Need to know
What is it? A game about making friends with a broken AI.
Expect to pay £15/$20
Developer Ocelot Society
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 970, i5-6600K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site
The Nautilus is a luxury space yacht drifting somewhere near Europa. The crew is missing, the ship is falling apart, and the AI that governs it is seriously broken. It’s a hell of a place to find yourself, but here you are, 350 million miles from home, alone, and at the mercy of a machine suffering from extreme mood swings.
Event is a first-person science fiction game set in an alternate history where humanity developed advanced space travel in the 1980s. This is reflected in its well-realised retro-futuristic aesthetic, particularly the chunky computer terminals you use to interact with Kaizen, the ship’s emotionally unstable AI.
You talk to Kaizen by typing, and it responds in a garbled computer-generated voice. You can ask it about the Nautilus and what happened to the crew. You can ask it if it’s having a nice day, if it has any friends, and how it feels. Or, more practically, to open doors, cycle airlocks, and switch on lights. But the answers will vary.
Sometimes Kaizen is friendly. It’ll call you ‘buddy’ and open a door when you ask it to. But sometimes it’ll refuse. Which it did, in one instance, when I was floating outside the ship in an EVA suit with a rapidly dwindling air supply. It’s dangerously unpredictable like that, which makes for an interesting relationship. I had to apologise for being rude in an earlier conversation so it would let me in, which was a strange feeling. You may regret pissing Kaizen off.
Sometimes it doesn’t respond to what you’re saying at all. You’ll ask it something and it’ll ramble about what your next objective is, or say some scripted, unrelated line. Because, of course, it’s not really an advanced artificial intelligence. It’s an elaborate chatbot that, occasionally, does a surprisingly good job of convincing you that it’s a thinking thing with a personality. It often fails to respond convincingly, or at all, to completely basic questions. But, again, this is an indie sci-fi game, not an actual AI.
Typing messages into the terminals and receiving responses feels wonderfully intimate, more so than if you were just selecting responses from a dialogue wheel. When it’s not trying to kill you, it reveals a vulnerable, needy side. You almost feel sorry for it. And sometimes, in the crew lounge, it’ll play the piano for you, which is strangely comforting. And slightly eerie.
It’s through interacting with Kaizen that you unlock parts of the Nautilus and journey deeper into it. Along the way you learn about what happened to the crew, but Kaizen is vague, almost as if it’s trying to hide something from you. You have to piece the story together yourself by reading logs stored in terminals, studying the detailed environments, and interpreting what it says.
There are a few puzzles too, one of which involves leaving the ship. This section is brilliantly atmospheric, silent except for the rhythmic sound of your breathing, recalling 2001: A Space Odyssey: a film whose presence is felt throughout Event. The lonely, isolated atmosphere is one of the game’s greatest strengths, and I love how small the looming bulk of Jupiter makes you feel. The gas giant is a constant presence, often glimpsed through windows, which reinforces just how far away you are from home.
But just as I was really getting into it, and developing an interesting relationship with Kaizen, it was over. It’s a much shorter game than I hoped it would be. There are multiple endings, and optional logs to read, but most people will get about 2-3 hours out of it. Short games are fine, but I felt like there was so much more to explore here, as if this was a proof of concept for something much greater.
This and Kaizen’s hit-and-miss responses to the things I typed stopped me from really loving the game. But it’s a totally unique experience and a great piece of smart, well-crafted sci-fi. If developer Ocelot Society takes the interaction system it’s designed and transplants it into a longer, more ambitious game, it could have something incredible on its hands. As it stands, though, Event is a cool indie curio with some great ideas that don’t always hit the mark.