“Behold! It is not over unknown seas but back over well-known years that your quest must go; back to the bright strange things of infancy and the quick sun-drenched glimpses of magic that old scenes brought to wide young eyes.” – H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Developer: Stormling Studios
Releases: 28th October 2020 (PC) TBA 2021 (Console)
Price: £14.99 – £15.99
Transient is a walking simulator, horror adventure and puzzle game all rolled into one! Players must solve puzzles and hack systems whilst navigating dreams, the virtual world and the strange realms of reality in order to uncover a terrifying truth. The game ambitiously and successfully blends the cosmic existentialism of H.P Lovecraft with a dystopian cyberpunk setting to create something engaging and original from the familiar.
The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which multiple indistinct catastrophic events effectively ended civilization and lead to the creation of the Domed City, Providence. Within this sanctuary, built to withstand the infinite tests of time, humanity embraced innovative cybernetics and digital retreats, eventually losing all touch with reality.
Transient sees the player take on the role of Randolph Carter, a recurring and somewhat autobiographical character in the Lovecraft Mythos, including The Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath which seems to be a particular source of inspiration for this game. Carter has been specially augmented to fulfil his role within the notorious hacker group Odin who find themselves under threat. He must navigate various cyber enclaves, consisting of dreams, memories and virtual worlds, in order to rediscover the mind-bending truth that threatens the lives of himself and his team and brings his sanity and the nature of existence itself into question!
A number of gameplay styles and mechanics are utilised within Transient, but they are implemented in such a way that they retain the feel of a singular extended experience rather than seeming disjointed. Players can find all the standard puzzles, including a variety of riddles, hacking and memory or logic-based problems. However, there is an explorative side to the game, reminiscent of a walking simulator, as the player ventures into different scenes, finding objects and notes to peruse. Environmental puzzles are often worked into these sections of the game, retaining the connection to the more explicitly presented conundrums.
Carter can use his advanced perception heightening implant, or PHI, to scan for clues and investigate beyond the remits of unadulterated human capabilities and often needs to venture into an old dream or memory. Doing so will induce unconsciousness in the real world so he sits himself comfortably and securely at his work station before embarking on his sedentary journey; thanks to some fancy Odin hacking, PHI can also be used in most of these cyber situations. Carter must also partake in some occasional meta-shamanic alchemy, brewing concoctions to aid in his travels into to cyberworld providing yet another puzzle aspect to this horror adventure.
At one point Carter is required to successfully play an Odin member’s old game project to retrieve hidden information, this metagame makes for a uniquely fun addition to the overall experience, and gives a respectful nod to the horror genre with its styling and gameplay highly reminiscent of old Silent Hill of Resident Evil titles.
Overall, Transient’s gameplay, including the various puzzles, provides just the right amount of challenge, enough to get the player thinking without becoming frustrating. Despite the non-linear narrative, the game effectively guides the player through the overall experience without patronisingly holding their hand. The in-game journal, an essential tool for progress, is used to record events and store documents and key information and can be immeasurably helpful when solving the trickier problems.
Transient’s visuals are one of its most obvious stand out features, making an instant impression with extreme colour palettes and dramatic lighting helping to make the vast range of curiously beautiful or depressingly dystopian environments even more atmospheric. From the neon lights of tech-saturated sci-fi and futuristic scenes to mysterious supernatural landscapes and Lovecraft inspired aesthetics, no two places look the same making for a mesmerising and intriguing game world. The humanoid characters models had room for improvement but this was likely emphasised by the overall high quality of the games visual elements.
Similarly, the music is well matched to each scene, ranging from mystically melancholy to anxiously creepy, the various tracks subtly span genres to create a cohesive soundtrack. Sound effects are used well to create an immersive environment and help give depth, especially to the eerier sections of the game with echos, water drips and insects scurrying. Unfortunately, the believability of the voice acting was hit or miss, the protagonist’s narration felt flat at times and certain screams and sounds of anguish from supporting characters were wholly unbelievable, momentarily disrupting the sense of immersion that is well crafted throughout the rest of the experience.
Transient masterfully blends narrative influences, game genres and environmental aspects, spans multiple themes and genres and challenges the player in a subtly casual manner making it an incredibly accessible title that will appeal to a range of audiences and interests. The stunning visuals, music and sound effects create a sense of immersion within the vast array of atmospheric scenes and the non-linear way in which the player traverses them creates a real sense of intrigue (and maybe a hint of confusion at first).
The sources of inspiration for the game, and the developer’s passion for those sources, are apparent throughout the game and translating into an original, yet familiar horror adventure. The few, very minor ‘flaws’ were negligible to the gaming experience and overall, Transient was highly enjoyable and would make the ideal Halloween title for anyone looking something less intense and more subtly sinister than a familiar series of jump scares!