I’m afraid I can’t do that, Nick.
HIGH The most rewarding, believable interactions with a digital character to date.
LOW Finishing the game and realizing I’d played it “wrong”.
WTF Horrendous starting loadtimes and repeated crashes to desktop.
Never have I been so happy to find out I was playing a game incorrectly than with Event.
Developed by Ocelot Society, Event places the player in a retro-future space station far from earth, with the only occupant being a lonely AI named Kaizen. Players interact with Kaizen via their keyboard in an MS-DOS style chat window on omnipresent computer terminals. It’s an intriguing idea, but I’ve seen firsthand that the design doesn’t land for everyone.
Let me continue with this tale of two playthroughs…
The first time I played Event, I thought of Kaizen as a physical extension of the text parser interface in ‘80s adventure games. I’d walk up to a terminal and type in terse, utilitarian phrases like “can you hack the retinal scanner please?” or “what can you do in this room?” to which Kaizen would infuriatingly reply “You are in the living room.”
I banged my head against the wall as Kaizen proved completely unhelpful with puzzles, and eventually got to an ending that I didn’t quite understand. Combined with the numerous technical issues I’ll get to in a moment, I was ready to call Event completely flawed in execution.
When I took to the internet to find out more about the ending and what it meant, I quickly realized I had played the game incorrectly all along. See, while Event’s mysterious, abandoned space station does present itself puzzle-first, the real meat of play is communicating extensively with Kaizen. He’s not a puzzle helper, he’s a person.
On my second playthrough, I approached Kaizen as if I was making a new friend on a desert island. I made small talk and asked questions in a colloquial manner, asking extensively about his stories when he opened up a little. The difference in my emotional investment in the game was staggering.
Once I started treating the AI as a person and not as an adventure game interface, I found that Ocelot society has crafted one of the most believable digital characters in recent memory. Talking to Kaizen exactly as I would a friend in real life, I was able to move beyond the adventure game trappings of yore and instead got to know an insecure, lonely, believable person.
A few minutes after I started calling Kaizen “buddy”, he started calling me “pal”. Kaizen confessed after one of my brief forays into outer space that he was worried I wouldn’t come back, which began a 20-minute conversation about his past and why he felt that way. As a player who tends to value writing and character development above all else, it was magical. When I got to the end the second time? It made a lot more sense.
With all that said, Event clearly requires a specific level of buy-in from the player. Treating it as an adventure game and critical pathing through the puzzles will result in a frustrating and short experience. Conversely, putting in the time to talk to Kaizen and engaging in as much conversation as possible will give players something unforgettable.
Either way, be prepared to deal with a few technical quirks. My computer’s fans instantly sped up during the unforgivable minutes-long initial load, and never stopped after that. I could reproduce several crashes during the game that resulted in lost progress, and the framerate was unacceptably dodgy on a system that can run The Witcher 3 with aplomb.
Though still a bit flawed in execution, players who want to see how narrative-based games can evolve should absolutely play Event. Who knows, they might even make a new friend.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Ocelot Society. It is currently available on Windows and Mac. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: Event did not receive a rating from the ESRB, but I would expect it to have a rating of Mature. This game is not as violent as most M-rated games, but players do stumble upon a corpse during the game and subplots involving murder are discussed. A moment near the end of the game includes several curse words.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All communication is done through text, and the spoken dialog is subtitled.
Remappable Controls: Event requires use of a keyboard to communicate with Kaizen. Players can choose whether they move with the mouse buttons or WASD, but controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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Great review! I had heard negative stuff about this, but the emotional involvement would make it that much more interesting. Definitely a game I’d look into further down the track when I’ll have somewhere to put my PC that isn’t the garage!