Wednesday, June 19, 2024

That's Not Creepy AT ALL... Freeride Demo Microreview

And so we bid farewell to Next Fest as it fades into the summer haze. Never fear! It shall return, when the nights draw close and the leaves turn copper and gold. 

October 14 to be precise. I bet you can't wait.

Before that happens, though, there's still one last demo to praise. Or condemn. Or shrug and dismiss with an "Eh... It was okay, I guess..."

I'd pick one of those reponses if I knew exactly how I felt about Freeride. But I don't. I have no decided opinion on it at all, just a bunch of emotional reactions that don't add up to any kind of considered position.

Of all the six demos I picked to play this time, Freeride was by far the oddest and the one I found the most confounding. The thumbnail description on the store page calls it an "oddball RPG" but that really doesn't come close.

Here's the elevator pitch: Ride a train, talk to people, help them out, learn something about yourself. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, I didn't find it so simple. Not at all.

The game opens with the protagonist, named Proto, not coincidentally, I'm sure, waiting for a train. A dog runs onto the platform and barks. Proto, who we'll call "you" from now on, since the official line is that "Freeride is a game about YOU", gets a text from their friend Ula. So far, so normal.

You can reply to the text but it doesn't seem to make much difference what you say. The game does apparently keep a careful note of "The ways you interact with the game on its most fundamental levels", so whether you behave like a good friend or a smart-ass may well have consequences later but all of that happens behind the curtain so you won't know. Not yet.

You will in the end, though. Freeride is more than just a game. It's a "Personality Test". You get a "Personality Outcome" when it's over. I never got that far but I'll take their word for it.

Back at the station, a train arrives. A blue, floaty person appears, sweeps Proto up in a big hug, then apologizes for mistaking them for someone else. The blue apparition introduces herself as Lepida and explains that she's "A Spirit". She asks if you want to go on an adventure. 

On my first run I automatically said "Yes" to everything because why wouldn't you? It's a video game. That's why you're playing. I was curious what would happen if I said "No", though.

Not much, it seems. When I started writing this post, I briefly began a new game just to refresh my memory of how it begins and to take some extra screenshots. That time I tried saying "No" to everything. I refused to get on the train, I refused to have an adventure. I left the platform and tried run away from the scary blue ghost. 

It turns out you can say no and you can not get on the train but if you do you still can't leave the first screen and nothing else happens, so it's not like any of the choices you're offered are real. Once again, though, it's possible your reluctance, fear and stubborn refusal to co-operate might be factored into the game's assessment of your personality but if you really stuck with your negativity and stayed on the platform I don't see how you'd ever find out what that assessment was. I think the developers missed a trick by not letting the game end there and giving you a Personalty Outcome based on your refusal to play along.

Freeride doesn't come with a lot of explanations although there are some fairly detailed instructions on how to do certain things. Most of the gameplay seems to involve talking to people, which requires nothing more than clicking on dialog options, so mechanically that's easy enough. Working out what to do about anything anyone says, though...

There's also the option to move things telekinetically, which is very fiddly, not at all intuitive and comes with a lengthy tutorial. Even after being taken through the process step by step, I still found it clunky and awkward but I could just about manage to get things where I wanted them to go.

Armed with the ability to talk to people and pick things up and move them about with my mind, I made my way through all the carriages of the train, talking to everyone I saw, until the train stopped and everyone got out. By this point I was so confused I had no idea what was going on. 

There seemed to be some kind of argument between Lepida, who I'd learned had some kind of official position in the railway hierarchy, and several passengers. There was some kind of crisis or at least potential crisis that required someone to do something and to do it they had to get through a sentient door that wanted some kind of bribe before it would open. 

At the time, we were all off the train, milling around in some sort of floating mall, with an arcade and shops and I was feeling so disconcerted and muddled I just wanted it all to stop. It didn't help that everything was the color of a bag of Haribo and looked like the most sugared-up '90s cartoon you ever saw.

If I had to sum the Freeride demo up in a single word, that word would be "Overwhelming". I didn't hate it. I didn't even dislike it. I found it intriguing and I'd have liked to know more if only it hadn't gotten to be Too Much too quickly.

The graphics, garish as they were, had their own neon appeal. The narrative was clever, curious and inviting. The dialog was sparky, spiky, spooky and it sizzled. The characters seemed well worth getting to know. 

Even though I was finding the environment somewhat enervating, I'd most likely have carried on for longer if I hadn't gotten stuck in a very traditional adventure game fashion. I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do to get that door to open and until it did I could tell I wasn't going any further.

In a regular adventure game, I'd either have kept on plugging away until I figured it out or I'd have googled for hints or a walk-through. In the Freeride demo, I took being stuck as the perfect excuse to stop playing, which was what I did.

It was the only one of the six demos I didn't finish and at twenty-three minutes it was the shortest of my play-throughs. I don't know how much further into the game the demo lets you go but I have to imagine it's a lot further than I got.

The demo is still playable even after Next Fest has ended. I'm going to keep it installed. I don't exactly feel I'm done with Freeride just yet but I do think I'd have to be in a very particular frame of mind to play it again. It absolutely, definitely has something - I just don't know what it is or whether I want it.

I'm not even sure if I want to find out...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide