Update: Following the release of this review the developer’s of Among the Innocent have remedied all the bugs mentioned below, showing a commitment to their fans and their games which is really impressive and makes me even more excited to see what is next for this series. Updated score: 7/10
Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale is a first-person adventure puzzle game and is the first of five instalments in the Stricken series being developed by South African indie game studio Zero Degrees Games.
The series is themed around the five-step Kübler-Ross model for grief and loss, with the first stage being centred around Denial. Stage one, according to the Wikipedia entry, involves the affected individual being in a state of disbelief which sometimes manifests in that person clinging to a false, preferable reality.
Players take the role of Pete, a hot-headed South African writer who manages to find himself trapped on a decrepit farmstead out in the eastern Free State wilderness following an argument with Steph, his seemingly long-suffering girlfriend. Pete must explore the farmhouse and its surrounds and find a way to escape before he becomes the next victim of what appears to have been a series of unfortunate accidents that have plagued the previous inhabitants of the farmstead since the first World War.
In terms of carrying the theme of Denial through into the actual story, I think the developers did well in creating an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue that I believe would ring true with the inner writer of the main character, allowing him some measure of escapism while trapped in quite a dire situation. In bringing in multiple narratives, Pete is able to forget the reason as to why he was even there in the first place (the fight with his girlfriend) and he can instead concentrate on solving the puzzles of the farmstead and the surrounding area.
In setting the scene, the game’s score was both emotional and unique although various bugs relating to doors really ended up ruining the overall experience – having had to restart twice due to the barn door audio being stuck on repeat really broke immersion.
Visually speaking, the 12 acre farm has been rendered in beautiful detail with the yellow and orange hues just adding to the sense of surreal loneliness of the abandoned farm (bringing to mind thoughts of aged parchment) though my PC found itself unable to run the game in ultra – concerning as I was well within the recommended specifications – with some assets not always loading correctly and changing the settings resulting in game crashes. It also must be said that the interact-able items within the game, some of which are required to solve puzzles, are not always easily noticeable and some sort of visual marker would go a long way in easing some of the frustration of realising you missed something in a room you already checked twice for items.
This leads us to the gameplay itself, which was fairly well executed in terms of puzzle difficulty although my initial playthrough proved to be mostly a waste of time as one of the key items (that you receive in the first area) bugged out, meaning I could not get past the third puzzle and could thus not progress without restarting the game (which wasn’t too bad as the puzzles are simple to complete once you know what is required of you).
The puzzles themselves are not overly challenging although some sort of guidance would have been helpful in some areas as often I found myself stuck only to realise that the key to moving forward was going back, often to use or pick up an item I had already used to complete a puzzle (some sort of dialogue or hint system would really be appreciated).
In terms of replayability, there is not a whole lot of content and the puzzles themselves are not designed to be interesting once already solved – they seem more like fetch quests once you know how they work – though there are some optional pieces of content that completionists may be driven to search for.
All in all, the Among the Innocent experience was one plagued by (fixable) bugs that really sapped a lot of my enthusiasm for the title although, once remedied, they should leave a product worth its R100 price-tag. I, for one, am curious as to how the first title’s discoveries will impact the life of our ‘protagonist’ in the next title, presumably themed around stage two of the Kübler-Ross model, Anger.
Given some work Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale has the potential to be a better game than its current iteration represents although the genre will be one difficult to compete in given the success of titles like Firewatch and, more recently, Resident Evil: Biohazard, that could both be recommended in terms of story-driven adventure titles. However, an extremely reasonable price tag (at present R98.10 on Steam) makes me feel like these comparisons are a bit harsh (especially given the development budget of Capcom’s latest Resident Evil title) and if you are looking for a short game to keep you occupied on a quiet Sunday then I wouldn’t hesitate to offer Among the Innocent.
- Intriguing storyline
- Visually appealing
- Low price-point
- Multiple audio bugs
- Gameplay bugs – items not appearing as they should, making progression impossible at times
- Little replayability value