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May 22 2013

Review of The Starship Damprey

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So this review going to be short and concise which is apt because that’s very much what The Starship Damprey happens to be. It’s a 2-3 hour-long experimental adventure in which you explore the confines of an empty spaceship and try to discern what happened there. Not the most original premise but the way Level 5 tells this familiar tale makes it a bit more interesting, this is mainly because they tell you almost nothing. This is a game with no tutorials, no hints, and no explanations, it’s just you and a quiet dark claustrophobic space to fumble around in.

Have you tried unplugging it then plugging it back in again?

Have you tried unplugging it then plugging it back in again?

That feeling of uselessness and a complete lack of knowledge is infused through every part of the game. The game starts with you waking up in a hibernation capsule and having to reboot said capsule’s OS which requires figuring out and entering a variety of odd commands. From there you find yourself stuck in the capsule by some outside force and, of course, stricken with amnesia. Your only recourse is to pilot a clunky cumbersome robot around to try to figure out what the hell is going on. The outlook is grim though as you find only bodies, darkness, and an uneasy silence. I won’t say anything more regarding the story as things evolve in some interesting ways and everything ends with an expected but well executed twist. I will also say that for all the sullen quiet pathos of the story the game also has a few moments of levity that really help add just that extra little layer of enjoyment.

The gameplay here is pretty much a classic adventure game but from a first person perspective; you’ll be wandering around looking for stuff to use with other stuff so you can make a path open and you’ll doing it though the eyes of what looks like the robot from Rocky 4 mixed with the Herbie robot from that terrible Fantastic Four cartoon. The controls are intentionally clunky and limiting and the OS you rebooted earlier constantly holds you back from doing what you want to do but again that’s kind of the point. You’ll spend a lot of time just wandering the halls of the ship and getting a feel for the very limited functions your robot and it’s very engaging and immersive experience. The gameplay is very passive in that sense, a lot of observing the situation and figuring out a solution that fits your meager capabilities; it’s a good dynamic and it works really well on a handheld. I do have one problem with the gameplay though and that is the game’s tendency to hide quest important items in the corners of the environments and out of regular view. You see in order to look around you have to switch from a movement mode (where the camera is fixed) to a camera mode where you can free look around. While that’s not an arduous process it can lead you to think that you’ve fully explored an area when you really haven’t and getting stuck thanks to that doesn’t feel like a puzzle so much as poor level design.

The most frightening monster of all, Girl in Sunhat!

The most frightening monster of all, Girl in Sunhat!

That same sentiment of poor design can’t be said for the visuals because while simple they’re very evocative and really help complement the story’s themes of isolation and loneliness. The dark drab grey hallways and featureless utilitarian equipment with remnants of human personality and kindness left upon them speak beautifully of a dead and entirely unknown world. It helps make the amnesia angle feel like far more than just cliché but actually important to the story. I will say the environments do look a little on the budgety side of things but it works for what the game is trying to do. Regardless the presentation does a fantastic job of setting up the necessary atmosphere and helping the story unfold in just the right ways.

In the end The Starship Damprey is a pretty interesting little experiment in storytelling and while it is overall a fairly basic game in terms of actual gameplay, some interesting puzzles and a smart story you can’t help but want to finish give it an edge. It’s a little short and if it was going for a horror aspect (which it feels like it was) it doesn’t quite hit that mark but it has a good twist at the end and the atmosphere is well done. For $8 you could do worse but if you’re thinking of picking this one up, be aware it’s the type of experience you’re not going to get a ton out of or come back to; it’s a solemn short exhale into a strange and unfamiliar world. This being the case The Starship Damprey gets a 3 out of 5 stars, a curious little game with a lot of artistic merit and some decent puzzles but not a ton else.

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