Always short of a few bob and looking for something a bit different, each week I scour the internet for fun, interesting, or just plain curious Indie Freebies. This week’s highlighted titles are: That Day We Left, an early access narrative-based survival adventure inspired by the conflict in Syria; and The Rabbit and the Owl, a demo for a super chilled-out co-op puzzle platformer.
That Day We Left
The Syrian refugee crisis continues to be a highly divisive and emotive issue and not something you’d imagine someone basing a video game on. But that’s exactly what Italian indie developer Inner Void have chosen to do with That Day We Left. Currently in early access, it’s a graphical adventure inspired by the recent events in the Levant.
Set in a fictional Middle Eastern country ravaged by civil war, you play Rashid – a widower fleeing with his family to Europe in hope of being granted asylum. The story commences with your car breaking down on a desert road and the group left with little choice but to continue the rest of their dangerous and arduous journey on foot. As the head of the family, it’s up to you to protect and guide them.
Very much in the vein of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, That Day We Left revolves around a branching narrative that reflects the decisions you make. As well as point-and-click exploration segments, the game continually presents you with a sequence of conversations, dilemmas, and moments of peril.
How do you react to the concerns and objections of your relatives? Who’s side, if any, should you take in their arguments? What course of action should you take at the military checkpoint up ahead? Should you search that abandoned building for essential supplies? Can you trust the other refugees you happen across? How much food do you allow the family to consume each day?
In each case, how you respond not only affects the destinies of your family and those you encounter, but also their general attitudes towards you and one another. It’s a hell of burden to bear, and the choices required are far from being straightforward. And that hot-headed son of yours is certainly a difficult one to keep under control!
The early access demo only offers around 30 minutes of gameplay, but That Day We Left promises to be a compelling and emotionally-engaging experience full of tense moments and meaningful interactions with believable and empathetic characters, each with their own back story as well as beliefs, fears, hopes, perspectives, and priorities. Much like Papers, Please, it’s intentionally thought provoking and attempts to present the plight of the Syrian refugees by placing you firmly in their shoes. It also features some lovely and highly immersive low-poly environments with great use of cinematic camera angles, plus a stirring and atmospheric original soundtrack.
Inner Void are currently seeking funding for the project on Kickstarter. The full game will present the whole journey, from leaving your home right through to entering a foreign country. There will also be a survival-style resource management system, only really hinted at in the demo, that will have a profound influence on the storyline.
Their aim is to provide a realistic depiction of the political and humanitarian situation caused by the Syrian war and to base in-game events on true-life stories. The developers will also donate a proportion of the game’s profits to charity.
The Rabbit and the Owl
Moving on to something a little less solemn, Formal Sheep’s work-in-progress demo for the The Rabbit and the Owl showcases a rather elegant co-op puzzle platformer.
Set in Yril, an enigmatic monochrome world haunted by echoes of the past and the remnants of an ancient civilisation, the eponymous heroes exist in opposite yet intertwined realities. It’s all very yin and yang, with the white Rabbit occupying the dark plane and the black Owl the light plane.
For each screen-sized level, the two protagonists must assist each other in order to reach their corresponding emblems. They can run and jump, climb ladders, ride wind columns, and interact with a variety of objects to open/close pathways and reposition platforms.
Fairly standard stuff, but what makes The Rabbit and the Owl a bit different is the characters’ ability to place blocks within each other’s zones. This can only be done within a limited radius, and the one creating the cube becomes immobile for the duration of its existence. However, once set down, the other character is free to push or pull the block to where it’s needed; either using it as a step for reaching high places or for triggering pressure pads.
It’s surprisingly deceptive in its simplicity, the puzzles being far more complex than they initially appear. The demo only features the first eight levels of the game, which essentially acts as a tutorial, but the last few screens certainly require some pondering and experimentation, Though not enough to cause frustration, the tight interdependence between the two individuals does place a strong emphasis on the order in which they act. You can draft in a friend to help out (you need at least one gamepad), but the very relaxed pace means that playing alone isn’t an issue at all.
But where The Rabbit and the Owl really shines is in the overall vibe. There are gorgeous painterly backdrops of tranquil forests and crumbling cities, along with leaves, snow flakes, and rain drops gracefully descending in the foreground. Silhouetted birds flying into the distance. And a fabulously calming and evocative piano orchestra score. It’s just so fantastically chilled-out and soothing to play.
Formal Sheep will be launching a Kickstarter campaign on 1st September and will be exhibiting The Rabbit and the Owl at PAX West in the same week. It’s already been Greenlit by the Steam community and slated for release sometime in 2017. Interestingly, we’re told that the full game will feature an interpretive story delivered in the form of myths, letters, and visual glimpses into the past that will tell the tale of what happened to the people of Yril and why Rabbit and Owl came to be here.