants so they cannot make it to their next spring as fast and risk dehydration. It can also be used to assist the elephants by giving them a spring to their step. Earth, or Quake as I should call it, rumbles the ground to break through lodged areas that have been blocked by debris or earth formations. Finally is Lightning, able to zap away brush that threatens the elephants but risks forest fires if the area is too dry. I highlight these four because these are the powers of the spirit, but also the resource to solve the puzzles. Each element has a number of charges before they can no longer be used, only replenished by freeing shrines using an elemental ability. The player’s main goal of these puzzles is to get the elephants from the beginning to the end of the level, keeping their stamina above zero so that they suffer as few setbacks/casualties as possible. It might make sense to make the entire area green, but if they cannot make it to the end because they all run of out stamina before the end then there’s a problem.
I almost mistook this game as a sequel to Crest from earlier in the bundle due to the similarities in the art style and African influence, but also because they both have a strong focus on the naturalistic problem solving and bringing many together to act as one. The intricacy of focusing on using powers sparingly while still wanting to keep everyone as alive as possible is what fuels the constant planning before sending the elephants off to the next checkpoint. I wanted to keep them on this pilgrimage and add to the herd, convincing those that we crossed that we would not fail and had to live up to the promises. It was on me to keep them all alive no matter what, regardless of the bizarre and terrifying smokey beast creatures that showed up (seriously what). Shaman talks with the spirit the entire way, working through her problems and understandings as she does as the spirit cannot return the words; instead, we as the spirit reaffirm her belief in us by keeping everything alive.
With a few updates that I have yet to play around with still on the backburner, I think it’s safe to say that I really like the execution and style that Quench has achieved. Adam Sakiyama’s track is utterly gorgeous and fits perfectly with the relaxing yet tense atmosphere, and the paper art-style meshes in perfectly. It is not a short game, mind you — while you may finish a few puzzles in a few minutes here and there, those that want to finish the game will be in for the long haul of a few hours to get it done. This isn’t a drawback, just an observation. If you’re looking for a puzzle adventure with a focal point on unity and survival as a herd, then this is definitely one to try out.
Spirits of Xanadu is an atmospheric FPS made by the indie duo ‘Good Morning, Commander’ which comprises of Allen Trivette and Lee Williams, and published by Nightdive Studios. Players are a sole operative sent to the Xanadu to investigate why communications between her and Earth have been lacking for months,even though the ship appears to still have active systems. Once aboard, returning it to Earth is the top priority according to those back home, but that might be up for debate.
How scary is the dark? Players will find out quit quickly how they feel about it as while they were told the systems were on, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Arrival is in darkness, with only emergency lights to assist. Acquiring a flashlight and a pistol forebodes the mood, for everything is dark and the robots that greet the player are not friendly. The FPS nature might indicate that the gun is the solution to all problems, but that certainly isn’t true early on. The robots are resilient, and can take a few bullets before going down; unfortunately, players weren’t sent to this research vessel to fight, so they aren’t equipped with any armor so damage is high and fast. Finding alternate routes to dodge robots, or uncovering if they have a weakness is imperative to survival early on so that players can look for the true problem; what happened to the Xanadu?
Much of the plot is via audio tapes and documents found scattered throughout the game, with a few moments here and there in which the visuals take over to give clues as to what happened without even saying a word. See above, for instance — mass amounts of blood dragged into the Survey room isn’t for fun, that’s for sure. All audio logs are fully voiced, giving hints as to what exactly might be wrong with the ship and what happened to the crew so that players can get the ship up and running again. The more audio logs discovered, however, reveals more about the mystery that caused the crew to disappear, and how one may need to reevaluate their orders of returning the ship to Earth.
Xanadu is at it’s best when the audio kicks in, the lights are off and the visuals are only to be half-seen. There’s a low audio track that plays at the bottom of the score, keeping tensions high regardless as to whether or not players can hear an enemy robot hiding around. It can make a perfectly simple task of opening a door terrifying, knowing that death is one robot away. The shotgun does somewhat trivialize this fear, but that didn’t stop me from dying at least once after acquiring it. On the topic of dying, for reference, players will end up in the brig rather than starting from their ‘save point’ which is an interesting twist.
While it may not revolutionize the ‘scary abandoned ship where the crew totally survived’ horror genre, Spirits of Xanadu does a great job of solidifying its atmosphere with its simple yet effective puzzles, creepy audio work and aesthetics. If you are in need to a title that will unnerve you for a few hours, then this is definitely one to try out.
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