by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Textbook and platformer
Last week in my review of Ultimate General: Gettysburg I noted how much I enjoy titles that let me merge two of my passions - gaming and history. You can imagine my elation then, when I got the assignment to review Residue, a game that doesn’t take place in the past, but instead exists to shine light on a comparatively unknown portion of it. Residue is all about Aral Sea. A once gigantic lake between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was reduced to about 10 percent of its former size when the Soviets diverted many of its feeder rivers for irrigation initiatives back in the 60s. This devastated the local economies and made it a lot more difficult to live in the area. If you think that sounds like a strange backdrop for a game, you’re right, but Residue isn’t a traditional game. Part interactive textbook and part narrative platformer, the game struggles to find an identity, embracing the worst part of everything it tries to be.
Let’s talk about a few of the things I liked about the game first, because it’s not going to take long. First, I actually do like the idea of what the game sets out to do. Unlike most games, you aren’t going to go on genocide-level killing sprees, don a super suit, or anything like that. There’s actually not much conflict at all in a traditional sense. It also fits the context of the subject matter. Adding in a secret military organization or something you need to wipe out would detract from the real-world issue, which is this near-barren lake. It’s weird not being surrounded by bad guys, but in a good way. I applaud anyone who is willing to try something a little different - even if the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The music is also nice. It sounds like it could be straight from a movie, and adds gravitas to whatever’s happening in-game. That is, truly, just about everything I liked in the entire game.
Being a narrative driven game, it’s important that Residue spins an interesting tale. It doesn’t. The basic premise is fine. Two environmental “extremists”, Ostravska and Nikolai, are trying a more radical approach to restore the Aral Sea than the slow damming process currently being used (which is actually what’s being done in real-life as well). Something goes wrong, and Ostravska is stranded underwater and underground with an oxygen tank. Meanwhile, Ostravska’s son and father, Emilio and Jumagul, are searching for her because she left without really telling anyone where she was going. They cross paths with Nikolai and more goes wrong from there. Unfortunately the execution leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, the longer the story goes the more whacked out it gets. I’m not going to spoil anything on the off chance you make a mistake and accidentally decide to play the game, but what starts off as something I could see actually happening turns into something weird enough to stop me from being able to take the game seriously (though there were plenty of other elements that accomplished that too, which I’ll talk about shortly).
Residue is focused around three playable characters, the above mentioned Nikolai, Emilio, and Jumagul, who you’ll switch between throughout the game’s segments. They range from “okay” to “I’d be laughing at how bad this is if it wasn’t so frustrating.” To start with, they all look and sound terrible. The voice actors themselves are fine for the most part, but the dialogue they’re given would sound stilted in a mid-day soap opera.
Nikolai is fairly neutral, but Emilio sounds like a 25 year old woman (the voice actor may be a child, I don’t know or care, but they don’t sound like it), and Jumagul just spews random “deep” ponderings that are so aphorismic and preachy they become hilarious. For example, early on in the game when we first meet the pair shuffling across part of the dried lakebed, Emilio asks if there are earthquakes in the area. Instead of just saying yes or no, he throws out “The Earth can stir oceans and turn mountains into tiny pieces, but it cannot move that which is already dead.” What? Besides being a terrible answer for the question at hand, it’s a straight up lie. I actually let out an audible laugh.
The music is nice, and some of the reading is interesting.
Literally everything else.