Hindsight 20/20 wants you to remember every mistake you've made


Learn from the past

It's amazing to think just how far indie gaming has come over the past decade. I remember when indies first started popping up looking about three generations behind where modern gaming was at the time; its early years dominated by pixeled graphics and platformers inspired by the classics of the '80s and '90s. Many indie games are still like that, but some have broken the mold, giving us experiences that rival what the biggest studios are producing.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is a good example of this. Though Ninja Theory is no longer an indie developer, having been bought up by Microsoft last year, its flagship indie title established a new bar for other small developers to aim for. Frostkeep Studios, developers of Rend, are also pushing the limits of what's possible with just a small team. Those games, along with others, have led to the term "Triple-I" entering the lexicon. If God of War is a Triple-A game, then surely Hellblade is the prime example of "Triple-I."

I don't know if the term has truly caught on yet, though I know of one developer that's putting money on it. Its name is, appropriately, Triple-I Studios; made of up of four developers who've worked for BioWare, ArenaNet, and Sucker Punch. For the past few years, the team has been hard at work on Hindsight 20/20, a title they hope will help them stand above the rest of the indie scene.

Hindsight 20/20 takes place in two cities at odds with one another: Champaner and Gibsonia. The people of Champaner value life above all else, existing in relative harmony until a mysterious virus sweeps through it. Those affected turn into Raakshasas, demon-like creatures that live off blood. When the king of Champaner orders the execution of all those afflicted, the Raakshasas flee to the sanctuary city of Gibsonia.

The protagonist of Hindsight is Jehan, a one-armed warrior out to avenge his murdered father and save his friend who might be turning into a Raakshasa. In any other game, Jehan would violently kill his way across cities and dungeons to enact his revenge, but in Hindsight, that decision is left to the player. Do you slay everything in your path or do you choose a more peaceful option? Whichever action you take has a reaction, and that is the crux of Hindsight 20/20.

Hemanshu Chhabra, creative director of Triple-I Games and the writer on Hindsight 20/20, has been working towards on this project for several years and the central theme since the beginning has revolved around moral dilemmas. Before work could start on the game, Chhabra needed technology that would allow him to see his vision through, so he spent a year developing the Experience Engine, middleware that runs on top of the Unity Engine.

Hindsight 20/20 game

"The whole purpose of this engine is to observe and record everything you're doing in the game," Chhabra explained. "And thanks to this, every entity in Hindsight 20/20 has an awareness about your choices and your actions. For example, the NPCs in this game know what you've done. Thanks to that, they'll react differently to you. They might be afraid of you. They might respect you. They might cheer for you. They might run away from you. They might come and attack you."

With this engine, Chhabra and his team are able to let players experience what many other games attempt to simulate: consequences. One of my favorite examples of player consequence is a classic from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. If you steal from the Town Tool Shop, you're known as "Thief" for the rest of the game. In Hindsight 20/20, it's a lot more elaborate and affects every aspect of the story, dialog, and even how the various bosses react to you. There are many different ways players can approach this game with multiple "imperfect" endings to unlock.

Chhabra explained to me the Nintendo 64 Legend of Zelda titles are a big inspiration on the project. In fact, his exact wording when describing this game was, "If Zelda was an action game." That's a good mental image to put in one's head. Unfortunately, I'm just not quite seeing that yet from Hindsight 20/20.

I was able to go hands-on with the title last week with Mr. Chhabra. Playing an alpha build on Nintendo Switch, it ran far better than I thought it would for a title that's still around a year away from release. In docked and handheld mode, the game maintained 60 frames per second without a drop in picture quality. Not having to deal with any niggling issues allowed me to focus on just what Triple-I has created.

Hindsight 20/20 baton

The demo takes place at or near the start of what will be the final game. Jehan is looking for Aurthur, the man who killed his father. After being pointed in the right direction by his friend Adele, Jehan enters one of the game's dungeons. Unlike the titles that inspired it, this dungeon, which is most likely not in its final form, is extremely basic and straightforward. There was a single puzzle -- though I was told later dungeons would have more -- and it was mostly just a series of flat, interconnected rooms where I'd fight the hordes coming to stop me. It's a pretty standard action game set-up, not so much something we see in Zelda.

Combat is where the idea of a moral dilemma is most obvious. Jehan, having one arm, can only use one weapon at a time. He has two options: a baton to stun his enemies or a sword he can use to kill them. Whichever weapon he uses prompts a different reaction from his enemies. Champaner is supposed to be a peaceful place so coming in there and slicing and dicing your foes is frowned upon, even if it is more efficient.

When using the baton, Jehan feels extremely restrained in his action. Hindsight 20/20 uses a single-button combo system and Jehan will auto lock onto enemies as he chains together attacks. It's a bit haphazard and he doesn't so much clobber his opponents with the baton as much as he pokes them. Poke them enough and they'll eventually surrender, dropping to the ground with their hands behind their heads. The enemies I faced when taking this more peaceful approach didn't try to kill me but did attempt to stop me by draining my morale meter. When that's totally depleted, Jehan will just give up.

Going the peaceful route is a bit boring and that may be the point of it. It's not always easy or fun or rewarding to do the right thing and in Hindsight, doing what's right might not work out in your favor.

Hindsight 20/20 blade

On the opposite end of the spectrum is something that is always easy, fun, and rewarding and that's murdering everyone who stands in your way. If going the more saintly route feels exaggerated in how your opponents just stand down and admit their defeat, going evil is just as exaggerated but in a far more satisfying way. Instead of prodding your enemies until they've had enough of it, Jehan's sword will allow him to stain the ground red as he cuts down foes like he's the Bride at the House of Blue Leaves. Chhabra is promising shades of gray with the story and your decisions, but combat is clearly black and white. Or rather, red and white.

I played through the demo twice, giving each of the routes a turn. As expected, killing came far more easily for Jehan as his combos with a sword are simply more fun than using the baton. It was visually more satisfying too with the buckets of blood staining the stage. When I reached the boss, the aforementioned Aurthur, another aspect of the Experience Engine came into play. Depending on what I do in the dungeon, the conversation I have with him changes. If I kill everything in my path, he'll come for my head. If I stick with my baton and try not to murder, I'll be given a few options on how to proceed. I can strike him down, thus avenging my father. I can best him with my baton, teaching him a lesson. Or I can reason with him and forgive him. For the demo, the third option proved to be the best choice because after Aurthur was one final challenge for Jehan.

As I mentioned above, Jehan's friend Andrew might be turning into a Raakshasa. Because of what happens to people even suspected of having the virus, his friend is contemplating suicide. If I fight Aurthur for too long, either with the sword or baton, I don't reach his friend in time. If I forgive Aurthur and avoid conflict altogether, I have a shot at saving Andrew. Keeping Jehan's friend alive is more than just an issue of time as I literally have to talk him down from the ledge. I only have a few chances and if I make too many bad choices, I get to watch him die before my eyes.

In the final version of the game, the Experience Engine will create a scrapbook of everything you have experienced, showing you some of the pivotal choices you made along the way. Because Hindsight is just six hours long, give or take, seeing how you arrived at the ending you got will provide guidance for repeat playthroughs so you don't keep making the same mistakes. Unfortunately, according to Chhabra, repeat playthroughs won't make it easy for you to know which choices you've already made. The game won't fade out decisions you've previously selected similar to how some visual novels do, but you will always have access to your scrapbooks for reference.

Hindsight 20/20 town

The extent to which the Experience Engine has been implemented into Hindsight 20/20 is commendable, but I worry it's an extraordinary piece of tech tethered to an unremarkable action game. I love the design of Jehan and the world, with its creative mixture of architecture, is interesting enough especially when you consider the cities will change in appearance depending on how good or how evil Jehan is. But other than that it's a pretty run-of-the-mill game. When I asked Chhabra how Triple-I will make sure Hindsight 20/20 stands above the rest of the dozens of indies that release every week, he told me the high quality of the game will elevate it. But I'm not so sure he and his team are picturing the indie scene as it is today.

There is some high-quality shit coming from tiny development teams, games that push the boundaries of graphics and gameplay in ways Hindsight 20/20 isn't. I understand this is a passion project that has been in the works for several years, but right now, having played what is still just the alpha of the game, it has a long way to go before it can be considered anything remotely close to Triple-I.

Truth is I didn't get a lot of Zelda in my brief time with Hindsight 20/20. What I did get was a pretty standard action game that may be making the same missteps as other games that have focused on following a pure or evil path. The two modes of combat contrast each other in the most laughable ways and I question the intent of designing one fighting style that's inherently better than the other. But I still think the game has potential if the Experience Engine proves to be as thorough as promised. It would be neat, for instance, if I could craft my own tale of redemption where I straight-up murder fools early on only to find forgiveness towards the end after I've changed my bloody ways.

I guess I'll find out next year when Hindsight 20/20 launches for Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac.

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CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. Also, I backed that Bloodstained game. more + disclosures



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