I Am Dead, the next game from Wilmot's Warehouse creators Richard Hogg and Ricky Haggett, is a story about a museum curator named Morris and his dog Sparky, both of whom are dead. Their real problem, though, is that they're now responsible for preventing the eruption of a volcano that threatens to destroy their home, the tiny island of Shelmerston.
Based on the description alone it sounds like a potentially action-packed adventure, but in reality it's a contemplative game of exploration and discovery—kind of a metaphysical hidden object game, although it bears very little visual similarity to most games in the genre.
Your goal, simply put, is to poke around the island and its inhabitants, discover memories about other recently-deceased islanders, learn their stories, and find objects that held meaning for them when they were alive in order to summon them for, well, a job interview.
"There's been a ghost keeping [the volcano] dormant, kind of like an island protector—the custodian of the island," Haggett explained while showing me the game last month. "But the person that's been doing that job is very, very, very old, thousands of years old, and so a new person is needed to take this job. The story of the game is kind of Morris going through these different places, going back to all his old haunts, and meeting some of his old friends, and also some people that maybe he didn't like that much, and trying to interview them for this job."
Calling it a hidden object game is almost misleading, because the mechanics are so different from most. Instead of sorting through a cluttered 2D screen trying to spot items in a list, you'll use your ghostly abilities to peer into objects of all different scales to see what's inside of them—a bit like using an MRI machine to look at a matryoshka doll.
You're not just looking at things inside of containers, though: You'll also be able to see the inner workings of a toaster, for instance, or the individual segments of a grapefruit.
It's such a departure that even the developers didn't make the connection at first. "I've never really played many hidden object games, and it's a genre of game I'm kind of ignorant of," Hogg said. "Friends of ours sort of said to us, 'Oh, you're making a hidden object game,' and I guess we are. It is a game where you're finding hidden objects, in the most fundamental sense, so it can't hurt to call it a hidden object game, but at the same time I doubt it has much in common with most of them."
The level of detail in I Am Dead is remarkable. Along with your hunt for a specific ghost in each of the game's levels, there are also smaller story arcs to follow and optional side quests that will reward players with cute little creatures called Grenkins—some of which are "super hard" to find. (They're not at all essential to the game, but they're bound to be sweet candy for completionists.)
There's also a tremendous amount of background detail about the island, its history, and the people who live on it to be found, all entirely optional but something the developers hope that players will enjoy delving into.
In fact, casual sightseeing, rather than pursuing goals, is apparently how a number of testers ended up playing the game. "It's definitely been our experience with testing this game that people quite often just kind of get lost in looking at things, and enjoying looking at all the stuff, regardless of whether it's actually helping them progress in the game," Hogg said. "To me, that's the core activity, really, of playing this game."
One story I saw during the preview, about a former yoga instructor named Pete, really stood out for me. Through the memories of someone who attended one of Pete's workshops, you'll discover that he was a veteran of the UK army who was decorated for bravery in Afghanistan, and who struggled with his experiences there later in life. The writing and voice acting were absolutely top notch, and the story it told was deeply touching. More importantly it felt real, in part because there was no grand denouement at the end of it.
"The thing about this game is, we have all these dead people, [but] we never really find out why most of them died, and it's not really that important," Haggett said. "It's more about the stories of their lives."
I thought I Am Dead looked promising when it was announced in July, and having seen it in action, I am now genuinely excited to try it, even though I fully expect to end up shedding a tear or two. It's set to come out on October 8 on Steam and the Epic Games Store.