It was gratifying to see over 50 works in progress by independent video game developers at the recent DreamHack convention in Anaheim, CA. In its inaugural West Coast appearance, the event that showcases online competition also helped promote games like Undying and Kynseed, which I cover below, as well as Cepheus Protocol, Adventures of Chris, Delphyq and WaveBreak, which appear in other posts.
The trailer for this action-adventure survival game by Vanimals promises an emotional story at the heart of a disturbing journey through a nightmare world. As a fan of The Last of Us, that's hard to pass up. Indeed this tale of a mother's struggle to save herself and her son from an encroaching zombie apocalypse is an appealing premise amid the allure of a stylish setting.
The mother in fact has been infected by the zombie virus so is racing against the clock not only to find a cure or at least to find someone who can help her cure herself, but also to locate a safe place for her son to live and for her to teach him what he needs to learn to stay alive. The boy starts very young and inexperienced, and needs to be taught how to fight, craft, cook, scavenge, etc.
The demo actually starts out as a kind of escort mission as players control the mother with her son in tow. Thankfully, though, he is not much of a burden. I was especially impressed with a scripted moment that saw his mom instruct him to hide and the boy dutifully disappearing into a crawlspace amid rubble. The ability to fight off undead without such worry was appreciated.
In this regard, he'll prove useful even before he learns other skills. His smaller frame will allow him to access areas that his mother cannot, such as crawlspaces or vents, whether to hide or to help solve puzzles or take advantage of co-op opportunities. The demo was an early portion of the game, so the boy's capabilities were limited as he and his mother explored the city.
Urban and suburban areas are among the different zones or biomes found in the semi-open game world. Each has its own distinct activities and events, such as scavenging in the city and suburbs or hunting/gathering in forests. Survival is key regardless of zone, as players will need to carefully manage the health, hunger, thirst, stamina and rest of both mother and child.
The child's happiness and morale will also require the player's attention. For example, if the boy becomes unhappy, he'll be less likely to want to help his mother. It's an intriguing element (that might pique the interest of fans of The Thing video game) that could add an interesting dynamic. If taken care of, her son could be an asset, including during combat.
There are melee weapons and guns, and both mother and son can use any weapon. However, the game and demo begins with the mother protecting them both and she proves capable especially with found objects. Combat is relatively simple to begin with and easy to control. Players eventually can craft weapons and ammunition, as well as improve or strengthen them, as they otherwise can break.
The demo overall was a very playable introduction to the game that showed off basic elements of combat, exploration and story. It was easy to pick up and the highly stylized settings and character models showed a compelling aesthetic from a slight isometric viewpoint. The only issue that I recall was impassable stairs without obstructions, but this was an early build and will be addressed.
The game's biggest challenges will include finding resources and fighting zombies as well as rescuing survivors and facing factions. But Undying is narrative heavy and will be driven by a story that is dramatic and emotional. The story does hold a lot of promise, and the demo was an enjoyable and promising introduction to a game I look forward to hearing more about.
The premise of Kynseed – where players can experience generations of the same family – proved too alluring to pass up, especially when the setting is as picturesque as the land of Quill. Indeed PixelCount Studios includes veterans of Fable games intent on creating charming, eccentric and humorous adventures in a beautifully hand-crafted world.
Gameplay is intended to allow players the opportunity to control a character that ages while they farm, run a shop, explore, etc. and make decisions that influence generations. Gamers can then play as their character's children to expand on the family's legacy and reputation in the unique villages, valleys and meadows of the world as well as the mysterious fairy tale forests.
Villages have their own customs, traditions and festivals as well as villagers with their own attitudes ranging from cheery to humorless. Players can use this information to form relationships and succeed at business. But if gamers want certain materials to craft better items or create more potent recipes, they might have to fight denizens of forest – monsters of folklore or Fae folk – to get them.
I made the most of my limited time with the demo, considering attendees were waiting in the wings and the person at the booth was preoccupied. Importantly, I believe I heard that some of your choices could take years off your life, perhaps due in part to the mystical nature of the Kynseed from which your family tree grows. That would help propel time forward in a game about generations of the same family.
That said, I didn't play long enough to experience such choices. My time with the game was limited to exploring Quill on foot and, happily, on pigback. The pig is easy to control and moves at a fast enough pace that riding one is a joy. Walking certainly is a fine option, especially when you'll want to take your time to enjoy the bucolic setting, but exploring via pig just makes everything better.
Speaking of the verdant scenery, players will rarely find more beautiful wilderness. Pastoral imagery of tall trees amid green meadows of flowers bursting with color and occasionally punctuated by deep blue streams or pristine ponds creates a sublime vision. Subtle animation of foliage blown by a breeze or water gently undulating, plus various insects, animals or petals and leaves, all add to the wonderful aesthetic.
Structures, both inside and out, are just as thoughtfully rendered throughout the landscape. NPCs likewise reflect distinct features and clothing. My overall impression after my brief time with the demo is of world building that is consistently of a high quality. Moving freely between areas felt like an organic, complete whole, though a map or other guidance would have helped keep me from getting lost.
Now, for all I know these exist in the demo but I didn't find them and was without assistance. And admittedly I like to wander instead of follow a path. So I did come across some characters outside what likely was a farm or other large dwelling. I enjoyed the dialog, which involved one of them warning me that I'd better disappear before the owner/proprietor came back as they would not appreciate finding me there.
I didn't know what that was about but was curious and excited to find out, though of course I didn't stick around and proceed to explore some more. I didn't fish when I came across a pond, though someone before me did, to comical effect as they ran around with the fishing line still firmly submerged in the pond.
As mentioned I had precious little time with this demo though I did enjoy exploring the small corner of Quill that I managed to piggyback around in. If those few minutes, and the early access trailer, are any indication, Kynseed should be a game that deserves more attention and a deeper dive by players interested in the kind of experience such am RPG might be able to offer.
For more photos from the show floor, visit here.
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