Ecuador's first indie game
GDC is full of neat games. There are sentai management sims. Body building cats. Hyper Light Drifter. But one of the neatest games I played during GDC is To Leave, which creative director Estefano Palacios says is the first indie game out of Ecuador. It's definitely the first one coming to PS4 and Vita. (Incidentally, check out the promoted cblog from last year, Gaming in Latin America).
Sony discovered the 12 person team's game as part of its Latin America, Incubation Program and has been "instrumental" in getting it exposure, flying Palacios out to GDC to rep the game, and technology, giving the team dev kits.
Palacios discovered me, hustling to take advantage of his good fortune, while I shambled, eyes glazed over, trying to remember where I was going and where I had been. I'm glad he did, because chatting with him and playing To Leave perked me right up.
To Leave (PC [previewed], Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita)
To Leave is artsy, forward in its metaphor. The main character, Harm, is attempting to get out of a rut, out of a harmful life. The way to do this is to take his flying door and get the heck out of his bog of despair. But escape is hard because the door is fragile and if you hit something, you get sent all the way back to the beginning of the game, the bottom of the city Harm lives in.
The progression is glorious. This isn't Super Meat Boy sort of rapid repetition that encourages white knuckle runs as fun. These white knuckle runs can send you back to the beginning of the game. Now, there are checkpoints of sort in the world. You're not replaying the whole game after each death, but it's a tense set up and that sees you failing early and often. And then you keep on keeping on, getting better at wresting yourself from the slop.
If you want to ignore the metaphor, the base game is exciting to play. If you run out of Drive (a gauge filled by collecting those blue spirit things), you enter an extra atmospheric Hopeless mode with weird music and sludgy controls. Otherwise, you're clinging to your door, avoiding obstacles with the sort of floaty controls. And enemy patterns don't just reset at respawns so you can't just muscle memory or power your way through levels. I jumped forward in the game to a harder level and just compulsively died and started over, trying to run before walking.
To Leave is also artistic. Just take a look at the screenshots. Nothing is tiled and art isn't reused. There are a number of different themed sections as well. "We want to show Ecuadorian craftsmanship," Palacios explains at my surprise. I couldn't quite put my finger on why the game looked so different, despite it's interesting art style, until I realized. And all those benevolent looking stone faces are cool as heck.
Then there's the music, which is a huge focus. You can check out some of the samples right here. Even through a laptop's speakers in a semi-trafficked area, the score helped to immerse me in the world. I just wanted to keep listening to it.
GDC is always refreshing and playing To Leave was a perfect example of why I love it. The mechanics are tight, the artistry is interesting, and the angle feels new.
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