"This game contains no tutorials or explanations. Part of the experience is to discover things for yourself."
Thus reads the disclaimer when you fire up a new game of The Starship Damrey, Level-5's atmospheric sci-fi adventure and first of the Guild02 trilogy. Those words are meant to evoke memories of classic point-and-clicks, of scouring every corner of the room to find the tools you need to advance, of the solution eluding you until that blessed "Eureka!" moment. Here is a game, you think, that seeks to defy modern conventions and allow us to solve problems on our own.
What a bold promise. Too bad the game doesn't live up to it.
The Starship Damrey (3DS eShop)
Release: May 16, 2013 (US / EU)
You wake up trapped in a cryogenic sleep capsule with no memory of who you are or how you got there. You discover you are on board the Damrey, a research vessel floating in the far reaches of space, but something has happened to the ship and its crew.
Since you are unable to exit your pod, you must remotely operate one of the ship's AR Series robots. They can only turn 90 degrees, which makes navigating around fallen debris quite cumbersome. Furthermore, they can only carry one item at a time, essentially limiting the complexity of any of the "puzzles."
The game's biggest problem isn't that you aren't given any instruction on what to do or where to go -- that's the hook, after all. Rather, the solutions are so simple and telegraphed that the game might as well be feeding the answers. Considering that you typically can't drop an item once in your possession, you can safely assume that your next task will involve that very item.
If you had dreams of managing multiple inventory slots, weeding out red herrings, and discovering alternate puzzle solutions, allow me to stamp them out right now. There is only ever one right way. It's akin to locking a person in an empty room save for a key in the corner, then telling the person to "figure it out" without any further clues. Okay, maybe not that simple, but close enough.
The most difficult part is probably the opening scene in which you have to figure out how to reboot the corrupted computer console -- an admittedly clever sequence that is never trumped. Afterward, the bulk of your time is spent rolling through darkened hallways, looking for tools, corpses, and notes lying about.
But ignoring the core gameplay, you'll find that The Starship Damrey does succeed in being a tense, moody experience. When I say the ship's halls are dark, I mean pitch black. Equipped with a low-power flashlight, your robot typically can only see a few feet in front or glowing signs and panels in the distance. And dogging your search is the ghostly specter of a young girl in a sun hat, fueling the mystery of the crew's fate. There's even a humorous interlude that parodies the famous "Blue Danube" scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sure, it completely breaks the tone of the game, but it's nonetheless entertaining as a one-off.
Figuring time spent wandering around aimlessly in search of objects hidden in the shadows, the game will last you no more than three to four hours. However, if you happen to own any of the three Guild01 titles -- Liberation Maiden, Aero Porter, or Crimson Shroud -- you'll unlock a bonus scene upon completion. There's also an additional bonus should you accomplish an optional late-game task. Sadly, both are text-only prologue chapters that don't add anything substantial to the narrative.
Despite being entertaining in its own way, The Starship Damrey ultimately fails to provide a hardcore, old-school adventure as promised. There's potential for an even more expansive campaign, which I hope Level-5 explores one day -- if Liberation Maiden can get a sequel, so can this! For now, rein in your expectations.