Step meekly, but with determination, into the rain-soaked and uncaring world of Apocalipsis. Published by PlayWay Games S.A. (Bad Dream: Coma and 911 Operator) and WhisperGames (Pocket Kingdom and Dungeon Rushers), Apocalipsis is a point 'n' click puzzle game made by first-time developers Punch Punk Games. You'll play as the titular Harry, a lovelorn young man who has lost his beloved Zula, and with her so goes the rest of the world. Harry will stop at nothing to see her once again, braving perilless puzzles and menacing monsters. According to the game's description, the game is "inspired by Dürer’s engravings and the aesthetic of Dance Macabre." The visual presentation will no doubt drawn in many curious players who want to see just how whimsically weird Apcoalipsis can get.
Add Apocalipsis to your Steam Wishlists so you'll know exactly when it'll be available for purchase in Spring 2017 on Steam.
As stated, Apocalipsis follows the love-directed journey of Harry, seeking to see his lost love Zula once again. It's a simple premise, one that has been present in many games, and works of fiction in general. A narrator will speak of Harry's inner thoughts and detail his past between levels, giving the player more insight into the character and his motivations.
In the demo provided, there wasn't enough story presented to say whether or not the plot will unfold in one way or another. However, given the bizarre landscape, it will be interesting to see if the world always looked like a twisted nightmare, or if its current visage is a product of Harry's grief, or literally the result of Zula's departure from Harry's side. According to the game's Steam page, players will follow Harry as he "discovers deeply-hidden secrets in his memory as the world around him becomes darker and more sinister."
Apocalipsis is a point 'n' click puzzle game, a genre that has waned in popularity over time. Because of its slower style of gameplay some players may not find the game to be the thrilling adventure they're used to, and it doesn't try to be. This is a game that wants you to relax (at least as far as you can when faced with the unnerving and creepy images of each level), think things through, and solve the puzzle of simply gettimg from one side of the screen to the next.
In its current state there are no prompts or means of highlighting objects that you can interact with. This becomes frustrating when considering the reality of the game's appearance. Much of the world is displayed in the same three colors of black, white, and brown, with varying shades in between. As such, interactable objects blend in very easily with the non-interactable parts of the world. It's very possible you'll become stuck on a puzzle simply because you didn't realize that the log sitting in the background was something you could pick up.
Puzzle solutions will garner reactions ranging from "that's what I expected" to "…what in the hell?" Fitting with the game's unique and eerie aesthetic, the world reacts to your actions in some head-scratchingly unexpected ways. Let's use an early level to provide an example of the mysterious machinations of Harry's world.
Since these are the first seemingly alive people Harry has met in the game, the player's instinct should be to interact with them, talk to them for guidance. Talking to the plague doctor has Harry pull off his mask and reveal the blade to a sword. Behind the "doctor" is a hammer, which Harry can also use. Strapped to the hooded man's back is a hilt, which Harry will take with no resistance. Using the hammer and anvil, Harry repairs the sword which he uses to hack off the arm of the corpse hanging off the side, and that's when things get weird.
The sea monster that blocks the ship's path gobbles up the fallen bit of rotten flesh, and, for some undecipherable reason, coughs up a winged creature with a man's face. After chasing the thing off the ship, it lands near the rat and coughs up…something. Whatever it is, the rat loves it, and dashes to investigate. After the rat leaves, it reveals it was sitting on a nondescript bag. For unknown reasons, Harry can give this to the hooded man, prompting him to set sail with Harry aboard. At no point does the skeleton bishop factor into any of this, in case you were wondering.
Perhaps the puzzle requires an intimate knowledge of classic literature that it may be referencing, or perhaps its an amalgam of imagery that tells a story. My interpretation was that the sailor died of an obvious illness, one investigated, or possibly brought on, by the plague doctor. The skeleton represents the death in the air as he sits above everyone. The hooded man takes payment to take Harry out to sea, possibly a reference to the ferryman on the River Styx.
Whatever the origins of this scene, I never felt helpless in figuring out the solution. As stated earlier, the natural instinct is to talk to the masked-man, which reveals a sword. The sword is obviously unusable without a hilt, and after some brief investigation, the hooded man is scene with one. The hammer is the only object that sits alone, and so players will likely gravitate toward it in hopes that it will help them solve the puzzle. The rest of the solution flows in a natural way, though with some unnatural consequences.
None of the puzzles felt too difficult or obtuse, and solving them will fill the player with satisfaction. It's difficult to create a puzzle like these, as the developer has to put in enough clues so the player has all the information they need, but keep them subtle enough so the puzzle doesn't become a breeze. Punch Punk Games succeeds in this daunting task, at least for the first five levels that were available.
Graphics and audio
What will likely draw in the bulk of its player base are the hand-drawn graphics. The style of the visuals were inspired by the classic works of Albrecht Dürer. Dürer is best known for his wood engravings depicting scenes from the biblical apocalypse. They are haunting and captivating, managing to be both horrifying and beautiful at the same time. The game doesn't match his hyper-detailed and content-packed style perfectly, but the resemblance is clear.
The developers also say that the game was inspired by the "aesthetics of Dance Macabre." Dance Macbre is a classical song composed by Camille Saint-Saëns. Without lyrics, the piece tells the story of Death playing a fiddle in a graveyard, summoning forth the undead to play along with him through the night, ending only when the sun comes up. It's a song familiar to most (even though you may not know it by name), and upon listening it's easy to see how the game tries to capture the spirit of the song.
As for the game's own music, it sadly doesn't impress. It's purely atmospheric, and serves to enforce the nightmarish visuals, but not by much. The music is too understated, and is easily eclipsed by the visual representation. As an experiment, I muted the audio and played Dance Macabre in the background. Though the pace of the music does not match that of the gameplay, it certainly paired better with the visuals. Still, the score is not atrocious, or even bad; it's simply mediocre.
Apocalipsis is a world filled with death and monsters, and yet it never feels like Harry is in any real danger. He walks casually amongst the horrors and carnage, focused solely on finding his love, Zula. Though monsters are present, and often bar his progress, they can be appeased with a simple offering. Visuals are fascinating and unique, and there's nothing I like more than a game that presents a style that is rarely seen. I only wish the color palette didn't sometimes lead to objects being too easily hidden. There are still some improvements that can be made between now and the full release. Audio sliders would be nice, rather than an on/off toggle. The UI is simple, but pleasingly so. It would be a shame to have the artwork eclipsed by a needlessly busy UI.
Like the inhabitants of Harry's world, the puzzles are bizarre yet, when observed past their initial layer, are simple and accommodating. It only asks you to be brave and persevere to find this truth.