PolyKnight Games' debut title began as a college project, before turning into the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. After being successfully funded back in December 2014, the project grew from a small PC title to one that would be making its debut on multiple consoles too. The flying title has a heavy emphasis on exploration and the choice to further the narrative when you please, citing character-driven titles like Journey
, and Grow Home
as influences, but there are a couple of gameplay issues that stop this title from reaching the same success of its peers.
The Inverse is a strange world. Whereas Earth's residents live on the outside of the globe and gravity pulls things inwards, gravity is reversed in the Inverse. Instead, the residents live on the inside of the globe and gravity pushes everything outwards. The megalithic ruins that dot the surface are the only reminder of the Ancient Gods who once inhabited the world, but its curious residents have been unable to venture past the locked gates that separate the different lands and the Inverse is slowly dying as a result. Now an archaeologist has found a way to unlock those gates. Players assume the role of his cartographer, able to fly through skies, dive into the oceans, traverse the gates and, most importantly, discover the secrets that time forgot.
The game's world may be strange but it is also beautiful. It is here where the influence of games like Journey
are very obvious, or even something like ABZÛ
. Bright colours leap out of the screen and it makes the dying world seem friendly and welcoming. The accompanying music also does its best to provide a relaxing atmosphere, even going as far as providing pleasant audio feedback when you perform actions like bringing plants back to life or successfully flying through the large vertebrae of a whale skeleton. Players are free to explore the world at their own leisure, with no time limit on any of the "missions", which can be started as soon as you enter a new world or can be left until after you feel like you've explored everywhere. This makes the gameplay seem extremely relaxing, especially as it's almost impossible to die.
Following the surface of the water this perfectly takes practice.
The airframes (ships) that players fly are very resistant to damage. It's a good job that the airframes are robust because sometimes the flying can be really frustrating, something not helped by the controls. Moving the airframe left, right, up and down is controlled by the left joystick, but acceleration and airframe rotation are mapped to the right joystick. There is a stalling flight mode that allows players to slow down the pace, and a few bubble-like perches that hold the airframe in position while you look around, but otherwise the airframe is never able to stop or hover on cue. It takes a while to get used to the basic controls before you start perfecting tight turns and changing direction quickly, and there will likely be more than a few accidents at the start.
There is no narrative that tells players what to do or how to do it; it is up to you to work that out and that's often far from obvious. Performing certain actions will sometimes trigger a cutscene showing where you need to go, but it is up to you to then find that location. Your companion archaeologist is only so much help. His dialogue will provide some clues, but not enough to help you to solve puzzles, and it will repeat if you've already heard all of the few clues he has to give. Your ability to work out your next move is often hampered by the aforementioned inability to slow down and just survey an area — you're never able to just pause and take things in. This is especially frustrating in small areas where not only are you trying to work out your next move, you're also trying to avoid colliding with the world. The lack of direction will prove too much for some, even if the solutions to the puzzles are ultimately quite simple to perform.
Just don't hit the walls
Sometimes you'll need to resort to trial and error, but there's a distinct sense of satisfaction when you finally work out your next move. The issue then is keeping it in sight. If you misjudge your flight angle and hit the scenery, you'll be thrown off at a weird and disorientating angle. Once you've regained control, you then have to work out exactly where you're flying. This isn't terribly easy when there is no true up or down thanks to the nature of the world, but at least level design is diverse enough that the landmarks can help. When the world's sun goes out and the level is shrouded in darkness, though, everything takes on the same dark hue and even using landmarks becomes difficult. It's very easy to get lost, especially with the lack of an in-game map, and the difficulty to get your bearings during flight may even cause some people motion sickness.
The thing that drives the game forward is exploration, but there's not a lot to find apart from relics, which look like playing cards, and the wind that is dotted around the level. The levels may be pretty, but that will only entertain you for so long before they start to feel empty, and they certainly show little signs of the residents that supposedly continue to inhabit the world. The Sunchamber level does also have accordion blooms that must be found for an achievement, but unless you're following a guide, the chances are you won't even know what you're looking for — we found nine of them without even realising.
One of the easier to find relics
A lot of the time, the wind trails will end at a relic or some other point of interest, so it is worth following them even if you're not fussed about collecting every glowing white dot. Relics reveal the history of the world, with the exception of a few multi-part relics that unlock new airframes, which must then be purchased with wind. You'll need a fair amount of wind to unlock the airframes, and some upgrades like the ability to swim underwater, but you won't need to collect everything. The problem is that the differences between the earlier airframes are negligible. Only the airframes unlocked in later levels show marked differences, and the chances are that by the time you've unlocked them, you'll have very little left to do and little opportunity to use them.
The real stars of the show are the "boss encounters". In each world is a god that is responsible for preventing it from dying. In keeping with the peaceful nature of the game, there is no conflict involved with these encounters. Instead, players must solve a series of puzzles that will eventually lead to the freeing of the gods and a release of their wind energy. Their unique designs mean that the gods are the most memorable parts of the whole game, even if you spend far too long trying to work out what you need to do to help them.
Following the Leviathan
Unsurprisingly, the achievements are mostly centered around the boss encounters (one for each of the game's five bosses), as well as the game's collectibles. You'll need to find all of the relics, and some of those are hidden away exceptionally well. You'll also need to have collected enough wind to unlock all of the airframes and find all of the blooms in the Sunchamber. Finally, there are a few random tasks to be completed in the Sunchamber, such as flying into the world's sun. With a guide, none of these achievements will be particularly challenging. Without a guide, you'll be searching for quite a while before you find everything the game requires you to see.
takes place in a strange world, but it is also beautiful. The bright colours make the world seem friendly and welcoming, and the accompanying music provides a relaxing atmosphere. Players are free to explore the world at their own leisure, meaning that the gameplay should be relaxing too, but there are a couple of gameplay problems that sometimes get in the way. It takes a while to get used to the flight controls, and the lack of ability to halt your flight means that you're never able to just pause to take anything in, especially when you're trying to work out your next move. The lack of direction will prove too much for some, as will the small amount of things to do in the world. This game unfortunately doesn't quite reach the heights of the peers that provide its inspiration, although some will be happy just to find a title that allows them to experience it at their own pace.
- Player-driven gameplay with no time limit
- Beautiful world
- Memorable boss encounters
- Flying is occasionally frustrating
- Too little direction when solving puzzles
- World feels empty
The reviewer spent eight hours trying to free bosses and find little relics in a sometimes confusing world, but she's pleased she never got motion sickness. She earned all 14 of the game's achievements in the process. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.