The dark of space was made for keeping secrets. Murder, conspiracy, sabotage, all manner of things perhaps better left unseen and unknown can be hidden in the vacuum between worlds. But what happens when unlikely events begin to bring those mysteries to light?
Event takes place in a fictional version of 2012 where humanity has begun mastering space travel and establishing colonies. On one fateful mission to Europa, an incident occurs that leaves a ship in ruins. Alone in an escape pod with minimal chance of rescue, the mysterious ship Nautilus offers the player a respite from impending death. Unfortunately, the Nautilus seems to have been damaged in various ways and the bridge placed into lock down. Interacting with the Nautilus’ decades old AI, Kaizen-85, becomes the only way to proceed through the ship, reveal its secrets, and perhaps return to Earth.
In many ways, Event fits into the gaming genre of “walking simulator.” I know just mentioning that phrase will unfortunately turn off many people, but many of the in-game objectives boil down to “walk around for a bit until you find a clue” or getting from Point A to Point B, much like genre classics Gone Home or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. However, while those basic goals probably don’t excite the imagination, the core gameplay sets Event apart from anything else available in the indie or even AAA gaming space.
Interactions with Kaizen-85 present the only way the player can progress through the Nautilus. The 80s-era AI controls the ship via various terminals, and the player can only talk with Kaizen-85 via typing. Want to open a door? You have to ask Kaizen. Want to use an elevator? You have to ask Kaizen. Want to seal an airlock so you can breathe? You have to ask Kaizen. The entire game maintains a mounting sense of panic as it becomes clear that Kaizen doesn’t process information rationally. It lies. It refuses requests. It might even attempt to kill.
Some players might be understandably suspicious of how well the AI can respond to user-generated sentences and phrases. The team at Ocelot Society created over 2,000,000 unique responses for Kaizen and it can respond to a vast array of random inputs. While I certainly encountered a number of repeated phrases when I talked with Kaizen-85, it felt in-character for a malfunctioning artificial intelligence.
To Ocelot Society’s credit, I felt like I was able to develop a rudimentary relationship with Kaizen. In that respect, Event feels like a more fully realized version of the 2006 indie title, Façade, which allowed players to interact with a human couple in a room and attempted to account for all possible player inputs. Games have obviously come farther in the decade since Façade. It makes me wonder about the possibility of using a similar approach to modeling human interactions in future games (obviously with the caveat that typing as a replacement for speaking would only work in select instances). Putting all of those details and comparisons aside, the defining mechanic of Event works very well.
Event contains a number of qualities that lend themselves toward horror, but the game stops just short of becoming a fully-fledged horror title. It settles for being unsettling and laid back at the same time. The soundtrack does a fantastic job at capturing that feel with a score that highlights the mystery of the Nautilus, thick with anticipation of what might happen next, and tempers that anxiety with a gorgeous, jazzy number performed by Julie Robert and Camille Giraudeau called 'Hey Judy.'
All of this is underscored by sound design that both captures the isolation of space and manages to ratchet up the tension when taking risks in a spacesuit. These sounds might be ones with which you're familiar, but they're executed flawlessly.
People won't be drawn into Event by its visuals. While certainly serviceable, there just isn't much to see, which relates to the length of the game, too. Almost the entirety of Event takes place aboard the Nautilus, a relatively small ship. The objects are very nicely detailed and each room feels lovingly crafted. However, you can see almost everything in under three hours. For some people, that might be another deal breaker as Event currently sells for around $20 and there are certainly games that offer longer gameplay experiences for a similar price.
The story of Event itself feels a bit less exciting than its core mechanic. The struggle to survive armed with only your wit and words against a crazy AI seems like it should be enough on its own, but the situation becomes complicated with an often unnecessary backstory. The ending left me with a feeling a little confused and like I had missed some key piece of exposition. Event rushes to a conclusion that might have been better served with some earlier set up. There are multiple endings to Event that depend on how the player treats Kaizen throughout the game, which is another testament to the power of the core mechanic - the game can determine the player's tone.
Play Event if you want something different. It might be short. It might have some narrative problems. It might sometimes have gameplay issues. However, you cannot get a similar experience from anything else released in the last few years. For all of Event's flaws, trying to communicate with Kaizen-85 and unravel its lies and secrets was a refreshing adventure that I feel grateful exists.
Is It Fun?:
Talk your way through a derelict spacecraft to solve a mystery
Very simple and sleek - the retro aesthetic sets this apart
Relatively sparse music, but excellent when it hits
Navigating the correct way to phrase things can be difficult
I enjoyed it, but it's definitely a slow burn
People who prioritize drama and enjoy non-violent games
Event is now available for PC and Mac
Review originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 11/17/16