Under the mountainous mass of games Steam has to offer on any given day, it can be hard to keep up with the supply, with many titles remaining undetected. Generally, the games that come through Steam's library vary wildly in quality, yet every so often a relatively unknown entity will come forth, shining in the newfound light. Should one ever find themselves leisurely browsing the "Upcoming" section, know that sometimes the effort in looking for a hidden gem will pay off. I can speak of numerous times in which it's happened to me.
Even with the variation in quality, the borderline-excessive daily wave of new Steam titles provides an equally-varied amount of ideas and perspectives. Within the current age, video games have become more accustomed to the art of storytelling to give its body more of an appealing boldness. These stories can be simple, intricate, titillating, or occasionally satirical, but the manner in which these stories are told oft-times remain the same: interwoven in the gameplay aesthetic for a deeper sense of immersion. However, this sense of balance is crucial in entertaining both an audience of narrative nancies and gameplay gertrudes, a task which The Other Half seeks to accomplish where many others have failed.
The Other Half is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
If one could not tell by this point, The Other Half is a game dedicated to providing a narrative experience at its forefront. Its success rests on the impact of its cinematic style of metaphorical storytelling, assuming one is aware of its intentions outright. This said, it's important to make the distinction that this title does have more of a narrative focus, with gameplay taking a support role (more on this later on). With this distinction, one should expect dialogue (fully voiced, in this case), cutscenes, and characters to be more prominent to the fulfillment of the experience than strictly gameplay mechanics.
At the same time, with so dedicated a narrative direction—especially one so metaphorical in nature—it's hard for me to outright spoil the deeper connotations to the events that occur throughout. Because of this, I have to properly explain the impact of the plot on the game's structure, quality, etc., without giving away too much, lest potential players wish to risk lessening the impact of twists for themselves. A pesky challenge, but ever a rewarding one when I feel I pull it off.
The Other Half features a demon hunter who is tasked by one "Daniel" to come to a certain town below a mountain to eradicate a demon infestation that has plagued it in recent times. This is both a general synopsis and all one needs to know before going in, with more detail meaning the loosening of the narrative's firm grip. What can be said about the story is that it works.
Two important things to note about this game: It is fairly short (one run took me two hours), and one's choices determine the outcome of the game. One can go down a relatively empathetic path and a straightforwardly apathetic path, and while the choices aren't super prevalent, they come when it matters, and the changes are definitely notable. The pacing feels balanced, the dialogue isn't (generally) cartoon-ish, and the emphasis on metaphor between fantasy and reality remains a consistently intriguing puzzle to put together. If nothing else, The Other Half is an interesting foray into sending a specific message, one that I feel is well worth telling.
Something that is sacrificed (among others) with the short runtime is letting the details settle in the mind, with the latter half of the game's story feeling a tad more rushed than its introductory segments. Once the story begins to detail various relationships between characters, it's a straight line (though cleverly implemented) through to the end of the journey. It's a linear story with an end path coming down to the decision of the player; a crucial decision, one that shapes the foundation of the story to its core, and one that definitely tests a player's resolve.
When it comes to narrative-based games, the assumption is that with such a strong emphasis on story, the gameplay is likely to suffer tremendously. With The Other Half, this assertion is false—while also somewhat true. When it comes to core gameplay, The Other Half is a fun game not just for its tricky story, but also its demon-hunting fireplay. One's main goal of eradicating the demon scourge is not one that feels at all like a chore; it rewards with precise control and fast-paced action—although at its simplest form.
Throughout the course of the game, particularly when focused on combat, one will be using three things on the controller (Xbox 360, specifically): both analog sticks and the shoulder buttons (L2, R2). One's only mean of attack is a hovering burst of flames that's mapped to one's right analog stick, which moves in whichever direction the stick is positioned. In my lifetime, I've never had a game that required attacks being mapped solely to one of the analog sticks (not sure what that says about me). These flames are wholly dependable, taking out enemies in a single shot assuming they hit their blue, fleshy weak points. With the precision presented by the freedom in control with the flame, destroying demons can take anywhere from half a second to ten, depending on how skilled one is at controlling their flame. The shoulder buttons are used for a dodge manuever, which, when used at the precise time, slows down time and shields the player from damage taken otherwise.
These are genuinely the only two tactics concerning combat the game provides, so even if the free use of flames in quick movement sounds appealing, one is forced to deal with it. The dodge manuever makes things a little more tactical, especially when demons are numerous in quantity, but generally, it's flipping a fireball around the character at 360 degrees for two hours at a time. This inevitably gets repetitive with time, and one can only question whether the focus on the story left the gameplay aspect to a simplistic minimum. It would sting more if the gameplay wasn't fun, but it usually is, so there remains a silver lining.
Outside of combat, one is also given the opportunity to interact (when applicable) with people, items, and even sort equipment. Like the combat, however, its at a very bare minimum, with dialogue among characters not immediately associated with the main story feeling derivative and unnecessary. The major characters are written with some gusto, and offer enough charm to make players want to speak to them more, but they don't get many opportunities. A majority of the environments one faces are zig-zagging trails of white snow and dirty demons, trailing up a mountain into the inevitable climax. Compared to the scale of the narrative, the gameplay appeal is fairly low, even if by stereotypical standards, it does a lot more than a typical "walking simulator."
Graphics & Audio
The Other Half sports a somewhat unique blend of 2D art style and 3D animation, and not in the form of 3D environments with 2D caricatures of the characters that pop up in dialogue. The characters are all drawn in 2D, and travel around a 3D world—which doesn't look all that distinguishable, but this is what makes it so interesting. Within a general sense, the focus on art is, well, nostalgic, to say the least. It's not quite up to par with the latest technology, for sure, though I'd be lying if I said I found it at all ugly or distractingly bad. I somewhat wish there was a little more emphasis on 2D cutscenes, which is prominent in the very beginning and basically never shown again. Almost like the gameplay, it didn't do quite enough to make its specific art style stand out; unlike the gameplay, it isn't as noticeable.
Sound design is also relatively fine, though what deserves full attention is the fully voiced dialogue, as the standard for voice acting in video games is typically pretty low. The Other Half will not change these expectations, as the vocal work is so-so overall. There are characters whose voices I like and think suit their character, but also feel like they're trying too hard to be the character instead of just letting it come naturally. It's a hard thing to elaborate on through words, but one can tell when someone is trying to act compared to simply acting. There were specific moments and scenes I found impressive, however, particularly with the emphasis on rage and madness overtaking. Despite some subdued execution, it was a fairly decent product of anger.
As for a soundtrack, I honestly can't remember if music even played during this game. Exaggeration aside, it's just not memorable. Of course, for a desolate mountain full of demons and broken characters, silence and natural ambiance is a powerful tool, but even when the bosses in the game stepped forth, it didn't rouse enough emotion in me to notice outright. The most positive thing I could say was that it was there and never malfunctioned.
Balance shall continue to plague indie game developers so long as they wish to make a game both fun (through gameplay) and impactful (through story). Fortunately, The Other Half does a decent job of maintaining the core basics of quality for both its story and gameplay elements, even if they don't transcend past that fact. The metaphorical approach to the story made the rising action a fun one to follow along with, and the focus on free-form fire is one I'll likely never forget in my lifetime. Despite its short length, it's a game I believe will serve well as a gateway into the growing world of narrative-heavy video games that provide timeless messages and, well, have actual gameplay.
|+ Great use of narrative metaphors||– Gameplay and visual aesthetic feel too simplistic|
|+ Core gameplay is fun||– Voice acting is uneven|
|+ Central message makes decisions feel more important||– Short runtime|