Fair warning: if any of you are ever stranded on an island with me, you’re probably going to want to take a more active role in decision-making. Don’t look to me to be your Rick Grimes. You’ll almost definitely die. Maybe it’s my curiosity compelling me to keep things interesting rather than safe, some subconscious desire to watch the world burn, my classically supernatural bad luck, or just plain old boring incompetence, but playing this Owlchemy Labs’ indie survival game has shown me that I am not the guy you making the tough call. Best case scenario, you may end up in a Lord of the Flies dystopia being ruled by an inanimate object while I chuckle to myself, but more than likely, you just aren’t going to make it.
BioWare and Telltale are much beloved (and rightly so), but it’s pretty much accepted fact that the vast majority of decisions they give you are heavy on moral drama and personal expression, but low on concrete repercussions. This game demands several playthroughs because each choice you make leads to different outcomes, different situations, and more choices with more different outcomes. Who dies where and when is going to be all your fault. And what Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben never taught him is that great responsibility breeds grave incompetence.
The experience is kind of like a cross between Lost (way back when it was good), Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and Seth McFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West rant. You play as Rita, a barista who wakes up after a plane crash (note to self: do not fly on an airline called Dysast-Air and make sure to check for duct tape on plane’s exterior before boarding if you do) and finds herself stranded with a diverse band of survivors.
After a run-in with some hyper-aggressive beach crustaceans and convincing the resident conspiracy nut Teddy that I was not a bunch of crabs in a human suit I was in. But it was all downhill from there. As a gamer, I consider my first playthrough of a story-based game to be my canon. Subsequent playthroughs for experimentation or perfectionism don’t have that same into-the-unknown quality that makes that initial experience so memorable. So this first game was for all the marbles in my mind. This would show me what I’m made of.
Turns out, I’m the kind of person who wouldn’t give a second thought to chasing down and devour a diseased wild boar out of spite for stealing a small bag of pretzels. You never know how you’ll react to a given situation, I guess. But I do love pork. This was probably the first sign that my party wasn’t going to do so well. But hey, I did manage to save on other person.
The crew consists of Rita, Teddy, a cynicism factory named Steve, a country-bred married couple, Jolene and George, and consumate neckbeard gamer, Garrett. Teddy embodies the mainstream media’s attitude towards gamers by pointing out that, “nobody spends that much time alone in the basement without doing something villainous”, but I kind of like Garrett. Anyone who refers to sleeping as replenishing his HP is okay in my book. Further party members can be recruited in the form of a cat and a cracked plastic disc, who you collectively name Disky and immediately begin treating as a person, no questions asked. But who are we to question the sentience of a fellow castaway?
Having established the cast, the object is of course to keep these kooky bastards alive. Good luck with that. Even when you aren’t deliberately eating tainted meat or climbing into leech and snake-infested ponds you’ll probably end up battling a jaguar with a frying pan or getting set on fire and/or struck by lightning. And one thing I noticed is that anyone I fed seemed to die almost immediately in order to maximize the waste. The survivors get to starve because the people who got the food they needed all promptly died from firecracker explosions or jaguar attacks (seriously, FUCK that thing), leaving the remainders too feeble to defend themselves.
By the time you get to the end-game scenario, the game is really after you. Some survivors may be trying to murder the other ones, you may have to sacrifice yourself blowing up a generator to get the attention of potential rescuers, sharks may be circling your raft, and people may be starving to death at this point. My personal favorite outcome so far was settling on the island with his roundliness Lord Disky as the tyrannical leader of our tribe.
It seems like no matter what I do, somebody is dying. And not just because (as Rita points out) the island is actively trying to kill everyone. After several playthroughs, I’m pretty sure there’s a way to get everybody home safe, but I don’t care. Playing god with virtual lives is so much more fun than “winning”.
At one point, I decided to see if I could effectively get everybody killed. Rita turned out to be a pretty tough cookie, but I managed to get her to lose an arm to that bastard of jaguar so I’ll give myself partial credit even though she survived. But his brings up the question, what kind of monster would try to kill off the castaways of a downed flight just to see if he could? The same kind that enjoys building high-dive in The Sims and forcing people to jump off of it without bothering to put a pool underneath it or spawned God in Scribblenauts just so I could spawn an atheist and prove that his life was a lie. When he ran off screaming, I gave him a gun and when he tried to kill God, he got smited as I laughed. One of my finer impulses of free-form gaming insanity.
That is to say, the kind you don’t want in charge of your fate. I mean, at one point I was given the choice to toss a dead companion’s body who had died of starvation overboard as sharkbait so I could rescue someone who had fallen off of the raft and I decided a corpse would be better company than Teddy’s paranoid ass. Also, I totally wanted a screenshot of him getting eaten.
Games like Dyscourse are doing what indie games do best in showing gamers that you don’t need amazing graphics or ridiculous length to have a great time. The stylized graphics, touches of humor, genuine consequences, and variety of possible situations in a relatively tiny in-game world shown here are enough to make one wonder why we don’t see more developers scale the scope of their games down in favor of something really memorable more often. And frankly, my inner jerk is always itching for more opportunities to torture virtual life forms for my own amusement.