Spate

“Its hard to find the way once that light went out”.

Detective Bluth is a troubled individual. He's taken a job finding a missing man in the X Zone; an area surrounded in mystery since every inhabitant went missing ten years previous and the environment became twisted and toxic. With only your trusted bottle of Absinthe, you enter the area and aim to resolve the job.

Since the death of his daughter, Bluth has turned to alcohol. While he is aware of his dangerous dependence on absinthe, and that it led to his wife leaving him shortly after (“She didn't want to see me drink myself to death”), he has no willpower to stop. He doesn't believe he's worth saving. He's just carrying on his own existence.

Spate

Spate is a 2d platformer in which you are constantly travelling deeper into the inhabitable zone. The atmosphere is engrossing; sorrowful strings accompany your journey, highly saturated colours change frequently in the background and as you travel further Bluth narrates his thoughts. These are both on his current predicament and the circumstances of the last decade that has led him to his addiction, situation and complacent opinion of his own life. Both the script and voice work are excellent, and you'll find yourself completely engrossed in his story throughout.

At the start the simple platforming appears to be a means to an end; with tried and tested platforming conventions: synchronised saws for you to pass through, jump pads and conveniently placed canons. It increasingly becomes more meaningful as the narrative progresses in surprising and affecting ways. It's not difficult, and at the start it feels like this may be derivative to the game. However, it does get a little bit harder later on, but it's not really the point of the game. I'd compare it to Thomas Was Alone. If you stripped that game of its narration, sound and writing, it would be a simplistic and average game. However, with everything in place, it creates a memorable experience. Spate is a tremendous sum of it's parts.

Spate

Spate raises some interesting issues. Bluth's alcoholism, represented through his narration, also manifests through control of the player. You can press X to take a swig of his absinthe. This causes the screen to increase in saturation dramatically, twist and turn is an almost nauseating manner and I swear I sometimes saw some things appear in the background. You can also jump twice as high though there is no point in the game where this is required. This effect lasts a few seconds at a time. It's interesting, that you can do this, and it fits with the narration, but there is no need to. You just do it to experience the effects, seemingly in line with Bluth's desire.

I encountered some bugs along the journey. There are a couple sections where you take control of an airship, and in a sequence comparable to Flappy Bird, hold down the gas for a boost as you try and avoid obstacles protruding from the ceiling and floor. These sections aren't difficult and there are frequent checkpoints. However, one time I died I spawned without the ship and was left stuck in the area. I couldn't move on due to instant-death areas on either side of the checkpoint. Another (more amusing) bug left me floating up to the heavens, to the top of the map and a strange shape appeared; in a scene reminiscent of the aforementioned Thomas Was Alone (I took a screenshot. You can see it here). I left it going for a while unsure whether this was a bug or not, but it became apparent it was. Quitting to the main menu and re-loading corrected both bugs. There were a few minor annoyances too. The jump is very floaty, though the second jump (powered by rockets on your back) is great for precision so this didn't cause too many problems. There were also some frame rate issues and screen tearing too.

Spate

The combination of a fascinating narrative, with maturely written musings on alcoholism and various other issues relevant to Bluth, narration performed well, a deeply atmospheric aesthetic and solid, if a little simplistic, platforming create a truly memorable experience. Though it's a little rough along it's two hour journey, it's been a while since I was so engrossed in a narrative. It questions you as a player along the way, and I was not quite sure if I was experiencing one man's hallucinations from an absinthe induced fever dream or a strange and twisted area in his reality.

4

In Short

  • + Powerful writing and voice work create engrossing narrative.
    + Atmospheric aesthetic takes great use of saturated colours.
    + Soundtrack is a little unconventional and highly effective.
    + It gets more and more intriguing the further you go.

  • - Floaty jump makes some precision a little tricky.
    - Some frame rate issues and a couple bugs required re-loading the game from the menu.

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