The Descendant, a new point and click narrative from Gaming Corps AB, is a post-apocalyptic science fiction tale that imbues the spirit of some classic games and films in the genre. There are clear comparisons to be made with Fallout, in the form of the Vault-like Arks which ostensibly serve to shield the last remnants of humanity from a nuclear catastrophe. This catastrophe is brought about, the opening cut scenes suggest, from a combination of environmental degradation, the erosion of global political alliances, and the escalation of human warfare.
The opening scenes of The Descendant contain some telling momentary snapshots, such as a vehicle rolling over a human skull embedded in the earth that clearly evokes a similar moment in the film The Terminator. This snapshot, combined with subsequent narrative developments, may point to a potentially terrifying story arc surrounding artificial intelligence; whilst exemplifying the thought put into the game’s overall narrative structure.
MSRP: $2.99 (episode) $14.99 (season)
Length: 1-2 Hours
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For the player, all of these influences serve to create an atmosphere that is initially unnerving. The game picks up centuries after the calamity and the player is tasked with gaining entry into one of the long-abandoned Arks to see what remains of those people entrusted to its protection. The story subsequently jumps back in time to centuries before, picking up a separate narrative strand involving two ‘janitors’ – those people tasked with ensuring the Ark’s systems remained functional, and those individuals chosen to be housed in the Ark remain comfortable and alive whilst in cryogenic sleep. It would be unfair for me to elaborate much further on the story this episode tells, suffice to say I was keen unravel more and more of it as the plot gathered pace.
A sprint finish.
Nevertheless, episode one of The Descendant feels a lot more like a prologue than a fully-fledged opening chapter. It sets up a very promising story (and executes this set up well), but I only ever felt like I was scratching the surface when it came to character development. It is also very short, taking this reviewer just over an hour to complete at what I would consider quite a leisurely pace (which included a fair amount of observation).
However, what it lacks in length, this first episode more than makes up for in excellent pacing and narrative structure. Telling a story across two interlinking timelines is certainly ambitious for an episodic game such as this, yet The Descendant does a great job of laying just enough cards on the table to get away with it. Episode one ends with an intriguing story hook that will almost certainly entice players to return for the next instalment.
The Descendant has a lot of big ideas and I think it was very sensible on the part of Gaming Corps AB not to overdo things with their opening gambit. By keeping things short and moving the story along quickly, the player is able avoid getting side-tracked. Given that the story jumps back and forth between two sets of characters and two settings that are centuries apart, The Descendant’s narrative could easily have become extremely convoluted and confusing right off the bat. It is a testament to the developers that both of these pitfalls are avoided with relative aplomb.
The ‘puzzles’ that the player encounters serve the game’s pace and structure well. The objectives are not at all confusing or difficult but they fit perfectly within the ongoing story and ultimately function to progress the narrative without losing pace or direction. For example, in one scene I was tasked with shutting down a malfunctioning mechanical system, which required my character to locate the relevant sub-station, find a couple of parts by appropriately negotiating a few hazards, and reassemble some equipment. However, while the task was pretty simple, The Descendant does a great job of both keeping the player on track, and creating a sense of urgency to match the pace. Fixing this system was a race against time and while the actual gameplay was simple, my immersion in the story eradicated this potential source of frustration. Alarms were blaring, the character who remained behind to ‘guide’ me was freaking out and shouting instructions (along with some pretty colourful language), and I quickly came to appreciate the fact that these events would likely have consequences further down the line.
Centuries later, when I picked things up again with those characters entering the Ark for the first time since the doors were originally shut, I was still wondering what the ultimate outcome of that particular scene was, how things played out in the expanse of years between, and when I would get to find out more. My sense is that given the ending of episode one, and the information uncovered by the ‘present day’ characters so far, there is a great deal of intrigue to come.
Episode ones raises a lot of questions but does a good job of not confusing the player by going too big, too soon. As a standalone product, it is held back only by its length which is a little on the short side. However Gaming Corps AB have created an excellent foundation that future episodes can build from, and the premise should entice anyone who enjoys a post-apocalyptic, science fiction tale. I hope the narrative goes deeper as each episode progresses but if episode one is anything to go by, it should be an exciting and engrossing ride.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.