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Spirits of Xanadu Review

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Cast your mind back to 1997. To a film that managed to scare the absolute wibblies out of me. I’m talking about the one with the abandoned space ship that disappeared, only re-appear completely devoid of crew, this haunted craft would push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. I’m talking of course, about Event Horizon. Watch Laurence Fishburne run around trying to save his crew from Hell. Watch them all die horribly. Spirits of Xanadu manages to capture the intense isolation and eeriness of an abandoned ship perfectly.

Devoid of any actual tutorial as such, you dock with the Xanadu in the hope to establish a few things. 1 Where is everyone? 2. Which member of the Crew has gone full Sam Neill? 3. Can the ship be brought home safely? Now when I say that paranoia kicks in, it’s nowhere near as intense as Alien (but then I doubt falling from the world’s largest bungee jump, with no rope and a pillow to break your fall is either). However the designers have edged the game play with a delicious thrill of impending doom and threat of unwarranted terror. You start off in the docking bay, fully briefed with your mission, you collect the nearby torch and gun. I say gun, this thing is like the Tomy equivalent of a laser, operating on low power. It makes the right swooshy laser noises, but it really doesn’t feel like this is a weapon that will help keep you safe. Holding down the trigger allows the gun to charge a ‘la the plasma pistol from Halo. Now why would they give you a gun if they didn’t want you to kill stuff?

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This isn’t a shoot’em up. It’s a brilliantly woven murder mystery, which unfolds through a collection of incident reports, partially recorded diaries and hastily scrawled messages. Written in either blood or marker these notes can be found scribbled on walls, floors and even boards, adding to the tension and general discomfort as you genuinely fear for the crew. This game looks and feels like Deus Ex and System Shock, combined with a point and click story element. And it is completely open to explore the whole ship in any order you wish. I can’t really expand without revealing a lot of spoilers, but what the devs have created, is quite possibly a masterpiece of deduction and investigation.

The more practical minded of you may wish to explore the ship methodically, checking the crew quarters, medical bay and engineering to establish what happened to the crew and hopefully restore power to the ships internals. Clues as to how to do this are scattered in plain sight, and I found myself making connections with the evidence even when on the opposite sides of the ship with the odd ”Eureka!” moment spurring me on. The voice recordings are suitably creepy (think Bioshock) and do an excellent job of combining with the pieces of written word. Unexplained bloodstains and more than occasional foray into the ships air ducts add to the atmosphere as you begin to piece together the tragic events that rocked the Xanadu.

This is not an easy game by any stretch. You have to think your way through it, meaning you have to read and re-read every piece of evidence you have collected. Same with the recordings, some of the information is subtle, so much so it’s easy to get frustrated and miss small, important details. Anyone used to this this type of game will find it a little easier to piece together, but I was playing way outside my comfort zone and found it hard going. The graphics are unusual. mostly 16 or 32 bit from the feel of them and the interior of the ship corridors begins to blend all into one ( this may in fact be deliberate on the designers part, to create a loss of equilibrium and direction). When you do encounter something that hurts you, in my case this happened to be a wall monitor which I shot in idle curiosity, the edges of the screen redden slightly, but it is very difficult to tell exactly when you are close to death, the only way to recover seems to be drinking a soda (of which there are a fair few) and simply waiting around.

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And now for the really weird shit. Not content with creating a fairly lonely and desolate playing space, the devs decided to go a little next level on the WTF-o-meter. I’m talking about visual disturbances that happen so quickly you think it was YOU that was having an odd moment. First time you spot a kabuki mask will freak you out a little. Revisit an area and you will find marks on the floor and walls that you were sure weren’t there the last time. Furniture that seems to propel itself across the room, and the extreme dislocation you get when you actually get killed… the game doesn’t end. It transports you to a holding cell, which is completely bonkers if you haven’t ever visited that part of the ship, plus the lights all switch off. Meaning you have to whip out the torch again, it becomes disorientating in the extreme, especially when the lights eventually pulse back into full brightness, and you realise you have been unnecessarily using your torch for the last ten minutes.

It is well worth the price to play this, even if there are no Xenomorph monstrosities hunting you down.

Pros:

Excellent story driven by the player

Superb atmosphere really accentuates the loneliness of space

Multiple endings

Cons:

Graphics are dated

Frustrating for newcomers to the genre

Overall

Score: 8.5/10

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