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Editorial

Tether’s Sci-Fi Psychological Horror — Friday Freebies Club

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The business side of publishing a game can be a difficult thing to navigate. As reported by Damien Lawardorn last year, work on promising indie horror title Tether was put on indefinite hold when the developer Freesphere Entertainment was unable to secure funding for the project. After a year of radio silence on the game, Freesphere Entertainment suddenly released an early alpha demo to the public on Itch.io, with any proceeds going directly to continuing development on the game. An atmospheric walking simulator set on a dilapidated space station, Tether is definitely worth a look if you have a spare hour to wander some creepy corridors.

Lesleigh awakens to the voice of her son calling out to her. She sits up, confused, images flickering in the corner of her eye. She is on a long-haul flight to Mars, and her son Peter definitely should not be on the ship. The Tether, a system that helps people survive the long journey, has the side effect of jumbling and rewriting people’s memories. Out of medication to control the side effects, Lesleigh must make her way through the winding metallic corridors of the ship to the medical bay, fighting darkness and her own mind along the way.

Tether

Tether plays as a walking simulator, with Lesleigh’s journey comprised of exploring the world and checking journals and audio logs for clues. She can pick up and throw items, but  mostly this skill is unused, with accumulating information the primary method of progression.

This limited interactivity is made up for with a rich and detailed world: the bedrooms have clothes strewn around, drawings from Lesleigh’s children are pinned up, pictures of loved ones hang on the walls. I was reminded of exploring an abandoned vault in one of the Fallout games, arguably the best part of the series. The station creaks and moans as Lesleigh explores, adding to the foreboding atmosphere.

Tether features full voice acting, and performance is strong across the board, with Lesleigh’s voice work a particular highlight. She sounds genuinely terrified by the things that she sees, a difficult performance to pull off. I would have liked an option for subtitles, especially for the audio logs which have a fuzzy ham-radio effect on the recording.

Tether

The metallic corridors of Tether are extremely dark, and some in-game brightness settings would be beneficial. This darkness was compounded by the partial controller support, which caused issues on my playthrough when the flashlight button failed to work. This darkness impacted what should be a simple puzzle later on—I had to put a new fuse into the fuse box, but the replacement fuses all just look like big white polygons in the dark. That room also contains a prominently placed screwdriver, so I spent far too long trying to unscrew things before finding the solution. Movement is also slow and sluggish on gamepad, with mouse and keyboard clearly being the intended experience.

Despite these minor gripes, I found Tether to be an interesting experience. The game is beautiful and atmospheric, but I felt the story could have been more fully developed. Here’s hoping this public demo will provide an opportunity to revitalise the project.

Tether

Discord user Dismount that Dinosaur enjoyed their time with Tether. Response has been lightly edited for clarity.

Dismount That Dinosaur

I played it; it’s similar to Alien Isolation. The atmosphere and graphics are pretty good for a free 2017 experimental game. There is good potential for the game to evolve into a full-fledged single player game.

Tether

Damien Lawardorn, fellow OnlySP writer and editor extraordinaire, also played through the Tether demo, and had some mixed feelings about the experience.

Damien Lawardorn

Full disclosure: I’ve had my eye on Tether for a long while. When it was put on ice, I was put off, but I understood the reasons after talking to lead developer Mark Gregory. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I got a message from Mark letting me know that the prototype was finally available to play, so I knew I had to give it a go. All that is to say I may be a little biased.

At the same time, after playing this vertical slice, I think I can kind of understand why investors were uneasy about buying into the project. It feels conflicted. It’s a horror game, a walking simulator, and an immersive sim all wrapped up into a brief package. As good as the demo is—and believe me, it’s good—it lacks a clear identity.

Maybe a part of the problem is that the protagonist, Lesleigh, feels nondescript. She is a wife and mother separated from her family by the vast distance of space. That family connection and the distance is an essential part of the story told in this demo, but it is overshadowed by the horror theme, which permeates every room and hallway in the claustrophobic Nostromo-like spaceship. The atmosphere is dense and tense, and the family only matters because you are told it does. These two themes do coalesce at points, but they are rare, with Freesphere relying more on jump scares than a psychological treatment of Lesleigh’s fears.

The horror and narrative elements therefore sit a little uncomfortably beside each other, and the immersive sim elements only heighten that confusion. Early on, almost every item not bolted down can be picked up and thrown around or interacted with in some other, less destructive way. However, that agency does not last long. Soon enough, the environments become almost purely set dressing, which further complicates any identity Tether seeks to convey. Although this decision choice is likely a necessary concession to the developmental struggles of the game and to the pacing, it feels restrictive after the freedom of the opening.

This brief demo showcases a lot of potential, particularly in the nerve-inducing locales and genuinely unpredictable jumpscares, but Tether could certainly benefit by bulking out either the narrative or the gameplay (or, ideally, making both work together more effectively). Mark and his team have had about a year to think about how to improve their design and process, but this prototype is promising, and I’m hopeful that this time the team is able to realise the project.

Tether

Thank you for your thoughts everyone! Next week, we’ll be taking a break from horror games and checking out be you, a short choose-your-own-adventure game available on Steam. Discussions are happening on our Discord server, or you can email me here.

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Editorial

Five Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in August 2019

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August

August is packed with interesting titles big and small, so without further ado, go, go, go!

RAD

Release Date: August 20, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One

Want some glowy, mutate-y, 80s-infected roguelite action? Look no further than Double Fine Productions’ latest stylish action-adventure. Like so many of Double Fine’s releases lately, Rad combines a popular genre with the studio’s mildly-offbeat weirdness. 

In this case, Rad takes the winning “Not-Quite-Roguelike” formula of The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy and makes it look a little like 2017’s underrated Hob. Players take on the role of a teenager sent out into a post-post-apocalyptic wasteland to forge a path for humanity. They must explore amongst a terrifying mutant bioscape that resembles Fallout if it took place in the pages of 2000AD.

That might sound like a hat on a hat, but Rad distinguishes itself by going full ’80s cheese: Double Fine Productions was practically made for this. Neon pervades the landscape, currency takes the form of cassette tapes, and being published by Bandai handily acquits them for using a Pac-Man decal on the avatar’s t-shirt.

As with other rogue-lites, players can mix and match powerups to experiment with different strategies, from spider legs to exploding skulls, to all manner of passive bonuses as well. With this rather standard progression in place, then comes the lore of the world and the story to be revealed; which in typical Double Fine fashion is much deeper than it seems.

Rad is less interested in innovating a popular genre than delivering what makes this genre so much fun with the added layer of Double Fine polish. Hopefully, we can all fall in love with the game the way its inhabitants seem to be infatuated with the ’80s.

Oninaki

Release Date: August 22, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Switch

Here is an unabashedly weird, smaller-scale game from Square Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory, possibly the smallest developer under Square that is still making console-release games. Both of the studio’s previous games (I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear) were essentially ‘budget’ titles, without the pretensions of matching up with Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Obviously, the team has a passion for old school RPGs like Chrono Trigger, Mana or PlayStation-era Final Fantasy, but Tokyo RPG Factory has not quite found its groove yet.

This could change with Oninaki, which despite a Final Fantasy X inspired story about liberating dead souls before they become monsters, has enough fresh ideas to stand out in 2019. To begin with, the game is an action-RPG, rather than another ATB-based affair (gamers have plenty of that this year with the re-release of Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX). Additionally, the world of Oninaki looks gorgeous, budget-release or no, less generic than the washed-out chibi look of Setsuna or Sphear.

However the game turns out, it looks to be more of its own thing than either of Tokyo RPG Factory’s other games to this point. Worst case scenario, Oninaki is a buggy but interesting failure. Best case, players have a dark and quirky RPG to sink their teeth into until the next major release comes along.

Control

Release Date: August 27, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

This is the big one. We have written before about how much we love Alan Wake, but the excitement for Control has become greater than any other title in Remedy Entertainment’s oeuvre. Of course, the fact that Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break all boasted excellent action mechanics does help.

Max Payne famously made a banquet out of bullet time, while Alan Wake innovated the ‘action’ side of action-adventure almost as much as Half-Life 2. Quantum Break seemed like a speed bump on Remedy’s road to success—because no one asked for a series of television episodes in the middle of their game—but the time-based powers and fine encounter design were still a potent mix.

With the same high bar for action and level design, Control combines the best parts of its predecessors like a video game Voltron. Much more than Remedy’s design pedigree, however, Control simply ignites the imagination on its own merits.

Deep within the sprawling, non-Euclidean interior of the Oldest House, players must fight to stop a mysterious energy called the Hiss from invading our world. As with Alan Wake, the game draws from a variety of sources—this time weird fiction and in particular the ‘box of unexplained things’ tropes of The X-Files, SCP or Warehouse 13.

In the spirit of these episodic stories, Control is also Remedy’s first experiment with a Metroidvania structure. As the game progresses, protagonist Jesse Faden acquires skills that unlock new areas and side-missions, as well as just being cool powers for use in combat.

Above all, the best part is that the game is not a Microsoft exclusive but available on both home consoles at launch. Also, please send us a Switch release, pronto.

Astral Chain

Release Date: August 30, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Thank you, PlatinumGames, for always giving gamers that sweet, sweet spectacle action. Not a whole lot can be said about Platinum’s trademark design that has not already been more eloquently described elsewhere—but in an age where even Capcom’s Devil May Cry seeks the heights of meticulous detail and realistic human faces, the world could use more developers like Platinum.

Focused on varied and elaborate game mechanics rather than always improving graphics tech, Platinum has continued to turn out singular games that truly evolve the stylish action subgenre, from the precise and silly Bayonetta series, to Nier Automata‘s surprise hit, even through cartoony misfires such as The Wonderful 101 and Transformers Devastation (both of which were still very good, for the record).

Quite simply, Astral Chain is another helping of action heaven from the masters, though with plenty of interesting features to call its own. The game takes place during an otherworldly invasion of incredibly designed monsters; some of which have been harnessed for the humans to fight back. Each of these captured monsters, known as Legions, offer the player different fighting styles as they explore and defend a futuristic city modeled off Tokyo

Alright, fine, that last part is less original, but what makes Astral Chain more than just Devil May Cry wearing another costume is the investigative element. The player character is a police officer and can lose “duty points” if they cause too much chaos during the action portion of the game. To make amends, players switch back and forth between action scenes and mystery scenes where they explore the city and solve crimes.

Will this combination of hardcore action and police work mesh perfectly, or are we looking at a lesser Platinum—fun, but disjointed? Gamers only have to wait a month to find out.

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan

Release Date: August 30, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Dropped at more or less the same time as this title back in 2015, Until Dawn seemed doomed. There had already been the wet thud of The Order: 1886 back in February, this game also seemed like a prime example of choice-based David Cage nonsense, and worst of all, it was too early for spooky season.

We were proven wrong. Until Dawn was not only fun, not only a pretty accurate video game adaptation of the teen-slasher horror genre, but also beat Quantic Dream at their own game in terms of delivering an engrossing thriller with a constantly (if sometimes illusory) branching story.

Now, Supermassive Games are finally back after their trip around ‘Weird Sony Land’ with a spiritual successor to Until Dawn, and Man of Medan sounds like it can fit the bill in every way. Once again, the story centres on a cast of disposable teens as players attempt to not have them all dead by the end, though this time taking place on a ghost ship: an upgrade over a cabin in the woods if you ask me.

Play functions more or less the same as Until Dawn, a mix of exploration and dialogue choices, switching control between the various characters as the story moves forward. There are a couple of multiplayer modes, but the single-player experience is strong enough.

According to Supermassive, The Dark Pictures is an anthology that will see new titles at a roughly six-month cadence from here on, so expect to hear about a followup to Man of Medan sooner rather than later. Spookums for everybody!


August is positively jam-packed with games, so maybe we can try and hit a few more interesting single player releases. There is cult-infiltration action game The Church in the Darkness coming on August 2, followed by the epic 4X Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC, and the wacko President-in-a-mech game Metal Wolf Chaos XD on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, both releasing August 6.

On August 8, Nintendo Switch owners can dive into Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition, and on the 13th PC gamers get Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, a prequel to 2015’s space sim Rebel Galaxy. Fan favourite studio Gunfire Games has yet another action game coming, their procedural, Souls-ish Remnant: From the Ashes, releasing on August 20.

PS4 and Xbox One players finally get to play The Bard’s Tale IV on August 27, and come August 30 is the intriguing video game adaptation of Blair Witch releases on PC and Xbox One.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion on our community Discord server.

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