The end is here.
Given the name of final episode of The Descendant’s first season – Ultimatum – the player could be forgiven for anticipating a tense, climactic conclusion to Gaming AB’s post-apocalyptic point-and-click tale. It’s possible that players won’t be left feeling entirely disappointed by the content on offer here: there are moments of apparent tension and combative speeches between a number of characters. However, Episode 5 will ultimately be defined by what it lacks, and it therefore represents a disappointing end to a series that started out with real narrative promise.
Painting by numbers.
Much of Episode 4 felt like a placeholder, with poor pacing. Sadly, this trait continues into Episode 5, as Gaming AB struggle to build a logical conclusion to their ambitious narrative structure. This has a severely detrimental impact upon characterisation: Mia, for example, is almost entirely absent from this episode. The one scene in which she features prominently attempts to explain her connection to Randolph; a relationship that was mysteriously hinted at in an earlier episode. Unfortunately, this has little pay off for the player: the events of the scene feel forced and the characterisation rushed, leaving a sense that everything on show has been haphazardly pieced together to produce a rather contrived explanation.
Length: 1 Hour
Tell me what to do.
With Mia largely relegated to the background of Episode 5, the player spends almost the entirety of Ultimatum in the company of Donnie. There is a flashback to Donnie’s time as a janitor in Ark 42, which appears to be intercut with the present-day narrative for the sole purpose of producing some rather uninteresting exposition on how the descendent retrieval process functions. To wake Ark 01’s remaining janitor Donnie must repeat the same process in the present that he did in the past, you see? However, this does not represent much of a challenge for the player beyond literally reading instructions from a clipboard.
Episode 5’s one moment of genuine intrigue is Donnie’s final confrontation with Randolph, which finally reveals the true purpose of the Ark’s descendants. The way Randolph delivers this surprise is well written and feels true to his character. However, at the conclusion of this scene, which ultimately brings the player to the true present and Donnie’s interrogation, the storytelling takes a turn towards the awkwardly incoherent.
This disjointed pacing has largely characterised the latter half of the season, and there are many things that apparently haven’t paid off: primarily, what were the ramifications of all those choices the player did (or didn’t) make? If there were any, the fact that I’m struggling to tell the impact of my choices throughout The Descendant, is a problem.
The ‘puzzles’ also became less engaging and appropriately integrated into the story. Other than the aforementioned clipboard incident, the one other challenge the player is really tasked with in Episode 5 takes place ‘inside’ a computer program. Told only to avoid countermeasures but with no idea how, I got extremely frustrated with this section. At first I was annoyed at the terrible (and potentially game-breaking) design, but after multiple attempts I got through without a hitch: it seems the controls for these sections (there are multiple events to navigate) are randomly unresponsive.
Despite its early promise, The Descendant’s rushed, extremely short ending felt clumsily executed. While it contained a few surprises, the delivery of Episode 5’s conclusion felt arbitrary, contrived and slightly out-of-sync with the narrative that’s been told over the course of the season. Perhaps most disappointingly, the player has very little agency in Episode 5 – a real let down, given the game’s initial promise that the choices made by the player would be impactful as the story progressed.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.