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Come Explore Downward’s Biblical-Inspired Open World and First Person Parkour



In the last part, we met Caracal Games Studio, the Italian indie team behind post-apocalyptic parkour adventure Downward.

Now it’s time for more new details, lifting the lid on Downward’s mysterious biblical-inspired world and Unreal 4 powered gameplay.

OUT OF THIS WORLD[divider type=”thin”]

Set in an alternate history, Downward’s world diverged from ours in around AD 1000. Drawing inspiration from the juxtaposition of the familiar and fantastical in fantasy and sci-fi art, Caracal Games Studio aim to create an ethereal and interesting word for players to explore.

“Downward is an ambitious indie project, developed around parkour mechanics,” they say. “You leap around in a post-apocalyptic alternate-middle ages universe: what could be better?”

“It’s inspired by our younger years as gamers, so we’re trying to make Downward a really old school game, that’s both difficult and rewarding,” they continue. “In the videogame world, one big reference for us would be Prince of Persia, from 1989 onward. Outside of videogames, we’re looking at the unreachable masterpieces of Frank Frazetta and Roger Dean, who’re both brilliant artists that produce absolutely majestic paintings.

“With regard to the structures in the world and the different types of architecture, we’re building on the experience of our designer, who’s approaching the end of his studies in the field of archaeology.”

Freyja's Castle by Roger Dean

Downward is inspired by fantasy and sci-fi art. Photo Credit: Roger Dean Freyja’s Castle (1987)

Downward’s experienced from a first person perspective, which Caracal hope will give players a better view of the environments they’re trying to pack with as many layers as possible. History and lore are central to the world that Caracal are trying to build, which brings together elements of many classical cultures with original ideas.

“In Downward, the narrative is developed in two levels,” they explain. “On the surface we have a basic set of events, which involve the protagonist and make up the essential storyline that’s necessary to enjoy the game. Then in side-quests and optional puzzles, you’ll find a lot of deep, complex and interrelated events and pieces of extra information, which complete the puzzle help to solve all of Downward’s mysteries.

“In Downward we don’t feature the geographical Est, but its mythical counterpart. Around the year AD 1000, in the territories of the old Roman Empire, there wasn’t much reliable information about the many different regions and cultures around the world. Fueled by fear, superstition and curiosity, the public’s collective imagination transformed these unexplored territories in a series of fantastic lands, with otherworldly landscapes and the strangest monsters and creatures possible. You can still see this depicted in the beautiful Christian churches of that period. Our protagonist will emerge from this mist of reality and fiction, and his actions will have strong repercussions on the world of Downward.”

They continue: “Some of [the characters] have been borrowed from history, some from the Bible and some are the product of our imagination. Our policy is that we prefer to focus on a smaller number of core characters and give them real depth, following the example of the Dark Souls series. The actual number of NPCs in the game depends heavily on the number of secondary missions and puzzles that we’ll be able to insert into the final game.”

Downward’s Est is an open-world which Caracal Games are hoping to build with enough variety to encourage players to discover for themselves, with a number of planned distractions and diversions aiming to keep the gameplay fresh and involving, building on the tried-and-tested exploration formula by building interactivity into Downward at every stage.

“The world’s composed of a central area, from which you’ll have access to the other, sometimes interconnected, secondary zones,” they say. “We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the different environments and landscapes we’re developing. Without having to rely on fantasy, there’re incredible scenes and landscapes out there on Earth that haven’t been used before and are just waiting to be used in something like this.

“We want to add lots of different activities that aren’t necessary for progressing in the main story. Some will help you discover new details and the world’s secrets, some are just for fun. At the moment, we’re planning on adding time-based challenges, mount sections and other mini-games, but we’re keeping quiet about them right now.”


FIRST PERSON PARKOUR[divider type=”thin”]

A first-person parkour game is always going to draw comparisons with EA’s Mirror’s Edge, but Caracal feel that Downward’s pace and feel will set it apart from competitors.

“In Downward we alternate between platform or parkour moments and exploration, collecting items, solving puzzles and engaging in dialogues with the NPCs,” they explain. “Since so many details are still being discussed, at this moment we can’t provide much more than we’ve already shown. The quality of the parkour mechanics is one of our major concerns; all we can say is that we’re working hard to make it the best it can be.

“With regard to Mirror’s Edge, we want to clarify that, even if some parkour mechanics are similar, Downward’s reflective and contemplative spirit will contrast with Mirror’s Edge’ action and dynamism, so it’ll be very different.”

Caracal are aiming for around 10 hours of gameplay in Downward, and are committed to delivering a worthwhile experience without unnecessary padding. Downward tries to engage the player with challenge, choosing to foreground fewer, more complex tasks, rather than lots of easy ones.

“Our 10 hour estimate is based on the average ability of a standard player,” they say. “The longevity of the game will rely a lot on the diversity of the different environments. Also, as we said before, unlike many games of the current and past generations, Downward’s parkour mechanics will be difficult, and will require some observation and analysis in order to be cleared.

“The protagonist will fail and die quite often, actually; at least until the player familiarises themselves with Downward’s dynamics. The main storyline isn’t divided into missions, but unrolls naturally as you unlock and discover new areas. In every moment of the story, we’ll have side missions and things you can do, but we won’t have a Skyrim-esque ‘quest journal’.”


All of this is made possible by Unreal 4. Epic’s engine has been a revelation for indie devs, and Caracal felt it was the best choice to give Downward a unique and eye-catching look, as well as solid core mechanics.

“We believe that Epic Game’s policy towards independent developers is the most successful of the options available on the market; more so than its competitors. Epic are attentive to the needs and objectives of independent developers, providing them with a great variety of customizable tools. At the same time, the Unreal Engine 4 is extremely versatile and can be used to develop games for all budget levels, from simple projects to AAA games.”

“Our objective is to completely immerse the player in the environment, which is made possible by levels that’re interesting and awe-inspiring, but at the same time, practical and natural-looking. To build the most interesting levels possible, we follow a two-step procedure, developed by our designer. For starters, we decide what environment we want to create. Then, we define what natural characteristics of that environment we can use to develop parkour mechanics and the other puzzles, and we build on our basic idea from there.”

Downward is slated for a Winter 2016 release on PC, with Mac and Linux versions soon after. There’re no plans for console, and even though they’re open to the possibility, Caracal aren’t focussing on porting Downward before it’s finished. The team are aiming high with their first project, and want to deliver something with the quality they believe Downward deserves.

Summing everything up, they say: “At this point in our lives, Downward is our absolute priority. We’re pouring our blood and soul into this project. For us it’s more than a game and more than work: we see it as a challenge.”

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Lead Interview and Features editor. Eats, games, and leaves. Tweet at me! @Jiffe93


198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination




Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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