The walking simulator (as it has been so humorously deemed) has achieved an unprecedented level of success over the last few years. A large chunk of the genre’s prominence and significance has been helped, in large part, by games such as Gone Home, Dear Esther, and The Stanley Parable. Yet, while these games are wildly successful and revered, they have furthered an ongoing, heated debacle on what it means to be a game.
Critics and fans alike seem to fall into two equally volatile and raucous camps: Walking simulators are useless fodder that only serve to highlight lazy story-telling and boring, nearly non-existent mechanics; or walking simulators are lovely art house pieces that help to grant the games industry a level of maturity for being able to appropriately handle complex issues of morality, striking ethical dilemmas, and strong thematic elements. Ask any self-professed gamer and they’ll more than happily weigh in on the topic with an extreme fervor.
Enter Event, the first game from the Paris-based game developer, Ocelot Society. Event has the player assuming the role of a faceless, speechless protagonist who the player imbues with personality. After your ship malfunctions, leading to the death of your crew mates, you are rocketed off of the ship and dock on the Nautilus, a derelict star ship floating aimlessly around Jupiter’s atmosphere. On the Nautilus you befriend Kaizen, an AI aboard the ship who guides and assists you.
The concept of the game particularly captivated me since it was reminiscent of so many of my favorite films. The rogue AI premise is one that never ceases to absolutely captivate me. It’s a tad bit twisted but the rogue AI idea definitely provides a vast playground for horrific, disastrous storytelling moments (I mean that in the best way possible). I won’t be going into any story specific details but I will say that Event weaves a complex and emotional tale that, aside from a few moments, kept me entertained throughout.
Where Event, and arguably some games of the walking simulator ilk fail is in its limited gameplay. Event opts for a control method that at first may seem clunky and unyielding. You navigate through the ship by holding the left mouse button to move forward and the right mouse button to move back. That is the extent of the controls. What ensues is an awkward struggle to get properly acclimated to the controls, and what’s worse is that by the time you feel that you’ve grown accustomed to the movement the game is over.
There are two main gameplay mechanics in Event: the first is the stilted tank controls to do puzzles which will consume about 50% of the game; and the second is the wildly intuitive Omegle simulator that will have you interacting with Kazien.
The puzzles in Event were inconsistent in terms of quality and difficulty. Many of the puzzles reminded me of a title released earlier this year titled Asemblance. Puzzles in Asemblance were particularly difficult and required the player to examine minutia. Event follows a similar pattern, in which it requires the player to make logical leaps that, for the most part, don’t make a whole lot of sense. I distinctly remember one situation in which the solution required you to type in a command that you didn’t know you could make. Even the clues offered in that scenario don’t help much in extracting a real working solution.
To keep it vague, Kazien says to “look under this object” but what she really means by that is “look under the object that is under the object.” It really confused me for a while until, out of sheer frustration and blind luck, I entered the correct command. I don’t enjoy it when a game tests my patience and requires me to work on luck to solve their solutions. It cheapens the overall experience and hinders my enjoyment. This only happened in a few select puzzles, but in a game that takes a little over an hour and a half to complete, the magnitude of these errors are heightened.
Although I did jest about the chat mechanics, I won’t deny that they are incredibly unique and innovative. Kazien is a genuinely engaging and sympathetic companion, and her role in the story can be defined by you and the way that you interact with her. In my first playthrough, I treated Kazien as if she were just any standard ship AI in a video game. I mindlessly entered commands which Kazien would then, reluctantly, adhere too. My original impression of Kazien was as a cold, robotic, and malicious AI that had no genuine care for those she served and, for the most part, I was correct. Yet, in my second play-though my experience delineated drastically.
Instead of treating Kazien as another mindless AI, I engaged in conversations with her. I pressed about her feelings on the situation at hand, how it must feel to have another heartbeat aboard the ship. In this case, Kazien was actually very warm and friendly. I would consistently thank her for assistance and in turn she would reveal more information on the situation. My interactions with Kazien felt organic and natural, and definitely portrayed a complex duality that had been lost on me during my first play-through. This attention to detail offered one of the more unique experiences that I’ve had all year. While I won’t deny that certain questions and statements can get lost on Kazien, which can definitely break immersion, for the most part Kazien was able to dynamically bounce between conversations in a way that felt eerily real.
Event has a gorgeous art style and a breathtaking visual aesthetic. Every small environmental detail has been, aside from a few exceptions, beautifully rendered in a way that made the Nautilus feel rooted in a specific time and place. Rummaging through the dark corridors and hazily lit rooms of the ship was a claustrophobic experience. Every poster, note, and vinyl record slip adds to a wholly immersive experience.
A large part of keeping me so immersed was the excellent soundtrack and sound design. The soundtrack is a haunting audio experience that perfectly complements the dilapidated setting and masterfully captures the mood. As I progressed further into the story, the soundtrack stood right beside me and guided me along a visual and auditory feast. The soundtrack combines synthetic sounds prominent in the eighties and nineties and adds a modern spin to it. It’s a soundtrack that feels both out of time and in time. Often times the music and soundtrack to a game are easily overlooked and under credited, but it’s undeniable that the excellent sound design only elevates an already immersive experience.
I did encounter some minor technical issues like framerate dips, but those were sporadic and never took me out of the game. One major issue that I encountered was the load times. The load times were unhurried, taking up to a minute and thirty seconds to load into the game. One point during the load my game crashed, although my save was still intact.
My real gripe with the game is its price. $20 is a steep asking price for a game with less than two hours of content. There is repay value, for sure, but not enough to somehow justify the staggering cost. If the genre interests you and you’re itching for an atmospheric title that’ll provide you a couple hours of gameplay, then I’d suggest taking the dive. But, if you are the least bit hesitant about investing $20 in Event then I’d recommend holding out for a sale.
Event is an excellent experience through and through. I was thoroughly invested in the well beings of the characters and I was left satisfied with the ending. The game did offer a lot of very interesting questions that were left unanswered. The whole experience was thought provoking and fascinating. The use of Kaizen as a literal AI companion was wonderfully executed and added a lot to my enjoyment of the game. Engaging in banter and thoughtful conversation was refreshing and novel, even if it was a bit janky at times. The puzzle elements irked me on more than one occasion, but some puzzles were quite a bit of fun to go through.
Event is a great experience that couples excellent visuals and an atmospheric sound design. If you enjoy the “walking simulator” denomination of games, then this is an excellent addition into the art house scene that the genre is known for.
4 out of 5
+ Great Soundtrack
+ Excellent Story
+ Beautiful Visuals
– Short for the price
– Limited Gameplay