Sometimes you’ve got to be cruel to be kind. Mozart would probably never had written some of the great music that he did if his father hadn’t been such a controlling git. Similarly, no one became a great writer, programmer or artist by ignoring all criticism, no matter what Tumblr might tell you. You might feel that this opening paragraph gives away the end point of the review pretty quickly, and you’d be right, but most of you probably scroll straight down to look at the score first anyway, so let’s saddle up the psychedelic ponies and take a look at Yeli Orog.
Yeli Orog is the first game to come out of a new indie developer who is calling themselves…Yeli Orog. Other than that, there’s not really much information available online about the developers, no real names, no website, no social media, just the name Yeli Orog and an e-mail address to contact in the credit screen of the game. It seems a little strange that someone would go to the obvious effort that creating this game entailed then not bother to try and make more information available to the world at large.
The story of Yeli Orog follows an archaeologist who has been sent to aid a colleague who dug up an odd stone related to an ancient people. You get a 10-page memo and are basically told a backstory about the stone and that your companion is going to be an arsehole because he’s been alone for over a year up a mountain. Strange things start to happen as you prepare for your journey to a mountain somewhere in Spain, and it’s not long before the whole world falls apart around you.
The first thing that is a noticeable problem with the game is that you are immediately asked to read a 10-page long text dump that seems to have very little to do with what is going on. Sure, it gives you some vague historical information about the stone that’s been discovered, but it feels like a better writer could probably have conveyed the same amount of information in a much smaller package. Regardless of the information’s importance to the plot, a 10-page document being the first thing you see in a game is a mark of bad design at its finest.
The main gameplay of Yeli Orog follows a similar model to games like Myst, which is very clearly an influence. You navigate around the environments by clicking on either the left or the right of your screen to change the direction you’re looking in and clicking on screen elements to either interact with objects or move around. The main difference between the two, at least in a visual sense, is that instead of pre-rendered computer graphics interspersed with FMV moments, most of Yeli Orog is pre-rendered video graphics with occasional effects done over the top.
The visual quality of the video is pretty high, and most of the transitions fit together okay. Clearly a lot of footage was taken from a lot of different angles to get the game to look the way it does. Somewhere online the creator even said that they had to shoot the different scenes about 8 different times in each area to get enough shots for it to work smoothly. The question this brings up is: “Was it worth it?”. The answer will probably depend on the individual. Even as someone who is a massive fan of FMV, most people are probably willing to admit that at some point in the process of creating a video game, you’re going to need to use computer graphics instead of recorded video.
The main issue with the exclusive use of video graphics is that the game is incredibly short, lasting only around 50 minutes, even if you get stuck at times. Obviously, if more time had been taken to make the game, which was apparently finished in under a year, the game itself could have been longer, but perhaps length isn’t to the game’s benefit. Many a first game project has failed because the game was too ambitious, and honestly, 50 minutes for £2.50 is not a bad trade-off, all things considered.
So Yeli Orog is a visual, explorative puzzle game. The key question then possibly is: ‘What are the puzzles like?’. Mostly, these puzzles involve figuring out where to click or what to click on to continue. You could argue that technically all puzzles are like this, but here it’s much more barebones than the nicely dressed up version you’re likely to find in most puzzle games. For an example, one of the puzzles involved going through a portal that you activated by changing a disk from red to blue, then you had to click on a symbol to make it glow, change the disk back to blue and go back through the portal. Nothing here had to be particularly figured out. Everything was just done by clicking on things that you found in the environment when you came across them.
The worst section in the game by far is a moment where it goes from an atmospheric, horror puzzle game straight to a badly done light gun game. At one point you get trapped in your own apartment, you find a ghost gun (Spirit gun? Tokyo Underground, is that you!?) because of course you do, then you have to travel around your apartment shooting ghosts before you go insane and get a game over. This is the only time in the entire game that you do this, and it’s also the only time that you seem to be able to get a game over by standing around and not doing anything. The shift in gameplay style is mental, and because you’re trapped in a dark room, you’ll probably end up dying a few times before managing to get through it.
-Spoilers for a late game puzzle-
The final puzzle in the game, also coincidentally the only actual ‘puzzle’ in the game, is completely obtuse as well. You are presented with a series of symbols that react with your keyboard by typing in random squiggles and stuff. You are supposed to go to the smartphone you found, look at an article about the upcoming carnival, and use a random line about costumes in that segment to figure out how to continue with the game. This ‘clue’ makes no sense in the game, even reading through everything on the phone wouldn’t give you much help, and the only reason we even know that’s what you’re supposed to do is because the dev told people in the Steam discussions about it. Honestly, even if you do figure out the clue, good luck finding symbols that correspond to the clues.
While the game does set out a good atmosphere to get the player scared, there is little to no payoff at all. You’ll find yourself absorbed by the well produced video graphics and the atmospheric sound effects but pulled immediately out again by the poor gameplay and the lacklustre, abstract story. While atmosphere is both nice and important in a horror game, it cannot be the only thing that holds the entire experience together, which is very much the case here.
Developer: Yeli Orog
Publisher: Yeli Orog
Release Date: 13th July 2018
Want more creepy indie gameplay? Check out our review of Graveyard Keeper.
You can get Yeli Orog on Steam here.