by Murray Lewis
previewed on PC
A FIGHTING CHANCE
A notable difference between Son of Nor and LucasArts’ classic series, though, is the complete lack of weaponry to hand here. It’s a deliberate, and brave, decision by stillalive, and I can definitely see their reasons for doing so, but it has led to more than one occasion where I got into some sort of Benny Hill-style chase sequence, frantically leaping away from enemies while I try to find a suitable rock to fling at them.
To their credit, stillalive seem to have noted the issue and are already working on a more robust system of close combat, while standing by their decision to leave the player unarmed, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
While the combat is still being worked on, the game’s focus is mostly on adventure and puzzling. Based around the cunning manipulation of objects using your powers, they vary in difficulty and approach necessary, so there should be something to appeal to everyone. While I found some puzzles infuriating, there were just as many that were satisfying to solve. I suspect everyone will have their own favourites and frustrations based on the sort of thinking required, and the variety on offer is commendable.
As is expected in an early access game, there are a few niggling flaws, like the way the camera sways and lurches around drunkenly while you are trying to manipulate part of a puzzle, but overall the experience is a positive one.
The game also features up to 4-player co-operative multiplayer, with events and puzzles exclusive to that mode, which I have yet to try out myself. It’s rare for co-operative modes to be anything other than a fun addition, and what I have seen in previews looks like a blast.
Sadly, Son of Nor does suffer from a general lack of polish; especially in the UI, which is still a mishmash of half-finished elements and placeholders, and the overall user experience. The opening sections are particularly weak, featuring stilted animation and no voice-over at all. Flaws like this are understandable for an early access title, but it’s important the developers realise that there’s no cinematic feel at the moment, and it will quickly turn players off if it isn’t heavily revised before release.
That being said, things pick up quickly once you get out of the starting area, away from the often characterless desert valley, and into one of the mysterious tombs. Filled with mysterious technology, the visuals suddenly take a flying leap out of mediocrity and into ‘pretty darn cool’.
Clearly the team is able to squeeze some excellent visuals out of the Unity engine, which makes it all the more baffling that the first impressions have been left feeling quite so bland. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that stillalive worked on these first areas at the very start of development, before they really hit their creative stride.
Thankfully, it’s reassuring to see how well they interact with their community. Submitting suggestions and bug reports in-game is simple, and the developers seem very active on the official forums. This kind of transparency is very important with any kind of alpha or beta release, and it gives me confidence that the game’s flaws will be buffed out before final release.
Once the game gets going, it already has some very enjoyable moments. I only hope that the overall experience can be refined, or players might give up before they see what it has to offer, and that would be a real shame.