I’m a huge fan of well realized surrealist worlds. I love seeing what creators, especially game developers, can do within the scope of surrealism and exploring the logic that binds them together. When I discovered Worm Animation’s upcoming adventure game Beat the Game, which melds a surrealist world with music, I immediately put it on my watchlist. This past week, an opportunity arose to try out an early demo and share my impressions, an opportunity that I jumped on all too eagerly. Unfortunately, the demo was only a total of fifteen minutes long, so my impressions won’t be as in-depth as I’d like them to be, but nonetheless, I am sharing what I was able to glean from my time with the game.
Beat the Game starts out with the player character riding across a desert on a hoverbike. The player is not told where he came from or where he is headed, but he ends up crashing, damaging his bike to the point that it no longer runs. Rather conveniently, he is stranded next to a Carbon Dioxide vending machine and decides to grab himself a can of Carbon Dioxide. Upon drinking it, he sees what is essentially a beholder floating in the sky and an elaborate red chair sitting upon a nearby sand dune. Upon sitting in the chair, what appears to be the roots of a tree spring forth from the ground and pull him into it. He later awakes in a room underground and thus the player’s true adventure into the game’s surreal world begins.
Beat the Game is played much like a standard point and click adventure, with one primary difference: players can move the camera and player character around freely. Players adventure around and interact with various objects, picking some up for later use as they go. Inventory management is simplified somewhat, in that items are automatically used when you come in contact with the objects that they are intended to be used with, but you are also given no indication of what items might be used with or where the objects that they are used with are located. I believe that the reason for the simplification is partially because the puzzles are more of a means to an end than anything significant, but I’ll get to that later.
The other reason for the simplification may be that the game was meant to be played with a controller. While you can play with just a keyboard, or even largely just a mouse, the mouse and keyboard controls have some oddities. For example, if you elect to use only the mouse, you will still be required to press the Spacebar to interact with objects that will cause you to move to another area. You cannot just click on them, even though you can just click on any other object. This is likely a precautionary measure to keep players from accidentally clicking into another zone, but it is still quite odd. The camera also felt finicky at times, continually moving for an extra second or two after I had let go of the joystick.
Now, the reason that I say that the game’s puzzles are largely just a means to an end is that the game revolves almost entirely around music and the obtaining of various samples that are used in that music. The player has a Mixer, which holds the aforementioned samples. You can have one sample from each category active at any one time, or even just turn off all samples from a specific category. You can also modify each sample by changing its volume or changing the potency of various special effects, which usually just means some sort of echo effect. Once you are finished editing your current loop, it then plays in the background as you explore. It’s an extremely simple process that has enough depth to be enjoyable, but not so much that it will baffle the average user.
In my experience, there are two ways to obtain these effects: you either solve a puzzle, which then gets you an effect, or you use your Sound Scanner to discover them. The latter is a mechanic that you actively have to choose to use. You press a key to enter Sound Scanner mode, after which the player character will stand still and a pulsating circle will show up in the center of the screen. You then aim that circle at various objects; if the circle turns red, that object has a “hidden” sound that you can discover. This is made slightly more complex by the fact that many such objects are moving and that you have to keep aiming at the object in question for five seconds in order to discover the sound it holds.
One of the more interesting systems I encountered during the demo is one in which, if you play certain combinations of sounds, various entities will hear it, like the music, and permanently enter the area. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I succeeded in finding the correct combination for the entity in the demo area during the introduction to the Mixer, I don’t entirely know what effect this has on the larger area. This introduction happened nearly immediately after entering the area, so I was unable to assess what changed.
I also want to note that some of the game’s puzzles revolve around completing them during a certain time of day, the options being day or night. Humorously, the way that you change the time of day is to find an unknown purple substance on the ground. Your character will consume it, start hallucinating, pass out, and awake approximately half a day later.
From what I can tell, you continue the cycle of solving puzzles and collecting sounds until you have collected every sound in the area. Once you have, you then perform a live show of some sort and move to the next area. However, I can’t be certain that this is how it works because I was unable to collect all of the first area’s sounds within the demo. Furthermore, the game explains only what it needs to when it needs to. There’s no dialogue and, in fact, beyond tutorial messages, the only in-game text consists of various system messages that help you to understand what you have to do in order to complete a certain puzzle.
Despite the fact that I was only able to play for fifteen minutes, I am fairly sold on Beat the Game. Its unique world is brought to life with stunningly well realized and well animated characters of all sorts. It also manages to incorporate the creation of music in a way that is both user-friendly and actually relevant to the game’s core gameplay. I certainly look forward to playing more of it when I can and recommend that you keep an eye out for a chance to play it yourself.
Beat the Game is set to be released on PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One later this summer.