Indie Game Spotlight: Gateways, Lone Survivor, Papers Please
This week I wanna do something a little different. Over the past few weeks, I’ve played a lot of indie games to quell the drought of new releases in the early months of the year. In particular, there were three games that deserve attention and rather than split them up into separate articles I figured it made more sense to talk about them all at once especially with the Steam and GOG.com summer sales in full swing. The three games are Gateways, Lone Survivor and Papers, Please.
Outside of Catherine and Portal 2 (both 2011 games), it’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy a well-made puzzle game. Gateways is a 2D sidescrolling puzzle platformer that I’d best describe as a mix between Portal and Super Metroid. The comparison is fully justified as it rips mechanics directly from Portal however it uses the portal mechanics in unique and interesting ways. Valve’s puzzle game emphasized placing cubes and redirecting energy beams, Gateways is more about character placement and timing. Try to picture the flash version of Portal made into a full game and you get Gateways.
Gateways really comes into its own once the player acquires the portal gun variants which include a resizing gun that lets you change size, a gun that rotates the room and finally, a gun that sends you back in time. All of these variants come together to create some of the most mind-boggling puzzles I’ve ever seen. All of this could fall apart if it weren’t for the cleverly implemented hint system, which lets the player trade collectible orbs to buy their way through a puzzle. This forces the player to explore every corner of the map to find every orb which naturally fits the open-ended structure.
There isn’t much of a story as the player controls a scientist who’s become trapped in his own lab and the enemies don’t have variety. The combat isn’t integrated with the puzzles but it doesn’t stand in the way of them either. My only legitimate criticism is that the final puzzle is way too difficult. Even after looking up the answer online, actually getting the solution to work took close to an hour.
While it may not be as well designed as Portal if you’re looking for game that will scratch the same itch, then I would highly recommend Gateways. The game is available on GOG.com and on Steam.
I find it tragically ironic that the survival horror genre of video games closely resembles the shuffling corpses in which the games often star. However in recent years, survival horror has made a bit of a comeback with games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast, but you can comfortable add this next game to this list. Lone Survivor is a return to true survival horror with careful decision-making, limited resources and a cryptic story, all of this of course, with a 2D sidescroller twist.
Lone Survivor begins with a nameless man in a surgical mask (referred to as “You”) waking up from a nightmare in an apartment. The world has been ravaged by an unspecified disease and as far as “You” are aware, there are no other survivors; the only form of life are the monsters roaming around. You have limited supplies and must explore your apartment for food and ammo. You are responsible for managing your fatigue, hunger and constantly dwindling mental health.
The gameplay is a triumphant return to the traditional survival-horror mechanics that were pioneered by the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises. It’s refreshing to play a game that legitimately makes me concerned about managing my resources from start to finish. If you don’t plan your actions carefully it can become quite easy to become trapped. Managing my mental health, hunger and supply of ammo is a tricky puzzle and it adds to the tension of the gameplay. The burden of responsibility is constantly on the player with no hand-holding whatsoever. Lone Survivor excels at using survival mechanics to their fullest potential.
The narrative is completely ambiguous and even with your complete attention you’ll struggle to figure out what is going on. Lone Survivor is caught in between the interpretive narrative of Limbo and the character driven crptic plot of Silent Hill. While the cryptic narrative enhances the feeling of isolation, it comes at the cost of having an emotional attachment to the main character. It’s one of those games that requires a second playthrough to understand the bigger picture.
It’s not as well executed as the gameplay but if you dig deep enough, there’s actually a profound story. While I didn’t find Lone Survivor to be a particularly scary game, it was most certainly a spooky game. The atmosphere was consistent throughout the game with an excellent combination of sound design, lighting and some downright creepy art direction.
While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Lone Survivor is an excellent addition to the classic survival-horror genre. If you have any fondness for the older Resident Evil and Silent Hill games or if you’re simply looking for a legitimately scary game with lots of replayability, then I recommend you check out Lone Survivor. Lone Survivor is available on Steam, GOG.com and on the Playstation Store.
Most video games are all about empowerment; make the player feel awesome. Kill the dragon, rescue the princess, save the world, etc. Very few video games have ever gone in the opposite direction and made the player feel terrible. One might argue that horror games subvert empowerment but I counter-argue that when we play horror games, part of us wants to be scared. I suppose all of this is why Papers, Please is so hard for me to categorize because it’s unlike any video game I’ve ever played.
You control an immigration inspector on the border of a fictional dystopian country called Arstotzka. It is your job to verify the passports and immigration documents of travelling citizens and either permit them entry or send them away. For each person you correctly process, you receive money which you need to support your family. For every mistake, your pay is deducted and while this all may sound simple enough, it gets complicated.
After each day, the rules will slightly change and something resembling a narrative will begin to develop. Papers, Please does an incredible job gradually introducing you to the mechanics before slowly but surely increasing the difficulty. There are only so many hours in each day and if you want to keep your family alive you’ll have to be brutally efficient. As a result, you’ll find yourself faced with difficult decisions. Do I let the innocent wife join her husband and risk my family’s livelihood? Everyone who plays Papers, Please will come away from it with a unique perspective.
Papers, Please accomplishes in a matter hours what all the games with moral choices, branching paths and alternate endings failed to do, it legitimately showed me what I would do in a certain scenario and made me second guess my own decisions. After hours of playing I asked myself “was that really the right thing to do?” This is an innate property in an interactive medium that very few video games have taken advantage of.
The art direction is a perfect blend of red, black, brown and grey. Never before has a video game been so simultaneously gritty and colourful. Papers, Please reeks of Orwellian influence and uses minimalist techniques in game design to create a focused experience. The cold and brutal country of Arstotzka is frighteningly believable in the most subtle of ways.
Paper, Please is a phenomenal demonstration of the power of the video games. It places you in a difficult scenario and asks you to act in a way that you deem morally correct. I recommend this game to anyone who is capable of dragging a mouse across a computer screen. It’s a well-put together game and worth every penny. Papers, Please is available on Steam and GOG.com.Versions Played (For all 3 games): PC.