It’s bitingly cold; you can feel the warmth draining from your body. Your stomach rumbles with hunger, but you’ve nothing to eat. Every minute you linger, your condition worsens and the chances of being captured or shot increase. But up ahead you see another fugitive – he’s cornered by a patrol. What do you do: try to create a diversion, giving him a chance of escape, or do you walk away, leaving him to his fate? This is exactly the type of moral quandary you’ll have to face in The Man Came Around.
It’s a choice-driven survival game set in a dystopian reality. Developers Pipette Inc. describe it as a “political fable” that explores how a democratic system can fall. You take control of a group of five citizens attempting to flee Occida, a powerful nation that’s rapidly descending into a brutally repressive dictatorship. Your only hope is to cross the heavily-guarded Northern Border, tucked away in an inhospitable mountain region. There:
“You’ll face grave dangers during your trip, between the deadly elements and the corrupt cops. Manage your scarce resources, take tough decisions and make the best of your group abilities to escape this lethal maze.”
The Man Came Around is currently seeking funding over on Kickstarter and there’s a short playable demo over on itch.io. I’ve had a go myself and it looks and sounds great. The sparse hand-drawn monochrome sketches (with just a splash of red) combined with the howling wind and the crunching of snow underfoot give a real sense of tension, foreboding and isolation – you can practically feel the cold.
But I’ve more mixed feelings about the gameplay. It revolves around choosing which paths to take and managing and allocating your inventory. You come across bodies, stashes, patrols and other runaways. And you’re often forced to make difficult decisions. The party members each have different attributes, which translates into the probability of successfully achieving specific actions – such as scaling a cliff face, bribing a guard, administering first aid effectively or creating a distraction. Sometimes you can choose to risk or sacrifice a single member.
Every decision you make effects both the physical and mental condition of each individual and characters can die at any moment. Time certainly isn’t on your side. For instance, choosing to scale a cliff rather than attempting to plead with a patrol man is a safer option, but will have a far greater impact on warmth and stamina. Decisions also have a bearing on later scenarios.
It all sounds great in principal and I really appreciated how previous failures pressured me into becoming increasingly pragmatic and self-serving, which no doubt is one of the points of the game. But somehow I just didn’t find it that engaging. I just can’t quite put my finger on it – I was kinda reminded of playing one of those graphical text adventures from the mid 1980s. Though perhaps that’s partly because the demo doesn’t really have chance to develop the story or its characters. Anyway, go check it out for yourselves.
If successfully funded, The Man Came Around will becoming to PC and Mac in December 2018.