Thirty-seconds into the trailer and indie game developer Tris is seen getting into scuffles over pizza, punching masked goons in the middle of Threeson’s streets, and smelling up Starluck Coffee toilets.
Take a quick peek at ATONE’s internet history, and you’ll find that the comparisons to Hyper Light Drifter have abounded. Pester Wildboy Studios about it now and it insists that after a hands-on, you’d find ATONE to be much more than a vivid color scheme.
Or a scene with a lake. In fact you’d find influences big and small ranging anywhere from Samurai Jack to the minimalism of Dave Chenell and regardless of your opinion, the game now sits with a successful trailer debut, a progress bar that reads 40% complete and an estimated release of 2019.
ATONE’s is a Rebecca Haigh co-penned, four-chaptered narrative nestled in Norse at the crux of which stands The Elder Tree; a once mystically sacred yet now horribly perverse object, many years after the fall of its protecting race.
Normally this would have been the status quo were it not for its Chieftain who decided to leave for his daughter a glowing gemstone in parting. A childhood marred by nightmares and many strange visions later, Estra pushes for the center of the forests of Isa, Midgard in search of answers.
In a nutshell Wildboy would characterize the ensuing 2D puzzle/story adventure as one of wit, words and weaponry. Wit of course to solve its network of riddles that are stated to incrementally grow in challenge, reveal many secrets and offer failure as a viable option.
These riddles might fall anywhere between being story or character based, the former of which would likely provide you with clues to not impede progress. The latter kind, meanwhile, relating itself to various NPCs needing assistance through Estra’s run.
Judging by glimpses of the trailer and proffered media alone the puzzles largely appear to be logical in nature, making use of runic alphabets and iconography characteristic of Germanic history.
Wildboy adds that these will primarily involve the trial/error manipulation of shapes and contraptions in favor of unlocking say, hidden abilities or obscure passageways, while going so far as to cause you to lose out on key ‘answers’ should you fail to do so smartly.
If that sounds like a daunting proposition, ATONE also cites conversations with the inhabitants of Midgard as another of Estra’s dominant obstacles. Never mind the fact that the game’s heavily stylized cast of characters comes with varying motives, but with twists to be had, personalities to be discerned and choices to be made, cutscenes and cross-character talk will be aplenty.
‘Not only will choices affect the fate of ATONE’s various NPC’s, but several of the important decisions will come right before combat,’ explains the team. These will be provided for by something called Zialogues, zoomed-in conversations that are meant to provide emotional insight into the discoursing parties.
Guiding Estra in her wanderings through the expanse of Midgard will be her father’s journal, serving both as a log of activities and a trigger of flashback-like hallucinations, the latter of which will progressively lend context to the unfurling plot. Elements like map totems will be of further guidance in directing her steps.
It’s only natural then for one to resume mulling over ATONE’s form of art that despite being its most divisive aspect, seems vital to holding the above concoction together. It’s not hard to appreciate the mysterious neon trickling across the faces of its tombs, statues and characters, while every sharp angle attempts to sidestep the traditional pixel-structure as Wildboy puts it.
‘Nothing is reused or repeated for the sake of convenience,’ it adds, ‘with artist Ben Costeloe ensuring that every hand-drawn nook and cranny possesses details that are distinct both from a distance as well as up close.’
If you were to assume that such a setting makes for an appropriate hack n’ slash, you wouldn’t be too far from the original idea. Yet how the New Zealand based ensemble decided upon rhythm-based combat being the better complement to ATONE’s layered nature, remains an enigma.
‘Music is a key aspect of the combat as it provides a more immersive experience,’ they explain. ‘Like hitting keys on Guitar Hero makes you feel like you’re really playing a guitar? That is the atmosphere we wanted to create with our battles.’
Dueling characters are demonstrated as charging-up in dramatic fashion before players are forced to quickly mash the right button ordering as they appear on screen. The sequences are touted to escalate in difficulty, compensated by checkpoints, attainable power-ups, apples that extend life points and other assorted battle items.
Sure, Luminist’s score will come with its expected array of tunes and instruments reminiscent of the Viking-era but synthesizers from the 1980s? Those too.
It all sounds great on paper then and looks the part too, but really was ancient Nordic culture mandatory to a retelling of this classic tale of self-discovery? Wildboy tends to argue in the affirmative, defending the mythology’s vast pool of stories that dabble in the human disposition towards love and loss as an effective tool in creating something entirely original.
Suffice it to say that ATONE was at this year’s Media Indie Exchange, E3, where the puzzles were criticized as overly difficult, the prompts insufficient and the battle system not very comprehensive, all of which is currently being worked into an updated build of the game.
This will most likely be playable alongside a planned early-2019 Kickstarter campaign for its Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release, after remarkably starting life out as an art project in the dorms of New Zealand’s Massey University that is.
Today’s title is one for the family, along the lines of edutainment in fact, so expect none of Jeff Goldblum, goats, or any of that Jurassic Park hubbub.
Turns out a Voidmonger called Metnal decides to set loose his underworld upon the island of Az’kalar, obliterate its inhabitants and take away the sun.