“This is the world for which you stand. You, alone, among the dead.” – Sofia Lamb, Bioshock 2
Developer: Coffee Addict Studio
Released: 20th July 2022
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
- Compelling exploration with a good number of interactable objects, collectibles and several optional areas to discover.
- Interesting lore that merges technology with opposite themes like occultism or mass psychology, with more than passable writing.
- Solid art style: visuals are in line with the current standards, even if rather inconsistent at times.
- Good variety of puzzles and obstacles to overcome, generally featuring good design that isn’t frustrating.
- The later parts feel rushed, especially when approaching the finale, which proves disappointing and fails to set an open-ended style like it’s supposed to.
- Dialogues with other characters generally not only feel boring, but also bar you from performing any action other than walking while they last.
- Under-used lore potential in the actual narrative: it ‘forgets’ or doesn’t elaborate upon many initially-disclosed aspects about the world, thus making the experience less interesting.
- Inconsistent voice acting quality, that ranges from ‘pretty good’ to ‘awful’ depending on the specific dialogue at hand.
Bugs & Issues
- Distortion effects like depth of field and chromatic aberration can’t be disabled.
- Significantly lower texture quality in some locations.
- The protagonist’s voice becomes female, markedly different while singing certain songs. It feels tremendously weird.
- 32GB RAM
Content & Replay Value
It took me a little more than 4 hours to complete Hazel Sky, while taking extra time to explore optional areas, read books and find any collectable I could. The entire content is linear, there is no reason to replay once finished.
Is It Worth Buying?
Yes, but not for full price. The regular tag of 25€ is definitely too steep for this amount of content, despite the overall good quality. I recommend waiting for a sale even to fans of narrative-driven titles.
A competent adventure that however doesn’t use its lore and setting to the full potential, and feels rushed in later parts. It’s good, but could’ve been much better.
Hazel Sky – In-Depth Analysis
Premise, Setting & Writing
Young aspirant-engineer Shane lives in a time full of technological marvels, but also unforgiving beliefs. Dropped on a deserted island by his own father, he needs to overcome a decades-old process known as “The Trial” in order to return to Gideon, a steampunk flying city, and be acclaimed as a true Engineer ready to give their all for the pursuit of the common good. There’s no middle ground: success or death.
Most of Hazel Sky will take place on a couple of islands with minimal infrastructure, on which Shane and the other aspirants before him have attempted building improvised machines to return to the golden city. It’s common to find mementos of those who came before – alongside more than a few corpses. There’s a stark contrast in seeing these pristine islands scarred by Gideon’s trial infrastructure, now mostly left to decay. Each location is rich in detail, and the attentive observer will find many ‘self-contained’ tales related to each.
The lore files, ranging from radio transmissions about the current turmoil brewing in Gideon, to ancient texts about folklore and art – things mostly forgotten in the current era – are all written consistently well. More than a few will pique the reader’s interest, making them think there’s more than meets the eye on these islands, and that occult forces may be at work. Unfortunately, on many of such topics, Hazel Sky stops elaborating soon enough, or doesn’t at all, in what seems like cutting corners as the campaign goes on.
Exploration & Platforming
Your primary activity will be running around the current island in the search of anything useful to proceed toward Gideon. For this purpose, blueprints will often be placed in major locations, easy to find, and they’ll tell you exactly what you need to do in order to restore the current unfinished machine, in the hopes it will be enough to complete the mission. Usually, this is a multi-step process that involves finding components all over a larger area that you can explore in an open-world fashion, thus leaving space for optional findings and collectables, should you care about those.
There are several platforming sections of jumping, sliding and climbing, rather simple overall, that act as a nice break in the ‘walking simulator’ pacing and give some more action to the gameplay. Should you splat from a high place or get impaled, don’t worry, you’ll restart from one of the plentiful auto-checkpoints placed around, without much progress loss.
As a soon-to-be engineer, problem-solving should be a primary skill, that’s why the trial islands have been purposefully designed in a way that encourages such a process. In your journey, you’ll come across half-finished pieces of machinery, sealed gates, generators in need of new batteries and more.
Each of these situations will require you to figure out the correct order of doing things, like operating a crane to move parts in the correct places, or diving underwater to activate switches, other than figuring out codes to open many locks barring your path. None of these puzzles will be overly-difficult, but some are designed in a rather counter-intuitive way.
Assembling machinery is much simpler than you’d think, with Shane doing most of the work automatically, with simple button prompts as commands. It would’ve been more exciting to try and fail a few times just like a real engineer would while assembling experimental creations, alas it wasn’t so.
The islands house many a secret for those willing to look. Those who came before didn’t always rush like mad to return to Gideon, in fact, some developed other interests that will be clear enough when visiting what remains of their avenues. Books, messages, transmissions and even scrawling on the walls will each reveal a bit more about the various aspirants that came before, their choices, and eventually what led to their demise.
Here Hazel Sky delves into topics like the occult, the paranormal and also freedom of choice about one’s pursuits. While the idea behind this premise is good, the narrative never pushes it enough to make it relevant compared to the main goal. These optional areas also may house collectables and Keys, useful to open chests or locks that may be in wholly other parts, and often lead to significant lore revelations or hidden areas.
A few mini-games are available to further break the otherwise linear gameplay pacing. One of them consists in playing a guitar with a series of tunes that can be combined to play specific songs eventually found in the various notes and books you’ll discover. One of them supposedly even leads to a secret ending, but I wasn’t able to figure it out. Another mini-game is about assembling machines, with Shane welding, stapling and nailing bits and bobs in order to make whatever piece of junk work – somehow.