Korsakovia

Feedback in gaming is important. How many FPS games have been stuck in the pits of mediocrity because of terrible weapon feedback? The *ping* noise from Half-Life when you smack something has a lot to do with why combat in that game feels so satisfying.

So what happens when you remove the feedback completely? You get Korsakovia. Korsakovia is a game where you play as Christopher, a man suffering from Korsakoff's syndrome, a disease marked by severe memory loss and invented memories that fill in the gaps. The game plays out in Christopher's invented dreamscape, while a garbled voice-over of discussions between Christopher and his psychiatrist play out in the background.

It's from The Chinese Room mod group, creators of Dear Esther, and the voice acting and writing have a similar quality—which is to say they're amazing. The conversations between the doctor and Christopher are compelling because of the wonderful voice-over work. They're your only link to the real world. That's not to say they're real. You really can't be sure of what's real; Christopher isn't exactly a reliable witness.

One area where Korsakovia stands apart from Dear Esther is that it's actually a game. This means it can get difficult at times, especially in the jumping sections. I'd brush up on how to turn on “noclip” if you plan on beating the game—which you should. There are enemies this time and you can hit them with a crowbar to kill them—at least when you actually have the crowbar. If not you'll spend a lot of time running away.

Korsakovia is a game about removing the normal cues to the player that the world they're dealing with is real. Health kits don't make noise. Enemies don't have a defined body. You don't get any feedback when you hit one. There's no health bar. The enemies are blobs of undefined black mist that will lunge at you immediately when they see you. Vague, amorphous and noiseless when you hit them. It's almost like they're not even there. You're adrift in a sea of images and sounds that may or may not make any sense, unsure of which ones you can depend on.

Why You Should Check This Out: It's a game about a man who doesn't know if what he remembers as real is actually real. Nothing you experience in Korsakovia is real, but all of it is real to Christopher—the man with Korsakoff's syndrome. While Korsakovia is sometimes frustrating, it's also subtle and nuanced and that's a rare thing in gaming.

[size=20]Download Now[/size] (Requires Half-Life 2: Episode 2)

Comments

I've got some more spoilerish thoughts about this one

Spoiler:

Really I'm surprised how much the crowbar completely changed how I approached the game. I would spend half a level running away, frightened by the collectors. Then I would find the crowbar and suddenly a switch was flipped, and I was in full-on "come here you little bitch so I can beat you to death" mode. All the fear quickly turned into revenge.

Also, the game-y bits with the jumping and the fighting really ruined the atmosphere for me. I suddenly had agency, I was Christopher until I picked up the crowbar, then I was a guy who beat the hell out of Collectors. Christopher sounds scared of Collectors, I was not scared, so I was no longer pretending to be Christopher. It was really jarring.

Kind of makes you appreciate why so many FPS heros are muscle-bound brotastic badasses. That's how you act when you have a gun no real consequences.

I read about this on Rock Paper Shotgun, it looks pretty interesting. I loved 'Dear Esther' as an experience. It was emotionally quite powerful, which is rare in games. I shall have to download this and have a look at it when I get the chance!

As what Rallick said about 'Dear Esther', this had a similar effect on me, up until the point where I started feeling exactly the same as Pyroman's spoilerish thoughts indicated.

It was still an interesting experience, but it got so bad--and dare I say boring?--that I just couldn't finish it. I still recommend trying it, though.

You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.

It's a shame they went more gamey here than with Dear Esther, because it's a lot worse. The story is bigger and interesting in a lot of similar ways, but having just finished it, the main thing I'm left with is a desire to sit the designers down and teach them a bit about how to make a level.

Just because lighting levels is really hard work and the user has a flashlight doesn't mean that endless corridor crawling in total darkness is okay. Staring through that flashlight tunnel-vision for prolonged periods is physically nauseating. Backtracking is sometimes okay, but you need to facilitate the player in building a mental map of the level, which means providing major landmarks and avoiding at all costs hallways and rooms that look similar to each other. If you must re-use assets, then provide a one-way path through the level, because going back through identical rooms is confusing as hell. And if you want to build up to a big dramatic finish, giving the player a million niggly jumping puzzles that require a thousand falls and restarts sabotages that, no matter how cool it makes your ending look. Did you learn nothing from Xen?

None of this should matter. The game was made by a college professor, it's a free mod - I don't expect him to be a master of the craft. The only thing that makes it especially maddening is that I can see something really interesting here, yet the bad decisions keep obscuring it again and again. It's like a brilliant novel that was printed on that wax paper they use for receipts, and every time you turn the page you're rubbing the ink off ahead of you. Maybe I just need to give it some time for the pure frustration of navigating the game to wear off and allow the narrative to grow in my head, but where Dear Esther made me want to immediately load it up and play it again, this just makes me glad to be done forever.

PyromanFO wrote:

I've got some more spoilerish thoughts about this one

Spoiler:

Really I'm surprised how much the crowbar completely changed how I approached the game. I would spend half a level running away, frightened by the collectors. Then I would find the crowbar and suddenly a switch was flipped, and I was in full-on "come here you little bitch so I can beat you to death" mode. All the fear quickly turned into revenge.

Also, the game-y bits with the jumping and the fighting really ruined the atmosphere for me. I suddenly had agency, I was Christopher until I picked up the crowbar, then I was a guy who beat the hell out of Collectors. Christopher sounds scared of Collectors, I was not scared, so I was no longer pretending to be Christopher. It was really jarring.

Kind of makes you appreciate why so many FPS heros are muscle-bound brotastic badasses. That's how you act when you have a gun no real consequences.

You can do that?

Spoiler:

I tried to fight the shrouds after I got the crowbar, but they kept on coming and I couldn't do a thing to them.

That's probably why I eventually put down the mod, trying to solve the puzzles while being chased by a dozen shrouds was terrible.

Spoiler:

Yeah there's no feedback when you hit them, but if you actually manage to find where they actually are and aren't hitting the smoke behind them, a few hits takes them down

I have to agree with the other sentiments here. The first ten minutes were pretty fantastic and damn frightening. Then I started hitting crates with a crowbar and at that point felt like I had experienced what the game had to offer.

imbiginjapan wrote:

I have to agree with the other sentiments here. The first ten minutes were pretty fantastic and damn frightening. Then I started hitting crates with a crowbar and at that point felt like I had experienced what the game had to offer.

There were some really brilliant bits in the later levels, but yeah I'm not sure it's worth the pain to get there. It's interesting as an experiment, but not really what I'd choose to sit down and play for fun.