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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Ocelot Society
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Event[0]'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 16, 2017 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

Event[0] is a sci-fi narrative exploration game where you, stranded in space with only an unstable AI computer for company, must build a relationship through text conversations to survive and return to earth.

Artificial intelligence is a fascinating thing. On the one hand, there is the desire to create something that at least matches human behavior without necessarily being biological. On the other hand, there's the fear that creating something too well eventually leads to our downfall, as our creation suddenly decides it no longer needs us. It has been the plot for books, games, movies and TV shows for some time, and it will never cease to be interesting. It hasn't been the focal mechanic for a game until Event[0].

The game takes place in what can best be described as the alternate present. After Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon, things in the world changed dramatically. The idea of separate nation states was dissolving, and travel to the outer limits of space became much more feasible for those who didn't train to be astronauts. Unfortunately, it was still a prohibitively expensive thing to do, so much so that it created a class divide between those who did and those who didn't travel beyond Earth. After years of toiling at the company, you finally have a chance to travel on the Europa-11 on a mission to check out other planets. However, an accident forces you on an escape pod that drifts aimlessly until you reach a seemingly abandoned space cruise ship from the 1980s. You're eager to get home, and you have the vessel that allows you to do so — if you could only convince the ship's AI.

Event[0] plays out like a cross between a walking simulator and a standard point-and-click adventure game. You spend a majority of your time wandering around the ship and looking for anything that can help on your mission. For the most part, you can't pick up anything or examine it too deeply. Anything of interest that you come across is automatically analyzed by moving your central reticle over it and waiting until some explanatory text to appear. Just about everything in the game can be viewed, but that's really the amount of interaction you're given: look and glean info. The only time this is expanded is when you come across a terminal.

Just about every room has a few computer terminals. All of them are interconnected, but there are a few functions that are specific to each terminal, like turning on a projector or TV in the same room. Those terminals also have their own log files, and you'll use that to gather clues and get a sense of what happened prior to your arrival. The terminals govern everything to the point where you can't accomplish anything without using a terminal. Opening a door, for example, can't be done by simply walking to it, but you must enter the command in the terminal instead.

To simulate how the older computers of the era operated, you aren't simply given a list of options when you interact with a terminal. Instead, you have to actually type out what you want. Going back to the door example, you have to type out something to the effect of "open door D5." If you wanted to read the logs on a particular terminal, simply typing "read logs" will do the trick. Perfect syntax isn't necessary for getting the command to work, and the game does a good job of steering you toward the correct commands if you type something that doesn't work as expected.

If you treat the game like a standard adventure, you'll find it to be awfully short. There aren't too many rooms to explore, and the nature of your item inspection means that it isn't overly difficult to find the clues you need to solve the game's few puzzles. Unless you're bad at typing, entering the necessary commands isn't going to be difficult, and you'll certainly see the end credits before the two-hour mark. Unless you're specifically in the mood for a short game, this will feel too light. It doesn't help that while the story starts off as pretty compelling, the good stuff doesn't appear until much later. You'll want to delve into the more interesting parts of the tale that appear before the end credits roll. Then again, the puzzles aren't really the focus of the game.

It doesn't take long before you notice that the AI running the terminals isn't very rigid and robotic. By comparison, the AI, which is named Kaizen, seems much more adept at conversation and a bit of emotion if you're lucky enough to see it. If you were to type out a question or a typical statement instead of a command, Kaizen answers in a conversational style, at least as well as it can for something that is supposed to be a relic of an alternate 1980s. Kaizen even starts to respond to both positive and negative feedback in an effort to be more human.

This is the real crux of the game, and by some accounts, it's the most enjoyable. You will run into a few snags, but conversing with Kaizen is engrossing because it feels about as good as a modern chatbot, minus the desire to immediately delve into mature territory. You'll have the desire to engage in casual banter just to see the response, and the results are often fascinating or hilarious. More importantly, the deep conversation system is used to great effect to reveal more of the backstory and influence which of the three endings you'll get. You may already have suspicions on where the conversations may lead, but the journey is enjoyable because it feels like what you say has a real effect on the game.

Sadly, unless you were told about this freeform method of dealing with Kaizen, you are never compelled to actually do it. Part of this is because we're so ingrained with the limited choices in other games. Unless you grew up in the era of text adventures like Zork, you're never asked to do much beyond basic commands, so unless you were adventurous, you're not going to instinctively treat the AI as something you can converse with. It also doesn't help that the game's attempts at getting you to talk to Kaizen are so subtle that you may never pick up on the cues until someone told you or unless you were really observant.

The game's presentation does a good job of selling its atmosphere. The disheveled environments aren't that different from similar games where something has gone terribly wrong, but the futuristic '80s decor sells the aesthetic. Texture work is smooth, and there's a great deal of dust and other particles floating around that you normally don't see in Unity-based games. The soundtrack is fairly minimalistic, with the spaceship hum and keyboard clicks being the most prominent thing you hear, but the few musical tracks, including the lone vocal one, set up the atmosphere nicely. The voices are similar in that they're being barely there but sound good once they do show up. Kaizen's enunciation of every letter in rapid succession is endearing.

Your enjoyment of Event[0] is going to depend on whether you like chatting. Conversation with AI is the real focus of the game, and even though it is flawed, the system works effectively if you give it a little effort. While the presentation holds up its end of things, the gameplay outside of typing feels stunted; the easy puzzles and very short playtime encompass a story that ends right before it goes anywhere interesting. While it's not the best in its field, Event[0] is still worth trying, so long as you know what you're signing up for.

Score: 7.0/10

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